John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Samoan under the skin

When schoolboy decided he wanted to be part of Polyfest he raised eyebrows

Connor Bellet (right) with Christopher Oleva-Tanuvasa after their win.
Connor Bellet (right) with Christopher Oleva-Tanuvasa after their win.

He's too modest to call himself a pioneer but 16-year-old Connor Bellett turned a few heads, and overturned a few stereotypes, with a winning performance at the world's biggest Polynesian festival.

Plenty of onlookers were bemused by his presence when Connor joined the St Peter's College Samoan Group ahead of this year's Polyfest.

Their reasons were only skin deep - Bellett was the sole white kid in the Samoan culture group.

Bellett said he had trouble persuading some people he was serious when he decided to join his Samoan friends in the group this year. The festival performance required about seven weeks of practice, 18 hours a week, but Bellett persisted.

"I've got a lot of Samoan friends. It's one of those things where you get a chance to do it at school but, once you leave, you'll never be able to do it again."

Most training happened after school and on Saturdays. The group also practised at lunchtime, and the sole "palagi" raised a few eyebrows.

Bellett was grateful for the support from his Samoan schoolmates. "They were really respectful about it," he said. "They actually realise how much hard work it takes, and they appreciate it."

By the time Polyfest arrived, St Peter's were underdogs. But they proved the doubters wrong at last week's big event, taking out the top award at the Samoan Stage.

Bellett and his pals had a much bigger impact than Cyclone Lusi, earning praise at Polyfest and in the days since.

Bellett posted about his experience with the Samoan group on Facebook and radio station Flava shared Bellett's post, to the delight of thousands this week.

The Year 12 student was heartened by the reaction.

"One of the reasons I did it was to prove to people you don't have to be Samoan to be in a Samoan group; Tongan to be in the Tongan group. You can just do what you want. It's just your heart that matters really."

The lads are performing again at today's St Peter's College Fair, as well as the school's Tongan and kapa haka groups.

Bellett hoped to perform at the Polyfest Samoan stage with St Peter's again next year. Next time, he may not be the only palagi.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 29 Jul 2014 14:05:19 Processing Time: 745ms