Although the recent tragedy that happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, has struck during the Pacific festival season in New Zealand and led to an early closure of one of the most unique festivals held in Auckland, I’m instantly reminded on how a festival can actually bring people together.
Polyfest features traditional music, dance, costume and cultural speech competitions, and is one of the most recognized events on the Auckland calendar. It’s a showcase of New Zealand’s diverse cultures and a celebration of youth performance. This year the 44th ASB Polyfest had planned for more than 12,000 secondary school students take to the stage. Groups from 66 schools have entered into the competition, which was being held at the Manukau SportsBowl.
The symbolism of an event like Polyfest – a multi-cultural celebration of the South Pacific, celebrating diversity among all cultures – has the potential to unite not only communities throughout New Zealand, the Pacific Island, and the world as well.
Christine Rovoi a journalist for Radio New Zealand wrote that there were more than 80 groups performing dances on the Diversity Stage – from Asia, the Pacific, Africa and for the first time the Middle-east. Auckland is New Zealand’s most culturally diverse city with more than 100 ethnicities and over 150 languages spoken. New Zealand society has changed a lot over the years and the same can be said for its schools. As communities become more ethnically diverse, so do the student population.
Alfriston College junior Litia Tunidau was challenged to teach her senior schoolmates the Fijian meke. But she said although most of them are not from Fiji, they had embraced and engaged well with each other during rehearsals. “The challenge is teaching other people from other cultures,” she said. “Some of them have never done a traditional dance before. Ms Tunidau hopes to see more students learning a different culture for festivals like Polyfest. “Children are interested in learning a new culture,” she said. “It’s either their parents are holding them back or they have other things to attend to.
Ms Tunidau said Polyfest could help make young people become less likely to “pre-judge” and identify people by their ethnic group. Festival director Seiuli Terri Leo’mauu, a product of Polyfest herself, says the festival has grown over the past 44 years in particular the last 10 years. “I think as schools become aware and communities become aware that there’s a place that they can come to express themselves,” Ms Leo’mauu said.
On Saturday, March 16, Polyfest canceled its third and biggest day of the festival out of safety concerns and in a show of solidarity.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, provided the reassurances the country needed in a speech to the country. She reminded us that this had happened because of what we pride ourselves on, that our migrant communities are part of the fabric of who we are. Her words, that they are us, will forever be stitched into our history.
It is no coincidence that in the 24 hours surrounding this attack, there were so many events scheduled that celebrated New Zealand’s diversity and ability to peacefully gather.
The thousands of young people able to protest peacefully against climate change; the celebration of our Polynesian heritage at Polyfest, and the highlighting of diversity at the Wellington Pride Parade are just a few.
The Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, and many MPs joined the community in Christchurch on Saturday to express their condolences, their sorrow and join in the bewilderment that this event happened here. The empathy was etched in to the faces of everyone in that gathering – reassuring us that we are united in our collective grief.