Teaching the Samoan language in China? Who would’ve thought?

Believe it or not but soon they’ll be speaking Samoan in Beijing.

That’s the cool truth, folks, if reports that have been published on the pages of your newspaper, and other media groups around the world during the past few days, are anything to go by.

Come to think of it, it’s a fascinating development. Who would have thought it possible?

Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves here in Apia, it’s not just the Samoan language that is being taught in China. Six other Pacific Island languages will soon be available at China's top universities as part of the cultural component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (B.R.I.).

For the uninitiated, the B.R.I. is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government where they provide assistance in terms of infrastructure development and investments to some 152 countries all over the world – including Samoa.

Skeptics say the B.R.I. is China’s ploy to shape global trade so that China becomes the centre of it all.

Now someone would naturally ask the question: Why would they be interested in learning about the Samoan language in China?

The simple answer is that if you want to understand a people and communicate with them better and in a deeper way, you need to speak their language. If, as they say, that China’s goal is to use the B.R.I. to exert its dominance, then the move to teach their own people to speak the languages of the different countries they are dealing with is undoubtedly a stroke of genius.

At the end of the day, China is serious about its relationship with Samoa and other Pacific countries. It is so serious they are not sparing anything in their crusade. It shows that they care.

Back in Samoa, the initiative has already received widespread praise. The Head of the National University of Samoa's Confucius Institute, Dr. Liang, described it as an “extraordinary opportunity” for Samoa and the Pacific islands.

“We value cultural exchange very much,” Dr. Liang said about China’s approach to the Pacific. “We teach Chinese in Samoa and Samoan language is also taught in China. I think it's a reflection of friendship between Samoa and China.”

Interestingly enough, the move by China has already led to some questions being asked of some of our more traditional donor partners like Australia and New Zealand who after all these years have done little, if anything at all, to teach our language at their universities.

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New Zealand's Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, welcomes the development.

“I think it's fantastic news,” Aupito said. “It seems to me like a naturally perfect way to better work with Pacific Island Nations and its peoples, and I welcome China's proposal to teach Pacific Island languages.”

Aupito told this newspaper that better understanding between Chinese and Pacific Islanders through language can only create better relationships.

“Teaching Pacific languages is a far better approach than to return to the ugly approaches of the past where our Pacific languages and cultures were often viewed by others as having little value,” Aupito said.

“There are many of us in the Pacific region that remember only too well the mistakes of the past during the colonial period where people were forced not to speak their heritage or indigenous languages. That approach led to war, deaths and diseases, and no one wants to return to that.”

Well we could not agree more with Aupito. That’s an ugly part of the past we do not want at all.

Which is why other countries, that want a more robust relationship with Samoa and other Pacific countries, would do very well to follow China’s example.

Regardless of China’s motives, the teaching of the Samoan language in a country that doesn’t really need it, is a positive step in as far as getting Samoa out to the world.

A Samoan teaching Samoan in China summed it up extremely well when he said the cultural value of the Samoan language classes trumps the geographical significance.

“Point one cent of people in China actually understand or know where Samoa is, let alone other islands,” said Setope So’oa’emalelagi. “So it’s a great way for us to promote our culture and who we are through the language.”

We couldn’t agree more. But that’s just out opinion, what do you think?

Write and share your thoughts with us!

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!


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