Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Kanaka Maoli finally get to host for the 13th festival of Arts

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John Utanga | Senior Journalist

Postponed because of Covid, Hawaii’s kanaka maoli finally get to host their cousins from Moananuiākea.

Kualoa Regional Park on the island of Oahu is a hive of activity on a balmy June morning.

It’s the birthplace of Hokule’a the legendary ocean-voyaging va’a which single-handedly sparked the revival of Polynesian way-finding in the region.

And it’s the perfect location for the Va’a arrival ceremony that has come to signify the spiritual start of the four-yearly Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture, known as Festpac.

“We’re just very blessed to be here in this very special place that has a lot of Korero and stories about waka and things like that,” says Hoturoa Kerr, master navigator from Aotearoa.

“So just to be here with all of these people from the Pacific, It’s just an awesome place to be.”

The bay is resplendent with colour and song as overseas delegates stream into the park eager to see the ceremony unfold and to play their part. 

Some 20 or so countries are represented here and it’s a credit to organisers that it’s finally happening, given that it was postponed back in 2020 because of the covid pandemic. 

And on hand to lend his support to the occasion is Hawaii’s State Governor Josh Green, acknowledging his relationship with local communities.

“I have been very close to the Tongan community, to the Samoan community, just so many communities; to see people here, near our home, it’s additionally wonderful,” he says.

“We’re trying to connect the nations and we’re rejuvenating relationships and we’re really healing after that long era of Covid.”

The va’a arrival ceremony has been a regular feature of the festival in recent decades and here, local va’a groups have come together to play their part. Among those here are members of the Kanehunamoku Voyaging Academy. 

“We have a shared collective vision here at the va’a village, and this was told to us by our master navigator Mau Piailug,” says academy director Mahealani Treaster. 

“And he told us to make one family. That was the one thing. And so to be here, not only with our own families, our brothers and sisters in the canoe, and of course our cousins across the Pacific, is a great reminder for us that making one family is a way that we are going to be able to strengthen our communities, for our future.”

Many Kanaka Maoli groups are represented on the shore this morning, they’re here to provide logistical and moral support but also to welcome manuhiri from around the Pacific.

“Many of us have travelled throughout the islands, throughout the ocean, throughout the world, and have been welcomed so beautifully by our cousins and our families in other lands,” says Puni Jackson,from the Ho’olu Aina community in Oahu.

“And so for us to be able to share what we have with so much humility and so much kindness, but lots of love and lots of excitement, it’s like seeing family that you haven’t seen for many, many years.” 

As va’a representing the various delegations arrive on shore, they are greeted by Kanaka Maoli and the welcome is sealed by a special ceremony at the ahu or marae alter nearby. 

It is one of many such solemn occasions during this Festpac which is a celebration of culture and endeavour. But it has an added benefit, particularly for the Pacific people of this island chain – kanaka Maoli and those of the diaspora who’ve made their home here.

Festival Director Dr Aaron Sala, himself a proud Samoan-Hawaiian, acknowledges this Festpac has been years in the making but that it is important to rekindle and nurture relations with the wider Pacific community

“We won’t know the impact of this for generations to come,” he says. 

“The power of this very moment today, when these va’a arrive here at Hakipu’u, at the birthplace of Hokule’a, and what that moment means to our children and our children’s children, only then will we understand the return on this investment.”



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