What ASB Polyfest means

LAUMATA LAUANO headed to the final day of ASB Polyfest 2018 to ask festival goers what the largest Polynesian festival in the world meant to them. The answers weren’t surprising, but they were heartening nonetheless. 



Over the course of the annual four-day festival, thousands of students perform on different island stages and compete in a speech competition, and tens of thousands of people come to watch and support.


As you would expect from a festival as large as ASB Polyfest, the Manukau Sports Bowl was teaming with people on the final day, Saturday March 18.


Despite a quick downpour that lasted a few minutes, everyone was in high spirits.


As I wandered I decided to stop people and ask them one simple question.

What does Polyfest mean to you?


In no particular order, these were their answers:



Liz, 15: “It means representing your culture and being proud of where you come from.”




Motu, 18: “It means family. For groups, kids go into a group as individuals and leave with a family.”




Naomi, 23: “It’s a celebration of our culture, where we come together to showcase the richness and beauty of the Pacific through song and dance.”




Tongan Group leader from South Auckland boys school De La Salle Cornelius, 17, [pictured left with same-aged friends Jonathan and Tane]: “It’s a gathering and sharing of our roots.”




Some girls from the South Auckland girls high school McAuley Niuean group were candid in their responses:


Dehnyse, 16: “It means participation and family time.”


Rosie,16: “It means cultures coming together... and food.”


Sharon, 16: “It means representing your island nation.”


Tasi, 16: “It means cultures.”





Guess who said what out of Sam Patua, 49 and young Freedym, 9:


“It’s about culture and learning. Some of our young ones don’t know, so this is a way to learn.”


“Watching people dance and getting lots of food.”




Constable Romeo Chungson, 43: “It’s a celebration of cultures, and of diversity. The festival brings people together to showcase the hard work the kids have put in to promote these cultures on a large stage.”




Moa, 18: “Cultural diversity.”




And finally Johanis, 13, just ahead of prizegiving at the Auckland University Samoan stage: “It’s hard to explain, but it means rolling with these fellas (the St Paul’s Samoan group)... and coming first place.”


Anyone who’s ever been a part of a group or team can understand just what Johanis is trying to say when he talks about Polyfest meaning ‘rolling with these fellas’.


It’s about being part of something. As someone mentioned earlier, when you join Polyfest groups you walk in as an individual and walk away with a family.


And it’s not hard to understand why.


For weeks, students will have practiced together, sometimes late into the evening, listened, learned and took punishment that comes with preparation, always together, always with the thought of performing as a unit at the forefront of their minds.


In this time, a bond is formed.


Although last year St Paul’s took out the boys division after a hiatus in 2016, this year the school came in at second place behind Kelston Boys.


Coming first place might have been part of Johanis’ answer, but as I watched each boy console each other, I understood that there was a reason ‘first place’ was tacked on, almost as an afterthought.


First place would have been nice, securing back-to-back wins. But this isn’t why students join such a group in the first place.


You don’t take titles with you once you leave school, but friendships and culture? Those have been known to stand the test of time.


You can see it in how old boys and girls from school come together and cheer louder than some of the students’ parents and peers. In how students carry their culture with them long after the competition is done.


So, while it’s true that competition is fierce, culture and friendships are enduring.