Mixing it up Pacific style

Issue: Volume 98, Number 15

Posted: 30 August 2019
Reference #: 1H9xmC

The percussive sounds of sasa – a sit-down dance from Samoa – and the swish of fans in a Fijian dance were on display at TuTagata, a pan-Polynesian festival held in Wellington recently.

Students from nine schools in the Wellington region took to the stage in the Michael Fowler Centre on 30 July to perform at the TuTagata Secondary Schools Polynesian Festival, a multicultural event that is now in its 41st year. Each school fielded a Polynesian group that performed a variety of items from the Pacific Islands.

“They select an island and they teach whatever comes from that island and that’s how they get the bracket together,” explains Vienna Masoe, TuTagata Komiti chair and deputy principal of Wellington East Girls’ College.

“There are different cultures and different countries in the Pacific Islands, with different types of dancing. In a bracket they might have five cultures represented.”

Some of the student-led groups number more than 60.

“It’s one of the only big festivals in the Wellington region, and it’s so important that we have a platform for Polynesian students to identify themselves,” says Vienna.

“Most of the kids going into these Polynesian groups have no affiliation with home. They may look brown, they may look Polynesian, but they have such a detachment from their island, their country and their culture. It’s a platform for them to first get a sense of identity, to showcase and be proud of their countries, and secondly, they just love performing.”

Finding a place

TuTagata offers scholarships and awards to leaders at each school, with schools selecting the recipients. The students who step up to be leaders of the Polynesian groups have some affiliation with the culture, either through church or family.

Involvement in the festival can be generational, with family members having been involved in the past. Vienna says that parents offer input and feedback and it is important that the cultural performances are well researched and done with respect

“I’m of Sāmoan descent, so I know that if students were to do an item that was Sāmoan, we would want to get it right.
There is an element of risk, but there is also the security of the community offering their support. Everyone is there to celebrate the Pacific Islands, and the community really get involved.”

Vienna has been involved with TuTagata for six years and says the festival is an ‘incredible showcase’ of the students’ hard work.

“It’s really awesome to see them grow from signing up to their Poly group, to performing and learning. Their performances are crazy – they do things once, and everyone has got it. I don’t know how they do it, how they learn so fast. Not only that, but then they perform in front of the Pacific community, which can be very supportive, but very critical.

“As a teenager, you’re always trying to find a place, trying to find your identity, so it’s awesome that we can give them a platform and think ‘Yeah, I am Sāmoan’ or ‘Yeah, I am Cook Island Māori’. They gain a sense of identity through the performances. It’s seeing them have a place in their own culture, which is rightfully theirs,” says Vienna.

Fostering leadership

Phoebe Taitia-England says that TuTagata is not only about performance, but also about fostering pride and leadership in Pacific young people.The assistant head of social sciences at Wellington Girls’ College says her school’s Poly group leaders work hard to create a diverse, entertaining and culturally appropriate bracket each year.

“It’s hugely important for the Pacific community in Wellington. It showcases all of the wonderful talent we have in the region, as well as being a celebration of the diverse Polynesian cultures in Aotearoa,” she says.

Leaders research, write songs and develop choreography during their holidays.

“They also use their parents and aiga for support and inspiration, which just makes all of it that much more meaningful,” Phoebe explains.

“I see in this process a real love for their culture and wanting to showcase it through performance. What impresses me most is seeing how the leaders rise to the occasion and the motivation they have to not just teach items, but also lead the group with maturity, kindness and a good sense of humour!”

Wellington Girls’ College’s Polynesian group also has a number of non-Polynesian members who enjoy the sense of sisterhood and family in the group and gain a greater understanding and appreciation of diverse Polynesian cultures.

Pacific youth connecting through Poly

“Participation in Poly (customs, values, practices, and language) build youth’s sense of self-esteem, belonging, and wellbeing which, in turn, foster positive school achievement and confidence to participate in other learning spaces.”

“All told, Poly was not simply a place for “song and dance”… the activities, expectations, and discussions reinforced their feelings of identity and belonging through challenging their understandings and adding meaning to their experiences of being Pacific.”

“Being part of the (Poly) club also helped them connect with their parents as they came to understand better why their parents ‘do things the way they do’.”

The quotes above are taken from research conducted by Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, Foundation Professor of Pacific Studies at Auckland University of Technology. Her research was published in Ron Crocombe: e toa!: Pacific writings to celebrate his life and work. Edited by Linda Crowl, Marjorie Tuainekore Crocombe, and Roderick Dixon. Published USP Press, 2013, Suva, Fiji.

Talanoa with some TuTagata performers

Cody Winter, Evotia Hewitt, Jem Pereira and Ashlee Prayz Pau’u are Year 10 students at Wellington Girls’ College.

What did you do for your performance?

Tia: We had a Tongan song, a Sāmoan item, and a taualuga, which is an ending Sāmoan song.

Cody: It’s like the roof of the house, it’s the ending of the whole bracket.

Tia: And we did another Sāmoan song, which is dedicated to an old student, Koila, who died from leukaemia. We’re dedicating the whole performance to her.

Why did you decide to join Poly club?

Jem: To represent my culture, and to show that the community from Wellington Girls’ College is diverse and multicultural. It’s heaps of fun, you get to know a lot of people, and you learn a lot of things along the way.

Ashlee: Because it was something new. I came from a different school, where we didn’t have this. I wanted to represent my culture, which is Sāmoan and Tongan.

What do you enjoy most about Poly club?

Tia: The practices, because you get to know each other more. You get closer as a family – that’s what’s so special about Poly club.

Cody: We practise two times a week.

Tia: It’s quite annoying at first (everyone laughs), but it’s worth it at the end!

Why is it important for you to do TuTagata? How many performers do you have?

Cody: TuTagata has been something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always enjoyed singing and dancing, but being able to express my culture in front of a lot of people is just really heart-warming. Some students don’t get to have this opportunity, so it’s a privilege.

Jem: We have about 50 of us performing. We are a small community compared to the other schools, but we learn and we go through the process same as everyone else, but we always put a twist on our items.

What does your family think about you performing in TuTagata? What are they going to say about your performance?

Cody: My family thinks it’s a good opportunity totake a stand and express their culture, which they grew up in. It’s pretty good to let your parents see what you’ve been working hard,on, see how it pays off in the end.

Tia: WGC is not very well known for good performances for TuTagata, so I feel like our performance this year is a pretty cool comeback. We’ve done so much hard work to get here. In past years, we’ve had a really small group. We can show them what we’ve been working hard on, and what we’re worth.

Have you learned anything about your own cultures?

All: Yes, yes, heaps. So much!

Ashlee: I have learned that my culture is really unique.

Jem: Because we’re so used to it, I learned that it’s hard for other students to pick up the Siva Samoa easily. As we started practising, everyone started picking it up, and it seemed more graceful. It wasn’t at the start.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 3:54 pm, 30 August 2019

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