Back in history: Foreign four study in Fiji

Two aboriginal women from Australia and two women from the Seychelles Islands were among hundreds of students studying at the South Pacific Commission Community Education Training Center in Fiji.

Heather Umbergai and Jean Benmorrah were from Derby, in Western Australia while Simone Arnephy and Mariette Poole were from the Seychelles — an island group in the Indian Ocean.

An article in The Fiji Times on February 12, 1975, stated Jean Benmorrah was a novelist who usually wrote in her own tribal language, Wororra.

“Most of the old people of the tribe speak the language and they use it to talk to the young ones so they will learn,” she said.

“My stories are about the myths and legends of the tribe and our tribal history from the stone age until modern times.”

The stories used to be handed down by word of mouth, from grandparents to grandchildren.

Mrs Benmorrah, a grandmother, was recording the stories in writing for all the young people of the tribe around her country that did not have the pleasure of hearing these stories from tribal relatives.

She said the tribe used to live further north in Australia in a coastal area.

But they had moved to Mowànjum Mission, Derby, where two other smaller tribes joined them.

There were about 200 people in the mission community, Mrs Benmorrah said.

The young men did stock work on a cattle station, while some of the young girls did office work.

“They get the chance to go to city schools. Not like us older ones who just learned on the mission,” she said.

The tribe kept up many of its old traditions and customs, including initiation rites for young men and special food taboos for certain members of the tribe at certain times.

“We cannot throw out our own culture. We have to learn it and carry it on.”

She has been working with an American linguist who is staying at the mission to study the Wororra language.

Heather Umbergai is from the same tribe as Mrs Benmorrah.

She said she had just completed secondary school and was offered the chance to come to Fiji for the community center’s course.

She hoped it would provide a good background for a possible future career in nursing work.

Simone Arnephy was a language teacher in the Seychelles.

She taught French. After finishing work in the classroom, she did voluntary community work at a social centre, dealing mostly with illiterate adults.

She took the centre’s course so she could work with welfare workers in the community.

Mariette Poole was one of six welfare workers who began a social welfare service in the Seychelles in 1970.

“In those days we did everything, from distributing allowances to old people to child welfare work and work in mental hospitals,” she said.

Since then the service had expanded and some specialist workers were concentrating on youth work and work with elderly people.

Miss Poole was taking the community centre course so she could work with women’s organisations and patients at the mental hospital.

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