Traditional Canoes in CNMI

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) forms a chain of 14 volcanic islands: Agrihan, Alamagan, Anatahan, Asuncion, Farallon De Medinilla, Farallon De Pajaros (Uracas), Guguan, Maug (three islands), Pagan, Rota, Saipan, Sarigan and Tinian stretching over 375 miles north to south, with a land area of 181 square miles. There are three major inhabited islands, but most people live on Saipan.


Where is the CNMI?

Recently Radio New Zealand reported that CNMI’s Department of Community and Cultural Affairs has launched its own traditional canoe program but says it’s not competing with a private sector-driven program to build 500 traditional canoes by 2030.

The Department Secretary, Robert Hunter, said the Seafaring Traditions Program wants to perpetuate the Chamorro and Carolinian traditional skills of open-ocean seafaring, canoe building, and celestial navigation. He added that the new program aims to work in unison with the 500 Sails organization to make sure this important aspect of the CNMI’s culture continues.

The Seafaring Traditions Program is focused on ensuring traditional skills are not lost. These include canoe building and canoe house making and all of the skills that this entails, from rope-making to weaving to carving to tool-building, and the traditional methods of celestial navigation.

The program initially is building a canoe house that is capable of housing two 40-foot sakmans or traditional canoes. Once built, they will move on to constructing the canoes themselves, which they plan to sail to the 2020 Festival of the Pacific Arts in Hawaii.

The 500 Sails organization aims to reclaim the maritime tradition in the Marianas by getting 500 traditional Chamorro and Carolinians proas on the water in the Marianas again. By matching the number of proas seen on the water in 1565, 500 Sails believes it will have restored the Marianas’ maritime traditions.


Traditioanl Canoe House in Saipan, photo by

This past August The Northern Marianas Seafaring Traditions Program has completed its first canoe house, ensuring the islands’ renewed interest in building traditional canoes continues.

The canoe house took five months to build and is modeled on traditional architecture of ancient Chamorro huts and made of the same materials. The governor Ralph Torres said the cultural significance of the canoe house and the traditional canoes that would be built there will help promote the CNMI to tourists. He said it is always important to continue to promote Chamorro and Refaluwasch or Carolinian culture.

The Seafaring Traditions Program is focused on ensuring traditional skills are not lost. These include canoe building and canoe house making and all of the skills that this entails, rope-making, weaving, carving, tool-building and traditional methods of celestial navigation.

The Seafaring Traditions Program will now focus on building canoes to sail to the 2020 Festival of Pacific Arts in Hawaii.

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Pacific Women Artists Balance Art and Family

A couple of months ago Radio New Zealand posted an article about Pacific women artists who work hard to balance their art and family life that I have been meaning to share…

Pacific visual artist Janet Lilo is a mother on a mission to create art and explore indigenous feminism but also raise good feminist men.”I want to bring it back to the bare bones,” said Janet Lilo, a Māori-Samoan-Niuean visual artist, and a mother.

Family is important to Ngāpuhi, Samoa and Niuean cultures which Ms Lilo draws upon when it comes to raising her boys, who she wants to raise feminist. “I am trying to be an artist, but I also want to be a good mum. I want my sons to realize in the contemporary world we live in right now that we are all equal. And that counts with gender equality. Being accepting of other races and differences,” she said.

Artist, curator and writer Ane Tonga said female empowerment was not new in a Pacific context and others have been doing it before them.”We had the late Teresia Teaiwa who wrote about the militarization in Fiji and so it is a much broader discussion beyond art,” she said. Ms Tonga said it was also hard to believe there were only nine Pacific women represented by gallery dealers in Aotearoa (New Zealand), including traditional weavers. “This was not a quick sweep of gallery dealers either,” she said. “When I say nine, keep in mind it is not the whole story. We need to think about the ecology of that, and what we could do more of to support.”

She firmly believes art tells important Pacific histories and for Tongans it is important, as are family connections. “Absolutely. When I think about women in art, I always think about my grandmother who brings out her ngatu (tapa cloth) every year to repaint it. That is a woman’s art, how women express their creativity,” she said.


Fijian Women Art Expo, 2018

Ms Tonga said while women’s art is key, men also have an integral role to play. “Well I wrote about the Pacific sisters recently, eight sisters, who have done incredible work in the arts but then they have had men who have helped them and played a role in their collective. To me there is no distinction between men women and even the LGBT community.”

Ms Lilo said Pacific traditional artists need more visibility and recognition and that is where the art dealers come in. “There are many practitioners who do make traditional crafts but I think it is getting more visibility in the arts world,” said Lilo who did not realize that the role of art dealers were essential to getting their arts work sold when she first started out.

Ms Lilo says the digital age has really made arts more accessible and this avenue could be better utilized. “You could be rural couldn’t you and yet people anywhere can still access your work. And I think sometimes with too much info on the internet, can also stop people from getting out and leaving the house and seeing something for yourself or meeting people,” she said. Lilo also added, “It is about finding that balance between the digital and physical world and as humans we need to find a balance of those things.”

This year New Zealand celebrates the 125th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage and both artists took part in a women in arts talk series at the Auckland Art Gallery this month. The series celebrates the contribution of a range of different women to the arts. “I think it is a really new development for the Auckland City Art Gallery and a sign of good things to come? Maybe it is about the 125th year of Women’s suffrage, but maybe it is about time for these discussions with more sisters here,” said Lilo.

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Promoting Culture at Samoan Festival

Last week at the Samoa Nei Galo Festival, eight schools participated in contemporary dancing that told a story of Samoa’s struggle for freedom from slavery. Students representing the Saint Joseph’s College, Lepa/Lotofaga College, Paul VI College, Safata College, Aleipata College, Avele College, Anoamaa College and Leififi College partook in the performances.

They were judged based on six different categories with Leififi College, Aleipata College, Lepa/Lotofaga College and Saint Joseph’s College coming away winners. Leififi College got the artistic performance/dynamic presentation award, the award for best presentation of the theme went to Aleipata College, and there was a tie for for Original Composition/Entrance/Exit with Lepa/Lotofaga College and Saint Joseph’s College sharing the award.

The award for cultural creativity/expressions was shared between Aleipata College and Anoamaa College, while the best costume design/costumes was equally won by Paul VI College and Anoamaa College. Avele College and Safata College both claimed the best music/music accompaniment.


Minister of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) Loau Solamalemalo Keneti Sio, who delivered the opening speech at the event, said it was important Samoa’s young generation were aware of their roots. “The main aim of this program is to promote our Samoan culture. The program is significant not only in upholding but also understanding our culture.”

The Ministered thanked everyone for your hard work in terms of the time dedicated to the preparations for the competition. He added, “It is important for the young generation to be aware of their identity and roots.”

Aleipata College principal, Saniie Matamu Toa, was elated at her school taking out the best presentation of the theme, which was O le ea o Samoa mai le pologa ia Toga (Samoa coming out of slavery from the rule of Tonga). “We acted out a story that depicted how Samoa overcame the Tongans power and reign. I am so proud of the students and teachers efforts in working together to produce something magnificent that claimed a play in this year’s show,” she said.

Mataafa Elia Autagavaia, culture adviser within the cultural division at M.E.S.C., praised the talent on show from all the participating schools.  “For this year we have changed it from traditional to contemporary, and it is quite different in the eyes of our country. We are so used to stories being told and acted out but with contemporary, it has transitioned to a different level of expression for storytelling in the form of dancing,” he said.

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The Flying Taro- Hawaii

Here’s a short and sweet story from the Big Island of Hawaii. This one is fascinating because the stars of the story are plants and not an animal or person. The legend comes from the book Tales Told in Hawaii. Enjoy!

The Flying Taro

In the days when Hawaii had chiefs, and that was only yesterday, there lived in a taro patch of south Kona two beautiful taro plants who loved each other dearly.

One day the chief said, “Gather those two plants for the feast tomorrow.” The lovers trembled and moved to another place in the patch.

The next day the chief saw the same plants in his patch and again he ordered them for a feast. Again the lovers fled and escaped death. This happened again and again, and angered the chief. Finally, they took wing and fled from taro patch to another. All Kona, all Hawaii, sympathized with the taro plants.

The Flying Taro (Hawaii)

“The Flying Taro,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2018.

At last they flew to King Kamehameha who stood beside his taro patch. Behind the flying plants came the angry chief. Kamehameha caught the tired lovers in his hands, and stooping, he planted them as tenderly as a mother putting her own sick child to bed.

The chief groveled in shame before the king.

Kamehameha rose. “Stand up, my chiefling, and receive my thanks for your gift of the flying taro. I am honored by so brave a gift. When I am weary of the trials the gods have sent, I shall come and rest my eyes on these brave plants and fill my soul with courage.”

In the taro patch the king, the lovers lived to old age surrounded by their children, and their children’s children.

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Diverse Voices Come Together for Arts and Education in Fiji

A joint media release from Suva, Fiji, was recently announced about how the Government, civil society and members of the diplomatic corps came together to discuss Arts and Education at a Dialogue funded by the European Union. The event was launched at the Grand Pacific Hotel by the Chief Guest, Permanent Secretary of Education, Alison Burchell.

Ms. Ingrid Swinnen of the European Union said in her remarks that “The EU acknowledges the role of Culture as both an enabler and an important component of development that facilitates social inclusion, freedom of expression, identity building, civil empowerment and conflict prevention while strengthening economic growth.”

She continued, “In the new European Consensus for development adopted last year, the EU and its Member States reaffirm their commitment to promote intercultural dialogue and cooperation, promote cultural diversity, protect cultural heritage, boost the cultural and creative industries and support cultural policies that help achieve sustainable development.”

The Dialogue was one of a series as part of the EU-funded Valuing Voices project which is about valuing all voices in society — based on an understanding that diversity of voice leads to better governance for everyone. The project is delivered by the British Council and Save the Children Fiji (SC Fiji) and supports the Fijian Government’s international commitments to consolidating democracy and the rule of law, and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Director of the British Council in New Zealand and the Pacific, Ms. Ingrid Leary, said that with more than half the 837,000 Fijian population aged under 25, and one-third aged below 14, the school curriculum now was going to really shape the Fiji of the future. “The education system can contribute enormously to the development of Arts career pathways and platforms, so it was very exciting to see stakeholders from all parts of society come together at the Dialogue to give the Arts sector the time and the attention it deserves,” she said.


Fijian culture on display

The first half of the day was a discussion between artists, human rights defenders and academics identifying opportunities and challenges in integrating arts and culture into the Fiji school curriculum. Themes covered included the power of arts, culture and heritage to give voice to all people in society, including the most marginalized. Participants explored how collaboration across sectors can enhance freedom of expression, also contributing to the enhancement of other human rights and a more peaceful and prosperous society.

As the Valuing Voices project is about exploring new ways of amplifying voice, the second half of the dialogue provided up to 25 children with an opportunity to speak out responsibly about opportunities and challenges in integrating arts and culture into the Fiji school curriculum.

In Fijian society, as in many societies, the Arts is not regarded by many parents as a viable career option. Platforms and pathways are limited, and children who are interested or talented in the arts are often encouraged to pursue other interests.

These children, and society at large, often misses out on their skills and talents. Research shows that vital skills for employment in this millennium include creativity, collaboration and cooperation. The discussion explored how these soft skills can be enhanced in the education system and especially through arts-based activities.

“The focus with children was to provide a space for adult participants and artists to inspire and encourage the children, to solve problems, build relationships, and get involved in ways that rebuild social capital and contribute to a fully self-expressed society,” said Mrs Iris Low-McKenzie, CEO of SC Fiji. “The dialogue aimed to build on and bring to the forefront children’s perceptions about their world and what they care about, using art and heritage,” she said.

Other themes explored in a panel discussion were:

• Art academic development, research and challenges
• Contemporary art, social activism and therapy
• Music, cultural identify and transformative change
• A child’s experience in art and curricula
• Eco Friendly art and activism
• Disability inclusion in the arts
• Pacific Arts for Children and Young People – the untapped potential.

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Pacific Islands Chocolate

Although this will not be the most profound post on Pacific Islands culture, but one worth sharing nonetheless. I love chocolate and will inevitably seek it out during my travels throughout the region. Recently I came across some news and information regarding the cocoa bean in the Pacific Islands.

Papua New Guinea

The third Bougainville Chocolate Festival will be held on September 21-22, 2018 in Papua New Guinea. Bougainville has long had a good reputation for the cocoa grown there but aid agencies and the autonomous and national governments have been working to improve farming standards.

The festival is part of that process and the chair of the steering committee, Steven Tsivele, said there has been international interest, but they hope this year’s event will bring in more buyers from overseas. “Bougainville beans are now being used for high class, single source chocolate in UK, Europe and Australia. This is one of the big achievements that we have seen from the last couple of years, and we believe we can do more,” said Tsivele.



Cocoa (koko) has become just as much a part of Samoan culture as any other traditional food, considered a national drink. Nearly every family has either a plantation of a number of plants for own use. So when you visit a traditional family in Samoa, you are often treated with a cup of koko.

A major cocoa initiative facilitated by the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and funded by the New Zealand government is ready implement its five-year plan.

According to Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Lemauga Hobart Vaai, after nine months of consulting with farmers as well as public and private sector partners they are ready to embark on a nationwide drive to improve and increase cocoa yields to bring the industry back to its glory days.

“We’re not going somewhere new, our people have been growing cocoa for generations, we just want to take it where we were before. Back in the 60’s through to the 90’s Samoans were huge cocoa producers. We’ve learnt from the mistakes of the past and we will move forward and create opportunities in employment and increase our exports,” he said.

Oral traditions suggest that Samoan cocoa was brought to Samoa from Peru by early navigator ancestors circa 700AD. Along with other plants like tapioca and kumara (sweet potato) traded and grown on Islands dotted among the vast Pacific ocean as subsistence food supporting ancestral inhabitants.

Solomon Islands

Cocoa is the Solomon Islands biggest agricultural export earner generating the country around USD $15 million annually.  There are approximately 20-25,000 small holder farmers and their households involved in the production and more than 50% of producers and processors are women.


In 1883, the very first consignment of Trinidad cacao seeds survived the Royal Botanical Garden of England’s voyage to the south seas. It would take more than a hundred years before the Fijiana Cacao story takes its place in Fiji’s luxury chocolate history.

When the British colonists introduced many crops from Sri Lanka to Fiji including Trinitario cacao beans from Trinidad in the 1800’s, they later planted original varieties of cacao plants in Vanua Levu. The cacao industry developed over time and the number of cacao farmers in Fiji increased. For a while it was a big industry for Fiji but then it disintegrated. One reason was that the government of the day monopolized the distribution channel, which collapsed when there was a fall in world prices. Most farmers deserted their cacao crops and shifted their focus to more profitable cash crops like taro, manioc and kava. Once abundant cacao trees were all but forgotten in the sprawling rainforests, serving sweet crops to native birds and wild animals.

Today, Cacao Fiji Limited is embarking on an ambitious plan to buy cocoa beans from all cocoa farmers in Fiji. Company director and founder Arif Khan said this was the ultimate in terms of cocoa revival since the demise of the industry due to a collapse in the market partly contributed by the coups  of 1987.

He said with a progressive Government, economy and market access for all cocoa farmers, the cocoa industry is taking steps towards a revival. “At present we are working in the vicinity of 30 to 40 farmers in Macuata and Bua,” Mr Khan said.“Through our outreach, we have additional 20 farmers who have started pruning.”

The Ministry of Agriculture is also working closely with cocoa farmers around the country in a bid to revive the industry. The interest in cocoa farming has been gradually increasing with 150 growers and interested farmers from as far as Rakiraki and Nairukuruku in Naitasiri recently participating in a field day at Namau Village in Tailevu.

Ministry’s Crop Extension director, Unaisi Waibuta, said, “Cocoa had always been of great interest in Fiji as it can be seen on the Fiji flag Coat of Arms where the lion is seen holding a cocoa pod.” Waibuta highlighted that the government had been encouraging people to plant cocoa on large scale since the early 1970’s and some of the cocoa trees planted at that time still exist.

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New Samoan Tales Book

A couple of months ago Deidre Tautua wrote an article for the Samoa Observer about a book launch of Volume Eight of Samoa Ne’i Galo, which was held at the Fale Samoa of the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.).

The book was compiled by the Ministry’s Culture division over many years. Minister of Education Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio said the book is not only important for the kids, but for everyone. “On behalf of the Government, we want to acknowledge the hard work of those who had put this book together. I know it’s not an easy work and also the gathering of the information is not easy, but this is a useful resource to the students,” he said.

Mr Sio added, “This project provides a documented record of our rich heritage and makes possible a rekindling and nurturing of the awareness of and pride in our rich past and culture. I also want to urge the Ministry to not touch or change any of the myths and legends that have been told by the matais (chief) of the villages who are involved. But I believe that later on, the Ministry will hand out the book so the villages that were involved will be able to look at it.”

Volume eight documents 20 legends researched from 10 villages in Savaii, Upolu and Manu’a. “I have also been told that this is the eighth volume of this book, but up until now I still haven’t seen the first, second and third volume, so hopefully the Ministry still has copies so that we can advertise,” Sio said. “And hopefully the Ministry will give out copies to all the school and not let these books sit on their shelves.

“So thank you to all who have worked and compiled this project so that our children can understand the myths and legends of our country as well as its meaning and how it is useful to them.”

According to the statement from M.E.S.C., the challenges of this program and safeguarding our oral history through documentation, involve issues of ownership as well as the reluctance of our people to tell the stories and legends pertaining to their villages and families to outsiders. This work continues with research and documentation of volumes nine and 10 already underway.

The project is an initiative of the Government of Samoa who funds it with assistance from U.N.E.S.C.O. This research program has documented 160 legends so far. The Samoa Ne’i Galo Series is a teaching resource and is available to the public through M.E.S.C. and our local bookshops.


Rainbow over Samoa

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