PCV Tom Courtright submitted a project through the Peace Corps Partnership Program to develop the first ever dictionary for the Sabeto dialect. The dictionary will include cultural information on the origins of the seven yavusa of Sabeto, the history of the district and traditional stories collected from elders. It will be distributed to schools, local institutions, and each household in Sabeto.
The letter below is a note of thanks we received from Tom and his co-author Pauliasi Don Natabe
"On behalf of the Momo Levu qa vanua o Betoraurau, we would like to thank you for supporting this dictionary and cultural guide.”
This Volatata vaSabeto has the potential to be a real bulwark against the loss of indigenous language and culture in our district. It’s also been an awesome exploratory process for us, learning about the language and culture from the people that speak and live it. For the first time we are collecting and protecting the cultural knowledge of Sabeto in print, and then distributing it to all stakeholders in the area - the people, the schools and the other institutions, such as the churches and farming stations.
As part of my thank you, I'd also like to do my duty of Third Goaling - helping Americans understand Fiji - by explaining the thanks that Don put forward.
Thanks giving is very important across Fiji, and is usually accompanied by at least three cobo (pronounced “thombo”, it’s a deep and hollow clap done with cupped hands, often while on the knees).
The Momo Levu translates in our dialect literally to “Big Man”, a Melanesian form of village organization by toughest warrior and best leader. Most of the rest of Fijian chiefs, of course, are called Ratu and are hierarchical positions, and this is from the Polynesian influence from Tonga. Momo translates into Bauan as turaga - man, especially of status. The Momo Levu is the chief of the five villages of the district.
Vanua means land, but it holds a much deeper meaning than that in Sabeto and across Fiji, connecting cultural identity and personhood.
Betoraurau is essentially synonymous with Sabeto, and is an amalgamation of two words that have long dropped out of common parlance. Beto, also as in Sabeto, is the name for the traditional priests huts, which tended to have taller, skinnier thatched roofs than most homes. The arrival of Christianity in Sabeto, one of the last places to convert in the early 1900s, has eradicated the formal institutions of these traditional beliefs, though some live on in their interpretation of Christianity. The traditional spiritualities made holy important ancestors, giving them shape-shifting abilities. Raurau means plentiful, abundant. Thus, this is the land of plentiful priests huts.
We are currently in the process of editing the dictionary by distributing sections to most of the remaining elders of Sabeto, several dozen, and then sitting down with them and going over any changes that need to be made. Once we have collected most of these back early this week, we will invite groups in each village to sit and come to group decisions about na tata du - the true language/words - and providing tea, of course.
We are currently planning to publish in mid-August and distribute shortly afterward, including teaching classes at the local schools. We will keep you updated further on the Volatata vaSabeto.
Vina du riki,
Tomasi qate Don