Sunday, June 10, 2007

The aspiring footballer who became a linguist

LIKE any other boy who grew up in England Dr Paul Geraghty had ambitions to be a footballer but he says they disappeared quickly when he discovered he had two left feet.
"I could have been a professional musician, and probably would have enjoyed doing that, if I hadn't been successful academically.

"I could have been a writer too, and my English teacher was very disappointed when I decided to specialise in French and German rather than English," said Dr Geraghty. He said he was the youngest editor of the Rugby School magazine and was probably the first person to edit writings by Salman Rushdie and AN Wilson, who were his contemporaries at Rugby and went on to become very successful in the literary world.

But he said he has no regrets because he has a job which he loves.
"I've been lucky in that I've always had a job I enjoy. I had a great time working for the government for many years at the Institute of Fijian Language and Culture because it gave me the opportunity to serve the people of Fiji in many ways," he said. "I've also been very happy in my six years at USP. My biggest disappointment is that I wasn't able to develop the institute as I would have liked." Reminiscing about his first time in Fiji, Dr Geraghty said he was practically a stranger when he was posted at Ratu Kadavulevu School.

"I was well looked after by the staff and students at RKS, and have very happy memories of the place, as well as Natovi where I was choirmaster at the time," he said. "During the school holidays, I followed up the invitations of some of the boys to visit their villages, and that's when I started doing research into the different Fijian languages."

Being a linguist naturally means he must be good at different languages and Dr Geraghty says he had picked a few languages during his studies. "I consider myself fluent in English, French and German, and of course many varieties of Fijian. I have more limited knowledge of some other languages, such as Irish, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Rotuman, Fiji Hindi, Samoan, Tongan," he said. Besides being a lecturer at USP, he has published a number of books and papers on the Fijian language.

"My best known publications on Fijian are the History of the Fijian Languages and the Lonely Planet Fijian Phrase-book. I feel I still have a lot of work to do in the development of Fijian, and in publishing in Fijian," he said. "Basically I want to encourage Fijian speakers to be proud of their language and heritage, and to use it. There's no point saying you support your language and then refusing to use it. Also to persuade people (though thankfully not everyone needs persuading) that speaking Fijian (or Fiji Hindi for that matter) is not a sin against multi-culturalism.

"I subscribe to the view of the late Ratu Mara, that Fiji would be a very dull place not to mention dangerous if everyone was forced to speak the same language and act in the same way. Unfortunately, too many people think the only way forward is to copy the perceived monoculturalism of some of our neighbours."

Dr Geraghty is working in collaboration with Professor Patrick Nunn a lecturer in geography at USP on some exciting research in prehistory, with Dr Geraghty researching oral traditions and Prof Nunn the geomorphology. "We've come to the conclusion that a number of traditional stories of lost islands in Vanuatu, Solomons and Fiji are based on fact. In Fiji, we believe that stories of Davetalevu, a sacred land submerged to the south of Moturiki, are based on an actual event that a large island once existed there and collapsed, perhaps because of an earthquake, between 1200 and 1600 AD," he said.

"Similarly, legends of Burotukula, a disappearing island full of beautiful things from Matuku are the result of a real island called Burotu southwest of Matuku that had become very rich through trading red parrot feathers to Tonga and Samoa, collapsed over a thousand years ago.""Also interesting is that Patrick and I went to schools in England just ten miles away from each other although of course we didn't know each other then."

With his load of research and papers to write, Dr Geraghty says he hardly has any time to spare but when he does have the time, he loves to watch the football matches on television, running the streets occasionally, translating and composing. "I've composed and arranged a number of Catholic hymns and anthems. When I was at Cambridge I spent my summer holidays hitch-hiking around Ireland," he said.

Why he doesn't wear shoes

THE thing I found most interesting about Dr Paul Geraghty was the fact that he always went around without his shoes and this interview gave me the perfect opportunity to ask him why.
And I have a feeling most people who have seen him in the capital city or at the University of the South Pacific, must have the same question. Why does he still go about without his shoes?
He told me it was a long story but he would try to explain and keep it short.

"When I first came to Fiji as a teacher at RKS, I just followed what most kaivalagi were doing then, wearing sandals or flip-flops and (believe it or not) white knee socks," he said. "But with the rain and mud, I soon discovered that it was very difficult to stay clean traipsing over the grass from my quarters to the school buildings and back.

So he thought the best way to deal with the rain and muddy roads was to go barefoot.
"I'd try going bare-foot not, as a lot of people think, because it's the way Fijians used to go, but simply because it made sense," he said. He said he got used to it, and nothing since has persuaded him to do otherwise.

Being a professor at one of the largest and most prestigious universities in the South Pacific, people would have assumed he would not be comfortable meeting people without his shoes but Dr Geraghty says their comments don't faze him anymore. "Most people don't bother. I've only once heard a rude remark and that was from a rather large lady tourist from New Zealand," he said. "She stopped me in the botanical gardens in Suva and asked whether I knew I could get hookworm. I replied that I've never had hookworm, and in any case I'd rather have hookworm than get obesity.

But he says there are some people who do occasionally stop him in the street and ask him, usually very politely, why he doesn't wear shoes, and if he is in a hurry, the answer is "Au sa kaivalagi rawa tu" I'm already a European. "They usually then get the point that I'm implying that the only reason other people wear shoes is because they viavia kaivalagi which is a bit of an exaggeration, but there's a nugget of truth in there," he said.

"If I have more time, I usually turn the question back on them, 'Why do you wear shoes?', and they might answer 'To protect my feet and keep me healthy', to which I reply that I haven't worn shoes (in Fiji) for over twenty years and my feet are fine and strong, and I'm perfectly healthy." He said the main reason people wear shoes in Suva is simply because of veimurimuri (following the crowd) and madua (being ashamed not to), neither of which is to him a good reason.