I just recently learned from the Cook Islands News that the U.S. Congress has designated the month of May as “Asian-Pacific Islander” month in the United States and a profusion of festivals venerating Polynesian culture can be experienced wherever there is a large population of Pacific Islanders.
The San Francisco Bay area has a large population of Hawaiians, Tongans and Samoans. Being a member of the City of Foster City’s Arts and Culture Committee (similar to an Arts Commission), Arerangi Tongia’s wife, Cindy Atuirangi-ki-Tuakirikiri Cowell-Tongia, 14 years ago proposed the creation of an educationally-themed Polynesian festival.
“Even though we moved to Las Vegas five years ago, we agreed to come back to my home town once a year and continue to voluntarily produce the festival, which has become a city favorite,” says Cindy Cowell-Tongia.
This year’s educational theme was “Defining Identity – What’s in a Name”, where the audience was taught different customs relating to naming children, marriage names, death names, event names and even place names and how people get their names.
Two special Cook Islands guests traveled to California for the festival – Ngarima George (“Papa G”) and Tuaine Tou-Gooding. Papa G was particularly impressed that many of the dance teams were able to perform songs and dances from all of Polynesia; not just Hawaii and Tahiti, says Cowell-Tongia. Tou-Gooding was delighted to see dancers of all ages, from small three-year-old children up to the Mamas – ages unknown, but beautiful dancers, nonetheless.
“Papa G was also amazed that almost 12 of the dance teams that performed used live musicians, and they were excellent. They could give Cook Islands musicians a run for their money. “These musicians and singers take their jobs seriously,” he said. “You can tell they practice, practice and practice even more.”
Cowell-Tongia says Papa G and Tou-Gooding agreed that watching the dance groups in California made them proud to be Polynesian in general and Cook Islanders in particular.
This article comes at a good time, as I continue to promote my book Mr. Moonlight of the South Seas. The book has a Polynesian backdrop particularly in the Cook Islands. Naturally, I highly recommend that you read the book especially if you would like to learn a little about the history of this special part of the world. The book can be found at Amazon.com or on the publisher’s Website.