FestPAC 2024: Largest celebration of indigenous Pacific islanders kicks off

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Cook Islands dancers in rehearsal
Cook Islands dancers in rehearsal . . . preparing for the first FestPAC in eight years. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Tiana Haxton

By Tiana Haxton, RNZ Pacific in Hawai’i

After an eight-year break due to the covid pandemic, the world’s largest Pacific festival is kicking off again this week.

Hundreds of indigenous Pacific islanders are gathered in Hawai’i for the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FestPAC).

The event was established more than 50 years ago in 1972, aimed at providing a space for indigenous people to come together and keep their traditional practices alive.

Usually held every four years, the festival is a highly anticipated calendar event, showcasing high calibre dance performances, traditional arts and crafts, oral traditions and much, much more.

Twenty-seven Pacific nations are involved in this year’s cultural exchange, with a packed 10-day programme promising to teleport festival-goers into the heart of each country, experiencing the sights, sounds, and flavours of the region.

Random pretty waikiki water body (convention centre on the right too)
The Hawaii Convention Centre ( right) will be the main hive of activities over the next fortnight. Image: RNZ Pacific/Tiana Haxton

Festival director Dr Aaron Sala told RNZ Pacific the festival honours Pacific ancestors and recognises the valuable traditional knowledge held and passed on by community elders.

“Youth can sit at the feet of elders, to learn, to literally touch the hands of elders as they weave, to thus know the world that our ancestors lived in,” he said.

‘Power of FestPAC’
“That is the power of the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture.”

With most Pacific delegations coming with more than 100 team members, there is a large number of young people who are attending and participating for the first time.

Dr Aaron and Tiana Haxton
Festival director Dr Aaron Sala (left) with RNZ Pacific’s Tiana Haxton, who will be covering the FestPAC. Image: RNZ Pacific/Tiana Haxton

Travelling all the way from the Federated States of Micronesia is Christopher Sigrah.

“I’m so excited to be here, I’m looking forward to the performances, the arts, the carving,” he said.

“For past festivals I’ve been watching them online, so being here in person this time means a lot.”

With it being his first time alongside his peers, Sigrah said they are all hyped up to share their cultural heritage with the world.

FSM delegates at FestPPAC. (SIGRAH tallest dude no hat)
FSM delegates at FestPPAC. Christopher Sigrah is second from right. Image: RNZ Pacific/Tiana Haxton

Flying the Cook Islands flag is Ambushia Mateariki, a famous champion dancer in the community.

She is a part of the performing arts team who have spent the past year choreographing traditional dance performances for the festival.

‘Very excited, honoured’
Speaking to RNZ Pacific after their rehearsal on Tuesday, Mateariki said she was “very excited, grateful and honoured to be here and represent my homeland.”

“This is very important for my people, because we are here to promote and showcase our beautiful Cook Islands culture through dance.”

Cook Islands ladies (MATEARIKI in centre with yellow flower)
Cook Islands dancers (Ambushia Mateariki in centre with yellow flower). Image: RNZ Pacific/Tiana Haxton

The festival’s grand opening is on Thursday, June 6 (Hawai’i time — tomorrow NZ time).

Thousands are expected to attend and get their first taste of what to expect as the hundreds of delegates parade the Stan Sheriff Centre grounds for the official opening ceremony.

The Hawai’i Convention Centre will be the main hive of activities in the two weeks to follow, with Pacific Village spaces spread out across the venue, offering a unique cultural experience for all.

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

Royal Hawaiian Band welcoming Maori King at airport.
Royal Hawaiian Band welcoming Māori King at the Honolulu International Airport. Image: RNZ Pacific/Tiana Haxton
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