Every year in March, New Zealand holds the Pasifika Festival in its largest city, Aukland. Popularly called 'Pasifika', it is the largest event of its kind in the world, with its theme of the Pacific Islands, and it draws in over 225 thousand visitors every year.
It now involves multiple stages, sports, and over 300 stalls for food and games.
The roots of this festival probably go back to the 1980s. During that time, Tala Cleverley, the first Pacific person to be elected to a New Zealand local government jurisdiction, was on the Wellington City Council. As part of the city's long-running Summer City program, she initiated and developed a Pacific festival to be part of the celebration. She got the Pacific churches and other various groups involved, to make sure the rest of the community was tied in. By 1982, a variety of festivals had begun, giving people a chance to display their cultures. These festivals continued until around 1990 and consisted largely of entertainment programs, food, information about the cultures, and art areas. However, they also began to bring in Western practices as well and began decreasing in popularity. Soon, there were almost no public festivals of Pacific cultures.
Entrance to one of the “villages” that make up the festival.
The Pasifika Festival came into existence in 1992 when the then Auckland City Council and the South Pacific Island Nations Development Association wanted to bring the Pacific Island communities closer together again by celebrating the richness and variety of their cultures, traditions and lifestyles. A Pacific Island fashion show and theatre performances were incorporated into it in 1993, and over 20,000 people attended it in only the festival's second year. This festival continued to grow over the years, as did the number of people attending it. Between 1995 and 2000, an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 people attended Pasifika each year.
A "village" concept was introduced in 1998 as a way of further showing each Pacific island's diversity. The festival is split up into "villages" of individual island communities, representing the ten islands of Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, Tahiti, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand).
Most of the Pasifika events take place in Western Springs Stadium and start with concerts on a Friday evening. Many musical acts that perform are top-name Polynesian artists. The concert is free, and lasts for a few hours.
On Saturday, thousands of people crowd the stadium again to enjoy the numerous shows by the various villages, as well as the craft shows. They sample the huge variety of Polynesian food as well in this day long celebration. It now involves multiple stages, sports, and over 300 stalls for food and games.
One of the many stalls displaying traditional crafts.
The Pasifika Festival itself is just 2 days, but the entire month of March is full of related events and activities. Some of the events that happen during the rest of the March, as part of the Pasifika Festival idea, include sporting events, sculpture exhibitions, film viewings, various workshops, kid's activities and much more.
The years have marked a number of important milestones for the festival. A record number of people attended the festival in 2001, which won the festival the Creative New Zealand's Creative Places Award. Between 2002 and 2004, the number of community stallholders exceeded 300 for the first time and it is estimated that over one million dollars was spent during the 2002 festival.
In 2005, the inaugural Pacific Music Awards were introduced at the Air New Zealand Opening Night Concert, and these continued on as a stand-alone celebration of Pacific musical talent. Another award was won on the festival's 15th anniversary in 2007 with the Best Established Event award from NZAEP (New Zealand Association of Event Professionals). It highlighted the efforts of past and present project managers, along with the the team of community workers and volunteers. In 2010, a six-day program was begun as part of the months activities. This included a number of ticketed events at other locations, including "Po", a tribal pop opera by pop artist Mika.
Some of the dancers during the festival
Just as the original festivals of the 1980s inspired the Pasifika Festival, so it too has inspired other festivals. In 2001, the Christchurch's Pacific Underground established the Pacific Arts Festival. It is a day for the family, with a format similar to Pasifika. Three years after that, Tai Tokerau Pasifika became the first Pacific festival in the Northland region.
The Pacific in the Park festival began in West Aukland in 2005. It is also family-oriented and was, oddly enough, developed from a road safety campaign created by local policeman Faga Siaki. It has an afternoon and evening of mainly modern entertainment in which a number of social agencies attend and engage the Pacific communities.
In 2006, two more festivals were held for the first time. One was a second festival in the Northland area, in Kaitaia, and the other was the Auckland's North Shore Pasefika Festival. Both of these events have a specific sports focus, promoting team competition and healthy lifestyles. Two more festivals were also begun in 2009: Hamilton's Nesian Festival and Rotorua's Mini Pasifika Festival. These will run biannually along with the city's Globalfest.
Some dancers waiting to perform
If you wish to learn more about the annual Pasifika Festival, there are a number of sites online that will give you details on dates of it and surrounding events, as well as where is best to stay in Aukland for the event. This celebration goes far in helping to not only showcase the cultures of the islands, but also help revive and maintain their history and traditions. We hope the continue for many more years to come.
Woman at her stall during the festival
Food stall with various foods and drinks for sale
Art for sale at the Pasifika Festival
Young dancers practicing
Women dancing in traditional costume
Stall displaying various tradtional Tapa cloths for sale
|Celebrations - Pasifika Festival|
All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.
|Letter From The Editor - Why Polynesian?|
|Rongorongo - Island Chants|
|Otto Dempwolff - Islands of Language|
|At the Cinema - Whale Rider|
|Celebrations - Pasifika Festival|
|Special Feature - Avoiuli|
|Languages in Peril - The Island Invasion|
|Revisited - Legends of Maui - Maui's Home|
|Word on the Streets - Malay Masters|
|Where Are You?|
|Revisited - Legends of Maui - Maui Snaring the Sun|
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