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Saturday, July 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Pacific Islanders converge in Hawaii for cultural exchange fest

Polynesian performers from 27 different nations gathered in Oahu for the 13th FestPAC, which this year highlights restoring the Pacific region.

HONOLULU (CN) — Thousands flocked to the Hawaii Convention Center on Thursday for the opening of the 13th Festival of the Pacific Arts, where over the next 10 days, more than 2,200 delegates from 27 Pacific nations will participate in cultural exchange and celebrations across the island of Oahu.

"As we engage in dialogue, we build bridges of understanding and dismantle barriers that divide us," festival commission chair Kalani Kaʻanāʻanā said during the opening ceremony.

He emphasized that the festival, known as FestPAC, reconnects the Pacific Islands and showcases cultural unity among Pacific Islanders, adding, "When we listen to our chants and songs, we hear the voices of generations past reminding us that we are part of an unbroken genealogy."

With over 2,500 performers in attendance, the festival offers a unique platform for showcasing traditional practices and artistic heritage.

Organizers emphasized the event's significance as the largest gathering of its kind in the Pacific region, providing an opportunity for cultural exchange and enhancing understanding among the diverse Pacific peoples.

More than 50 festival events, including the opening and closing ceremonies, a Festival Village, heritage dances and contemporary music performances, heritage art demonstrations, visual arts exhibits and more, will be free and open to the public.

"I'm happy to be here, I've never been away from home," said twelve-year-old Dienewi, who performed a traditional dance with members of her village. "It's many cars and much traffic. The houses and buildings are bigger — so very exciting to see."

Dienewi is from Kiribati, an island country in the Micronesia subregion of Oceania in the central Pacific Ocean, comprising 32 atolls and with a population of around 120,000.

Beaming with excitement, middle school performers from Kiribati, like Dienewi (center), share the vibrant traditional dances of their island nation at the Festival of Pacific Arts, a novel adventure away from their remote Pacific homeland. (Keya Rivera/ Courthouse News)

In addition to a set of performance stages, several hut structures created a "village" where the different island representatives could share their culture more directly.

Some of the exhibits offered weaving classes, or shared the history of their island's favorite sports, crafts and foods. Many of them sold traditional clothes, jewelry, baskets and blades made with shark teeth.

Mele Polafati, a visitor from Samoa, noted the changes since her last visit to Hawaii in 2016, saying, "There's been a lot of new buildings since I last came."

"I'm most excited to see all my brothers and sisters here, to learn more about each other. I also want to make money and sell some of my stuff here," Polafati told Courthouse News Service, showcasing her woven fans and hats, along with her intricately beaded jewelry made of shells and beads crafted from microplastics she recycles from trash found on the beach shore of her native island.

Roman Dela Cruz, a delegate from Guam, also shared his belief that cultural events were significant not only for individual islands but for Pacific Islanders as a whole to heal from the past trauma of colonization and the accompanying degradation of culture.

“Even though the spread of Christianity itself was kind of violent, even in our eyes it was very violent work, but embracing it, all of it, looking at the situation now instead of complaining of these things that happened in the past, now we can plan everything together," Dela Cruz said. "Move with the mind of our voyagers and all the islands, and use these changing winds, how we build this boat, and how we use the stars, and most importantly how we work as a group. We will be able to go to new places and do massive things and affect a lot of people.”

Functioning as more than just a cultural celebration, the festival facilitated a collaborative space for island communities to congregate, delegate responsibilities, and address important concerns like the challenges posed by climate change and the risk of cultural erosion in the digital age of social media. (Keya Rivera/ Courthouse News)

Dela Cruz reflected on the last FestPAC, held on his home island of Guam, comparing the festival to the ember that was stoked into a fire. He said at FestPac 2016, Guam showcased a traditional rock-slinging weapon.

"We ran workshops and lessons right outside the festival grounds, and it was a tremendous success that sparked massive momentum," Dela Cruz said.

He went on to explain that the event reignited interest in a sport that was fading from their culture, and through the cultural exchange, they discovered that rock slinging wasn't specific to Guam but was practiced natively in 70 other countries worldwide. While rock slinging was originally used for warfare and hunting, Dela Cruz noted that it is now primarily utilized as a sport and for cultural appreciation.

Echoing Dela Cruz's sentiments, Dienewi said, “I hope I can learn many things from my brothers and sisters here.”

Polynesian performers still in high school flew in to the event to share their cultures traditional song and dance. (Keya Rivera/ Courthouse News)
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