Growing Arts Popularity Driven by Pasifika

There was an interesting statistic that was determined by the New Zealand’s Arts Council that the record growth in the popularity of Pacific art in New Zealand was being driven by the community – especially its youth.

According to the latest survey by the funding agency Creative New Zealand, a record 18 percent of New Zealanders attended at least one Pacific arts event last year. Just over half this audience was made up of Pacific peoples, with Māori comprising 40 percent. Pākeha and Asian New Zealanders were 14 and 18 percent respectively.

The youth element is also strong.

The survey showed 52 percent of young New Zealanders, aged 10-14 years, participated in the Pacific arts in the previous 12 months. It has grown steadily from 2008 when participation was 42 percent. This growth has been driven by increases in young people’s involvement in Pacific singing, dancing and music with four in ten (44 percent) taking part.


Traditional dance, Tuvalu, June 2017

The deputy chair of the Arts Council, Caren Rangi, said the Pacific community had itself to thank for the increase. “I know that, at the Arts Council, we’re seeing a blossoming of all sorts of art forms by Pacific artists from heritage right through to contemporary,” Ms Rangi said.

According to the survey, young people who identify as Pacific are also more likely than the national average to want to increase their involvement in Pacific arts. “There is an appetite among young people for greater participation which could lead on to increased levels of participation in adult life,” Creative NZ Arts Council deputy chair Caren Rangi said.

“It’s great to see not only are more New Zealanders taking opportunities to experience the rich cultural diversity Pacific arts bring to this country but also that Pacific peoples are so highly engaged in a wide range of art forms,” Ms Rangi said.


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Handicraft Industry Threaten By Volcano

The Vanuatu Daily Post recently ran an interesting article written by Len Garae about how the ash fall from the erupting volcano on the island of Ambae was compromising the handicraft industry in Vanuatu.


Where is Ambae Island?

The current impact of Ambae’s devastating volcanic ash fall has wiped out all pandanus leaves on the island and is currently threatening the supply of the island’s unique basket and red and white mats as well as the handicraft industry in Port Vila.

In fact Pentecost, the country’s largest supplier of baskets and treasured red mat, looks set to reduce its supplies due to the same threat of volcanic ash fall especially on North Pentecost which is closest to Ambae.

This was announced by the Manager of the Haos Blong Handikraf and Mahitahi Haos Roy Pakoasongi. To prove his concern, he points to the current supplies of baskets and mats from Ambae and Pentecost which he says are already running low with no sign of new supplies to replenish the existing stocks.

To confirm the Manager’s prediction, Ambae supplier of its unique basket and red and white mats, Esline Aru explains, “Yes, these are my last supply of baskets and mats because my network on North Ambae has been severed by the Manaro volcanic ash fall. “The weavers with their unique skills to weave the popular, robust basket and red and white mats are being relocated to either Santo or Maewo and no longer have any pandanus leaves to weave their baskets and mats to sell to me,” she said.

Asked whether they can use pandanus leaves from Santo or Maewo to weave, she replies that it is an alternative but that the quality of pandanus leaves grown on Ambae is most suitable for use to weave the particular porous basket. “I am appealing to you Ambae weavers and your husbands to start to plant the same pandanus seedlings wherever you relocate to, to keep the industry alive”, she said.

To replenish the current stocks of different baskets and red and white mats in Port Vila from Ambae and Pentecost, both the Manager and supplier are encouraging weavers to buy pandanus leaves from other islands from which to weave their baskets and mats.


In popular literature Ambae was the island that inspired American novelist James Michener to create the idyllic, fictional island, Bali Hai in his book Tales of the South Pacific. This would gain even greater notoriety in the Broadway Play, South Pacific. During World War II Michener was stationed on the island of Espiritu Santo and he could see the mysterious island of Ambae looming on the horizon.

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Hibiscus Festival 2018- Suva, Fiji

Last month the Bula Festival took place in Nadi, Fiji.  Well, this month the capital town of Suva will host the Hibiscus Festival from August 10-18, 2018. This year’s intriguing theme is: “Reuse – Reduce – Refuse – Re purpose – Recycle”. The festival is held every August to coincide with the second-term school break. The annual beauty pageant and the crowning of the ‘Hibiscus Queen’ are the chief draws, but guests also flock to the live music and the amusement park, browse stalls and enjoy other free entertainment.


The Hibiscus Festival is Fiji’s longest running festival since 1956. The first festival was held for one night only at the Suva Town Hall, now the Vine Yard Restaurant (formerly Ming Palace). Due to its huge success the festival was increased to 3 days the next year and it wasn’t long before it was to become a week-long festival.

Although the festival was very successful, after 30 years the festival took a lapse in the mid-80s with no real vigor. It was later renamed as the Hibiscus Carnival and ran successfully for many years until the early years of the millennium when the carnival began to lose much of its luster and energy. In an effort to revive the Hibiscus Festival the Suva City Council and the Suva Retailers Association collaborated to establish the Hibiscus Events Group Inc. The group is led by a Chairman and a Secretariat that administers its work and is made up of volunteers who form committees and sub-committees.

The festival brings Suva to a stand-still during the first week of the school term two holidays. Thousands converge at the Albert Park, the home of the festival, to enjoy; the food, rides, entertainment, sporting activities, opening march, floats procession, singing and dancing competitions, children’s day, displays, careers village, arts village, contestants judging and crowning to name a few. It is a fun filled week for the entire family to celebrate the different cultures and the diversities that binds this vibrant city.

The festival has a Facebook page where you can follow the events during the week. Simply click here to see what’s going on!

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Samoan Language Week in New Zealand 2018

Although I am bit late on sharing this event, I thought it was still important enough to post. A couple of months ago New Zealand celebrated Samoan Language Week. This year’s celebrations focused on keeping youth connected to their heritage. Tim Glasgow wrote an interesting article about the special week for Radio New Zealand.


One of the key aims of Samoan Language Week in New Zealand is instilling a sense of identity and pride in young Samoans living here. Samoan is the third most spoken language in New Zealand and Samoans make up the highest proportion of the Pasifika population in the country. Many young Samoans are New Zealand-born, so an effort has been made this year to make sure they are aware, and connected to their heritage.

A range of events has held across the country to celebrate Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa or Samoan Language week. The theme this year is ‘Alofa atu nei. Alofa mai taeao, or Kindness given, Kindness gained” and Luaipouomalo Michael Savelio from the Ministry for Pacific Peoples explained what is behind this message. “It’s really around ensuring our kids are aware that as we show kindness to people of today, that they will benefit from that later on in their life in people showing kindness to them.”

He says it’s also about reaching out to young Samoans in New Zealand. “We want to make sure the language thrives but we also want to ensure that the youth of today, especially our New Zealand born, are able to walk confidently in both worlds, both the Samoan world, but also the New Zealand born in New Zealand.”

The Samoan Language students at St Patrick’s College in Upper Hutt put on a presentation that included a traditional ‘Ava ‘o le Feiloa’iga ceremony conducted by the senior students, spoken presentations from the junior Gagana Samoa students, and a Taualuga (traditional Samoan dance) which included all of the students.

A Samoan teacher at St Pat’s and organizer of the event, Liko Alosio, says with only 10 percent of students being Pasifika at the college, instilling a sense of pride in the Samoan students is important. “Just being able to give back to their ancestors or their parents. Most of [the students] are first generation-born, New Zealand-born Samoans so a lot of their parents have emigrated here for a better life, for a better future, for a better lifestyle for their kids. And I guess for the parents to be able to see them interact and re-enact something in their culture … it’s a way of service, service to their parents.”

To read the entire article, feel free to click here.

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Legend of the Drum

Here’s a legend that tells how the Cook Islands and the French Polynesian Islands split apart. The story can be found in the book Legends of the Cook Islands.

Legend of the Drum

Legend tells of a great drum challenge that happened between two islands. In this time the islands of Rarotonga and Ra’iatea (an island in French Polynesia) were situated next to each other.

The chiefs of Ra’iatea said to the chiefs of Rarotonga, “Our drummers are the best drummers of all the South Pacific Islands.” The chiefs of Rarotonga asked if the gods would determine which island had the best drummers, and so, the great drum challenge took place.

Both islands assembled their best drums and drummers. The drummers beat fast and furiously all day. Polynesians from every island stopped and listened when they heard the drums and marveled at their sounds. As the day drew to a close and the stars shone in the night’s sky, the gods announced that they had made their decision. They all agreed that the Rarotongans were the best drummers.

The Rarotongans celebrated their success with lots of singing, dancing, drumming and feasting. The following morning, although the Rarotongans were happy with their victory, they decided to take the people of Ra’iatea a gift- one of their magnificent pate drums.

Legend of the Drum (Cook Islands)

“Legend of the Drum,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2018.

A group of strong, tattooed, Rarotongan warriors set sail in their canoe with the pate drum to gift to the people of Ra’iatea. However the Ra’iateans were still angry from their loss. As the Rarotongan warriors pulled their canoe onto the shores of Ra’iatea the native warriors attacked and killed all the Rarotongan warriors.

The gods became furious when they saw what the people of Ra’iatea had done. To keep the people of Rarotonga safe from future attacks from the Ra’iatean people, the gods threw a large fish-hook into the island of Rarotonga and pulled it further down south from the island of Ra’iatea.

The gods then spoke to the people of Ra’iatea and said, “You wronged your people, the people of Polynesia. Until the end of time, when the drum sounds, everyone who is of Polynesian ancestry, wherever they may be, will hear the beating of the drums and they will unite to become one people.”

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Cook Islands Language Celebration

As the Te Maeva Nui festival continues on Rarotonga, Cook Islands, Cook Islands Maori has made headlines becoming the first foreign language to be used to recite the parliamentary prayer at the New Zealand parliament earlier this week.

The prayer was recited by National Party Member of Parliament Alfred Ngaro, the first Cook Islander to be elected to the New Zealand parliament. “Today we made history. For the first time ever, the parliamentary prayer was presented in a foreign language,” Ngaro said.

The historic occasion was conducted to celebrate Cook Islands Language Week in New Zealand. Events are being held across the country in celebrating Cook Islands Maori.

Some New Zealanders of Cook Islands heritage are drawing on music and taonga (valuable property) in their celebrations. The theme for this year’s ‘Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani is “Be proud of your language and protect its future”. The theme was chosen because the language is at risk, with Cook Islands Maori currently classified as a vulnerable language by UNESCO.

In a statement, New Zealand’s Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, said “This is a very pertinent theme for Cook Islanders because use of the language is declining and its future is under threat. New Zealand has an important part to play in protecting the future of the language because there are more people of Cook Islands descent in New Zealand than the Cook Islands.”

About 62,000 people in New Zealand’s Pacific population are of Cook Islands heritage, and just one in eight speak Cook Islands Māori or Te Reo Māori Kuki ‘Āirani. In 2013 there were 8,121 speakers of the language in New Zealand.

Drum master John Kiria who is a regular performer at the museum, but this time the former Māori Party candidate is celebrating Cook Islands language week. Mr Kiria hails from the island of Aitutaki and he says the language is his identity, but music is his conduit. “Back in the days there was no telephone, no mobile. The using of the drums, the using of the conch shells to signal or to call a meeting. So its the using of the drums, the using of the chants, I guess it’s putting to use what god has placed us with.”

Music is Mr Kiria’s way of sharing language with people. But for Barbara Afitu of the Auckland Museum sharing language can also be done through taonga. This week an array of treasures from the Cook Islands have been rolled out at Auckland Museum to celebrate the language. They are part of the Pacific Collection Access Project, which manages around 30,000 items from 13 Pacific Islands.

Ms Afitu says future generations will have to learn through their eyes rather than their hands, before passing that knowledge on. “We’ve had some elders come in and even they were saying that growing up they thought they heard about some of these treasures but had never sighted them until they came to the museum,” she said.


Where is Rarotonga?



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Te Maeva Nui 2018- Cook Islands

The Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna officially opened Te Maeva Nui 2018 late last week calling it a time to “reignite national pride by celebrating our oneness and our achievements”.  Te Maeva Nui is the biggest annual cultural festival that takes place on Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Te Maeva Nui means “The Big Celebration,” and unites all the islands in one huge celebration of self-government and independence.


The Cook Islands gained full independence on August 4, 1965, becoming a state in free association with New Zealand. To honor the occasion, the government launched a week-long ‘Constitution Celebration.’ In the 1970s and 1980s the event took on a more political tone with songs and dances composed for the political party in power. In the 1990s the Ministry of Cultural Development created themes for the event.

During this week-long festival, locals exhibit their food, music, and dance. The preparation starts in June and till August thousands of people create gorgeous decorations and amazing costumes. Float parades, choir competitions, and lots of local food are all part of this event.

According to Shaun Bamber, who writes for the Cook Islands News, the festival opened on Friday at Avarua’s Constitution Park in front of a large crowd of special guests and dignitaries, including Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters and new cabinet ministers Robert Tapaitau, Rose Brown and George Maggie.

Puna addressed the crowd stating, “Having just come through the June general elections, let us please put aside our political differences and admit that we share this fantastic country of ours, our place, even though it may only be considered by some as a little dot on the world map. Nevertheless, it is our.”

He added, “Let us therefore celebrate our history, the wisdom in determining our traditions, including the acceptance of Christianity, and in reflecting on our past, let us join together to build a vibrant future. Yes, let’s make it happen.”

Earlier, Puna began his official Te Maeva Nui opening speech by congratulating the Cook Islands cultural team that traveled to Hawaii in June to represent the country at the Polynesian Cultural Center there. “The team represented our country with pride and distinction,” he said.

And with so many from the pa enua (foreign lands) having journeyed to Rarotonga for Te Maeva Nui this year, Puna also acknowledged that “we are especially blessed this year to have our brothers and sisters from our pa enua, who have joined us in Rarotonga for this celebration”. “I have to say, that your being here makes this celebration even more special and complete, and we can call this a truly national celebration,” he said.


For 2018, the theme ‘Te au Arapo o Toku Matakeinanga‘ means ‘The Traditional Calendars of My Ancestors’ promises to ignite the imagination. The theme is about arapo which translates as the path of the night or moon. The traditional Polynesian calendar relies on the moon rather than the sun to mark time.

The theme will challenge all Cook Islanders to do some research. They will need to talk to their elders of the community and find out the traditional calendars of their island. The process of researching the theme creates the cultural connection and each island will have their own way of representing this in their performances.

The festival will run until August 4. Click here to visit the Ministry of Cultural Developments’ Website for photos and information regarding this year’s events.

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