More than forty years on and one of Auckland's most celebrated events highlighting Pasifika and Maori cultural performance shows no sign of fading.

The hugely popular secondary schools' ASB Polyfest continues to grow significantly and will this year cater to a record 242 cultural groups - equating to 69 participating schools and more than 10,000 students on stage.

Not bad for an event that started off as an afternoon show involving four high schools from south and central Auckland.

An opening ceremony this morning will signal the start of the 43rd Polyfest, in South Auckland, with the Diversity and Maori stages kicking off before the Pacific stages - Samoan, Tongan, Niuean and Cook Islands - open on Friday and Saturday.



Among the schools performing is North Shore's Birkenhead College which, for the first time in about 20 years, has entered a group on a Pacific stage after years of competing on the Maori stage.

Principal Craig Waller said they were proud to have a Tongan group this year, after an emphasis was made to better connect with the school's Pasifika students.

A link was made via local youth worker Mase Josh Iopu Mase, at Bays Youth Community Trust, who found members of the Tongan community who could help tutor a new group.

"We thought only 20 kids might turn up, at the most. We were shocked when about 50 wanted to join the group. It's really taken off," Waller said.

"I think the big thing for us is that we were wanting to get a bit of a connection with the Pacific community for our students to get a sense of pride of their culture.

"It's really important and a lot of the kids are thanking the teachers for this. We've seen a lot of confidence in them.''

Birkenhead College's Tongan group perform on Friday. Photo / Doug Sherring
Birkenhead College's Tongan group perform on Friday. Photo / Doug Sherring

About 20 per cent of the school's 650 student population is made up of Pasifika students.

Tutor Davie Leka, originally from Otara, comes from a family heavily involved in the teaching of Tongan cultural performance and at 20 years old, is regarded as a very young punake, or tutor.

"I'm the youngest out of 10 siblings and we've been doing this for a long time - travelling around South Auckland schools and universities teaching dance.''

Like other schools, there had been months of rehearsals.

Non-Tongan students in the group were able to get an insight into the culture and language through the songs and dances they were learning.

"For me, as a Tongan, it humbles me to see kids from other cultures wanting to learn that.

"We have palangi, Samoan, Indian and Fijian kids in the group. Even the head boy, who is palangi, is in our group - and they all sing the lyrics, they know the moves and the songs.''

Leka, a former head prefect at Papakura High School, had also performed on the Tongan stage back in his day.

"I see Polyfest carrying on from generation to generation. It's a way of networking with others and knowing your culture.

"It's also about finding identity and knowing where your roots are from.''

Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu is the ASB Polyfest's new director. Photo / Supplied
Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu is the ASB Polyfest's new director. Photo / Supplied


Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu is the new director for the Polyfest; coming in after years of involvement in Pasifika student development at tertiary level.

She takes the reins from Theresa Howard, who held the position for a number of years.

"In this new role, it's being able to respect the culture in the way my parents raised me and at the same time injecting new flavour.

"I'm really rooted in my [Samoan] culture and I like to bring that to my workplace as well as my passion for working with young people.''

The festival's ongoing success was based on its authenticity and the idea it had steered away from commercialisation, she said.

"That's why it's still going strong for 43 years, because we've kept the mana and the vision of how it started - which is giving a place for our kids to express themselves."

There were more moves to connect student leaders from different schools to create a sense of unity, rather than competition. Schoolwork was also a top priority for organisers, Leo-Mauu said.

"That's what we've been trying to encourage since day one: 'Guys, don't just finish at Polyfest. Continue to strive and take those skills of leadership and entrepreneurship back into your studies'."


When: Wednesday to Saturday.
Where: Manukau Sports Bowl.
Price: $5. Preschoolers free.
Must know: Only sealed water bottle/drinks allowed. Contemporary & traditional food stalls inside. Portaloos available.
Don't forget: Water bottle (free water provided), hats, sunscreen.
Parking: $5 parking avail, but limited. Street parking avail, but carpooling or public transport recommended.
For group performance times visit: ASB Polyfest