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So, for University of Otago PhD candidate and Ni-Vanuatuan Leina Isno, a member of the Dunedin Wantok community, it is important to highlight the cultures and dialects of Melanesia and promote understanding.
This week is a "pilot" Vanuatu Bislama language week, November 12-18, shining a light on the Bislama language of Vanuatu. It is also a chance to recognise the many dialects of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Torres Strait Island, and West Paula.
"Melanesia is so widespread in the Pacific, but there is a very small cohort of us in New Zealand and Dunedin," Ms Isno said.
The 50-strong Dunedin Wantok community played an important role in supporting the welfare of Melanesian students in the city, and also provided assistance for RSE seasonal workers if they needed translation help and other support.
Wantok means "one talk"or "one people" in Papua New Guinea’s Tok Pisin language.
"For students like myself, having the Wantok community here has been very helpful for feeling more comfortable and establishing a base in Dunedin — it is very reassuring," Ms Isno said.
Although the Melanesian communities in New Zealand and Dunedin remained small, times were changing and more people from the islands were emigrating here, getting established, and setting up businesses.
"We see a lot of inequities — there needs to be a lot more resource allocation and support," she said.
Part of the advocacy work being done in New Zealand was around gaining recognition for Melanesian languages, and the creation of "language weeks" in order to highlight and recognise cultures.
"This year we have had the wonderful news that the Ministry for Pacific Peoples has recognised Melanesians in New Zealand, and have approved language weeks for two of the Wantok groups."
In 2024, there will be language weeks celebrating the Papua New Guinean Tok Pisin language, and the Solomon Islands Pijin language.
And while this week’s Vanuatu Bislama language week was a pilot, it was hoped that it would become official in 2026.
It was also important to remember the vital role played by the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea on the front lines of conflict during World War 2.
That connection was highlighted with the building of the South Pacific WW2 Museum on the Vanuatu island of Espiritu Santo, which includes an exhibit featuring the name of a Dunedin soldier stationed there in 1944-45 — J. Walcott, of Roslyn.
"It is great to see that link to Dunedin at the museum," Ms Isno said.
Melanesia is also at the heart of Ms Iso’s PhD studies in the University of Otago Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, looking at an endemic infectious bacterial disease scrub typhus (Orientia tsutsugamushi).
Transmitted through insect bites, scrub typhus symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, and rash, with the disease affecting about 1 million people annually.
Ms Isno is focusing on improving the management, diagnosis and prevention of the disease in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.