Dion in the Solomons
Tomika and Dion at the NZ evening Image: Dion Peita
© Australian Museum

Diary - Day 2

Honiara. Meeting with the NZ artists and a vist to Turtle beach, Honiara. 24 hour countdown to the opening of the Festival...

Welkem (pidgin for welcome) my main goal for the day was to locate the NZ delegation, and catch up with colleagues, artists and determine the programming of their many performances during the festival, as I’d hope to attend as many as possible during my time at the festival. I knew that I was nearing their facility as I could hear a haka being rehearsed in the distance, as I drew nearer the oval where they going through a series of performance pieces, the tattooed bodies, and the dynamism that that this performing arts demands.

Two senior stalwarts Tapeta Wehi and Tomika Whiu of the group Te Wakahuia – a major Maori indigenous performing arts group based in the North Island of New Zealand - shared their knowledge of performance, traditional knowledge and showcasing their culture at a major Pacific event. Tapeta mentioned that this was possibly his third festival of Pacific Arts, and it never ceased to amaze how his performers would rise to the occasion, and deliver a world-class performance. I look forward to their presentations throughout FOPA.

Visit to Turtle beach

Tracking along Kukum highway, I had the good fortune of participating in a day trip with the NZ delegation to what was promised to be an exciting day out. Two large buses containing artists, performers, curators, carvers, play writers, and other cultural specialists were given royal treatment along the way, with the Solomon locals waving out, and smiling. This was a novel experience amongst the passengers, as I had reflected with Puawai Cairns, Curator Maori from Te Papa, that I doubt it if we would be accorded the same treatment in more established countries.

According to a local publication, “to be regarded as rich, a Melanesian person will give all that s/he can to his village and is at odds with the typical understanding of wealth by the western world.” I for one can vouch for this in my brief encounters with the local Honiara community members.

As we arrive at Turtle beach, we all make our way to the prinstine sands, had lunch together, and discussed a multitude of topics from indigenous practices, duty of care to collections, acquisition policies, and other matters concerning the retention of culture and heritage in Maori communities. Very stimulating conversation to have beside the ocean, and yes, I did have the time to take a dip;ensuring that I steered clear of any unspent WWII ordinance that may have been strewn throughout the beach front, and the occasional crocodile!

First glance of the festival village

My impression of the venue left me with a sense of pride for the local people, to have a prepared a major site, and couple this with the infrastructure to ensure it appears seamless. The venue itself is less than 4 kilometres from Honiara airport and can’t be missed looking out of the left-side of your transport. Traditionally the Solomon Islanders are known for their large carved figures, war canoes and other structures; The FOPA entrance celebrates and honours this great carving tradition. There are two large ancestral figures that support a canoe and shelter that declares it as a focal point.

Every Island nation has been assigned an area, with beautifully constructed ‘paele’ (term for temporary shelter in Western Province dialect) to showcase their art works and practice. The entire village focuses in one great stage that will have performances running from dawn till dusk...or thereabouts, on ‘island time’.

The opening for the Festival is expected to attract over 30,000 on its first day tomorrow. This will be momentous, as many of the groups I have heard practicing and preparing for this event will unleash in less than 24 hours. I can’t wait!

The Festival of the Pacific Arts is the largest gathering in which Pacific peoples unite to gain respect for, and appreciation of, one another within the context of the changing Pacific. Dion will be strengthening Pacific networks, exploring resources for the Australian Museum's social inclusion project that assists marginalised Pacific youth in NSW, and presenting a paper at the Pacific Youth forum to be held during this period.

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