The Largest Pacific Dance Festival is Back: Polyfest 2021

Radio New Zealand reported that the world’s largest Pacific dance festival kicked off in Auckland this week after two years of disruptions. Covid-19 caused the cancellation of Polyfest last year, while the year before it was cut short by the Christchurch terror attacks.

Polyfest is the annual Māori and Pasifika cultural highlight for Auckland secondary schools and it started with a flag raising of Pasifika and Mana Whenua colors before a pōwhiri of welcome to guests and performers. Hundreds gathered at the Manukau sports bowl, the ground which will host the event for next few days of competition.

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Polyfest director Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu said they were really excited to have the festival under way after last year’s Covid-19 cancellation. “There’s still a lot of uncertainties and a lot of anxiety out there but at the same time it’s kind of overcome by the resilience of these kids and the resilience of the community that comes around this.” said Seiuli. “Everyone wants this to happen but we’re wanting to do this safely and, as soon as possible, get those kids back on that stage.”

A deputy principal at Māngere College, Mele Galenu’u Ah Sam is one of Polyfest’s Samoa-stage co-ordinator and said numbers had taken a bit of a hit this year with Covid-19 but there was still much to look forward to. “The Ministry for Pacific Peoples, who are the sponsor for our Tautalaga, for our speeches, and they have provided us with some challenging topics so it will be interesting to see or hear what the kids have to say, and also performances as usual.”

For her Tonga-stage counterpart, James Cook High School’s Fane Fusipongi Ketu’u, it was exciting but meant more to juggle. “Today we’re starting with our speech competition and we’re holding that on the Samoan stage because the Cook Islands is using our Tongan stage today and tomorrow,” she said. “It’s a different feeling altogether after two years but we are hoping for the best and we know that it will be a great day today.”

Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio said it was exciting to be back at Polyfest after a challenging time and sobering period for young Pasifika. Numbers had approached 100,000 in previous years with 10,000 performers from 60 schools.

Aupito said Polyfest was founded on helping Māori and Pacific cultures survive and thrive. “Recognising that more than 60 percent of our Pacific population are New Zealand born but they themselves told me in 2018 that despite them being New Zealand born and despite them not being well versed in our languages, that languages and cultures were still important.”

Without them, mused Aupito, ties would be lost to the land, seas and environment, putting Pacific identity at risk.

Last year’s pandemic-appropriate theme of “Healing the body, mind, spirit and soul with the strength of culture” continues.  This year will see a revised format to allow for more space and social distancing.

On its 45th anniversary the festival this year has one less stage, but students will not miss any performance time with a revised format.

For more information and to watch some live events click here.

Polyfest culminates in its biggest day on Saturday.

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