Happy Birthday, Kiribati!

I haven’t talked about the island country of Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-bass) very often in this blog. So, I thought I’d share some interesting facts about the country on its 39th birthday.

Kiribati is an island group in Micronesia that straddles the equator. It’s 33 islands, of which only 20 are inhabited, are scattered over a vast area of ocean. Kiribati extends 1,800 miles (2,900 km) eastward from the 16 Gilbert Islands, where the population is concentrated, to the Line Islands, of which 3 are inhabited. In between lie the islands of the Phoenix group, which have no permanent population. Total land area is 313 square miles (811 square km).

Most of the atolls rise no higher than some 26 feet (8 meters), making them vulnerable to changes in ocean surface levels. By 1999 two unpopulated islets had been covered by the sea. The threat of rising sea levels, a result of global warming, would be disastrous for the islands of Kiribati.

Kiribati society remains conservative and resistant to change; ties to family and traditional land remain strong. The building and racing of sailing canoes is a common pastime. Musical composition and dancing in customary styles are regarded as art forms and are the basis of widespread competition. The local economy now depends on subsistence farming, fishing, and the island’s prolific stands of coconut palms, and the subsequent sale of copra (coconut meat.)

Kiribati was inhabited for 2000 years prior to European contact. Under British colonial rule, it was known as the Gilbert Islands and was administered along with the neighbouring group Ellice Islands (now the independent Polynesian nation of Tuvalu). Kiribati was granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and complete independence in 1979.


Where is Kiribati?

Yesterday, July 12, Kiribati celebrated its 39th anniversary of gaining independence. Addressing the nation, Kiribati’s President Taneti Maamau paid tribute to the first leaders who have led the country since independence. He said that over the past 39 years i-Kiribati had witnessed many positive and encouraging changes in their country. Looking to the future, the president cited his government’s vision for the next twenty years which it launched last year.

Mr Maamau said it would guide Kiribati in its journey to become a better, peaceful and prosperous nation, while preserving culture and traditional knowledge.

According to the president, the government had worked tirelessly to create employment. Other areas mentioned by the President in his address include aims to improve education and health. “I wish to thank all of you especially those who have taken part in our nation-wide consultation to discuss your government’s vision which has now been incorporated into that plan,” the president said in his address.

President Maamau described the Kiribati Vision 20 – a long term development blueprint for Kiribati – as the government’s blueprint that will lead and guide Kiribati in its journey to make Kiribati, a better, peaceful and prosperous nation. He said there are four main pillars of the plan such as the economy; peace; backbone of leadership and anti-corruption.

Several Kiribati nationals were given distinguished and excellent awards by the Kiribati government on the 39th independence anniversary in Bairiki, Tarawa.

They are former Kiribati academic and director of the University of the South Pacific campus in Tarawa, Dr Ueantabo Neemia Mackenzie, current civil servants, Dr Buritata Eti Tofiga, Mr Tiaon Aukutino, and former civil servants John Kwong and Norma Timon Yeeting. Congratulations to all for their outstanding contributions to the society of Kiribati.

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UNESCO to Acknowledge Samoan Mats

A couple of months ago Samoa received good news that its traditional fine mats could join UNESCO’s heritage list. Mats are known as the giver of life, it is exchanged as a highly valued form of cultural respect, it’s also worn in all its woven glory during Samoan ceremonies, and now I’e Toga Samoa, or fine mat, may be listed as an intangible cultural heritage artifact by the United Nation’s agency UNESCO.

Fine mats in the Samoan culture have been considered in some ways, more valuable then money. An I’e Toga is normally used on special occasions. These occasions include weddings, funerals, building of new houses, church events, tattooing, and appointing of a new chief in a village.


Samoan Mat Example, from http://www.pinterest.com

Women from all across Samoa spend many days weaving fine mats for special occasions. They work as a group to make them. The most valued I’e Toga are very large and have extremely fine textures. They can take up to 2-3 years to complete. In the Fa’a Samoa culture every formal occasion is completed with the exchange of I’e Toga. The more I’e Toga a chief or family can present to the people, the richer they are considered in their village.

The nomination was confirmed by UNESCO Director in Samoa, Ms Nisha, who told Talamua Online the Committee on Intangible Heritage will consider the nomination. She said if it met the committee’s criteria, it would be inscribed on the UNESCO list.

The committee is selected from various countries to look at all nominations and will meet in Paris in July this year. The submissions that best meet the criteria get nominated for inscription.

Samoa is a signatory to the UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage which recognized traditional knowledge and art forms associated with tradition knowledge.  The Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage was passed by the UNESCO General Conference held in 2003. At that time, the international community recognized the need to raise awareness about cultural manifestations and expressions that until then had no legal or programmatic framework to protect them.

The Convention was aimed at safeguarding the uses, representations, expressions, knowledge and techniques that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals, recognize as an integral part of their cultural heritage. This intangible heritage is found in forms such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship knowledge and techniques.

Ms Nisha said the main objective was to safeguard the art form and visual knowledge for future generations, to ensure that it contributed to global mutual understanding, cultural exchange processes and that it had something that built the universal principles of co-existence and diversity.

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Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival 2018 Has Begun!

The Solomon Islands have welcomed 1500 participants to this year’s Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival in Honiara.  The event runs from July 1- 10 in Honiara and will coincide with the country’s 40th Independence Anniversary celebrations.” The festival, held every four years, aims to promote and preserve Melanesian culture, as well as celebrate unique differences between participating nations.


This year’s theme is Past Recollection for Future Connections.

The Solomon’s director of government communication, George Herming, said hosting the event brings many benefits. “Through cultural interaction and creating knowledge and understanding of different Melanesian cultures which has resulted in a common understanding between participants as well as governments of Melanesian countries. So that’s one of the benefits and the other economic benefits of hosting the festival is that it generates revenue,” he said.

George Herming said the festival features cultural dance and music performances, as well as culinary arts and fashion. The Solomon Islands was the first Melanesian Spearhead Group country to host the festival back in 1998.

Vanuatu has sent 82 participants to the festival. The Daily Post Newspaper reported that under the festival theme of “Past recollections, future connections”, Vanuatu has also included young students from the French speaking secondary school, the Lycee Antoine de Bougainville.

The director of the Vanuatu National Cultural Council, Richard Shing, said young people have to be motivated about their customs and culture, as the future belongs to them. As well men and women with traditional knowledge will take part in symposiums to share their knowledge with an international audience.

Mr Shing said the idea of the Melanesian Arts Festival was to unite the people of the Melanesian nations through culture. He said now it is an opportunity to show the world Melanesia is made up of one people with many cultures.

To follow the festival simply click here.

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Why the Hawaiian Islands Are in a Row

Our next legend answers the question why the Hawaiian Islands are in a row. Think it was because of volcanic activity? Think again. Here’s the traditional story on how the Hawaiians Islands were formed in a row. Naturally, it has to do with the rascal Maui.

Why the Hawaiian Islands Are in a Row

Maui’s brothers complained that he was lazy because he liked to lie in the forest or on a beach and dream of great things he would do. And Maui did great things. He snared the sun and made it go more slowly across the sky. He learned the secret of how to make fire form the mudhen. He invented barbed spears and fishhooks. These things seemed like nothing to his fisherman brothers. They thought no one in the world worked as hard as they.

One day Maui decided that he would show his brothers that he was not lazy. He would catch a bigger fish than any they had ever seen. He went to the underworld to his ancestress who was dead on one side of her body and alive on the other, and asked her for a bone to make a magic fishhook. “You may have the jawbone from the dead side of my face,” she said. Maui took the bone and made it into a fishhook. He went to his mother and she gave him the wing of a sacred mudhen for bait. 

Why the Hawaiian Islands Are in a Row- Hawaii

“Why the Hawaiian Islands Are in a Row,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2018.

The next morning Maui went fishing with his brothers though they said they did not know what such a lazy fellow would do. When they were far out to sea Maui lowered his magic fishhook and chanted:

“Oh Island, O great Island, why are you sulkily biting, biting below? Come, child of the deep sea, and dwell in the light of heaven.”

From the blue ocean an island slowly emerged. Maui fastened one of his brother’s fishlines to it, and lowered his magic fishhook again. He hauled up another island. He did not rest until he had eight islands lying in a row. He said to his brothers, “Let us draw these islands together and make one great land of them.”

Just then a gourd appeared on the water and Maui stooped and picked it up and placed it in the canoe. Out of the gourd stepped Hina of the Sea, whose body from head to foot was half woman and half fish. “Do not look back or we will fail!” Maui shouted to his brothers.

The brothers did not obey. They looked back and were amazed at the beauty of the mermaid. She dove off the canoe and as she struck the water the fish-lines snapped. 

And so today the Hawaiian Islands lie separated in a row instead of being the great land Maui intended them to be.


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The Rally to Reawaken the Language of Rotuma

Last month an interesting article written by Radio New Zealand (RNZ) Pacific Journalist, Sara Vui-Talitu, was published on the RNZ Website. The article was about the efforts to revitalize the culture and language of Rotuma. I find articles such as this one very important to share with intention of reaching different people in different parts of the world who have an interest in The Pacific Islands region but not have the opportunity to keep up with Radio New Zealand’s posts. Enjoy the post!


Where is Rotuma?


A Diaspora Rallies to Reawaken the Language of Rotuma

By Sara Vui-Talitu:

It’s a small island of only about 2000 people partway between Fiji’s main islands and Tuvalu, but despite its size the Fiji dependency of Rotuma has its own unique language and culture, more like that of the Polynesian islands to the east than the rest of Fiji.

Like many others in the region, that culture and language has struggled in recent decades, with the number of speakers dwindling as thousands lose connections to their homelands. But, also like many others, that has sparked a drive among descendants to rekindle and preserve it.

While few people live on Rotuma and its surrounding islets, it’s estimated it has a disapora of about 50,000 people, many of whom have settled in Auckland. This week, some of them gathered to mark the inaugural Rotuman Language Week, which made its debut on the official roster of Pacific languages celebrated in New Zealand.

Among them was film maker and former pop singer Ngaire Fuata, who grew up in the Bay of Plenty town of Whakatāne thinking she was Māori. In her 2011 film, “Salat Se Rotuma,” or “Passage to Rotuma”, she documented her return to her father’s Pacific homeland with her eight-year-old daughter.

In the film, she explained that her father, Fu, had long given up explaining where Rotuma was, but she sought her ties when her beloved father took ill. Ms Fuata last visited Rotuma at Christmas with her father’s ashes, which she said evoked strong emotions and sentiments for both her and the community.

“It’s amazing ‘cos as a producer on Tagata Pasifika for like 25 years, we have always covered language weeks for the larger groups so to have a language week for Rotuma is just amazing,” she said at the event.

“Rotumans have their own culture and language and to bring it and share it with the rest of New Zealand is incredible.”

A Rotuman pastor, Ravai Mosese, has been in New Zealand just shy of a decade. In that short time though, he said he had seen the culture and language slipping further. He said he wanted to rally the elders to do their part and use it in the home, as well as support its usage through technology and social media.

“With the help of media and government members they said we should do this in an effort to renew our culture and teach the next generation who are coming up to take our place,” he said.

Pastor Mosese said he liked Rotuman proverbs because they taught people about life using indigenous everyday things. One of his favourite speaks about what happens when one leans on a rotten pole.

“So for example, when you trust someone like, say, an accountant to look after your money – and we thought he was smart – but then we did not know what happened. But then in the end, his book is still there but the accountant has gone and left you with nothing,” he said with a wide tooth grin.

The New Zealand Rugby Sevens player, Rocky Khan, was also happily there, and pleased to see the recognition for an often overlooked culture.

“I was driving the other week and heard other languages being brought up but then I heard about Rotuman language week and almost crashed my car as you don’t tend to hear that on the radio,” he said.

“Rotumans have their own unique culture and language that separates us from Fiji but a lot of Rotumans do live in Fiji.”

Mr Khan said that as a young person who does not speak the language, he is motivated to learn more about his cultural identity as a Rotuman and Fiji-Indian.

The chair of the Auckland Rotuma Fellowship Group, Faga Fasala, said they made the decision to have Rotuma Language Week from May 6-9 – the anniversary of the island’s cession to the United Kingdom in 1881.

“We pay tribute to all our elders and leaders, who for the last 30 years, have continued to celebrate our culture in New Zealand and keep our customs and traditions relevant.”

They also created a language chart to help the younger generations as well as those new to the language, and shared grand displays of song, dance and cultural celebrations.

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Tonga’s Heilala Festival 2018

The Heilala Festival in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, for 2018 will run from June 25 to July 6.

This is an annual event celebrating the King’s birthday through various shows and events. One of the highlights being the Miss Heilala beauty pageant, where by contestants from various places come together to showcase the tradition and unique culture of Tonga through talent, beauty and knowledge.

The Festival is named after Tonga’s national flower, the Heilala, which is the highest in the hierarchy of the Tongan flowers. The Heilala plant is very difficult to propagate and has to be closely nurtured to survive.

The Heilala Festival was first organised in 1980 by the Tonga Visitors Bureau (Ministry of Tourism) to celebrate the birthday of His Late Majesty’s King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV. It has since then become the highlight of the year for Tonga.


A Tongan lei made with heilala flowers- from http://www.pinterest.com

For 2018 a tentative program was recently released by the Ministry of Tourism and the festival will start with a “Best Chef” competition. This competition will be followed by a “Tonga’s Got Talent” and a “Best Bartender” competition on June 26.

The Miss Junior Tau’olunga and Foorshow competition is set for Thursday, June 28, and a Tongan Masani Block Party takes place in the CBD on Friday, June 29. Various sports tournaments will take place on Saturday, June 30.

The highlight of the festival, the Miss Heilala Pageant, starts on Friday, June 29, with an orientation program at the Tanoa Dateline Hotel and will be followed by a cultural singing competition in the evening at the Atele Indoor Stadium. The first judging for the pageant is planned for July 2, the Miss Heilala Tau’olunga competition on July 3, Heilala Float on July 4, and the Miss Heilala Pacific Evening on July 5. The pageant concludes with the Miss Heilala Ball and prize giving on Friday, July 6. All of these events will take place at the Atele Indoor Stadium.

You can follow the event through the festival’s facebook page.

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Homecoming: A Film About Pukapuka Update

It has been awhile since I’ve provided you with an update about the documentary film Homecoming: A Film About Pukapuka. A couple of weeks ago I did receive the latest information regarding the project that I’d like to share with you.

If you recall, Homecoming: A Film About PukaPuka tells the story of climate change through two women who cross the Pacific to return to Pukapuka, the coral atoll where they grew up. A crossing point between Eastern and Western Polynesia, Pukapuka (or Te Ulu o Te Watu, “head of the rock”) has an ancient culture and distinct language maintained for over two thousand years. Today, only 450 people live here. The population continues to decline as the atoll faces rising tides, environmental migration, and cultural adaptation.

This feature-length documentary explores these environmental and social issues through two women writers and friends: Johnny Frisbie, a Pukapukan-American writer’s daughter, and Amelia Borofsky, an American anthropologist’s daughter. The film follows their return journey to this spiritual place.

Click here to visit the Homecoming project’s Kickstarter page.


Here’s the current update from the filmmakers:

Since we last wrote you in February 2016, we received a generous grant from the United Nations Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program, Cook Islands that brought Amelia and Gemma back to Pukapuka to complete the filming of the documentary film in May 2017.

Gemma felt in order to complete the film she had to return to Pukapuka with her camera and get immersed in the daily life and beauty of Wale. Both Gemma and Amelia came out of this five- month- experience living in Rarotonga and Pukapuka with an additional 200 hours of footage, and more importantly, knowing that she had the personal experience and film material to complete the documentary.

What is next for our Homecoming film?

So after completing the revision and logging of all the 400 plus hours, Gemma and Kyung are now collecting archival footage to draft the “first assembly” of the film and still currently working on the transcriptions, translations from Pukapukan to English, and beginning the process of editing. The editing will take at least a year to get to the “rough-cut” stage which will follow postproduction work – music and sound design, color correction and the final online. Our plan is that with a “rough-cut” of the film we can show the power and beauty of the Homecoming film to our funders and approach new foundations to successfully raise the completion funds and take the film to a world wide audience.

The projected completion time is the end of 2019. For those of you who wonder how this film world works….We won’t know the release date of Homecoming until the film is fully completed and accepted into a major film international festival, where we can celebrate its world premiere! 

We thank you for your belief in this film project, your prayers, and support.

We will continue to update you on the status of the film in the next few months.

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