24 Oct 2013

Master artists from Tonga share their knowledge with New Zealand

5:29 pm on 24 October 2013

Six Tongan artists are sharing their knowledge of heritage arts, including weaving, lashing, and performance as part of a week-long cultural exchange.

The Creative New Zealand exchange is in its second year and aims to acknowledge the connection New Zealand has with Pacific heritage arts.

Daniela Maoate-Cox reports:

Master punake Metuliki Fakatava improvised this piece for Creative New Zealand at the Auckland Mangere Arts Centre. He has 28 years experience in performing arts and says the title 'punake' is only given to someone who has mastered poetry, composition and dance.

"METULIKI FAKATAVA: It's not an easy task. It's a family gift. I'm representing the third generation passed on from my father, grandfather and myself and I'm practicing that for the country, for anyone who needs that service."

Fakatava composed and taught a performance to thousands of primary school students for King Tupou V's coronation. He says each part of a performance is carefully considered and visiting New Zealand is important for passing this skill to the next generation.

METULIKI FAKATAVA: For me as a punake, that's my major concern. The young people have developed all the Tongan dances to the current time but what is most important for these young people to have is the mechanics, to have all the technical things that comprise a Tongan dance to make it whole.

An expert in Tongan Fine arts,Tunakaimanu Fielakepa, says exchanging knowledge is important to educate people on how rituals differ across Pacific countries.

TUNAKAIMANU FIELAKEPA: Here in New Zealand many of the Tongans have imported our tapas and our mats and are using it for our traditional ceremonies here. For example like our deaths, there are many stages where we use our mats and our tapas - little pieces, big pieces and all - that but here they just need a tapa and a mat for the coffin to lie on and so the usage is very different.

Fielakepa says many of the basket-weavers in the group valued seeing the Te Papa Tongawera museum's collection in Wellington.

TUNAKAIMANU FIELAKEPA: I've seen it before, but the people that came with us haven't seen the old baskets like these ones. This is the first time, they were quite surprised - little ones and the fine weave and the shapes of it, so I think they're very happy that they had this opportunity.

Fielakepa says one weaver even recognised her own work on display. The Tongan representative on the Pacific Arts committee for Creative New Zealand, Kolokesa Mahina-Tuai, says the focus on heritage art is a crucial opportunity for trading knowledge.

KOLOKESA MAHINA-TUAI: It's important because that's where our roots are and while there is innovation and creativity happening here, at the same time they do draw inspiration from the main source. You know, they have brought many of those art forms from the islands here and are continuing and maintaining it, but always having that reconnection back to Tonga is important.

Mahina-Tuai says the group's art is unique to Tonga and the artists present an alternative to New Zealand ideas of art. She says Tongan art is a combination of function and aesthetic and is an integral part of daily Tongan life. Creative New Zealand hopes to offer more exchanges and focus on a different Pacific Island group each year.