Auckland musician Opetaia Foa'i (Tokelau/Tuval' />

Six of New Zealand's top Pacific artists were honoured at the Arts Pasifika Awards 2005 last night.

Auckland musician Opetaia Foa'i (Tokelau/Tuvalu/Samoa) was awarded the $7000 Senior Pacific Artists' Award.

Foa'i, who was playing the ukulele at six, has written and performed music professionally for 20 years.

In 1994, inspired by the music and stories of Polynesia, he formed the band Te Vaka, which has now toured 30 countries.

"Although I speak English, Samoan and Tuvaluan as well, I was brought up in a Tokelauan community and this is the most comfortable language for my songwriting," said Foa'i, who arrived in New Zealand in 1965 at the age of 9.

Master artist and orator Mafi Malanga XIII of Avondale was awarded the $5000 Pacific Heritage Arts Award for his contribution to traditional Tongan arts and culture in secondary schools and the wider community over the past 30 years.

Born in Tonga in 1949 to a family of artists, he came to New Zealand in 1974 and has continued to be active in the ceremonial and artistic affairs of his homeland.

He plans to use the award to collect stories about the works of his father, Mafi Malanga XII, who was also a matapule (master orator) and punake (master artist).

Multimedia artist John Ioane (Samoa) of Ponsonby received the $5000 Pacific Innovation and Excellence Award.

Born in New Zealand in 1962, Ioane taught art in secondary schools for 15 years but gave up this year to sculpt and paint fulltime.

Through such seminal works as Poly Wants A Cracker (2002) and Fale Sa (2004), he has continually pushed boundaries as he expresses issues about culture and identity.

Sculptor Maui 'Ofamo'oni (Tongan) of Mangere, the recipient of the $3000 Salamander Gallery Award for Emerging Pacific Visual Artists, was a member of the design team for the new visitors centre at the Auckland Regional Botanical Gardens, which won the Built Environment category of the 2005 Creative Places Awards.

He plans to use the award to help create sculptural works for his first solo exhibition next year, which will focus on obligation, identity and spirituality in relation to his mixed Tonga/Palagi heritage.

Invercargill opera singer Ramonda Te Maiharoa-Taleni (Samoan, Waitaha) will use the $3000 Iosefa Enari Memorial Award to help pursue her singing studies at the Guildhall School of Music in London.

Wellington writer Miria George (Rarotongan, Atiu-Cook Islands), who won the $3000 Emerging Pacific Artists' Award, is only 25, but has already won two Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards for her first play, Ohe Ake, The Awakening (2004), and has worked with some of the world's leading theatre practitioners here and overseas.

She is now working on a third play, a screenplay and a full-length radio drama. Her first collection of poetry will soon be published.

The awards, which were presented by the Pacific Arts Committee of Creative New Zealand at a ceremony in Christchurch, are the only awards in New Zealand aimed at professional Pacific artists across all art forms.

The committee chairwoman, Marilyn Kohlhase, said the artists reflected the richness and diversity of Pacific arts in New Zealand.

"This year's awards represent a wonderful mix of artists at different stages of their careers and across a wide range of art forms, both traditional and contemporary.

"However, what all of the artists share is a commitment to pursuing artistic excellence, and producing work that speaks of their cultural heritage and helps profile New Zealand internationally as a creative Pacific nation."

- NZPA