Pacific Festivals in Aotearoa

 

Forty years ago, in March 1972, the inaugural Polynesian Festival was held at Whakarewarewa Marae in Rotorua. It marked the first time recently-arrived migrant Pacific cultures were performed in such a context. Since this time, specifically Pacific as well as combined Maori/Pacific festivals have become a vital part of annual events calendars for schools and communities across the country. There are now more than twenty such events.

 

Pacific festivals celebrate the place of Pacific cultures and peoples in New Zealand. They reflect the ongoing connections that Pacific peoples have to ancestral homelands while also reaffirming a sense of New Zealand as a new Pacific homeland.

 

In a poetic sense, they also represent a culmination of the great Pacific migrations, where the diversity of indigenous and migrant Pacific cultures exists alongside new expressions of pan-Pacific unity.

 

Broadly, two types of festivals have evolved. The first came out secondary schools and are known as Polyfests (an abbreviation of Polynesian festival). They celebrate the maintenance of Pacific cultures primarily through song and dance. Some events have also incorporated other elements, like art exhibitions, fashion shows, and speech competitions.

 

Polyfests are about the passing of cultural traditions from community leaders to the next generations. In this sense audiences are primarily focused on performance standards and quality so that, even where the events are participation-only, Polyfests can become highly-competitive environments. This is most visible at Auckland’s Polyfest, where intense competition between schools results in the high levels of secrecy that surround performances.

 

Pasifika festivals, by contrast, celebrate Pacific cultures through what researcher Ruth Talo calls a “grand arena of Pacific-ness.” They’re designed to encourage people to walk around, look at and buy arts and crafts, smell, look at and buy food and drink, engage with other stalls, meet, talk and socialise with family, friends and communities, and to watch and be entertained by performances. Everything is designed to be consumed by the audience and they, in turn, are able to pick and choose from the potpourri of material culture offered up for consumption.

 

 


BL-12

The Polynesian Festival

 

To find the seeds of Pacific festivals, we must travel back to 1964, when the Māori Purposes Funding Board decided that “a committee be appointed to consider…a proposal that the Board sponsor and grant prizes for a National Māori Cultural Competition.”
CLICK ON PIC TO READ MORE

Polyfest

 

The place of Pacific cultures was clear from the outset at the next, and more important, festival to be established. The inaugural Auckland Secondary Schools Māori and Pacific Islands Cultural Festival was first held in 1976, but is now better known simply as Polyfest.
CLICK ON PIC TO READ MORE

Pasifika Festivals

 

The Pasifika Festival, held annually at Auckland’s Western Springs since 1993, is celebrated as the largest event of its kind in the world. As such, popular history would have it that this festival acts as the starting point for the Pasifika festivals that have followed since.
CLICK ON PIC TO READ MORE

The Pasifika Festival, Western Springs

 

The genesis of Pasifika lies with ex-journalist Roy Vaughan. With twenty years experience writing on Pacific affairs, and after returning from two years working in Fiji, he created the proposal for a South Pacific Festival that was to be held alongside the 1991 Pacific Islands Media Association conference, which was held in Auckland.
CLICK ON PIC TO READ MORE

The Tu Fa’atasi Festival, Wellington

 

The Tu Fa’atasi Festival, first held in Wellington in 1994, is significant for the number of up-and-coming Pacific artists they showcased, across a broad range of art-forms.
CLICK ON PIC TO READ MORE

Other Festivals

 

Aside from the specifically Pacific festivals, there are other events deserving of their own features. From the variety of independence festivals and constitution day celebrations, to Cook Island heiva competitions and the Tokelauan Easter tournaments, there are a whole host of Island-specific festivals and events that take place across Aotearoa, many of which pre-date some of the more recent pan-Pacific incarnations.
CLICK ON PIC TO READ MORE

How Can We Understand Pacific Festivals?

 

When looking at the history of Pacific festivals in New Zealand, one striking feature is that the majority of Pacific Festivals have been initiated in the years following the inaugural Pasifika Festival in 1993. Something significant happened, or changed, during this decade.
CLICK ON PIC TO READ MORE