A gathering of over 30 Pasifika youth at the Levin memorial hall on Friday, July 9, keen to be involved in a new performing arts group being established, absolutely blew away group organiser Angelina Mose Tuialii.
"I couldn't believe how many people turned up ... we'd only posted about the event on the Monday [of that week]," she said.
Mose Tuialii grew up with a passion for performing arts and, like most young Samoans, got her first taste of being in front an audience through White Sunday (Lotu Tamaiti) celebrations in church.
The death of a teenage friend in 2019 was the catalyst for Mose Tuialii's thoughts around what could be done in Levin to improve engagement with the Pasifika youth community.
She'd seen a lot of Pasifika youth performance initiatives in bigger cities like Wellington and Auckland "... some even broken down to specific cultures [so I thought] why can't we do this too."
Earlier this year Mose Tuialii reached out to friends who were involved with tutoring local school and college students in Pasifika culture, and proposed the idea of creating a performing arts group aimed at 13- to 24-year-olds.
All six tutors, whose skills covered dancing, drumming, drama, and singing, already had strong connections within the community and were 100 per cent committed to joining Mose Tuialii in this initiative.
"It's all about keeping that connection with your culture ... telling Pacific stories through performing ... providing somewhere [that] still feels like home."
The youth who turned up to that first gathering have experience in performing arts through church and/or college, with most having been participants in the Central Region's Pasifika Fusion competition.
Fetu Pasifika's first public performance will be in early August, at Jandal Jam - Horowhenua's annual showcase of Pasifika culture and talent.
The group will be performing three cultural items (Samoan, Tongan, and Cook Islands) and it has been left up to the participants to decide which item they want to be part of.
Mose Tuialii said, "It's a chance for everyone, including the tutors, to learn about different cultures [within the Pacific]."
She also wants to utilise the group to mentor potential future tutors because local schools are always looking for people to share the Pasifika culture with their students.
"This will help to build confidence and self-esteem among our participants as a lot of youth tend to hide behind group leaders."
Mose Tuialii also believes the act of mentoring upcoming tutors shows respect for Pacific cultures.
"Anyone can learn a dance from YouTube, but you need to understand the essence of the culture to pay proper respect," she said.
Next steps for Fetu Pasifika will be decided after the Jandal Jam event, as Mose Tuialii is keen to create constructive classes run by the tutors and leaning towards their individual strengths.
"We want to provide a space for Pasifika youth to gain confidence in their own cultural identity and to give them the ability to navigate themselves when in non-cultural environments."
There is also a need to ensure the performing arts group can remain sustainable; that they can access suitable spaces for both classes and practices; that funding for tutors and other expenses, such as performance costumes, can be sourced.
"Our concern is if we have to put a charge in place to help with costs, this could dissuade the youth we are trying to encourage to participate from being involved," said Mose Tuialii.
Fetu Pasifika Performing Arts Group welcomes any help the Horowhenua community may be able to provide to ensure it can keep growing and supporting local Pasifika youth.
Call or text Angelina Mose Tuialii on 0211 814 334 if you are a Pasifika cultural dance tutor or musician who is interested in joining the core group of tutors, if you can provide a rehearsal/teaching space, or if you are able to help with sourcing funding.