First ever Melanesian Festival in New Zealand

A traditional war canoe, Tomoko, from Roviana in the Western Solomons participates in the Pacific flotilla at the opening of the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts in Honiara. June 2012 Photo: Koroi Hawkins

There are around 23,000 Melanesians living in Aotearoa.

Fijians make up the bulk of the population but there are also ni-Vanuatu, Solomon Islanders, Papua New Guineans, West Papuans and Kanaks from New Caledonia.

The founder and director of the Melanesian Festival, Joana Monolagi, said after years of planning and lots of patience it’s wonderful the event is finally happening.

“From the people that I have spoken to through this planning they have come and voiced their feelings to me and their views are that it’s been a long time coming. They’ve been praying and waiting for something to showcase Melanesia.”

Ni-Vanuatu and Melanesian community advocate Leina Isno said the festival will put a spotlight on cultures in the Pacific that often go unnoticed in New Zealand.

“A part of the Pacific that is so under-recognised and under spoken about, especially in the culture of New Zealand. We deserve that recognition, we deserve to be talked about.”

The festival will include food stalls, arts and craft displays and cultural performances.

One of the groups which will be performing is the Papuan Student Association Oceania, led by Laurens Ikinia.

Ikinia said he’s grateful to the event organisers who have worked tirelessly to give the Melanesian community a platform.

“It’s incredible how they’ve put their commitment and their focus just to make this event happen,” he said.

“It’s quite sad to say this year is gonna be the first year for the first celebration but you know on the other hand it’s a great acknowledgement for Melanesian communities who are living in Aotearoa.”

Monolagi said she spent years working to get everything to fall into place and she is determined, now it is all coming to fruition, that this weekend’s festival won’t be a one-off.

She said it has all the potential of reaching the same level as other cultural events in New Zealand.

“There’s room to move,” she said.

“I think in this short time I’ve experienced the interest not just in Auckland but I recently came back from Wellington and they look forward to coming up this weekend to celebrate with us.”

The Melanesian Festival will take place this Saturday 22 October from 9am to 5pm at the Waitemata Rugby Club Grounds in Henderson, Auckland.

Source: RNZ