Melanesians gathering for ‘unique’ NZ cultural event to celebrate identity

A graceful young Melanesian dancer shares her culture
A graceful young Melanesian dancer shares her culture. Image: Melanesian Festival Aotearoa

By Tiana Haxton, RNZ News journalist

Melanesians all across Aotearoa are coming together in Auckland this weekend to celebrate their unique cultural heritage.

This is the second time the annual Melanesian Festival Aotearoa is being held and it is an opportunity for community members from Fiji, Kanaky New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to fully immerse in their culture.

More than 7000 people attended the inaugural event last year which was a huge success.

Cultural performances, musical showcases, traditional food, arts and craft were on display and enjoyed by all.

Festival director Albert Traill said this festival is “something unique for New Zealand because New Zealand is a predominantly Polynesian-based society when it comes to Pacific Islands communities”.

He expressed that sometimes the Melanesian community feel left out or lost in the crowd and their numbers are smaller in comparison to their Polynesian brothers and sisters.

The five Melanesian nations parade their flags
The five Melanesian nations parade their flags . . . Fiji (from left), Kanaky New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Image: Melanesian Festival Aotearoa

“Melanesian culture and music is really different to Polynesia. Very similar, but it has its own unique feel,” Traill said.

Annual event
The community have been talking about organising their own cultural festival for years, and with the support of Creative New Zealand, it is now an annual event.

“It’s an opportunity for our Melanesian community to come out and have a space for us to share our culture, our food, and just to come together and celebrate each other’s identity and culture.

“We love it here in New Zealand because New Zealand is a country that loves and supports cultural diversity.”

The community enjoys the festival.
Community members sing and dance along. Image: Melanesian Festival Aotearoa

Traill has a smile in his voice as he reflects on the success of last year’s festival, sharing how many of the performances were youth driven.

The young ones spent months researching their countries and consulting with community elders and knowledge holders, to produce outstanding items.

Their pride and passion shone on stage, striking a string in the hearts of their family and friends

‘Everyone in tears’
“And pretty much everyone was in tears hearing them share how special they felt. Normally they get lumped in with Polyfest and, and all the other festivals and stuff. But this one, for the first time ever, they could say, ‘this is my festival. It’s Melanesian’.”

“We’re doing it for the young people,” he says.

“So hopefully one day when we’re not here, they can stand up with the same pride and say, ‘Yeah, you know what? I’m Melanesia. And I’m proud to share my culture’.”

The festival will be held at the Waitemata Rugby Club Grounds in Henderson from 9am onwards with a packed programme.

The cultural performances begin at 10am and there are a few popular reggae artists and bands hailing from the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Community groups from Christchurch, Tauranga, Waikato and Wellington are travelling up to participate and the entertainment will continue until late in the afternoon.

Cultural activation spaces will also be spread around the grounds showcasing the traditional weaving and tapa printing of Melanesia.

Ancient tatooing style
The ancient style of Papua New Guinea tattooing will also be on display.

It will be a vibrant hub of cultural identity and heritage and the the organizers warmly welcome any interested ones to come along and join in the celebrations.

“Come and have a look, come and see Melanesia,” Traill said.

“Melanesia is like the Tuakana of the Pacific, the older sibling, the older ancient cultures. You’re looking at 10,000 years of history in the Pacific. A lot of these are ancient old cultures and very complex.”

Fijian Performers
Young Fijian men prepare for their performance. Image: Melanesian Festival Aotearoa

The organisers expect this year to be even bigger and better, and it will only grow each consecutive year.

They are already looking into further expanding the festival for 2024 and are looking to collaborate with embassies to fly across talented local artists and cultural performance groups to join in next years Melanesia Festival.

Young performers pose backstage with family.
Proud family members watch their young ones perform. Image: Melanesian Festival Aotearoa

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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