IT'S nice to be able to share your background and culture with someone other than your kai or someone of a similar background.
So when news of Seruwaia Vukivou's recent appointment as chair of the iTaukei Literacy and Language Committee, an independent body, came to light, there was no doubting her passion for preserving her indigenous language and culture was fitting for her fresh challenge.
She was more than willing to share her very interesting background from growing up in different parts of Fiji to revealing her family's link to Wales.
As she tells it, she was born in Lautoka where her father was an associate pastor for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and her mother worked as a secretary at the Commissioner Western's office in the late 1960s-early 1970s.
When her parents were transferred to Suva, she basically spent half her life in the Capital City. Although she hails from Vanua Levu, Seruwaia's great great grandfather is from Wales. He came to Fiji during the colonial years and married an iTaukei woman from the chiefly household in Nanukuloa, Ra.
"My dad is from Korocau (Loa, Buca Bay), Cakaudrove and my mum is from Namalata, Kubulau, Bua. My great great grandmother from the chiefly household bore my great grandfather before she died. Later my great grandfather crossed the Bligh Waters in search of opportunities in Naduri, Macuata as I was told," Seruwaia began the tale of her interesting heritage.
"He did not have any children with his first wife from Naduri who later died. He then travelled east and married a beautiful lady from yavusa Korocau in Nakobo, Cakaudrove where he had 13 children, one of whom is my grandfather Robert Evans.
"Robert Evans grew up in Korocau where his maternal side had a great influence in his upbringing hence he counted himself more iTaukei than kailoma (mixed descent). Even though my dad is a kailoma and mum is iTaukei, I feel that this appointment reinforces my identity as a Fijian.
"Despite the fact that genetically and biologically I am not 100 per cent iTaukei, I feel for the most part that more than 95 per cent of me is Fijian."
The 44-year-old mother of two, whose husband is an inspector with the Fiji Police Force, says her appointment meant more than just a climb up the ladder of success.
The appointment makes her the first woman to take up the chair post in the independent body that associates its work with various stakeholders who share a common vision of preserving and advancing the iTaukei language.
"While growing up, my experience is so ironic. My dad who is a kailoma would encourage us to speak in Fijian, more specifically our own Vanua Levu dialect," she said.
"Mum, who is iTaukei, would encourage us to read a lot of English books and try to speak proper English so that we could excel in our studies.
"She was more kailoma in her ways of upbringing us. She attended St Mary's in Labasa and grew up with most kailoma so indirectly she encouraged reading of the English language most of the time.
"Together with her older sister, she would equip and provide us with classic children's story books. My room was inundated with story books but there was always a balance. When it's the school holidays, we would be sent to our koro ni vasu (maternal village) and our koro Loa Buca Bay to learn about our culture and our own dialect.
"It is very important in this time and age that we as parents teach our children their own vernacular language. We ought to be proud of our language. It is our identity. Cultures and traditions are described by language."
Seruwaia says studies have shown that children who speak their own vernacular language excel in other languages and subjects like mathematics, science and social science. However, she maintains no language is superior to any other language.
"We must deconstruct that English is superior to other languages. However we must recognise that it is the universal language to be used for communication with the world. In this time and age, we have seen how technology has corrupted our language. I am a language teacher and it is appalling to see tertiary students' standard of English, let alone their Fijian.
"As a parent, I would be very embarrassed if my daughters are illiterate with their own vernacular language. Students do not read anymore, this is a result of not being encouraged from their early age of growth and development to read."
In the meantime, Seruwaia has called on parents to encourage their children to write and read in their own language.