Samoa Performing Arts & Creative Excellence Opens in Samoa

I came across an inspirational article from the Samoaobserver where the people of Apia, Samoa celebrated the official launch of a project called Samoa Performing Arts and Creative Excellence (S.P.A.C.E) last week. The event was well attended by members of the community.

S.P.A.C.E was the brainchild of Seiuli Allan Alo Vaai who dreamed of creating a space to nurture, encourage and develop the talents of our people of all ages in the Pacific. His courage and bravery was praised by Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi who officially opened the project. “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain,” Prime minister said. “The anonymous quotation fits the purpose of tonight in our coming together to celebrate Seiuli Allan Alo’s dream to create S.P.A.C.E.”

Tuilaepa said S.P.A.C.E offers opportunities for both youth and the veterans of Samoa and the region in the performing arts to develop their talents. He then paid tribute to Seiuli’s vision and hard work to realize it. “Seiuli’s S.P.A.C.E is a demonstration of the distinction between a leader and a follower,” Tuilaepa said. He continued, “You have not followed where the path may lead instead you have gone where there is no path and will definitely lead a trail so that others may follow. I feel privileged to be here tonight and I agree wholeheartedly that the performing arts give life its shape. An ounce of performance is certainly worth more ounces of promises.I am convinced that those who will enter the holes of S.P.A.C.E will know that when you are simply told of something you will forget whereas showing and involving someone will result in understanding and remembering forever and may we all treasure the gift of S.P.A.C.E born out of a dream.”

Seiuli was humbled by having Prime Minister Tuilaepa at the launch.“I feel overwhelmed mainly because of your presence here tonight,” he said. “But it’s the art that really gives me life and that’s what God gave to me and here to celebrate S.P.A.C.E to nurture and to develop the arts for our generations and people to come.”

Three months ago Seiuli was sadly diagnosed with cancer. “Additionally with my condition of cancer, I dedicate this space to dance for cancer, a program that will rejuvenate and rehabilitate those who have been paralyzed when they are being told that they only have one to three months to live,” he said.

“When the doctor said to me that I have three months I was so mad, I quickly got on the phone with my family here and my children and family in Fiji to please come. Let’s come together and dance for cancer and celebrate life,” he optimistically added. “And that’s why we are here to celebrate life with me.”

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Downtown Apia, Samoa

 

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Moana- a Worldwide Hit

The movie, Moana, has become an international hit this past weekend. The film is about a spunky Polynesian 16-year old girl who seeks the help of the demigod, Maui, and set out on a grand, high-seas adventure to save her village from destruction.

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There was a lot of anticipation and concern for how Disney would portray its depiction of indigenous Pacific cultures. Overall, the movie truly succeeds by the way it dives very deeply into the culture, setting and mythology of the Pacific Islands that is rarely seen on film. It also includes a talented cast that hail from within the Polynesian community and who voice a delightful array of characters. These include Auli‘i Cravalho, a 15-year-old Kamehameha Schools student, as Moana, Dwayne Johnson, as the voice of Maui the demigod, singer Nicole Scherzinger as Moana’s mother, Sina and Temuera Morrison as Moana’s father, Chief Tui.

Some of Tonga’s royalty family members such as the Hon. Frederica Filipe and her two cousins Prince Tungi and Hon. ‘Etani Tuku’aho attended the star studded World Premier of Disney’s highly anticipated Polynesian animated movie ‘Moana‘, at the famed El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles on 14 November. Hon. Frederica said, “A year-ago Disney invited me to meet with the directors and producers for the Moana movie, after which they reached out and invited me and my family to the premiere. It was an honor to represent our Kingdom of Tonga on the blue carpet and encourage the unity between all of our Pacific Islands by supporting Disney’s Moana Movie,” she said.

For me, however, it was the music that played an instrumental role in the movie (ha! pun intended) success as it usually does for most Disney animated films. Original songs were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the score by Mark Mancina. Miranda, whose family hails from the Caribbean, made sure the songs in Moana advanced the story in the musical theater tradition. He also had to address another Disney legacy where the studio has taken some bad press in the past for appropriating other cultures in misguided and sometimes insulting ways.”If you’re making a movie about a part of the world, for many people that will be their only exposure to that culture,” he says. “So you should know something about that culture when you write it.

Miranda and Mancina also worked with Opetaia Foa’i, a Samoan musician who helped make sure the Moana songs were steeped in the culture of Oceania. Foa’i wrote the song “We Know the Way” and contributed rhythmic chants and input throughout the process. The songs in Moana feature Foa’i’s vocal group, Te Vaka, as well as a vocal group, Pasifika Voices, of the University of the South Pacific’s (USP) from Fiji.

Foa’i says the quality of the work is important.You can’t fool people, you know,” Foa’i says. “If something’s fabricated, we know it.” But he says he’s pleased with the results. “Put it this way: my ancestors would be happy with this movie,” he says. “And that’s saying a lot.”

 

 

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Help Us Preserve Culture in the Pacific Islands

 

This is a good time of year to do a little fundraising through Amazon.com for our nonprofit organization, Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS), as Black Friday (November 25) and Cyber Monday (November 28) are rapidly approaching. In the United States these two days are the busiest shopping days of the year.

AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support ICAS every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop at smile.amazon.com, you’ll find the exact same low prices, vast selection and convenient shopping experience as Amazon.com, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization. The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases. The purchase price is the amount paid for the item minus any rebates and excluding shipping & handling, gift-wrapping fees, taxes, or service charges.

Support ICAS when you shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #StartWithaSmile at smile.amazon.com/ch/26-2291223 and Amazon donates to Island Culture Archival Support.

Please think of ICAS when you look for Christmas gifts or when you’re purchasing those special deals. Every dollar helps!

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The Ocean is a Way of Life

As you may have noticed, I like to share articles about Pacific Islands culture. These will include information about history, festivals, art exhibitions, language and anything else that I can find that contributes to the cultural heritage of the islands in the region. But there is another factor that has helped shape the Pacific Islanders’ identities since they first landed on all the islands thousands of years ago that doesn’t get talked about enough- the ocean.

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Coastline, Babeldaub, Palau

Scientifically, the ocean plays a fundamental role in shaping the climate zones we see on land. Even areas hundreds of miles away from any coastline are still largely influenced by the global ocean system. Culturally, the ocean has dictated options for clothing, shelter and food.

The Pacific Islands are home to the world’s most diverse range of indigenous cultures that continue to sustain many ancestral ways of life. Spread across a vast expanse of ocean, Pacific Island peoples occupy an array of environments, from Papua New Guinea’s massive mountains to the atolls and lagoons of Polynesia to Auckland New Zealand’s urban jungles. With the ocean being affected by climate change and over fishing, Pacific Island culture will most likely experience another change in the near future.

Recently the President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, stated that he believes that the ocean is a way of life- it represents culture, and is vital to our livelihood and economy. Remengesau has led the world in protecting the ocean. Under his administration, Palau is now a marine sanctuary where all commercial fishing is prohibited. In 2009, his predecessor, Johnson Toribiong, declared the country’s territorial waters a shark sanctuary. Since that time, other countries followed suit and have created their shark sanctuaries, including other Pacific Islands such as the Marshall Islands and French Polynesia.

Dr. Rick Stafford from the Department of Life and Environmental Sciences at Bournemouth University in England has done extensive research particularly in the areas of over fishing and shark finning and how these activities may result in more greenhouse gasses and increased climate change. He believes that negative media reports on shark attacks, along with a lack of knowledge of marine ecosystems, have resulted in limited public support for marine conservation. Dr. Stafford said: “We hope that our study will help people understand the importance of the marine environment — and that protecting it can have important effects on seemingly unrelated processes such as climate change.”

For his part, President Remengesau said the health of oceans affects countries in a variety of ways, from rising sea levels to ocean acidification and unpredictable weather. “It doesn’t matter where one lives around the world,” he added. “All people are connected and are impacted by what they do to the oceans and the health of the oceans and the seas. It is important that the United Nations in the next Millennium Development Goals should really put a stand-alone policy into action.”

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View from a Japanese World War II look-out base, Babeldaub, Palau

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5th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Archives

The Universal Declaration on Archives will be celebrating its 5th Anniversary this week on November 10. The International Council on Archives (ICA) invites all archivists, records managers and the general public, to celebrate this anniversary.  The Universal Declaration on Archives was initiated by the International Council on Archives and adopted in Paris by the UNESCO on the 10th of November 2011. UNESCO encourages its Member States to be guided by the principles set out in the Declaration.

The Universal Declaration on Archives was adopted by the 36th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO on 10th November 2011. The Declaration was developed by a special working group of the International Council on Archives and has been endorsed by the ICA as a key pillar of its outreach and advocacy strategy.

The document has been translated into many languages and advocates the preservation and universal accessibility of the world’s documentary heritage.  Archives secure human rights, establish a collective memory and underpin accountable and transparent governments.

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Records on display at the National Archives of Fiji

The Declaration is an important step in improving understanding and awareness of archives among the general public and key decision-makers. It is a powerful, succinct statement of the relevance of archives in modern society.

 THE DECLARATION

  • Defines archives to include all recorded decisions, actions and memories in all formats including paper, digital, and audio visual;
  • Recognizes the uniqueness of archives in the way they provide authentic evidence of human actions;
  • Emphasizes the key role of archives in ensuring administrative transparency and democratic accountability;
  • Supporting democracy and human rights, and preserving collective social memory.
  • Explains the role of archivists as skilled professionals who care for archives and provide access to them;
  • Highlights the key requirements for good archival management.

To register your support for the Universal Declaration on Archives, please click here and fill out the form.

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Photographs being processed at the Oceania Marist Province Archives, Suva, Fiji

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Ghosts of Guam

Although superstition and beliefs are a part of all cultures, the Chamorro’s of Guam ancient beliefs are deeply and gravely rooted in superstition. Guam is a spiritual place where Chamorros believe in a vigorous spiritual presence melded with Catholic dogma taught by the earliest Spanish missionaries. I came across a ghostly excerpt that highlights Guam’s spiritual belief that I thought would be appropriate on this Halloween Day.

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An intricate part of the ancient Chamorro society was the role of the “kakana.” Connected to the spiritual world and using ancient rites, the kakana was far different than the herbal healer who we know as the “suruhana” (healer or herbalist).

Following are excerpts from “A History and Ethnography of the Marianas” by George Fritz, District Captain in Saipan (published in 1904) as translated from German by Elfireide Craddock:

Religion, Mythology, Ghosts: The present-day Chamorro believe firmly in the existence of the “anite.” Exactly what kind of creature they imagine it to be is unclear to themselves. Their dead appear during both day and night and they are always very much afraid of them. They identify a skull as “anaite” and never dare to touch it. But this ancient concept of ghosts contradicts their Christian beliefs. They, therefore, refer to pagan, ghostly forest-men, often of incredible size with eyes as big as coconuts as anite. These are called dankolo (dankolo ulo — large head) and on Rota they still live in the ancient dwelling (latte) and caves and use the mortars and signal horns. Woe to the “kilisiano” who disturbs them; he has to die. No Chamorro goes into the forest at nighttime. In the shadow of the trees, in the electrical discharge of the savanna grass (which during the sultry nights and storms are frequent), in the moonlight over the forest clearing, they see ghosts. If they have to stay overnight in a lonely rancho or in a cave, they place a cross before the entrance or they scratch one into the rock wall. In this manner, the anite loses power over them.

“These bad ghosts, even when unprovoked, love to make fools of humans. This is what happened to two sisters, one of whom was married and pregnant and the other single. One evening they walked through the forest. The pregnant one had to give birth to the child. The other satisfied her bodily functions near an ancient house and found the product, to her surprise, in her breadbasket.

“Despite their usually unfriendly feeling toward the Christians, the anite are not unapproachable. They cultivate friendship and relations with certain families whose members they counsel during hunting and fill the fishnets for them. Mostly women are the friends of the anite and are called kakana. Through the intercession of such persons, much can be obtained for other people from the forest spirits. (For example) two children were lost in the woods. The parents searched for them in vain and finally turned to the kakana for assistance. The kakana named the place where the children were but warned the parents not to stop along the way. They did, in spite of the warning, and the children were found dead.

“In Garapan lives a woman who communicates with anite. Her father was also acquainted with one. The woman’s husband has observed how she walked into the forest at night and talked with ghosts. She is not afraid but he does not like to see her do this.

“The anite are no longer thought of as personified natural powers such as trees or … nymphs but rather as goblins whose vocation is to annoy humankind. They are not the spirits of the deceased, as was the belief of the ancient Chamorros, but heathen devils who still inhabit the ruined houses of the former enemies of the Christians. This concept clearly shows the influence of the priests, who warned their students against communicating with pagan tribe members. They blamed each disaster on those pagan devils. Individual Chamorros undoubtedly escaped death for the Spanish resettlement efforts and lived hidden in the forests of all islands, perhaps until not too long ago. On this basis built up the belief in the ghost of ancestors. This was supported by the miracles and devil exorcisms performed by the Christian priests.”

While Fritz’s views and stories may be expressive to a fault, they nevertheless document a part of Guam’s society that is rarely spoken about openly.

Happy Halloween!

 

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Asian Ancestry of Pacific Islanders

Where Pacific Islanders came from has long been debated by scholars and scientists. Many of them believed that the first Polynesian settlers arrived from Southeast Asia. Some scientists also speculated that today’s Pacific Islanders were an offshoot of Australo-Papuan populations of Australia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, who arrived in the region 40,000-50,000 years ago.

In the 1940s a Norwegian adventure and ethnographer named, Thor Heyerdahl, believed that people of Polynesia had ancestral ties to the ancient Peruvians. This theory went against all prevailing scientific thought at the time,  which held that the islands were populated by people from South Asia.

To prove his theory, Heyerdahl enlisted five friends to join him on an amazing journey. He built Kon-Tiki, a roughly 40-foot log raft out of balsa wood, similar to those used in ancient times. On April 28, 1947, Heyerdahl and his crew departed Callao, Peru. They spent 101 days at sea, eventually crashing into an atoll and then taking shelter on a small island in the South Sea. Although he had proved that an ancient voyage from South America to Polynesia was possible, he could not prove that it had actually occurred.

Nevertheless, a new study this month (published in Nature) revealed that ancient DNA could upend the understanding of the seafaring people who traveled vast distances to make their home in the Pacific. Vanuatu and Tonga’s first inhabitants may have come from Asia and not from neighboring Papuan populations in New Guinea, Australia and the Solomon Islands as previously imagined.

The team analyzed DNA from three skeletons found in a cemetery in Vanuatu and one sample from a Tongan cemetery — all around 3,000 years old. The results indicate the first people of Vanuatu may have come from Taiwan and perhaps the northern Philippines, moving on, a short time later to Tonga. Matthew Spriggs, a professor at the Australian National University and one of the researchers involved in the study said, “Their original base population is Asian. They were straight out of Taiwan and perhaps the northern Philippines.”They traveled past places where people were already living, but when they got to Vanuatu there was nobody there. These are the first people.”

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A skull placed in a Lapita vessel from the burial site near Port Vila, Vanuatu

Spriggs said another DNA sample from a Lapita skeleton in Tonga returned similar results.He added that it now appeared the Asiatic Lapita first colonized the South Pacific, then intermingled with a second wave of Australo-Papuan settlers to create the region’s modern genetic mix.

Professor Ron Pinhasi from University College Dublin said that the study was made possible by improved methods of extracting material from skeletal remains.”The unexpected results about Oceanian history highlight the power of ancient DNA to overthrow established models of the human past,” he said. In fact, sourcing ancient DNA in tropical areas where remains quickly deteriorate is one challenge that has held back study in this area. Stuart Bedford, professor at the College of Asia-Pacific at the Australian National University and report co-author said, “This is the first time we’ve been able to extract such early DNA in the Pacific.”

To make the analysis, the researchers used a sample from the petrous bone — a bone in the skull near the ear — that they’ve found to be best at preserving DNA that’s many thousands of years old. “If you’re going to get  DNA from an ancient population, you’ve got to go for this bone,” Bedford said.

Ultimately, the DNA tells a more detailed story than the cultural traces the Lapita people left behind. In Bedford’s view, the report reinforces the cultural mix that’s already known and celebrated in the Pacific. “In many ways, it’s the European divisions of the Pacific — Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia — [it’s] those old colonial style boundaries that are being challenged,” he said.

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