Polyfest 2019- New Zealand

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.


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Disaster Preparedness Workshop in Fiji

This past week I conducted a Disaster Preparedness Workshop at the National Archives of Fiji (NAF) in Suva, Fiji. About fifteen participants took advantage of this opportunity to learn about disaster planning for their archives and libraries. Most of the participants were from NAF, however, there were a couple of attendees from the National Museum of Fiji, the Library Services of Fiji, as well as the director of the National Archives of Tuvalu.


The outcome of the workshop was to have the participant learn about a ten step process on developing their own disaster plan for their respective organisations. The theme of the workshop was to be proactive. In fact, the staff of the NAF took the workshop a step further, became proactive, and developed their plan during the same week.

The workshop ran from 9am to noon, Monday through Wednesday. On Day 1 we concentrated on the first four steps of the plan that included: Writing the Introduction, Risk Assessment, Reducing the Risks and Establishing Support Networks. The group worked on a couple of exercises and spent a lot of time on assessing their internal and external risks of their organisations.

Day 2 of the workshop focused on Disaster Response, and we examined steps five through seven. These included, Establishing a Disaster Response Team, Vital Records, and Preparing a Disaster Response Plan. The main exercise for this day focused on identifying vital records of the participant’s organisations. We looked at assessing both government and cultural records.

Finally, on Day 3 we concentrated on Disaster Recovery, step eight, and also added the last two step of the disaster plan. These included, Training the Staff and Reviewing the Plan. The Disaster Recovery portion of the workshop also included a hands-on exercise on How to Handle Wet Material. For this exercise I brought plastic tubs full of different kinds of material such as, paper documents, VHS, photographs, microfilm, CDs, and books. I then filled the tubs with water, and together, we went through the process on salvaging each material.


I would like to graciously thank the National Archives of Fiji for hosting the event, and providing tea-time snacks, as well as providing a delicious Fijian lunch for the participants at the end of each day. I would also like to sincerely thank the attendees of the workshop for their participation and the desire to be prepared.

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Traditional Bags in Tonga

In Tonga, people are dependent on the land and sea for food and it’s a way to make money for their families. Agriculture and fishing form the primary basis for Tongan livelihood.  Handicrafts, pumpkins, fish, and vanilla are the main exports. Tongan’s are literally ‘living off of the land ; the people here are very self-reliant. Many Tongans still create traditional handicrafts providing income for their families. All of the supplies that they use to make the handicrafts are also grown on land.

Recently a new community group in Tonga was encouraging people to say no to plastic and use fabric bags and baskets woven from coconut fibers as an alternative.

The group has launched the ‘No Pelesitiki’ campaign and says it has received support from the Royal household, nobles, politicians and the New Zealand High Commission. The group’s founder, Eleni Leveni-Tevi, said the traditional woven ‘oa baskets were made from coconut shoots and planting was under way to increase the supply.


Photo: Facebook/No Pelesitiki Campaign 

The plastic bag alternatives are already proving popular, Ms Leveni-Tevi said. “So we did the launch on Monday and we sold out of all our fabric bags and our o’oa bags,” she said. “Some are waiting to put in orders and yes, we have sighted some of our bags in Nuku’alofa already in use.”

Youth groups in Tonga are being encouraged to support the ‘No Pelesitiki’ campaign, Ms Leveni-Tevi said. The group is also encouraging policy makers to ban single use plastics.


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“Blackbird”- A New Short Film

Earlier this year filmmaker Amie Batalibasi wrote an article for the Solomon Star News about the under-acknowledged and relatively unknown tragedy and heartbreak of the “blackbirding” era. Ms. Batalibasi wrote:

There are some stories that never leave you – they exist in your waking thoughts, your dreams, your ancestry and your being. They well up in your soul, compelling you forward into a world that is full of stories that don’t reflect the one you’re trying to tell.

My name is Amie Batalibasi, my tribes are Feralimae and Kosi from the Solomon Islands. My people are the saltwater people of the Langalanga Lagoon. In 1863, Australia began a practice known as ‘blackbirding’ – the term used to describe the removal of Pacific Islanders, often by force and coercion, from their homelands to work on Australia’s sugar cane fields.

For over forty years, tens of thousands of Indigenous peoples were taken to labor, often under slave-like conditions, in Queensland and New South Wales. Generations of islanders were stripped of their family, language, culture and identity in the time leading up to the White Australia Policy.

The tragedy and heartbreak of the blackbirding era has had a ripple effect all throughout the Pacific, yet it’s a history that remains largely under-acknowledged and unknown. I talk to people every day about this history and everyday people say: “I didn’t know”.  Historically, Pacific Islander narratives have been caught up in colonialism, ‘otherness’ and a point of view that is not our own.

So, in 2015, after making documentary films for many years, I embarked on a journey as part of my Masters studies, to make my first short narrative film.
BLACKBIRD is dedicated to three of my own ancestors who were blackbirded and never seen or heard from again.


“Blackbirders” photo from mediadiversified.org

Making the film was the beginning of my own reclamation of this history. I was able to work closely with my community and family in Mackay, and partnered with YamadiLeraYumi Meta – an Australian South Sea Islanders (ASSI) and Aboriginal aged-care association.

In the first year after completion, BLACKBIRD struggled to gain any recognition from Australian mainstream film festivals with an almost 90% rejection rate. Thankfully, our film found a warm embrace via international Indigenous and Pasifika film festival communities leading to official selection at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, Canada – the world’s largest presenter of Indigenous screen content. Screenings in New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Tahiti, France, Hawaii, Australia followed.

But taking the film back home to the Solomons was an absolute joy. In my village (of over 1000 people), we screened BLACKBIRD using a tablet projector won as a prize at the Pasifika Film Festival. Usually, film screenings there tend to be old Hollywood blockbuster films, but seeing my family see themselves and hear our language on screen, was a feeling I can’t completely explain. Right there, I saw the importance of representation, diversity and authentic voices on screen – something I knew was severely lacking in Australia.

Diversity and gender equity were quickly put on the agenda and when Screen Australia’s ‘Gender Matters’ funding came around I intended to apply with the feature film script of BLACKBIRD I was working on as an adaptation of my short film. But I was ineligible to apply and I found myself struggling to find industry work, and fell into the black hole of a ‘film school hangover’.

Theoretically I should probably have given up. Women Of Color directors are severely underrepresented in Australian feature filmmaking – we are less than 15% of currently active female feature directors.

I feel grateful for the opportunities I’ve had so far. I come from a long line of storytellers and a tradition of oral history. So, I will dig deep into the courage, strength and resilience of my ancestors. I will keep writing my feature script for BLACKBIRD. And I will tell this story. Because I must.

To read the entire story, please click here.

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New Ukulele Festival on Rarotonga

The first Ukulele Festival on the island of Rarotonga, Cook Isalnds, will be held from March 16 to 21, 2019, and will set out to showcase all the unique styles and sounds of the instrument.

It is an initiative by ukulele enthusiasts in the Cook Islands who want to enhance the culture of ukulele into a festival of celebration, with the overall aim of enjoyment by participation. So far the organizers have received 16 registrations. They say keen ukulele players from other countries have also shown interest, with further numbers to be confirmed nearer to the event.

The highlight of the festival will be a planned ukulele orchestra evening when every ukulele player is expected to take part in the finale of the Golden Ukulele Awards. This award will be presented to a ukulele artist in recognition of their extraordinary contribution to the ukulele instrument and its music.

The festival events will include the Punanga Nui Market for the opening and Vaiana’s for a Concert under the Stars. The Festival Expo Finale Concert will be held at the National Auditorium.

One of the most famous Cook Islanders to play the ukulele is Jake Numanga. Papa Jake serenades arriving and departing travelers at the airport. He must have performed to well over a million people since he first started singing there in 1980. With his ukulele, Jake stands next to the baggage carousel or the boarding gate and sings traditional Cook Islands songs, American classics like Leaving on a Jet Plane, or whatever else he thinks his captive audience will enjoy. No matter what time of the day or night it is, Jake will be there for you.

In 2011 Jake received the ANZ-sponsored “Most Outstanding Contribution to Tourism Award.” He has received a number of other accolades both before and since then, but his biggest reward, he says, is the pleasure he sees his music bringing, especially to Cook Islanders returning home.

Upon arriving to Rarotonga at five in the morning in 2002, I snapped this photo of Jake performing:


Jake Numanga performing in 2002, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Ukulele History

Believe it or not, the ukulele isn’t a native or ancient instrument: it started with Portuguese immigrants to Hawaii in the late 19th century. The largest wave of Portuguese immigration lasted about 30 years, and 11,000 Portuguese immigrants would arrive in its first decade.

The ukulele is not a direct descendant of any particular instrument; rather it is a hybrid, most likely of the machete and the five-string rajão. These instruments are all in a family of small guitar-like instruments dating from the 18th century. These and similar forms are still popular throughout Latin America, Spain and Portugal. These and other European instruments were originally imported into Hawaii by the immigrants, and continued to be imported through the late 19th century, even after local makers started building their own.

The little instrument became an almost instant hit among the native Hawaiians. Even the royal family of Hawaii took to playing it. In part because of their patronage and also the use of native woods and materials, Hawaiians took to it and soon developed their own musical style and sound around it. Native Hawaiians opened their own manufacturing shops in the first decade of the 20th century.


 Picture from ukulelgo.com

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International Mother Language Day 2019

I just recently learned that yesterday, February 21, was International Mother Language Day (IMLD).  IMLD was first proclaimed in 1952 as “Language Movement Day” by Dhaka University students in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) who were protesting suppression of their Bengali language. Police and military forces opened fire, killing many young people in attendance. IMLD has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

The theme for 2019 is “Indigenous languages matter for development, peace building and reconciliation.”

According to the United Nations languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.

Cultural Survival supports and promotes locally-based, Indigenous-controlled community media and language revitalization efforts aimed at training new generations of fluent speakers. The Indigenous Rights Radio continues to raise the profile of the international language endangerment crisis facing the world’s 7,000 mother tongues, the majority of them Indigenous. They have formed new international partnerships aimed at bringing rich perspectives on language loss and revitalization to a global audience through our Indigenous Rights Radio programs.

At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world. Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.

For this year’s IMLD the UN and the Indigenous Rights Radio hope that you will stand with Cultural Survival in strengthening our support for these and forthcoming efforts to promote and contribute to the local revitalization of the world’s knowledge base–our mother tongues.

Poster IMLD (web)

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Launch of the Le Tiumasalasala Dance Theater in Samoa

Adel Fruean of the samoaobserver wrote that the official launch of the Le Tiumasalasala Dance Theater was held at the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel earlier this year. Le Tiumasalasala Dance Theater director, 32-year-old Eterei Maiava Salele, said the troupe has 14 dancers including herself and was formed in August 2018. “The launch was to officially introduce Le Tiumasalasala into the community as a dance group and introducing all the programs and everything that we will be doing this year,” she said.


Ms. Salele added, “The production has been planned since last year and I had assistance from my two Fijian choreographers: Glenville Lord and Tulevu Tora. We all met through the late Seiuli Tuilagi Allan Alo Vaai because we were the core dancers for Seiuli. I am very blessed to have them come in and help out. The meaning of the show besides our launching was also to portray a lot of social issues that our country faces and also the world,” she said.

The dance group brings something different and unique in expressing themselves, culture, language and heritage through dancing. They believe that dancing is another way of showcasing arising issues that needs to be addressed and the consequences the Pacific Islanders face.

The dance group will focus on the celebration of life hence the name of the production, according to Eterei. “Alive is a reference of our thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father for life which we have been blessed with. But we also looked at some serious issues are and using performing arts to portray the message that this is reality and it is happening. An example of one of the issues we conveyed through one of our performances was domestic violence.”

“I believe that putting it in a live show, showcases a different effect because people get to see and witness how it looks like. Another piece we did was climate change and the strongest production we did was injustice,” she added.

Finally, Ms. Salele said, “The name of our group refers to the full costume of the daughter of a high chief in a village which is known as a ‘taupou’ but the significance of the name is that it holds Samoan culture which is our identity and we intend to carry it with us wherever we go.”


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