“Reo tahiti must not be considered as a sub-language”

Cybèle plichartTe reo tumu – The mother tongue: interview with Cybèle Plichart


FIFO – Where did the idea for the documentary Te reo tumu – The mother tongue come from?


Polynesian languages and the nature of the Tahitian language are subjects that have always interested me. I believe that the Tahitian language is a way to access the country’s culture. This may appear obvious, but it is so true. For example, there are several words in Tahitian for tuna. In French, there is one word, while in Tahitian you will have several, depending on the size of the tuna… Already, this shows the interest of Tahitians for fishing. There are many examples like this. There are a lot of metaphors and this is also what interests me. I want to show the richness of the language and what sets it apart from the French language. I wanted to create a cultural bridge and promote the language.



FIFO – Do you feel that valorizing the Tahitian language is a way to preserve it?


Absolutely. In making the film, I realized how urgent it was to make a documentary on the subject. Then Jacques Vernaudon (teacher-researcher in Oceanic Linguistics – editor’s note), who is not an alarmist, who is very sensible, told me that if we do nothing, within a generation the Tahitian language will disappear… I could not believe my ears!


FIFO – Your documentary aims to raise awareness…


In fact, I would like it to encourage people to react, whether it is the younger generation, the politicians, the authorities… The message is addressed to everyone as well as to myself. I ask myself why after so many years spent in Polynesia, I am not bilingual! We are at a crossroads. A decision has to be taken. After the documentary’s screening at the Maison de la Culture’s Grand Théâtre, I found the reactions magnificent. There was a granny in particular who explained to us that she is from the Tuamotu Archipelago, where mihiroa, one of the dialects, has disappeared. It is scary and there is a real sense of urgency.


FIFO – Te reo tumu treats primarily of roe tahiti, but its observations seem to apply to all of the Polynesian archipelagoes…


It is true that I concentrated on reo tahiti. However, when I met linguists, they told me that the same is true for all the islands. In spite of what one can imagine, children have more and more difficulty speaking their native language.


FIFO – How long did it take to develop this documentary?


Approximately one year and a half. I followed certain people over a period of time, as with Vinitua, a young orero speaker from the Manahau dance group… this necessitated time and a certain investment on my part. Te reo tumu matured for a long time in my mind but I needed the support and counseling of experts to be able to develop the subject.”


FIFO – Precisely, while speaking about Vinitua, he says something very powerful in the film: “If I stopped speaking Tahitian, I would feel that something in me had died”.


Yes, it is very strong and raises questions. And I appreciated the fact that young people were moved during the screenings. Some of them cried because in a way it hurts them. It affects them deeply, even if they do not want to admit it. It is a frustration.


FIFO – For you, language defines a person?


It is necessary to address the identity aspect. But I want to defend not only the identity aspect, but also the use of the language. What I mean is that when I question certain young people, they tell me that Tahitian is no longer useful, and that they prefer to learn English or Mandarin. I find that this is a shame because the Tahitian language exists. It exists, it is there, and can still be transmitted.


FIFO – You also spoke about the utility of bilingualism?


Absolutely, because bilingualism fosters knowledge and intelligence… once again, the language exists so why not benefit from it. The more so as when one is bilingual, it is easier to learn other languages. It can only do good and one should not consider reo tahiti as a sublanguage. It is a language in its own right, there is no language that is better than the others.


FIFO – The Tahitian language, a heritage?


Absolutely. It is our heritage.


FIFO – Te reo tumu is your first documentary?


Yes, my first 52 minutes. It is my baby, it comes from my guts. I carried it. Today, it is a source of pride to see it screened at the FIFO, even if it is not in competition. For me, it is magical and wonderful that it is presented at the FIFO.


FIFO – Are you not afraid that people will say you are “preaching”?


No. I am on a mission. I am not interested in “giving” lessons. I just want to be able to help, to contribute and elicit reflexion.


FIFO – We see you on TV, on Polynésie 1ère, Te reo tumu addresses reo tahiti, the question naturally arises of your origins and whether you have Tahitian origins?


Not at all. However, I did experience identity problems. I am just a popa’a who grew up here. I was 6 years old when I came to Tahiti. In all humility, it is my home. It is in me, that is how things are. Dad is Polish, my mother is French and I was born in Morocco! My nanny spoke Arab to me and my father spoke Polish, but he did not transmit it to me. (laughter…) I grew up in Tahiti feeling frustrated because I was not bilingual. Which goes to show that this film is also important to me. I also believe that every director puts a part of himself into his films.


FIFO – A last message?


A parau i to oe reo. Noa tu e hape oe. Eiaha e ha’ama et tapae i hoa.



FIFO – Jenny Poehere Hunter