23 Dec 2017

2017 through the eyes of RNZ Pacific

8:49 am on 23 December 2017

Eruptions, elections, rugby, disaster, music and culture. 2017 has been a year that hasn't been lacking in news for the Pacific, and RNZ Pacific's been across much of it. Our reporters have traveled to the sandy beaches of Rarotonga, the rocky outcrop of Niue, the Papua New Guinea bush, trekked into the hills of Honiara, hitched rides to erupting volcanic islands, and stood by the sports fields of Port Vila to cover the year's events. What follows is a collection of photographs from our reporters and correspondents from throughout the year.

Red Cross workers say more medical supplies and hygiene kits are needed to support the elderly in evacuation centres.

Thousands of people were forced to flee the Vanuatu island of Ambae in September after its volcano erupted. Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

Ambae Erupts

In September, Manaro Voui, the volcano that towers above Ambae, in central Vanuatu, stirred to life, belching smoke and blanketing the island in ash. Crops were choked and water supplies contaminated, which prompted the government to make the unprecedented decision to evacuate the entire island and its 11,000 inhabitants. A Dunkirk-style operation swung into action as an armada of boats and ferries evacuated residents to nearby islands, where they stayed in evacuation centres for over a month. The residents have returned to their island, and the volcano has settled down, but the challenges remain. Crops have been ruined, livestock lost, and water tainted. RNZ Pacific's Koroi Hawkins captured these pictures from Ambae and Santo.

The volcano on Ambae is belching a plume of smoke and ash.

The volcano on Ambae is belching a plume of smoke and ash. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

A woman in a special needs evacuation centre.

A woman in a special needs evacuation centre. Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

Children are most affected by the lack of adequate water, shelter and food in evacuation centres.

Children were most affected by the lack of adequate water, shelter and food in evacuation centres. Photo: RNZ/Koroi Hawkins

Vanuatu disaster officers and the crew of the ship One People form a chain gang to load supplies for evacuees on Ambae.

Vanuatu disaster officers and the crew of the ship One People form a chain gang to load supplies for evacuees on Ambae. Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

One of the rooms at the special needs evacuation centre in the Mormon church facility compound on Espiritu Santo.

One of the rooms at the special needs evacuation centre in the Mormon church facility compound on Espiritu Santo. Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

RNZAF Hercules delivers aid supplies to Vanuatu volcano evacuees

RNZAF Hercules delivers aid supplies to Vanuatu volcano evacuees Photo: RNZI/Koroi Hawkins

Pasifika Festival

Despite the rain, tens of thousands gathered in Auckland in March for the 25th anniversary of the Pasifika Festival. Since 1992, the festival has grown from a "picnic in the park" to the largest Pacific Island cultural gathering in the world.

Dancers from Tuvalu.

New Zealand's Pacifika community celebrated their culture at the Pasifika Festival in Auckland. Photo: RNZ/ Koroi Hawkins

Niue's 5th Arts and Cultural festival

Niue's 5th Arts and Cultural festival Photo: RNZI Indira Stewart

Actor Fathe Tedros Tesfamariam playing Ahmed in In Transit.

Actor Fathe Tedros Tesfamariam playing Ahmed in In Transit. Photo: RNZ/ Sela Jane Aholelei

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Photo: RNZ Pacific/Sara Vui-Talitu

Samoa

Chinese Ambassador in Samoa Wang Xuefeng and PM Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi at the presentation of 20 brand new Sedan vehicles for the Pacific Island Forum meeting to be hedl in Samoa next week.

The Samoan prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi with Chinese Amabassador Wang Xuefeng at China's presentation of 20 new vehicles for use at the Pacific Islands Forum held in Apia in September Photo: Tipi Autagavaia

Submarine cable coming ashore in Samoa

A new submarine telecommunications cable was pulled ahsore at the village of Moata'a, just outside Apia in October. Photo: RNZI/Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia

Arise, Sir Toke

In March, New Zealand's governor general, Dame Patsy Reddy, jetted off on a quick tour of the realm. While in Niue she knighted the island's premier, Toke Talagi. Sir Toke, who has been premier since 2008, is the second of the island's five premier's to receive a knighthood. A couple of months later, Sir Toke was elected to serve a fourth term as Niue's premier.

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People turned out in their finery to witness the knighting of the island's Premier Sir Toke Talagi. Photo: RNZI/Sally Round

Niue's Premier Toke Talagi receiving his knighthood from from New Zealand's Governor General Patsy Reddy.

Toke Talagi is knighted by Dame Patsy Reddy. Photo: RNZI/Sally Round

Tagio Tumas, RAMSI

In July, the people of Honiara lined the streets for a parade through the centre of the Solomon Islands capital. Dignitaries from around the Pacific, including the Governors General of Australia and New Zealand, had flown in, and crowds gathered from all around to express their thanks to the Regional Assistance Mission, known as RAMSI. Children lined the streets singing, chanting and waving placards. The Australian-led mission, under the auspices of the Pacific Islands Forum, was deployed in 2003 after five years of ethnic violence. It was a state-building mission, and after 14 years, it had come to an end. Koroi Hawkins traveled to Solomon Islands, and produced this Insight programme on the mission, and the challenges ahead for Solomon Islands.

The sun sets over Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara where thousands gathered to farewell the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands.

The sun sets over Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara where thousands gathered to farewell the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands in June. Photo: RNZI/ Koroi Hawkins

Solomon Islands RAMSI  ceremony

Photo: RNZ/ Koroi Hawkins

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands was farewelled by thousands of Solomon Islanders some with placards reading "Tagio Tumas RAMSI" which translates to 
"Thank you so much RAMSI" in Solomon Islands Pidgin.

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands was farewelled by thousands of Solomon Islanders some with placards reading "Tagio Tumas RAMSI" which translates to "Thank you so much RAMSI" in Solomon Islands Pidgin. Photo: RNZI/ Koroi Hawkins

A boy hold a sign bearing the words "Thank you very much, RAMSI"

A boy holds a sign bearing the words "Thank you very much, RAMSI" Photo: RNZ/Koroi Hawkins

Police march during the Solomon Islands parade.

Police march during the Solomon Islands parade. Photo: RNZI - Koroi Hawkins

April Valley

For three years, the people of Solomon Islands' Kwa village have been living in isolated, swampy grassland, trying to build a life with, they say, little assistance from a government that promised to help. They were evacuated from Honiara in the floods of 2014, and now they say they've been abandoned and forgotten.

April Valley, to the east of Honiara, Solomon Islands. Residents left homeless by floods in 2014 were relocated here, but little assistance has followed.

April Valley, to the east of Honiara, Solomon Islands. Residents left homeless by floods in 2014 were relocated here, but little assistance has followed. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

A house in April Valley, Solomon Islands

A house in April Valley, Solomon Islands Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

A church built by settlers in April Valley, Solomon Islands. They call it St Johns, after the church that was destroyed in the 2014 floods.

A church built by settlers in April Valley, Solomon Islands. They call it St Johns, after the church that was destroyed in the 2014 floods. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

Vanuatu mourns

In June, Vanuatu mourned after its revered president, Baldwin Lonsdale, died unexpectedly at 67. In 2015, Mr Lonsdale's largely ceremonial role became a pillar of stability through a destructive cyclone and political crisis. In July, Tallis Obed Moses was appointed president by an electoral college.

Vanuatu's prime minister Charlot Salwai pays his respects to the late president Baldwin Lonsdale during his lying in state June 2017

Vanuatu's prime minister Charlot Salwai pays his respects to the late president Baldwin Lonsdale during his lying in state June 2017 Photo: Hilaire Bule

PM Charlot Salwai covers himself with a ceremonial red mat as he arrives at the State House to pay respects to President Baldwin Lonsdale.

PM Charlot Salwai covers himself with a ceremonial red mat as he arrives at the State House to pay respects to President Baldwin Lonsdale. Photo: Dan McGarry Vanuatu Daily Post

People in Port Vila mourn during the funeral procession of the late president Baldwin Lonsdale

People in Port Vila mourn during the funeral procession of the late president Baldwin Lonsdale Photo: Vanuatu Daily Post

Vanuatu’s new president Tallis Obed Moses

Tallis Obed Moses took on the Vanuatu presidency after the sudden death of Father Baldwin Lonsdale in June. Photo: RNZI Len Garae

PNG elections

Papua New Guinea went to the polls for its five yearly election in a process that was lengthy, troubled and fraught with flaws and deadly violence. Peter O'Neill emerged for a second term as prime minister, asserting his dominance over the country's political scene.

Polling booth PNG election 2017

Papua New Guineans in many remote parts went to the polls for the country's five-yearly election in June and July. Photo: RNZI/ Johnny Blades

PNG Electoral Commissioner Patilias Gamato is under pressure to resign

PNG Electoral Commissioner Patilias Gamato came under intense pressure to resign due to many flaws in the electoral process. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Scrutineers watch polling during the Papua New Guinea national election 2017.

Scrutineers watch polling during the Papua New Guinea national election 2017. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Election campaign poster for Papua New Guinea's People's National Congress Party, led by Peter O'Neill.

Election campaign poster for Papua New Guinea's People's National Congress Party, led by Peter O'Neill. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Chaos in Mendi, 3 October 2017.

Months after polling, election related violence continued to rage in PNG's Highlands. There was chaos in Mendi in October. Photo: Melvin Levongo

Language weeks are one way for Tuvalu people to keep their culture and language alive for the next generation.

TheTuvaluan community was among many New Zealand Pacific communities celebrating their language this year. Photo: RNZ/Indira Stewart

Tonga votes

In September, the people of Tonga were caught by surprise. One Thursday afternoon, King Tupou VI dissolved parliament as months of frustrations with the government of Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva came to a head. The decision meant the people of Tonga headed to the polls in November - a year earlier than planned - and handed Mr Pohiva's Democratic Party a resounding victory, giving him a strong mandate to continue to advocate for political reform. Mr Pohiva was re-elected Prime Minister this month.

'Akilisi Pohiva

Tonga's longest serving active politician, 'Akilisi Pohiva, triumphs after November's snap election. Photo: RNZ / Koro Vaka'uta

The Prime Minister's Office in Nuku'alofa

The Prime Minister's Office in Nuku'alofa Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

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Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

Mate Ma'a Tonga

Auckland and Tonga were seas of red in November. Whether that was good or bad depended on what media you read. What wasn't in doubt, though, was that the Tonga Rugby League team was pulling off something historic, as the Mate Ma'a surged to the competition's final - which included a thrilling victory over New Zealand - and brought out thousands of passionate supporters. While Tonga fell short at the final, they may have kicked off something bigger. For Tonga, star league players like Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita passed up the opportunity to play for New Zealand and opted to play for Tonga. After the world cup, there was a hope more people - for more countries - would do the same. Now the conversation has moved to Rugby Union, too.

Tongan rugby league fans have been loud and proud.

The Tongan league team and their passionate supporters captured the region's attention. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

Losa Hopoi (left) celebrates a Tonga victory.

Tongan rugby league fans celebrating the feats of their team, Mate Ma'a Tonga. Photo: Supplied / The Wireless

Support for Tonga in Nukuʻalofa

Support for Tonga in Nukuʻalofa Photo: RNZI/ Koro Vaka'uta

West Papua diplomatic surge

The internationalisation of the West Papuan self-determination struggle continued to gain traction at the UN level where several leaders of Pacific Island countries raised concern about human rights abuses in Indonesia's Papua region. Pacific civil society also continued to play a leading role in West Papua advocacy. There was a change in the leadership of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, with Benny Wenda elevated as the organisation's leader.

Hilda Heine, President of the Marshall Islands, addresses the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 22, 2016.

Hilda Heine, the President of the Marshall Islands addressed the UN General Assembly and called for international action on West Papua. Photo: DOMINICK REUTER / AFP

West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda.

Benny Wenda was elevated to leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua which continued to lobby internationally on its bid for independence from Indonesia. Photo: RNZI/Koroi Hawkins

Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, speaking at the UN.

Manasseh Sogavare continued his international work, campaigning on West Papua, but was ousted as prime minister of Solomon Islands in a no confidence motion in November. However he emerged as the deputy prime minister in a new government led by Rick Hou. Photo: UN

Fiji's prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, at the One Planet Summit in Paris.

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama took to the world stage over climate change. Here he is at the One Planet Summit in Paris in December. Photo: RNZ / Dominic Godfrey

Vanuatu's prime minister Charlot Salwai.

Vanuatu's prime minister Charlot Salwai withstood a second motion of no-confidence and strengthened his majority in parliament. Photo: RNZ/Koroi Hawkins

Behrouz Boochani

The Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani emerged as a bold and articulate spokesman for the refugees sent by Australia to Manus Island where many of them have languished for four years. Photo: supplied

American Samoa's speaker of the house Savali Talavou Ale (right) and the Prime Minister of Samoa Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi (right) at the swearing in of the territory's governor and lieutenant governor on the 4th January, 2017.

American Samoa swore in a new governor in January. The house speaker Savali Talavou (L) is seen here at the swearing in ceremony with Samoa's prime minister. Photo: Supplied / Monica Miller

Ase Boas celebrates his try.

The PNG Hunters reached the Super Cup final Photo: Melvin Levongo

Chamorro canoe

The Northern Marianas launched a traditional canoe programme, aiming to build a 15 metre Chamorro canoe that could sail to New Zealand for competitions in 2020. Photo: Mark Rabago