Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Record line-up for Polyfest

The sounds of the Pacific will be heard loud and proud in Auckland this week, as what is tipped to be the biggest Polyfest kicks off today.

Celebrating its 41st year, the ASB Polyfest sees thousands of secondary school students perform cultural dance and songs on six different stages: Niuean, Samoan, Tongan, Maori, the Cook Islands and the Diversity stage.

That stage includes performances from Fijian, Chinese, Indian, African, Japanese, Korean and Malaysian groups.

Among the 9000 students taking the stage this week are teenagers from Kelston Boys' High School, in West Auckland.

In downtown Auckland yesterday, performers from the school's Maori, Tongan, Samoan and Fijian groups gave a large crowd a taste of what they would be doing on stage at the weekend.

They slapped their chests and thighs in haka, traditional siva (dance) and tapped rhythmic beats on island drums.

Kelston High's Pasifika dean, Margaret Simei-Afamasaga, said the boys had been rehearsing for the past five weeks.

"For a lot of them, it's about identifying with their culture. A lot of our boys are New Zealand-born and don't speak the language or don't know the culture - this is the only way they can connect."

Head boy Levi Farrell, 17, said joining the kapa haka group helped him to express his pride in his Maori culture, and also to appreciate others.

"A lot of groups go to Polyfest for the win. But we're just doing it for the love of the culture."

The manaia (key male dancer) of the Samoan group, Elton Letoga, said his aim was to dance gracefully but in a manly way.

"You're representing your family, your culture, your school and your friends. I want to represent Kelston well and just want to perform with the brothers."

The festival was established in 1976 and involved four schools: Seddon High (now Western Springs College), Aorere College, Mangere College and host Hillary College (now Hillary Collegiate).

A flash mob haka downtown yesterday kicked off Polyfest. Photo / Nick Reed
A flash mob haka downtown yesterday kicked off Polyfest. Photo / Nick Reed

This year 64 schools are taking part and a record 228 cultural groups performing. The event now also includes speech competitions and students can earn NCEA credits.

Polyfest director Theresa Howard said the record participation was because schools were recognising the festival was helping students engage with their community, family and peers in a unique and disciplined way.

ASB's head of community and sponsorship, Mark Graham, said: "We've been involved with PolyFest for more than 30 years and it's always a cultural highlight for us."

Polyfest 2016

When: Today until Saturday.

Where: Manukau Sports Bowl, Te Irirangi Drive, South Auckland.

Cost: $5. Preschoolers free.

Must know: Only sealed water bottle/drinks allowed. Plenty of food stalls.

Don't forget: Water bottle (free water inside), hats, sunscreen.

Parking: Limited $5 parking.

For performance times visit: www.asbpolyfest.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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