12 Jul 2017

Hutt Valley Polyfest gives youth identity boost

11:12 am on 12 July 2017

As a cultural festival in New Zealand's Hutt Valley, just north of Wellington, continues to expand rapidly there are hopes it can be used to connect Pacific youth and help strengthen their identity.

From just eight primary schools taking part six years ago, 43 primary and early childhood centres as well as seven colleges, took the stage during the 2017 Hutt Valley Polyfest.

Twelve hundred spectators packed out the Walter Nash Stadium on the final night of the Polyfest, where secondary school students showcased their talent.

Up to seven thousand also witnessed children as young as three and four perform over the week.

Polyfest organiser Luana Leuluai was overwhelmed with the turnout of both spectator and participant.

She said it was a blessing to see the kids and feel the vibe and buzz they carried.

"That's what we wanted from the beginning and it is not a competition, it is a celebration of culture, a celebration of our community," Ms Leuluai said.

"We saw that with the Secondary College [night] how each college supported each other and that is truly a blessing and it's truly what we wanted for the Hutt Valley community to do, come together as one."

Sacred Heart teacher and Polyfest volunteer Sinapi Taeao, (left),  and Polyfest organiser Luana Leuluai

Sacred Heart teacher and Polyfest volunteer Sinapi Taeao, (left), and Polyfest organiser Luana Leuluai Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

Ms Leuluai said it was important to involve children of all ages so preschoolers could see primary school children and in turn they could see college students perform and have something to strive for.

"We had nothing like this back in the days, so I wanted my future kids to be able to have a rich childhood experience, for them to be able to embrace their culture because what we are finding is a lot of the next generation are kind of losing their language as well as their culture.

"This is a great way of coming together and just celebrating and being proud of who they are," she said.

Meli Pitolua was part of the Hutt Valley High School Poly Group that performed publicly for the first time in four years.

She loved the occasion.

"Seeing everyone come as one together and embracing our ethnicity and our culture but not just individually but together, so that's pretty mean," Meli said.

Hikinala Foua was part of the Sacred Heart Poly Club who closed the night, dedicating a song to a fellow student who tragically passed away a week earlier.

While many performed with tears in their eyes there was also a sense of pride in what they were doing.

Hikinala said her cultures and family are very important to her.

"I'd like to show that on stage to them and show what Polynesians are made of and what we are capable of."

Hikinala said the Polyfest was becoming an annual highlight which her schoolmates looked forward to taking part in.

Members of the HVHS Poly Group

Members of the HVHS Poly Group Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

Meli said the festival was an opportunity to come together and find strength.

"I think it is really important to express yourself," she said.

"It is who you are and it's important to be who you are and it is important that people accept who you are as well.

Toga Tofilau had children performing in both primary and secondary levels and was heartened by the the messages of hope and identity expressed throughout Polyfest.

"I guess from the cultural side, family and whanau is really important.

"From there it is giving our young people a place where they feel safe to be able to talk about stuff and also about them finding some direction and purpose and how to move forward from whatever challenges or issues they are facing," he said.

Mr Tofilau also relished the platform that it provided for his children to connect with others in the community.

"It's not just about themselves, it's about others as well."

"It's about other schools and them connecting and building relationships right across the board," he said.

"They belong to local school clubs but the cultural part is that families are coming together and it's really cool to see that.

"I think that is what builds community and encourages greater participation and a real celebration of who we are and what we are about," Mr Tofilau said.

Organisers say as the event grows they will continue to push community involvement and unity rather than competition.