2021 Canoe Festival in Vanuatu Gets Backing from Tourism Office

The Vanuatu Daily Post ran an article about how the Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO) is sponsoring ten sails for this year’s Maskelyne Canoe Festival to be held from the 26–28 July. The sails will be branded with the VTO logo and VTO’s domestic tourism marketing slogan ‘Sapotem Lokol Turisim.’

The handing over of the official letter of sponsorship to the President of the Maskelyne Tourism Association, Mr. Kalo Nathaniel, took place at the Vanuatu Tourism Office.

The Maskelynes are a group of low lying islands with extensive reefs and mangroves off the southeast tip of Malekula, Vanuatu.

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Map from maskelynetourism.blogspot.com

The Maskelyne Canoe Festival highlights some of the best things Vanuatu has to offer, including village feasts, kastom dances, traditional craft and canoe making, and the main event –– the outrigger canoe race. VTO would like to thank the Maskelyne Canoe Association for the opportunity to be a part of this exciting annual event.

Events and festivals such as the Maskelyne Canoe Festival are an important part of Vanuatu’s tourism industry. Research shows that these events, showcasing our unique traditions and culture, are a huge attraction for both the domestic and international tourism markets, as they set Vanuatu apart from competitor destinations.

“Our cultural traditions are part of our Melanesian heritage, and keeping them alive is the best way to preserve them. Our visitors tell us that Vanuatu’s kastom and cultures are the main reason they come to Vanuatu, so we would like to commend you and your fellow association members for your efforts in putting together another festival event this year,” said VTO’s CEO, Adela Issachar Aru at the handover ceremony.

According to the CEO, the Maskelyne Canoe Festival demonstrates the meaning of VTO’s domestic tourism campaign, Sapotem Lokol Turisim, as domestic tourists attending the Festival will bring direct benefits to the communities of Maskelyne and nearby islands, with visitors spending their money on accommodation, restaurants, transport and other businesses in the area during their stay. VTO encourages everyone to show their support for local tourism by attending this years’ event Maskelyne Canoe Festival, and events like it around the country.

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Maskelyne Canoe Festival, photo from http://www.getlostmagazine.com

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Raising Climate Justice with Kava Ceremony

Last month a Pasifika community group hosted a kava ceremony raising the flag on climate change following New Zealand’s America’s Cup victory. The Pacific Cooperation Foundation collaborated with other Pacific groups to host the dawn ceremony at the Maritime Museum in Auckland.

Kava o Aotearoa custodian Pakilau Manase Lua says the event serves to raise awareness about climate justice through a connected Pacific ancestral way using kava, the vaka, sailing and voyaging.

Lua said they scheduled the event to coincide with the America’s Cup race serving as a reminder that this significant sporting event is taking place on the Pacific Ocean. “Just to remind Aotearoa that they’re racing on our Moana and that Moana is imperilled by climate change and the fact that Tuvalu, one of the most at risk countries from climate change in terms of the rising sea water and the Tuvalu overstayers should be treated as climate change refugees.”

Lua said Kava O Aotearoa ceremonies have been running for the last three years, targeting significant events to raise awareness and amplify the voices of Māori and Pacific communities on particular issues.

“The first time we ran it was in 2019 and that was to stand in solidarity for our Muslim brothers and sisters who were slain in Christchurch. We also held one last year for all our the whānau impacted by Covid-19 at the Auckland Museum when they launched the new Te Ao Mārama space, which has the largest kava bowl in the world,” said Lua.

There was twenty people participating aboard Haunui waka while another fifty participated on the balcony overlooking Haunui.

PCF board member Rachel Petero said they are honoured to be partnering in this important event as a platform for highlighting the effects of climate change in the Pacific.

“We acknowledge Kava O Aotearoa ceremony, which is the only Pacific ceremony that is inclusive of Māori and Pacific representation, positions women in key roles in the ceremony, and we come together to celebrate Pacific cultures and protocols safely in Aotearoa,” she said.

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“The Turtle and the Shark”- Samoan Legend

Our next Pacific legend comes from Samoa. Samoans tell the story of an old blind woman, named Fonueau, of Salega, Savaii (Western Samoa). She had one child, a dear girl named Salofa. Enjoy…

The Turtle and the Shark

A long time ago villages near Fonueau’s home suffered the effects of a great famine. Because of her blindness Fonueau was not able to find food. After many days of intense hunger, she and her daughter smelled the wonderful aroma of soi as it baked in the ground ovens of the village. Foneau and Salofa waited for food to be brought by villagers, but it never arrived. 

The woman and her daughter were so desperate, they decided to cast their fate upon the sea. The mother took her child by the hand and together they jumped off the cliff into the surf below. 

As they swam to the surface, their bodies transformed. One became a turtle and the other a shark. They swam away from the villagers who did not care for them. When they arrived in Vaitogi, a village in American Samoa, they resumed their human forms. They were welcomed with food and clothing by Chief Letuli and his people. 

The two women were so appreciative of the chief’s tender care that they vowed to return to the ocean to live just beyond the cliffs, returning when called upon to dance and entertain the villagers. They left a beautiful song with the Samoans that could be used when the shark or turtle were needed.

Today, when villagers gather along the shore of that legendary site and sing the sweet melody, it is said that a turtle and a shark appear. 

The Shark and the Turtle (Samoa)
“The Shark and the Turtle,” illustration by Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2021.

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The People and the Land in Guam

The Pacific Daily News released a fascinating article earlier this month written by Artemia Perez, Juan San Nicolas, Lazaro Quinata and Manuel Cruz and commissioned by Kumision Estoria-ta about how the relationship that CHamoru people have with the land is one of interconnectedness and respect. Their ancestors were not taught to see land as a commodity. Instead, they coexisted with nature and saw themselves as givers just as much as they were takers, protecting and witnessing it as an invaluable force.

Knowledge of the land as both a resource and a connection to life beyond us is seen across many indigenous cultures. Their ancestors, for example, looked to the trongkon niyok (coconut tree) as the tree of life and skillfully utilized every part of it. Additionally, the trongkon nunu (banyan trees) were respected as ancestral homes to the taotaomo’na (the people of before). It was natural for CHamorus to be raised knowing the function and vitality of their land.

History tells us that Spanish expansionism came with the naming and thus claiming of land.

While our ancestors referred to themselves as I taotao tåno, or the people of the land, Spaniards who sought to either conquer land for economic gain or evangelize its people first took to naming it as a means of procuring ownership. In these times of early encounters, European cartographers placed our island on a world map that painted us first as remarkable seafarers, then thieves, and finally an archipelago that honored a queen (Mariana) who had only heard about us in written letters.

From 1565 to 1815, Guåhan was a critical juncture for the Crown of Castille’s Manila Galleon Trade Route, as ships leaving Manila would depart for Mexico loaded with spices, porcelain, silk, ivory and other goods from China. On their return, the ships are said to have carried at least one-third of the silver extracted from Peru, as well as other parts of the Americas. The route was so prosperous and expansive that it is referred to by historians as “The Dawn of the Global Economy,” and “The Birth of Globalization.”

Although the trade route was lucrative, the voyages were treacherous.

With a mortality rate of approximately 50%, the likelihood of malnutrition, starvation, and infection was also a persistent threat to the 400-person crews living in cramped quarters. However, Guahan was much more than a strategic location. The responsibility that CHamorus felt to tend to the land was interwoven into the fabric of their society.

The land and its people, believed to be formed through the love and sacrifice of siblings Fo’na and Pontan, was also managed by clans overseen by siblings — a Maga’lahi and a Maga’håga. CHamoru society was comprised of two classes: The CHamorri and the Manåchang.

The CHamorri were divided into an upper class referred to as Matao and a middle class called Acha’ot. They lived along the coastline and were skilled fishermen. The Manåchang caste lived inland and were skilled agriculturalists. Furthermore, as a matrilineal society, land was passed down through a mother’s bloodline and as a result, much of CHamoru culture was reflective of this high regard for both women and land: providers of life.

The act of taking from or venturing through the land was and continues to be a sacred exchange; usually involving asking permission from either those who tend to the land, or the spirits of the land in the absence of a clear caretaker.

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Ancient Chamorro, picture from http://www.pinterest.com.au

I Kumision Estoria-ta

In preparation for Guam’s participation in the 500th anniversary of the Circumnavigation of the World in 1521, Guam Public Law 35-23 established the Estoria-ta: Inetnon Estudion Umali’e’ yan Umafana’ I Taotao Hiyong yan i Taotao Tano’ — I Kumision Estoria-ta.

Its members are appointed by public officials and organizations which are collaborative partners in telling the Guam story from the CHamoru point of view in 2021.

Mission statement

I Kumision Estoria-ta will serve as the primary vehicle through which the government of Guam and the people of Guam represent the perspective of the CHamoru people of Guam as they encountered the circumnavigation voyage of Magellan and Elcano in 1521. 

It will coordinate heritage and cultural programs, the production of educational materials and establish relationships with international and national partners in order to ensure a rich, vibrant and respected CHamoru perspective on the encounter and the subsequent historical changes to Guam, the Marianas and the Pacific Islands.

As the first Pacific islanders to encounter Europeans, it is a special responsibility of the CHamoru people of Guam to provide our island point of view of the original encounter which is historically accurate and serves as a source of pride for this and succeeding generations.

Platform

The Guam Pacific Daily News in cooperation with the Estoria-ta Kumision, the Guam Preservation Trust, MARC/UOG and Humanities Guåhan is using the media as an alternative platform to provide this historic document, “I Hinanao-ta: Our Journey,” written by our young scholars to portray our history, Guam’s history with our local narrative through the power of perspectives.

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Traditional Games Thriving in the Cook Islands

Earlier this month Radio New Zealand reported that plans are already afoot to expand the traditional sports program at the next Cook Islands Games.

The revival of traditional games like stilt races and coconut husking were among of the highlights of last year’s multi-sport event in Rarotonga, in which one fifth of the Cook Islands’ population competed across 24 sports.

It was the first time the traditional games were not just an exhibition event and while the competition did not contribute to the overall points tally, the island of Atiu did come away with a trophy.

The coordinator for the traditional sports event, George Paniani, told Champions of the Pacific the disciplines double as social events, celebrating and helping preserve the Cook Island culture. “People started knowing themselves, knowing their relatives, knowing their bloodlines, knowing which island they come from,” he said. 

“Knowing these things, in respect of the history and where you come from – each island – that it’s one big happy family and being not as physically competitive as one would have in contact sport but more in the family, social and recognising each other’s relationship very closely, being appreciative of each other and most of all having fun.”

The Ministry of Cultural Development is in charge of all cultural events in the Cook Islands and has a national strategy to strengthen their language. Anthony Turia heads the committee which helped design last year’s traditional games program and said community support is crucial, with northern and southern group all having their own unique traditional sports which come with different versions and rules.

Only five disciplines were included in the 2020 program: stilts, weaving, juggling, coconut relay and coconut husking, with organizers favoring events that had a high degree of safety.

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Stilts competition, Photo: Supplied/CISNOC Media

The stilt games, which date back to tribal challenges from early settlers to the Cook Islands 700-800 years ago, featured 50 metre relay races, combat challenges on two stilts and balancing on one stilt.

Juggling was introduced by missionaries to the Cook Islands who used candlenut or stones, although limes proved more practical in the 21st century.  The competition was targeted at young men and women between 14-16 and included people juggling two ‘marbles’ with one hand or three with two hands.

Each competitor in the coconut relay had to carry at least 12 coconuts for 25 metres after which other members of their team would then husk the coconuts clean, while weavers created a range of items including baskets, clothing and hats.

The traditional games proved such a success that within a couple of weeks two secondary schools in Rarotonga had initiated the same program. “Our kids will be able to see how our older generations survived during the time there was no western influences and how they lived during those olden days using some of these traditional sports to survive,” explained Anthony Turia from the Cook Islands Ministry of Cultural Development. 

“It also can fit in now because with the Covid-19 it actually worked out because instead or relying on tourists and all the fishing boats going you can actually do it yourself.”

Plans are already well advanced to expand the traditional sports program when the Cook Islands Games return in 2022.  “We wanted to test the interest and in fact it was just so high the demand and pressure for us to introduce all the other traditional games have come aboard.”

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Coconut relay, Photo: Supplied/CISNOC Media

Coconut tree climbing was among the disciplines considered last year but was deemed a bit of a health and safety nightmare, Turia said. “I think it’s like any other sport – you can’t just go and play rugby and you’re not physically fit and you meet the fitness criteria. It’s the same with climbing a coconut tree. “In the olden days you don’t use a rope, you actually use the bark of a tree so you get the bark of a tree and you strengthen it then you tie it up and you put it around your legs and then you climb up the coconut tree.”

Also on the shortlist is ‘throwing discs’, in which grapefruits are hurled down the road as far and fast as possible. That was also ruled out last year over concerns a wayward chuck might end up hurting an unlucky spectator. 

Another contender is ‘stone-lifting’, although Ngatuaine Maui from the Ministry of Cultural Development said a number of factors must be considered. “We needed to look into what’s a safe size of stone for a person to lift and all those other criteria because we can’t expect them to come and lift it straight away, they need to prepare for it, otherwise there will be injuries…the other one was the water sports (such as spear finish and free diving) because that’s very prevalent in the north because they have larger lagoons and they do the canoeing.”

The Ministry said the plan is to retain the five sports that featured last year and hopefully add another two or three in time for the 2022 Cook Islands Games.

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Concern for the Proposed Language Policy in Tonga

Radio New Zealand journalist, Sela Jane Hopgood, wrote an article about how a former education minister and Tongan academic is calling for the Ministry of Education to reconsider their plans to amend the Tongan language policy.

Last month Education Minister, Siaosi Sovaleni, announced plans to introduce English as a second language for classes one to three. The English language was currently being offered to students in class three through song and poetry.

Tongan academic, Dr ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki, said there were two reasons as to why she believed the English language should not be taught at such a young age. Taufe’ulungaki said global research revealed that the best language to teach a child was their mother tongue, a language in which both child and teacher could communicate and understand each other in.

“Although the children are growing up in an environment in which they are surrounded by English through the media, it’s important to instil the Tongan language while the children are young, so that they’re confident in the language before applying those same skills to the English language,” Taufe’ulungaki said.

The maintenance of the Tongan language in the long term was another point Taufe’ulungaki stressed, “as studies have shown that if you do not teach the language to the next generation, the language is likely to be lost,” she said. “The Tongan language is already at risk and I’m seeing an increase in parents using English as the main language at home. If you think about the broader context here in which we apply the Tongan language, if we are not careful of what we do in education and at home, we can safely say that our language would disappear in the next generation or so. The Tongan language is one of the strong indicators of our identity as Tongans. Tonga is the home of the Tongan language and if Tonga does not privilege its own language in its home country, who else would privilege the language?”

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Tongan Language Week 2020, photo from http://www.nelsoncollge.school.nz

Science offered a much more complex view of the relationship with languages evolves over a lifetime – and there is much to encourage late beginners. A professor of developmental linguistics Antonella Sorace has reportedly told media that broadly speaking, different life stages give us different advantages in language learning.

“As babies, we have a better ear for different sounds; as toddlers, we can pick up native accents with astonishing speed. As adults, we have longer attention spans and crucial skills like literacy that allow us to continually expand our vocabulary, even in our own language. And a wealth of factors beyond ageing – like social circumstances, teaching methods, and even love and friendship – can affect how many languages we speak and how well.”

Dr Taufe’ulungaki said that with the studies that have been done globally, she would prefer for the English language to be introduced at high school level. “According to research, a child does not master his or her first language until he or she is about 12 years of age and so if we want the foundation of Tongan to be firm and strong, then we need to delay the introduction of the English language to a later stage until we are certain that our children are strong in their mother tongue.

“But of course politically that would not be acceptable and many parents are now up in arms about the delay of the introduction of English, which is one of the reasons the view was recommended that English be re-introduced as it used to be in the old days at class one,” she explained.

Education Minister Siaosi Sovaleni has yet to respond to RNZ Pacific request for an interview.

However, Taufe’ulungaki did mention that Sovaleni had announced to local media that the government was reviewing the policy and the planned amendments were not confirmed, as they are still considering them.

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Books about Pacific Islands

The past few weeks has seen a few books written by authors around the Pacific that I would like share.  

Tonga:

The first piece of literature is an entertaining new book of “historical fiction” was launched a couple of days ago by Sam Lala, a Fijian writer and adventurer who has been living in Tonga for many years. The 183 pages volume, titled “They Said”, is the second book written by Sam, and launched with his wife Soana ‘Aloua-Lala. Their daughter Sera Lala is depicted on the cover.

While Sam writes in English about everyday life, his book is not confined to the Pacific and covers an eclectic range of subjects. He writes about encounters that change one’s way of thinking, sometimes those enduring historical stereotypes that have not caught up with the passage of time. 

Sam defined the title, “They Said” as a statement in time. “It meant something then, reflected and referred to, in comparing with things of the present…”

Other chapters in “They Said” include:

  • The Human Brain is So Small
  • I saw Indians Come on Board
  • Christianity is Not for Fijians
  • Signatures of the Heart
  • The Sixth Sense
  • You burn the leaf on your lips.

Sam published his first book in Tonga, Sandalwood Blood in 2014. He has researched his material for writing while working in Tonga, Australia and Fiji. Intrigued by the way legendary stories have been kept and retold, Sam has developed his own way of telling his.

The book was published by the Pacific Studies Press and launched at the Television Tonga Studio, in Nuku’alofa.

Guam

In the past year, Julian Aguon kept busy writing prose, essays and vignettes, but all along he was creating a larger project, one about a young man coming of age on Guam, spanning his life, taking place on Guam and abroad. 

That novel, “The Properties of Perpetual Light,” is available for pre-order on the University of Guam Press website. For Aguon, it constitutes a personal literary event, a story looking inward. His previous books, he said, championed social causes that were “outward.”

“There’s eulogies, commencement addresses, statements of solidarity given to fellow activists in the countries, as well as prose poems and vignettes,” Aguon said. “Collectively, they’re almost like an homage to the work of the writer activist.”

United States

The book, “Mr. Moonlight of the South Seas,” has been republished by Publish Authority

Mr. Moonlight of the South Seas is a biography style non-fiction book that captures the adventurous life of American author Robert Dean Frisbie who lived in the South Seas from 1920 to his death in 1948. Although he is part of a long line of South Seas writers that began with the likes of Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, Frisbie did what very few of these writers did- he stayed in the Pacific for the rest of his life. He first arrived in Tahiti, French Polynesia, where he met his long-time friend and author, James Norman Hall and the two remain friends for the rest of their lives. After about four years in Tahiti, Frisbie left for the tiny atoll of Pukapuka, Cook Islands, where he hoped that the isolated island would suit his needs to become a great writer. As the only white man on the island, Frisbie would marry, have children and live a life completely different from those of his American contemporaries. His writings would put Pukapuka on the map and his adventures would become the stuff of Pacific Islands’ lore.

You can find the book in paperback or digital format at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

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Key Messages from Pacific Women on International Women’s Day 2021

Radio New Zealand Pacific Journalist, Sela Jane Hopgood, wrote an inspiring article about what International Women’s Day meant to many women of the Pacific region. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, domestic violence has soared globally, and the Pacific has some of the world’s highest rates of violence against women. Five feminists from the Pacific chose to acknowledge International Women’s Day this year by sharing their ideas on tackling gender-based violence and gender inequality.

A Samoan woman is using her non-governmental organization called Brown Girl Woke to empower young girls in primary schools in rural areas.

The founder, Maluseu Doris Tulifau, started the initiative in the United States, while she was in college, and a few years later she decided to explore her own personal journey as a domestic violence survivor by moving to Samoa and looking into the statistics of domestic violence in her homeland. “Samoa has data on domestic violence, but what they don’t have is a solution. I found myself bringing my organization from the U.S. to Samoa because I saw a need for it, a need for a safe space for young Samoans. This next generation who will be the solution to the high rates of domestic violence in the country,” she said.

Maluseu said her message to address gender inequality was to make sure each generation of women kept opening doors and passing the torch for the next. “It is very hard for us in a country that is very patriarchal, you feel like no one helps you and you don’t help the next person. When I come into these spaces to serve, I’m reminded that I want to make sure that the doors that I open, will be easy for the next young woman to go into those doors.”

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4th Annual Women’s Expo, Suva, Fiji- photo from ICAS

Deo said sex education was not only about the physical act of sex, but learning about sexual reproductive health, rights, empathy and equality. “When you learn about equality, your rights, what is a healthy relationship, these are the information that helps us develop empathy, dignity, integrity and autonomy around our body and our rights and that’s what is a comprehensive sex education is,” she explained.

Deo said research had proven that informing young people on a rights-based sex education would lead to a reduction in gender-based violence. “If we are constantly relaying strong, powerful messages of equality between men, between women, between gender non-conforming people, if we instil values of non-stereotype gender roles and educate our kids about respecting and what consent means in relationship, we actually addressing many of the underlining inequalities that result in gender-based violence,” she said.

“A lot of the sex education doesn’t include LGBTQI plus and their issues and people with disabilities and their issues. Sometimes their issues are presented, but are limited or stigmatized or presented in a protective way, which is not empowering. In terms of making a generational shift to end violence towards women and gender inequalities, to really see change in society, this is an opportunity to use the data and research and dispel misinformation that is prevalent and we need to incorporate sex education in our region,” Deo said.

The government and policy-makers had a key role in making such changes, Deo said, as they were the leaders ultimately making the policies and implementing it. “I think it’s essential to include communities and young people because you need to make sure the content of information is relevant and adapted to their needs,” she said.

Zutu said it was important to advise parents to get involved in their daughter’s education as it would not only benefit them, but also make their families, communities and country safer and more prosperous. “Education is important because it will give them knowledge and skills, so that when they face challenges in their work as a woman leader, they know how to deal with, address and also help the community.”

Zutu said she was seeing a positive change in young girls in education in the Solomon Islands, with education data showing that there were more females registered in high school than males. “We’re starting to see an increase in women in male-dominated jobs such as engineering, electrician, IT, but we still have a lot of work to do to ensure equality in the nation,” Zutu said.

Fijian Jana Ali-Traill added to the conversation, saying a lot of change would come from changes to Fiji’s legislation. Fijian politician, Lenora Qereqeretabua, stated that gender equality education needed to start early to set the foundation for young women.

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Women Keep Tongan Cultural Traditions Alive

Radio New Zealand Pacific Journalist, Koroi Hawkins, wrote an interesting article about how a Tongan community group in New Zealand hope their efforts to make koloa, or cultural treasures, inspires other Pasifika community groups to explore and preserve their own cultures.

Akomai Heritage have recently completed a week-long interactive exhibition of the inner workings of a koka’anga (ngatu-making work party) with sprawling exhibits of beautiful finished pieces of Tongan ngatu or bark cloth and other koloa at the Te Papa museum in Wellington.

One of the founders of the group, Kaufo’ou Katoa-Taulata, said it stemmed from a desire to strengthen connections to their Tongan culture. “Ngatu is embedded in every fibre of our culture and our heritage,” Katoa-Taulata said. “We are born into ngatu and we are buried with ngatu. We celebrate with ngatu and we also mourn with ngatu,” she said.

Kaufo’ou Katoa-Taulata said their journey of rediscovery began in 2017. “This started three-and-a-half years ago when we, the women’s fellowship of the St John’s Uniting Church, came together and we started doing little displays and little workshops and little heritage jobs.”

Katoa-Taulata said they started out learning how to make ceremonial baskets and blankets. “Then we started thinking, ‘let’s go bigger; we have seen these smaller things being made overseas but we haven’t seen a ngatu being made outside of Tonga’, the real authentic ngatu.”

To help realize this vision Katoa-Taulata said they reached out to the elders in their own families. “We have the resources and the knowledge of our mothers who are gold and so we decided, ‘let’s use our mothers to the fullest and to the best of their capacity’ while they are still alive and strong enough to impart that knowledge to us.” Katoa-Taulata said that is how the name Akomai Heritage was chosen. “Literally it is the cry to say ‘mothers teach us. Teach us to know and teach us to teach others’.”

And there are many others, of all ages, involved in Akomai. The group’s entire ngatu making process from the pounding of the hiapo (mulberry tree bark) to the rubbing, joining and dyeing of the feta’aki (bark paper) on the papa (convex table) covered with kupesi (pattern boards) to the final painting of the ngatu involved three generations of Tongan families. One of the teenage contributors, Daphnie Katoa, said at first she did not understand the significance of what she was being taught. “When we first started, I was like ‘what is this for? I don’t need to be here. I don’t know how to do it’ but then as we went on I realised that the reason for our weekly gatherings for this koka’anga was to teach us so that we can carry it on and teach other people.” Now Katoa said she feels blessed to have taken part.

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Tongan ngatu- picture from http://www.pacificislandtravel.nl

The largest ngatu on display at the Te Papa exihibition was the church launima almost 23 metres in length and four metres in width. It was so long it that it was only stretched out to its full length for the opening of the exhibition. Most of the designs and geometric patterns on the ngatu displayed were distinctly Tongan such as the floral motif called the koesei, the kingdom’s coat of arms and the kanoa.

Curators of the Akomai exhibition at Te Papa said thousands of people visited and interacted with the Tongan community throughout the week of the exhibition earlier this month. Kaufo’ou Katoa-Taulata said it was an honour to be able to share Tongan culture with people from all different nationalities and cultural backgrounds.

She said many who came through were very hands on, taking part in demonstrations of the different stages of making ngatu and she hopes they left inspired. “I think Akomai hopes that we will ignite some kind of fire in other Pacific and other Tongans to carry on this project or this vision wherever you are in the world. As long as you have the passion and the drive we can maintain and practise our cultural heritage.”

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Remembering a Fijian Performer

Journalist Felix Chaudhary of the Fiji Times wrote an article about how Fiji had lost one of her greatest singers and entertainers of all time with the passing of legendary vocalist Jese Mucunabitu a couple of weeks ago. 

He was 70 and would have celebrated his 71st birthday next month. In a career that spanned more than 40 years, Mucunabitu’s unique golden voice brought to life classic iTaukei songs and compositions penned by Ted Beddoes — like Whispering Palms, Fascinating Fiji, Stars Over Fiji and Tropical Dawn.

His songs, recorded in the ’80s, continue to be played today and will no doubt transport Fijians living all around the world back home for many more years to come.

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Mucunabitu lived life like he sang his songs. He loved Fiji and everything about her. His love for this country was clearly articulated in the songs he sang and the way he sang them. His wife of more than 20 years, Siteri, said Mucunabitu emerged on to the music scene in the early ’80s after winning a Jaycees talent quest. “He sang a Tom Jones number called Without Love and just brought the house down because it was quite a difficult song to sing but Jese did it with ease,” she shared.

Ms Mucunabitu said everyone knew when he was home because he would have his favourite songs being played at top volume. “Jese loved Tom Jones but his other favourite artist was Englebert Humperdinck. But perhaps his all-time favourite was Tina Turner, every time he played her songs he would turn to me and sing ‘That’s my girl’. “He just loved her songs and her voice.”

Many would be aware of Mucunabitu as the resident artist at Tiko’s Floating Restaurant on the Suva foreshore, but not many would know he had gone through three passports and was onto his fourth due to the extensive travelling he did because of his music. “Jese has performed in so many countries to so many people and every time he was asked to go, he would not hesitate because he felt that by doing so, he was being an ambassador for Fiji through his songs. He loved making people happy and was such a people’s person in that sense. But he also loved his family and was a very private person too. Whenever he knocked off from his gig at Tiko’s, Jese would find his way to Tailevu and come home to his family. “He had travelled all over the world and performed in front of thousands of people but he loved being at home and surrounded by his family – they meant everything to him.”

Ms Mucunabitu said Jese hailed from the yavusa Ratu clan of Bau and always kept in touch with his extended family.

The legendary artist’s last performance was at a barrel night held at the Fiji Sports Council bure after the Sukuna Bowl last year. “It was a fundraiser held for him and he sang his heart out that night even though he was battling some health issues. And that was just like Jese – he never did anything half-heartedly, he always gave every performance his all. Jese also liked to encourage younger musicians and he did this by taking different instrumentalists with him to his gigs. They were in awe of him and many loved to share the stage with him, so when he took them along, it was his way of encouraging them.”

This writer met and also had the opportunity to share the stage with Mucunabitu on a few occasions. One particular gig came to mind. After a performance where the music was focused on a different genre, he leaned over and said, “Don’t forget to play island music, son. Anyone can play the overseas music but they can’t play our music like we can.”

Words of wisdom indeed from someone who had taken island music to the world and touched the lives of Fijians and visitors to our shores in immeasurable ways.

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