Translating Poetry into Fijian Language is No Mean Feat

 The uploaded video records my reading of the Fijian version of Vunilagi, a poem I had penned in English and posted (see Poetry). Vunilagi is the Fijian version of horizon. The overlaying picture is taken on top of Natute, the highest peak on Dravuni – an andesite plug, 110m high. The photographer is looking south west and the Kadavu mainland is in the background.

The picture is selected for its portrayal of the vunilagi itself, also in the background. The rest is left to one’s imagination. If you look around from the top of that mountain, you are literally enveloped by the vunilagi. This sensation is captured in the second verse of the poem, which also mentions outlying islands (without naming them) that are dotted in one’s 360-degree vision. The islands from right to left of the picture are: Yanuyanu iSau, Yanuyanu iLoma, Namara, and Qasibale.

Qasibale appears as if in two parts. It is really two low peaks separated by a sandy isthmus. Believe it or not! There was a village settlement on top of the higher western peak in bygone days of internal migration and island settlement by our early ancestors.

The inspiration to translate Vunilagi into Fijian came from Peter Sipeli of The Poetry Shop fame. He invited me to participate in his project of poem reading, recording, writing aimed at filling the void created by the various restrictions brought on by Covid-19. He, however, specified that my contribution was to be in the Fijian language. The translation of Vunilagi was thus conceived.

But what a task it was! Literal translation was only of limited use. Forget about literally translating metaphors, other figures of speech and concepts! This is the surest recipe to poetic gobbledegook! Through trial and error, I ended up depending very much on the theme of the poem to guide me through. I was able therefore to have recourse to old Fijian sayings such as from ‘The Wisdom of Fiji’ and from tradition and family archives. Biblical metaphors also came in handy. And of course, some notion of the structural history of Fijian words did help. and Vunilagi Vou are supportive of The Poetry Shop. Through our art and artistry, we can influence the larger society by changing opinions, instilling values and translating experiences across space and time.

Helen and I were thus privileged to be invited by Peter Sipeli to attend a photo exhibition at the Waisiliva Gallery on Leleuvia Island last December. The exhibition was by Ms Michelle Neeling. There were more than 30 black & white stills on display. I was particularly struck by one of a black and white dadakulaci (sea snake). I composed a short poem about it after that (see Poetry).

Vunilagi was prominent in an exhibition that Ema Tavola and I co-curated in 2016 at the New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland. Its theme was: ‘Dravuni: Sivia yani na Vunilagi – Beyond the Horizon.’ Vunilagi became a central theme of that exhibition. The structure of the word conveys the meaning of ‘that which supports or props up the heaven.’

Ever since that exhibition, the word has been central in theological translation on Dravuni: to be inspired to approach and direct one’s life towards one’s vunilagi. This is likely to lead to one’s nirvana. A higher level of attainment!

Covid-19 is still taking its own course. But, already, the narratives of a portal to a post-Covid-19 new world and its values, principles and challenges already abound. and Vunilagi Vou are not sitting idling by. They want to be part of the narratives., for instance, is expanding. Its tagline has changed. It has acquired the theme of the 2016 Exhibition. This is essentially to say, and to reassert that this site is going beyond the horizon which one can see from Dravuni. The village and villagers have interests, issues and contributions that extend to the far reaches of other horizons. The new Pages that have been added reflect this expansionary overview.

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