Marumaruatua at the 11th Pacific Arts Festival
July 16th, 2012
Marumaru Atua at the 11th Pacific Arts Festival
Kia Orana Tatou…
I have been thinking about what I can say about the arts festival….How I can best describe this event in one word if I had to…a word that would accurately depict the experiences we’ve had, and the feelings we have felt by being here….??
The best word that springs to mind when I think back over the last 11 days we have spent in Honiara amongst this spectacular gathering of our Pacific peoples is….that we feel ENRICHED….
We each feel like we have gained a wealth of insight; like we’ve had invaluable experiences; that we’ve made precious friendships and connections; that the life we’ve lived and things we’ve done here, the wonderful people we’ve met here, and the amazing things we’ve seen here, are PRICELESS assets to our lives…to try to explain it, if experiences could be measured in monetary terms, we would all be billionaires now.
After the opening ceremony at the national stadium where we got a small glimpse at the cultures and performances of each participating nation, we were hungry for more! Each day afterwards we would wake up early for our morning meeting on Marumaru Atua and find out our tasks and programme for the day. Any work that we needed to complete on the vaka, we would strive to finish as soon as we could. Any official functions or presentations of ours, we would make sure to attend but would not linger if we could help it. The reason was that we all wanted to get to the Festival Village, to the heart of this cultural gathering, the main centrifuge of this festival where everyone congregated to perform, share, browse, shop, eat, and experience!
The Village was beautifully set up on a large area of open ground, approximately the size of 4 rugby fields put together. It was divided into an International side and a Solomon Islands side. The international area was centred around the main Pacifica Stage where all the performances took place, and the open expanse of field in front of it for the crowds to gather and watch. The stage was raised off the ground about 2 metres, had a partly covered roof, and was very large at about 30m x 40m! Encircling the stage in a broad oval were little huts for each participating nation to use as their base at the festival, about 6m x 6m in size with one lockable room in each, used to present and share themselves, sell and display their wares, and as a gathering and resting place before and after performances on the stage. There were large ablution (toilet) blocks set up at regular intervals around the outside of this ring of huts, with signs that clearly labeled them as being for Performers, Delegates, or Public use only, so as not to overload any one block. Scattered in and amongst the different cultural huts were an abundance of different food huts selling all varieties of foods to sample! Other huts housed different businesses like mobile phone companies, internet cafes, official merchandise vendors, security booths, and first aid stations! All the buildings in the village, including the Pacifica stage, were constructed out of easily available materials such as Coconut wood posts, Au timbers used for the skeleton (i.e. beams, rafters, purlins, framing), Bamboo lengths used for the cladding, and all thatched with weaved Ara (pandanus) fronds. In a few places, plywood, framing timber and proper doors were necessary but mostly it was these easily found local materials that made up everything. These wouldn’t stand up to hurricanes nor the test of time, but for keeping everyone dry and protected for the duration of the festival….absolutely perfect! A Very well laid out, and practically built village, which also managed to achieve a very Pacific feel about it!…and this was just the international side!!
The Solomons side was almost as large as our side…..we couldn’t figure out why this would be until we went to explore it and found out that the Solomons on its own has 12 different provinces within its islands with very, very different peoples and cultures! There are Melanesian, Micronesian, and even Polynesian Peoples there…with different cultures and languages!! All living within this one large island group! Amazing! Hence the need for their own separate village, to display and present all these different peoples!! They had their own main stage, ‘the Over-Water’ stage which was designed to look like a beach area where the cultures would perform. I had a large artificial mountain constructed behind the beach area complete with trees, shrubs, a cave and traditional carvings…And in front, a lake full of turtles and fish in front of the beach area separating the performers from the crowds, with a jetty going out into the water for performers to dance out onto it if they chose. It was an awesome construction that added a fabulous effect whenever anyone was performing on it..especially at night with the lights illuminating the water and mountains in eerie ways! Like the international side, the huts ringed the stage area where all the different Solomon Islands districts had their base areas to sell and display their wares, and scattered in amongst them were the food stalls, other businesses, and ablution blocks around the outside. Unlike the International side which was just a vast open field, the Solomons village was actually constructed in amongst many huge albezia trees that provided great shade during the day and were utilized to hang lights on at night. The lights were a major feature of the Village…soft white glows (like christmas bulbs) that were set up everywhere in the trees in large spheres as well as downward hanging bars. The bars would come on and off intermittently, pulsing light from top to bottom giving fantastic effects! It was like a scene from the alien movie Avatar! Really cool! Needless to say we spent many hours in awe as we wondered through the different huts, through the multitude of cultures both international and local, exploring and soaking up the rich traditions of our Pacific People in every corner of this beautiful Cultural Village!
A few of the highlights of our time at the festival:
The Performances! We saw some fantastic cultural songs and dances on both stages…every nation represented themselves really well! A few of the crowd favourites were the Guam contingent, the Samoans, the Australian Aborigines, the local Solomons Pipers, the local Rennell/Belona province, the Aotearoa kapa haka group, the Tahitian dance group, and probably most of all the Rapa Nui contingent! The Rapa Nui Islanders stood out the most because they came with a very unusual style which seemed a blend or in-between Cook Islands and Tahitian cultures that had been made alot more sexy by their South American Influence! There was alot of hip and pelvic grinding and the skimpiest outfits made of feathers you could imagine! But they added alot to their performances with some serious warrior challenges and some comical dances to mix it up a bit. Their beats and songs were addictive and their charisma on stage infectious! A very professional entertainment group and the local crowds had a ball enjoying these performances…cheering and clapping like at a rock concert!
Another highlight of the festival was the local Solomons arts and crafts that were on sale. The hand woven baskets and mats of the finest weave and designs!
The stone and wood carvings of the highest quality workmanship, capturing beautiful scenes of nature, the environment, voyaging, fishing and hunting! The hand painted art pieces on pareus, tshirts and canvas…fantastic depictions of nature, history and legends of the Solomons! It was a real treat to be able to browse through all these amazing items and to witness the quality of these local creations!
One other main attraction of this festival was the tattoo masters who were on display there…from Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, Palau, Aotearoa, and even the Rennell & Belona province of the Solomons – one of the Polynesian provinces (also known as Avaiki). Many of our voyagers, including our Captain, decided to get work done by one or more of these masters, to gain a unique and beautiful lifelong mark to signify our journey here, to commemorate the culmination of our efforts to voyage across the Pacific to our goal in Honiara, our last destination as a complete fleet of Te Mana o te Moana…to the 11th Pacific Arts Festival in the Solomon Islands…where our voyage begins to end.
We even had our own turn to perform on the Pacifica Stage as Te Mana o te Moana! We were in the late afternoon and there was already a huge crowd gathered! We were just after the Guam group and they did a great job of warming everyone up and drawing the crowd in. When we got out on stage there were thousands of people packed in front of the stage! There was limited time so not everyone could present so only 4 vaka crews were chosen, Uto, Faafaite, Marumaru and Te Matau. We were brimming with excitement and each vaka performed their environmental messages perfectly! When it came to our turn, Kura started our performance with an amazing solo singing introduction! She then switched to a reggae beat for the rest of us to join in her song….the crowd went wild! They loved Kura and our song and our presentations went really well too! When Te Matau came to finish off our performance, we all joined in the group Haka…120 Voyagers lining the stage end to end roaring out our parting challenge…we knocked their socks off with our intensity! A great day for us!
We had several opportunities to perform our message for in the Solomons, once for a closed audience that was mainly aimed at the media. This was filmed and broadcasted on local television which was a treat for us! Another night we had a performance at the Yacht Club as a sort of practice for ourselves, for the big boss Dieter to see our presentations, and for any members of the public to come and check us out if they wished. It was advertised in the local newspaper so we had a fairly good turnout there. We had alot of fun that night with our performances, boosted maybe by the happy mood of the crowd and the fact that we had alot of our own Voyagers family in the crowd to cheer us on! When it was our turn, we on Marumaru put some extras into ours by performing our cultural number after our environmental one. This was the one that we’d been practising on board the vaka just in case we had to do a cultural number somewhere. It was also our last night with Uirangi as she was flying out the next day for cultural commitments back home so we wanted to make sure we performed this number with her as a complete crew! Before we started we dedicated it to Dieter and his lovely wife Hannah and then we let it rip! The girls did their action song first with us boys singing and playing guitar for them in the background…they were absolutely stunning, stealing the crowds’ hearts away! Then it was the boys turn for our action song and we took off our shirts and jumped to the front for our dance while the girls sang for us! We all had a great time during this show and Dieter and Hannah really enjoyed the evening also!
Another fine performance done and dusted for the Pacific Voyagers! The next day after this performance, Uirangi had to leave us and those who were free took her to the airport to check her in! It was a sad day for us as Ui had become a fantastic and valuable member of our Marumaru family as well as a close friend and sister to all of us! We were sad to let her go, but happy that she was going on another adventure doing what she loves best, sharing our beautiful Cook Islands Culture with the world! Meitaki Maata Uirangi for your time here with us! We all miss you and hope to catch up with you again soon! Much aroa from all your family here on your Vaka, Marumaru Atua!
We had our own hut at the festival for Te Mana o te Moana and we took it in turns to staff it. I.e. 2 people from each vaka doing morning, afternoon and evening shifts. It got quite busy at times with many people coming in to find out about us and speak to us which was very rewarding for us that people were actually taking an interest in us and our message and giving us the opportunity to elaborate a little further than our short presentations.
Right next to our hut was a carving section which was being overseen by one of the Haunui crew members, a carver named Wikuki Kingi. He was getting voyagers as well as members of the public to assist him in carving 8 intricate poles to represent each of our vakas. He would draw the lines then show people how to carve the lines exactly how he wanted them. The end result was amazing and the poles were erected in a marae style whare outside the national Solomons art gallery as a monument to the local people from Te Mana o te Moana to mark our participation at the 11th Pacific Arts Festival! There was a moving dedication ceremony in which some of our brothers from Te Matau, Tawhaana and Poi, led a karakia to welcome everyone in to the grounds then Captain Frank and Tua made speeches to dedicate the monument officially. It was a powerful day for us all, to be able to leave a lasting mark of ourselves at this final destination of our voyage! Meitaki Maata to the people of the Solomon Islands for this opportunity!
The day before our departure we had a private vegetarian dinner hosted by Dieter at the Sea King Restaurant. This was a farewell function for all of us to be able to have some time together with just our voyaging family…away from the rush and bustle of the festival and our daily tasks for a short time. It was an intimate family evening and Dieter gave a very moving speech reflecting on our journey there, our achievements thus far, thanking everybody for their efforts, and to plan for the future of our voyage, his vision, and our message. He revealed a few of his future plans about trying to get more vakas into service across our Pacific Islands in different capacities such as tourism and shipping. Also he revealed that it would take about a year from now to complete the ‘Our Blue Canoe’ documentary, but that he had an amazing opportunity for one of our young voyagers to help promote its release! He singled out our very own Kura Happ and revealed that he had put her in charge of forming and leading a small group to learn all the cultural performances of our fleet, fine tuning our environmental message, and then to travel the world to the major film festivals where the documentary will be released and to help promote it!!! A ridiculously fantastic challenge and opportunity for Kura and her yet to be chosen team! Another great surprise is that Dieter has commissioned the song, ‘Give a little love’, that Kura leads for us on Marumaru to sing in our presentation, to be recorded professionally when she gets to New Zealand! The song was originally co-written by Kura, Uirangi and Ngariki. Kura will be recording it with her amazing voice and representing us all with a few extra verses that Ngariki has since written for the song….and as a bonus surprise, the song will now be the theme song for the entire documentary! Omigosh there were some great moments for us Cook Islanders at that dinner!! So proud of our Marumaru girls!
When we finally made ready to depart Honiara on our final day, we had a private ceremony on the beach where we were first officially welcomed to the Honiara. This private ceremony was to farewell our brothers and sisters of Vaka Gaualofa who would be leaving our fleet from Honiara and making their way across a different route back to Samoa via Tokelau and Tuvalu. It was a sombre ceremony. Everyone formed a giant circle and Tua spoke very well to officially bring a formal end to our complete family of vakas voyaging across the Pacific together. All the vakas were gifted a stone brought from Samoa by Gaualofa as a token of our continuing bond across our Ocean. Then there was a group photo taken of everyone before we returned to our vakas and let Gaualofa pull anchor first and sail by each of us. As they did so and passed slowly by each of us, we each paid them our respects by performing a heartfelt haka or amu to them. It was an emotional time as we all remembered how much we have all been through together, and now we realised that we could possibly be farewelling them forever…In turn, Gaualofa performed their haka for us and then began our Te Mana o te Moana group haka in which we all joined in! Finally we had to wave goodbye as they headed out in a different direction alone as the rest of us headed out into the open ocean…to make our way to New Caledonia.
We made this departure knowing full well from the forecasts that the weather would be unfavourable for us, but we decided to take the chance and depart anyway to try to keep to our schedule. We were thinking that we could tack our way forward slowly until the wind changed in our favour to give us beam winds all the way to Noumea! Alas, this was not the case! We spent 2 full days fighting the wind and angry swells in rough conditions, trying to gain as much ground as we could…sometimes failing miserably when we tacked and actually losing miles instead of gaining!! So after 48 hours of this
‘2 steps forward, 3 steps back routine’, the Captains of Te Matau, Marumaru, and Uto jointly decided to head back towards land and seek shelter to wait out the winds. We found a picturesque anchorage in the sparsely populated Wanderer Bay, towards the tip of Guadalcanal Island….yes, that’s correct, we are still technically on the main island of the Solomons! We have been here for 3 days now still waiting for the winds to swing away from their current South Easterly direction, as that happens to be exactly where we need to go!! Murphy’s Law maybe?! Anyway, we are here safe and sound, in beautiful calm waters, very frustrated at the waiting around…but glad to be out of the rough wind and waves that were hammering us and driving us backwards out there! The rest of our fleet tried fruitlessly to battle on for another night towards Noumea before finally succumbing and taking shelter on Rennell Island yesterday. The plan is to make our way to San Cristobal Island, about 130 miles away, as soon as the weather allows us to sneak there. Then we will wait the weather out there until we can make the final leap towards Noumea. At the moment this weather is scheduled to be with us for another 4 days until the 19th!! But we are hoping we will at least be able to scoot over to San Cristobal soon and chill there with the other 5 vakas so we can all wait together. So for now, we are rafted together in this bay, Te Matau on our port, Uto on our starboard, and we are making the best of this un-ideal situation by trying to stay busy and keep each other entertained in this waiting game…If you’re reading this then please send us your prayers for a quick and favourable change in winds so that we can be on our way as soon as possible! We also thank you all for your thoughts, prayers and support that have been sent to us while we’ve been out here for the duration of this festival…Meitaki Maata e Kia Manuia, from all of us here on Marumaru Atua!
Alexander Teariki Olah
Marumaru Atua, anchored up doing nothing much
Wanderer Bay, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.