Every four years, an enormous event called the Festival of Pacific Arts is held in a different part of the Pacific. It is one of the most significant pan-Pacific gatherings where island nations from across Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia meet to share their arts – customary and contemporary – and renew the ancestral links that bind the people who share the Pacific.
Over 100 New Zealand artists – of Maori, Pacific, and Pakeha descent – have been selected by Te Waka Toi to attend this year’s Festival and join over 20 different island nations, from Hawaii to Guam, Australia to Rapanui. The original purpose of the festival was to prevent the erosion of traditional arts throughout the Pacific; erosion from the encroachment of modern living and the reprioritisation of values that this sometimes brings. From the first festival in 1972 (held in Fiji) however, the festival has grown into more than an urgent response to the perceived threat of cultural erosion. It has become a place to present exemplary practitioners of various customary artforms, to allow a space for sharing and reconnection, and to showcase the ongoing development, adaptation and maintenance of cultural practices, in avenues adopted by Pacific artists, in disciplines such as contemporary dance and music, sculpture, and puppetry – to name a few.
I find myself lucky to be at my second Pacific festival (in 2008 I travelled to Pagopago in American Samoa). And this year, I’ve come to the Solomon Islands at the invitation of Creative New Zealand and Te Waka Toi, and with the support of Te Papa which has allowed me time to come away to Honiara and join the large New Zealand delegation. I’ve come wearing two hats, one as part of the assisting operations crew to help look after the delegation; and one as a curator to present at a symposium next week and to observe the artists and festival goings on.
After arriving here on an RNZAF boeing on Monday and with a wonderful welcome reception by the people of Honiara, the delegation has been acclimatizing to the 70% humidity and 30 degree heat. The logistical practicalities of bringing so many artists to a developing country with a particularly voracious form of malaria and infrastructure limitations has been well thought out and planned by the Creative New Zealand and especially by the Project Manager, Jon Tamihere. It is a well-supported project!
On Sunday the festival formalities begin. It starts with a church service and then an opening ceremony on Monday. And for the next two weeks, we will inhabit a specially built whare alongside the other Pacific islands, as part of the beautiful festival village. Customary and contemporary musicians, actors, puppeteers, kapa haka, haka theatre, sculptors, carvers, weavers, and clay workers, all sharing with each other and with our Pacific whanaunga.
A very special event. I’ll be writing more as the festival unfolds. But in the meantime, follow NZ at the Festival of Pacific Arts on Facebook for more images and reflections.