Port Vila, December 5 – The Lonwolwol community in Port Vila is revitalizing the use of their mother tongue, which has been in disuse for the past 100 years.

As a consequence of being dispersed by the 1913 eruption of Mt Marum and Mt Benbow, the people of Lonwolwol village have seen the slow decline of their language, called Raljago, due to lack of active usage.

Raljago Choir Practice
Lonwolwol community in Port Vila getting ready for choir practise in Raljago

George Tasso, a passionate member of the Lonwolwol community in Port Vila has the vision to take his home village’s language and promote it among his kinsmen and kinswomen, wherever they may be.

“We’ve just celebrated 100 years that we have ceased to be a community after the eruption of 1913. So we have come to realize that in order to come back as a community after 100 years, the very first thing is to bring back the language. Needless to say that in the space of 100 years the language has gradually fallen into disuse.”

Mr Tasso started brainstorming ideas in October of this year, 2014, and has brought together members of the Lonwolwol community to revive the dying language. Activities that have been employed in the revitalization efforts so far have included translation of Christian plays, singing practices and some language classes.

“The project is one month old. [There are] less than 10 people we are aware of who speak the language. The actual count is at 6 but God willing we will discover one or two more.” One of the six people is Mr Tasso’s father.

He is enthusiastic about the project and is putting as much time, effort, and resources that he can find into making this project work.

Working with Mr Tasso is Lilon Bongmatur, daughter of the late Chief Willie Bongmatur. She sees the project as one that is very vital in bringing the people of Lonwolwol together.

“It really does… It seems we were just floating around, but now we seem to have found and connected back to our roots,” commented Ms Bongmatur.

She acknowledged that it is still a long way to go but “we will and we can be proud to say, we are the people of Lolwolwol.”

People currently living in Lonwolwol village are not speaking the Raljago language. 99% of the villagers now speak Ralkalaen, the language spoken by the   people of craigcove, Lonwolwol’s closest neighbors. When the volcano erupted in 1913, the Lonwolwol people left for Malekula as well as other villages to the Northern part of Ambrym,  fleeing from the flowing lava. This migration coupled with intermarriage started the slow death of the Raljago language.

The Lonwolwol community in Port Vila is looking forward to celebrating the 101st  anniversary of the volcano eruption on December 7, 2014 at the Chiefs Nakamal. The anniversary celebrations will centre on the theme “Finding our identity through Raljago”. Featured in the day’s program are Dr Howard Van Trease, Honorary Research Fellow, and Dr Robert Earley, both from the University of the South Pacific.

During the celebrations, there will be displays promoting the revitalization project that is being carried out by Mr Tasso and Ms Bongmatur.

The “Raljago Revitalization Project” is keen on being an example to other communities in Vanuatu that are losing their native language. It is a message they want to instil into everyone in Vanuatu as well as the Pacific region, that our languages need to be preserved, because in it one can find deep rooted identity.