"Fiji "Cession" Day celebrations. Auckland Domain, 1986. Rotuman tautonga" Archives NZ Item Code: R431560 File 5

The role of Archives NZ Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga is to preserve and protect the government records of Aotearoa New Zealand, so people can access them now and in the future. As part of this responsibility, we hold around 7 million items from the government record, that date from around 1840 to the recent past. They come in a wide range of formats, from written documents to photographs, moving images and sound.

Our Te Maeatanga (Digitisation Programme) is working to digitise many of these items.

Embedded content: https://youtu.be/NsC6xyWUaB8

In our holdings are a small number of physical records on and about the Rotuman culture in Aotearoa. We have recently digitised several of these, that are now available through the Archives NZ website. We are delighted to highlight a few of these records and the story they tell as part of Fäeag Rotuạm 2022.

The first example of records is from 1986 when the Rotuman Fuihelava Association in Auckland won a grant from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand. This enabled them to purchase traditional materials and instruments for the promotion of their cultural heritage. This record includes twenty files, including the application form, photos and the related correspondence between the Association and the Council.

"Fiji "Cession" Day celebrations. Auckland Domain, 1986. Rotuman tautonga" 
Archives NZ Item Code: R431560 File 5

Traditional Rotuman dance performance on stage at Fiji Cession Day celebrations. Auckland Domain, 1986. Archives NZ Item Code: R431560 File 5

Rotuman performers singing during Fiji Cession Day Celebrations, Auckland Domain, 1986. Archives NZ Item Code: R431560 File 7

Rotuman performers singing during Fiji Cession Day Celebrations, Auckland Domain, 1986. Archives NZ Item Code: R431560 File 7

Background and history of Rotuma Fuihelava Association. Archives NZ Item Code: R431560 File 18

Background and history of Rotuma Fuihelava Association. Archives NZ Item Code: R431560 File 18

Following on from this successful application for funding in 1986, in 1991 the newly formed Rotuman Cultural Association of Auckland applied for further funding, to again purchase traditional costumes.

The second example of the records we hold is this digitised collection of thirty six files, which holds the correspondence for this application.

The process begins with a letter from Ms Mary Jensen, on 22nd July 1991, to the Honourable Bill Birch, at the time the Minister for Pacific Island Affairs. She seeks "any information regarding criteria for application for funding".

Letter from Ms Mary Jensen to Hon. Bill Birch. 22 July 1991. Archives NZ Ref - Item Code: R431766, File 36

Letter from Ms Mary Jensen to Hon. Bill Birch. 22 July 1991. Archives NZ Ref - Item Code: R431766, File 36.

On 9 October 1991, the first reply to Ms Jensen is sent by Douglas Graham, which states that:

"... unfortunately, as Minister of Arts and Culture, I do not have funding available... I have passed on your letter to the Chair of the Council for Māori and South Pacific Arts (Te Waka Toi), which makes grants to cultural groups."

Letter from Douglas Graham to Mary Jensen. 9 October 1991. Archives NZ Ref - Item Code: R431766, File 35

Letter from Douglas Graham to Mary Jensen. 9 October 1991. Archives NZ Ref - Item Code: R431766, File 35

There follows a series of letters between Te Waka Toi's Pacific Island Officer, Eteuati Ete, updating the Chairman of Te Waka Toi, Cliff Whiting, and Don McKinnon, who had replaced Bill Birch as the Minister of Pacific Island Affairs. Eteuati also ensures the office of Douglas Graham is kept updated on the process.

Letter from Eteuatai Ete to Cliff Whiting. 14 October 1991. Archives NZ Ref - Item Code: R431766, File 33

Letter from Eteuati Ete to Cliff Whiting. 14 October 1991. Archives NZ Ref - Item Code: R431766, File 33

The largest section (File 3 to File 29) holds the application from the Rotuman Cultural Association, including a supporting document outlining Rotuman history written by the Molomahao-Rotuma Organization based in Sydney, Australia. The recommendations from Te Waka Toi's South Pacific Arts Committe to accept the application are File 3-4 and the letter sent to Mary Jensen informing the Association of the successful application is File 5.

Brief History of the Island of Rotuma. Archives NZ Ref - Item Code: R431766, File 24

The final letter in this file is dated 13 December 1991, from the secretary Mary Jensen on behalf of the Rotuman Cultural Association to Eteuati Ete, thanking Te Waka Toi for the grant and acknowledging receipt of a cheque for $2,000.

Letter from Mary Jensen to Eteuatai Ete. 13 December 1991. Archives NZ Ref - Item Code: R431766, File 2

Letter from Mary Jensen to Eteuati Ete. 13 December 1991. Archives NZ Ref - Item Code: R431766, File 2

One interesting thing to note when making sense of these recordings, is that they are in reverse chronological order. That means, the final record in the file is the letter of thanks from Ms Mary Jensen, and listed as "File 2". So to follow the story as it unfolds, you need to start at the end, with 'File 36".

The detail and care with which the digitisation work is completed by Archives NZ staff makes for a rich and rewarding experience reading through these letters that reveal the names and activities.

This digitised record captures a series of interactions between government officials and Pacific people that took place over a six month period in 1991. The records features not just the names of leading New Zealand figures in the cultural and political landscape at the time, but their words and thoughts. Most importantly, these documents from 1986 and 1991 reflect the efforts made by the members of the Rotuman community who were scattered across Aotearoa and far from their homeland. These efforts were to access funding:

"in the hope that the culture can be maintained and passed on to our younger generation."

These records are now over thirty years old. It is humbling to read them this week, to see the names and to reflect on the start that they made for the Rotuman community in Aotearoa.

As part of Fäeag Rotuạm 2022 celebrations I acknowledge these names, the past and present elders in the Rotuman community, and all those who supported the work represented in these documents. These efforts have enabled the Rotuman language and culture to be maintained and are a foundation upon which to "vetḁkia ‘os fäega ma ag fak hanua - continue sustaining our language and culture."


Chrissy Knight is an Archivist at Archives New Zealand, who works on the Digitisation Team. You can see more of their work in this webinar about collections of Tokelau from 2021.

Embedded content: https://youtu.be/3LatBDBY6u0

This reflection is enabled by the enduring and important work of archivists and specialists in places like Archives NZ. It is a privilege to work to ensure that records like this are available to future generations.

The team would be honoured to hear from those in the Rotuman community who may know more about the events described in these records. They have a range of other items and records of Rotuma and would welcome input from the Rotuman community into selecting which sorts of items and records should be prioritised for digitisation.

If you are able to help, or interested in learning more about the work at Archives NZ, please connect with them by using the 'Ask an Archivist' page. You can also contact the Pacific Virtual Museum team if you had any questions about items we share.

Welcome and warm Pasifik greetings

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