Award-winning internet operator Emani Fakaotimanava-Lui says the internet can play an important part in keeping the Niue language alive.
Mr Fakaotimanava-Lui has just returned to Niue from the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was presented with an international award on behalf of Internet Niue for its innovative work building Niue’s WiFi internet [see footnote].
“At one time, English was the language of the internet. But in recent years there has been an explosion in the use of other languages and scripts, most notably Mandarin,” he says.
“More people are now realising that we can do the same for endangered languages. The Niue language – Vagahau Niue – will survive only if it is in everyday use. And this means on the internet.”
There are probably 25,000 people of Niue descent on the planet, but only 1200 live permanently on Niue.
“Most people from Niue speak excellent English and this has enabled them to get jobs in New Zealand and elsewhere. But this doesn’t mean they need to lose their connection with their mother tongue,” says Mr Fakaotimanava-Lui.
“Language is the key to a culture. Lose it and you lose part of the essence of who you are.”
Mr Fakaotimanava-Lui says Vagahau Niue users could use macrons in much the same way as has been done for the Maori language. The next step would be to provide Vagahau Niue options for major internet browsers like Google and Firefox.
Another potential role for the internet could be to give residents access to much larger and better resourced libraries than Niue could ever afford to have.
“There are online libraries covering almost every subject area and at all levels, but few of us are aware that they exist. In Nairobi I was given contacts that I will pass on to the local library and schools, so they can partner with these libraries to secure quality content that can be passed on to the Niue community.”
As a representative of Niue in an international forum, Mr Fakaotimanava-Lui said most other delegates didn’t know of the existence of Niue and had little awareness or of other countries in the Pacific.
“This was a bit distressing,” he says. “It would have been ideal to have a Pacific booth at the forum, raising awareness of about the Pacific in general as well as our individual countries.
“It’s time for all Pacific Islands to work together internationally to promote our products and services and to build a better understanding of the challenges we face. We certainly can’t afford to do it alone.”
About the ISIF award
The award won by Internet Niue was one of four award categories funded by the Asia Information Society Innovation Fund (Asia ISIF).
The fund is a joint initiative of the Canadian International Development Research Centre, the Internet Society and the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), with sponsorship from DotAsia.
For the 2011 awards, the fund received 46 award nominations for the four categories from 17 economies in the Asia Pacific. The $A7500 grants associated with the awards are for internet projects that benefit users and communities in Asia and the Pacific.
The category won by Internet Niue recognises its success over the last three years building local internet capacity and encouraging qualified locals to support the Niue internet community with a reliable locally-provided service.
Internet Niue is operated by RockET Systems, a private Niue company owned by Emani and TaniRose Fakaotimanava-Lui. Internet Niue is funded by the US-based IUSN Foundation from the sale of .nu domain names, mainly in Sweden.