Pacific Auckland

By Catherine Smith

It's one of the city's most popular festivals, but you can enjoy the Pasifika feeling any time of year, writes Catherine Smith.

Performers from Tuvalu. Photo / APN
Performers from Tuvalu. Photo / APN

We all know Auckland has the biggest Pacific Island population in the world, and every March Aucklanders take great delight in the Pasifika festival - one of our biggest gatherings of food, dance, crafts and culture. But through the year, you can also experience the sights and tastes at events around the city. Here are some of our favourites.

Sail away

Any story of New Zealand in the Pacific must start with waka stories. This year for the first time there will be a waka at Pasifika - albeit a small, educational one to fit in the lakes of Western Springs. Voyages on Pumaiterangi, a double-hulled waka built in the style of a traditional ocean sailing vessel, are crewed by Waka Quest crew. The hero for the storytelling at Pasifika is the great voyager Kupe.

The joint venture between Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum and Waka Quest includes an interactive site where visitors can leave messages to share their family's heroic migration stories, workshops to learn traditional lashing techniques, and waka stories from Haare Williams, Voyager's Pae Arahi (Cultural Liaison). From Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki, Tongowhakaata and Tuhoe tribes, he is an acclaimed broadcaster, poet, scholar and leader.

Take a photo with a waka at Pasifika and share your hero on Instagram or Facebook, hashtag #heroesofthesea, to win a "waka on the Waitemata" family sailing. For sailings throughout the year on the larger Haunui waka, see maritimemuseum.co.nz haunuiwaka.org

Pasifika kai

Pretty much everyone goes to Pasifika to eat - the queues for the famous watermelon sundaes and the wonderful variations on marinated fish salads (ika mata, oka i'a, kokoda, poke - it's all delicious, but subtly different) are legendary.

To learn how to make your own check out the poisson cru class at the Tahiti village (Saturday, 4pm), make coconut cream in Niue (during the afternoon) or the traditional food tasting in Kiribati (Saturday, 11am) and Tokelau (noon). The Hawaiian village, new this year, will have ono grinds, to introduce us to the foods of those islands (Saturday, noon).

Many of the food stalls are supplied by family, church or community groups, so this is real home cooking that you won't find in a shop or restaurant. Umu cook Kasiana Timu (see his stall in the Samoan village) with his wife caters for weddings and big parties, but suggests people hungry for the taste of umu, or Pacific-style buns and dumplings should head to the fast food places along Great South Rd in Otahuhu (check out the ingredients, and wonderful crafts/clothing shops too).

At the Aotearoa village, Wikiriwhi Ratima will be putting down a hangi. For those of us not lucky enough to have the backyard - or the crowd - to do our own, Wiki also sells his kai at the wee Sunday market at Reweti Marae near Waimauku. The market was re-started by Ruth Stanton as a way to bring her a community together. Craftswomen from the marae's kuia flats sell beautiful kite, cloaks and flowers made from local flax, the kids do the sound, there's more good kai (mussel fritters, chop suey) and a lovely atmosphere.

Last Sunday of the month, 9am- noon (if there is not a tangi on). State Highway 16 (just past the Muriwai Beach turnoff, just before Woodhill Adventure park).

Flower power

The joy of Pasifika is in the glorious crafts brought in from the islands to sell. Event producer Stan Wolfgramm has also upped the hands-on workshops and demonstrations, so you can appreciate the skills, stories and tools involved in creating these pieces.

The Cook Islands village has costume making, including a head ei workshop and a cute pareu/sarong tying demonstration (10am, 11am, 1pm). The Samoan fale has fine mat weaving, with a group from the Women in Business network flying over to train New Zealand Samoans. There'll also be demonstrations of costume-making and carving at the Tahiti village, weaving in Kiribati, Niue, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu, tapa cloth making in Tonga, and carving in Tokelau (from 1.30pm).

The Kiribati and Tokelau villages will be closed on Sunday.

As well as delightful workshops in drumming (Tahiti, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tokelau) and ukelele (Hawaii) there is modern Pasifika music (box beating and action dance) at Tokelau. Conversations about culture continue all day at the Aotearoa village, with a Makaurau session. Described as "a gathering of creative minds", this will showcase dynamic dance, music, art for a new, urban "indigeneity". Cool and positive (both days, 11am).

Don't miss the wonderful flowers and displays on the performance stages. Standout for the past 10 years has been the work of Lautofa Tulagalua, who has decorated the Samoan stage. Every year he devises modern, creative interpretations with flowers, banners and more to meet the brief of the village committee. With good reason, he modestly claims he is the best in the business: his family had been running the floral and decorations business in Hawaii and Los Angeles for 50 years before Lautofa opened his House of Decor in 2002 in Onehunga Mall. He likes to incorporate over-the-top American style into his Pacific designs (with over-the-top budgets - some wedding flower bills can top $15,000), and has bookings for weddings and important family functions for as far out as 2018. It truly is a family business - Lautofa and his 10 sisters carry on a family tradition started back with some 60 of his grandparents, parents and aunts and uncles, and now his nieces are getting involved. "We are all creative, although we all design differently," he says. "You have to have a lot of patience to do good work over two days [of set-up] you have to stick at it. Table cloths, chairs, centrepieces, evn the cake."

House of Decor, Onehunga Mall Road. on facebook, search Lautofa Tulagulua.

Aloha Hawai'i

At last, our furtherest island, Hawaii, joins the festival. The village, co-ordinated by Kumu Aulii Mitchell (in New Zealand to complete his masters in applied indigenous knowledge at Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi in Hamilton), will make the connection between all of Moana Nui - the great Pacific cultures.

Aulii points out that the spirit of aloha shares the same spirit as our aroha - love, coming together and connection.

For authenticity, he is flying out dancers and craftspeople, and has an enriching programme of storytelling and ancient practices, including Kaulana mahina (telling the time and regulating life by the moon), language immersion, proverbs and Hawaiian philosophy.

He's selected wonderful crafts both traditional (look out for the shell and feather leis, bags and jewellery) and modern (quilts and some fine examples of the ubiquitous Hawaiian shirt) and will introduce New Zealanders to his native dishes: kalua, kulolo taro pudding and native fruits blended into smoothies with yoghurt.

On stage with the troupe from Hawaii will be members of Aulii's own dance school (his mother was a very influential teacher in California).

The hula group includes Samoans, Cook Islanders and pakeha who all share a connection to Polynesian dance. Aulii points out that even early versions of Maori haka bore a strong commonality with hula, although his people still retain the worship of the goddess of the forest, Laka, in their dance practice.

Be sure to arrive early for the traditional opening, with chants from people of each of the Hawaiian islands. polynesianentertainers.com

- NZ Herald

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