The Festival of Pacific Arts
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 30 November 2008

ImageBeginning in 1972, Pacific peoples have come together every four years to share and exchange their culture at the Festival of Pacific Arts. They come from more than 27 countries, and the number of participants has increased to more than 2000.

The Festival is recognised as a major international cultural event, and is the largest gathering in which Pacific peoples unite to gain respect for and appreciation of one another within the context of the changing Pacific.
The Festival was conceived by SPC’s governing Conference in an attempt to combat the erosion of traditional customary practices. It grew out of the desire, expressed by Pacific Island leaders, for the peoples of the region to share their cultures and establish deeper understanding and friendship between countries.

Selection and Role of the Festival Host
The selection of a host country by the Council of Pacific Arts is based on principles of equity. The Council recognises that each of the 27 nations of the Pacific desires to celebrate their unique indigenous culture by hosting the Festival, and supports this through a process of regional rotation. In accordance with the Pacific way, whereby all is shared, preference is given to those countries that have not yet been hosts.
In accordance with festival tradition, participants are the organising country’s guests from the day of their arrival. The host country bears the cost of local travel, accommodation, meals and other forms of hospitality for the visiting participants. Entry to all artistic events is free to the public. As a result, the Festivals are not self-funded through ticket sales or other means. Merchandising and sponsorship arrangements for local industries are developing, but account for only a small proportion of festival income. The cost of providing venues — for the performing arts, cultural displays and exhibitions, and including stages, lighting and sound systems — are considerable and increasing.

Hosting the Festival is a major cultural technical and economic challenge, requiring broad community participation and cooperation. The Festival also provides tremendous opportunities for social and cultural interchange and for the exposure of local products, and can help to enhance tourism within the host country.
The Festival provides Pacific peoples with an opportunity to assert their identities, both for themselves and to share with other people of the Pacific. It has additional significance for the host country, which has the opportunity to present itself: to its own people, to invited countries and to the Festival audience.

Festival Participants
Visits of Pacific Islanders from one island to another have always been important occasions. Trade, social visits and exchanges of dance, music, food and crafts have served as opportunities for islanders to learn from one another, and have assisted in the dynamic transformation of culture. Today the Festival of Pacific Arts helps maintain a sense of “Pacificness” among island communities: awareness that, although a group of people may reside on tiny atolls far from island neighbours, they are part of a greater Pacific-wide culture. Recognition of a common Pacific identity can be a strong motivating force for individual communities to revive and cherish their own traditional forms of cultural expression.
Young Pacific Islanders were traditionally raised in an environment that taught them their local language, history and traditional knowledge and skills, but many ways of passing on these traditions and skills are disappearing. A realisation of what has been missing in the more Westernised island cultures is one of the reasons young islanders train long and hard for each Festival, seeking to uncover the secrets of ancient music and chants, costumes, body art and language. To be selected as part of an island’s delegation to the Festival is a great honour. The Festivals have no competitions, and performers do not seek to compete with other, but the Festival has stimulated a new sense of cultural pride among islanders young and old, generating excitement, pride and promise for the arts and cultures in the region. It enables young contemporary artists and performers to express themselves and their talent and helps to bridge the gap between traditional cultural expressions and the aspirations of our youth.
Contribution of the Festival to Pacific Island Communities and Cultures
The Festival makes a significant contribution to the evolution of Pacific Island identities. For the region, the Festival of Pacific Arts promotes unity by encouraging mutual appreciation and respect for one another’s cultures. It also improves political and economic stability by developing a deeper sense of solidarity and unites the geographically isolated Pacific Island countries and territories, facilitating inter-regional communication.
The Festival is also an important instrument in the preservation of the performing and production skills underlying the broad variety of cultural expressions in the Pacific. Expertise and skills in crafts have been rediscovered and revitalised, while traditional and ceremonial performances have been rediscovered, revived and in some cases updated. Tourism and related industries have also benefited, with the proceeds often going to local communities.

The Festival and the World
As each Festival is succeeded by the next they grow and the number of participants increases. Each Festival attracts increasing numbers of spectators and visitors from within the region itself, and it also draws the attention of the global community, to the point that the Festival has become a major tourist attraction. Today the Festival is the principal platform for collective participation in expressions of traditional and contemporary culture in the Pacific region.

Past editions of the Festival

Image1972 Festival of Pacific Arts, Fiji Islands
Fight against the disappearance of traditional arts in most Pacific countries
Protect them from being submerged by other cultural influences
Start a process of preservation and development of the various local arts forms

The First Festival of Pacific Arts was held in Suva, Fiji Islands from 6–20 May 1972, and over 1000 participants from 14 countries and territories attended. All countries in the South Pacific were represented except French Polynesia. Pitcairn Island, Norfolk Island, Tokelau, and Wallis and Futuna were not able to attend, but did send handicrafts, stamps and films.
The opening of the festival was performed by His Excellency, Sir Robert Foster, Governor-General of Fiji. In the presence of many distinguished guests, including the Prime Ministers of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, the President of Nauru, the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand and the Secretary General of the South Pacific Commission, the Governor-General thanked the chiefs and people of Kubuna for the ceremonial welcome, saying:
The dignity and quality of the age-old ceremonies of welcome, such as the one we have just seen is, I think, a fitting way in which to commence a festival, the object of which is to preserve, encourage, and display the best in Pacific Island culture.
Festival participants danced and played music; presented films, plays and poetry; displayed handicrafts and art; and took part in indigenous games. A highlight of the festival was the ‘village’ of traditional houses at the University of the South Pacific, which were built by participants from Tonga, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Niue and Fiji.

Image1976 Festival of Pacific Arts, New Zealand
Presenting our culture to our neighbours and sharing a common heritage Acting for friendship between the peoples of the region Culture as a key to individuality

The 2nd Festival of Pacific Arts was held in Rotorua, New Zealand from 6–13 March 1976, and drew over 1000 participants from 20 Pacific Island countries and territories, with an additional 500 tribal members of Te Arawa and Tuwharetoa performing traditional challenges and welcomes at the opening day ceremonies.

The original sun, sea and sky emblem (designed for the 1972 Festival in Fiji Islands) was modified to include a koru, a bold motif in Maori carving and scroll painting. The koru represents a budding fern. There is a Maori proverb stating "mate atu ai he tetekura", meaning ‘one warrior falls in battle and another always takes his place’. In the same way, as one fern frond develops to maturity, a new one buds, and this proverb was very appropriate for the succession of festivals. The Rotorua festival emblem also incorporated a bold depiction of the prow of a Maori canoe moving towards and into the sun. The prow of the canoe is a gesture of welcome, symbolising the people of New Zealand moving forward to greet the visitors from overseas.
The comments of W.N. Jaram Administrative Director of the Festival speak to the success of the 1976 festival itself, and to the broader value of all Festivals of Pacific Arts to the people of the Pacific:

The value in human terms of goodwill, tolerance and warmth of understanding, spontaneously generated and developed between so many people of differing cultural backgrounds cannot be measured in monetary terms. For many New Zealanders the festival has provided new insights, and an awareness that Polynesians, Melanesians and Micronesians and indeed people the world over are rightly proud of their cultural heritage and that patterns of human behaviour are only understandable in this context.

Image1980 Festival of Pacific Arts, Papua New Guinea
A Celebration of Pacific Awareness

The 3rd Festival of Pacific Arts was held in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea from 30 June–12 July 1980, with over 1600 participants from 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories.

The number of spectators attending the many activities far exceeded what had been anticipated. Eight different programme activities took place, and included drama, traditional dancing and singing, literature, exhibitions, demonstrations, canoes, children’s games and music. The Festival also strove to move beyond a presentation of arts for their own sake, and to contribute toward a Pacific awakening. Moi Avei, Chairman, of the Papua New Guinea National Cultural Council, put it this way:

In giving the 3rd South Pacific Arts Festival the theme ‘Celebration of Pacific Awareness’ we are lifting our eyes beyond the narrow artistic confines of an arts festival.

The athestic value of the art presented at the festival remains important – the festival should demonstrate the richness, the best, and the most creative elements of Pacific culture –but we beg you to explore other dimensions of such an event; it is good that we aim to enrich the lives of participants, but we also want to make something happen to Pacific Awareness, to make the festival an integral part of a Pacific awakening – a renaissance of the Pacific Way.

Image1985 Festival of Pacific Arts, French Polynesia
Pacific, my new home
Our own Pacific way for our new home
For a Pacific way in development

The 4th Festival of Pacific Arts was held in French Polynesia from 29–15 July 1985. Originally scheduled to take place in New Caledonia in 1984, the festival venue was changed and the date delayed due to serious political incidents occurring in New Caledonia. The cancellation meant that French Polynesia had only four months to prepare to host the festival, but it was nonetheless a great success, with almost 1200 participants from 21 Pacific Island Countries and Territories. Some 500 delegates from the Polynesian archipelagos of the Leeward, Marquesas and Austral Islands also participated. Although not able to attend, Pitcairn Island sent examples of arts and crafts, photographs and postage stamps.

Traditional dances and songs were a highlight and performances took place every day in seven locations. Contemporary theatre was also performed. Other activities conducted during the festival were tattooing, fire walking, traditional sports, book and film exhibitions and symposiums. The craft village included 75 stalls that displayed the arts and crafts of visiting and local delegations. In addition, the Tahiti and Islands Museum was reopened, having been closed due to damage caused by cyclones Reva and Veena in 1983.

Over 120 journalists, photographers and television teams arrived from overseas, with as many local journalists, photographers and film teams providing coverage as well.

Image1988 Festival of Pacific Arts, Australia
To promote the maintenance of indigenous cultures of the Pacific region
Making the Arts Festival a time for communication between Pacific peoples
Making the “Dreamtime” a rebirth for the Pacific peoples in their common destiny, working, living, and achieving fulfilment together through their arts and cultures

The 5th Festival of Pacific Arts was held in Townsville, Australia from 14–27 August 1988, with over 1700 participants from 24 Pacific Island countries and territories attending.

Nine performance venues located across Townsville allowed for different types and lengths of performances. Story telling, chanting and poetry reading took place daily, and these oral performances developed their own following. The craft village provided an excellent opportunity for craftspeople to visit other delegations, appreciate the work of their fellow craftsmen and women, and discuss different techniques. Films, many of which were made by Pacific peoples, were screened twice daily. Many of the people involved in the film making were at the Festival to introduce and discuss their work.

A cultural forum was held over five mornings at the James Cook University. The issues discussed included economic development, land use, cultural maintenance, tourism and self-determination. The forum provided the opportunity for sharing experiences, and gave participants a sense of unity and renewed strength.

Image1992 Festival of Pacific Arts, Cook Islands
Seafaring Pacific Islanders
Pacific Islanders as great ocean voyagers

One of greatest achievements of Pacific Islanders was the building and sailing of ocean-going canoes, or vakas. Under the command of chiefs and navigational priests, early Pacific seafarers undertook long oceanic voyages of discovery and settlement in their canoes. They developed advanced skills in canoe design and construction, and navigated by reading the stars, winds and currents, making landfall without the aid of compass, sextant or chart. The 6th Festival, held in Rarotonga, Cook Islands from 16–27 October 1992, celebrated the achievements of Pacific Islanders as great ocean voyagers. It attracted over 1800 participants from 23 Pacific Island Countries and Territories.

A highlight of the Festival was the presence of vakas from Tahiti, Marshall Islands, Hawaii, New Zealand, Atiu, Aitutaki, Mangaia, Mauke and Rarotonga. Some of these craft sailed thousands of miles from their home islands to Rarotonga, ceremoniously paying tribute to the ancestors of all Cook Islanders, who centuries before had journeyed out from Rarotonga in search of new lands. They also symbolised the spirit of seafaring Pacific Islanders and the ancient navigators of Polynesia. Each vaka crew landed with a sacred stone —some as small as a coconut, others virtual boulders— which were brought to Rarotonga to represent the land and home islands of the seafarers who had made the journey. The sacred stones were placed together in a special site to commemorate the historic gathering.

Two days before the Festival began Sir Geoffrey Henry, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, officially opened a new National Cultural Centre on Rarotonga, which echoed the festival theme. A wood carving representing the spirit of the navigator Te Manava Rangatira faces the entranceway to the Centre, while the Cultural Centre buildings themselves are arranged as a vaka with outriggers. An official visit to the Cook Islands by His Royal Highness the Prince Edward of Great Britain was arranged to coincide with the festival. A moment of Cook Islands history was made when for the first time two Cook Island women, Dorice Reid Te Tika Mataiapo and Akaiti Ama Tamarua Nui Mataiapo, performed the turou or welcome ceremony for the Prince. This ceremony was formerly the preserve of men.

Image1996 Festival of Pacific Arts, Samoa
Tala Measina

Tala Measina is a form of introduction said by the orator or tulafale, just before a big or final presentation is made. It means to unveil treasures. In the context of the Festival, it is the unveiling of our culture, arts and traditions. It is found in the goodwill of many helpers and hosts. Measina includes the gifts of oratory, peace making capabilities, consensus, wisdom and all that is associated with the beauty of Samoan customs and traditions.

The 7th Festival of Pacific Arts was held in Apia, Samoa from 8–23 September 1996, and was attended by over 1500 participants from 25 Pacific Island countries and territories. The 7th festival paid special attention to young people, beginning with the dramatic choreographed opening ceremony, in which over 2000 Samoan children took part. The ceremony depicted the story of Samoa’s origin, with the children acting out and personifying all the elements —the moon, fire, birds, rain, sun, and trees— created by the gods of old. Visitors were then greeted with the traditional ‘ava ceremony and taiga su’a (presentation of gifts), which together demonstrated ta’alolo, the highest form of traditional hospitality.

The festival village was composed of 26 traditional fale, and was the setting for demonstrations of handicrafts, carving, food, sports and games, and traditional house-making and medicine. Healers shared their experiences in the healing ways of old, including massage, rituals and the use and conservation of medicinal plants. Daily demonstrations were given on treatment of women’s and children’s ailments, skin diseases, healing broken bones and massage. A contemporary arts exhibition was also held in which diverse forms of media were used to depict cultural images and reflections in a wide range of styles.

The logo for the 7th Festival was designed by students from the Leulumoega Fou School of Fine Arts, and featured the distinctive saipo (tapa) design typical of Samoan clothing and fabrics. Strips of bark in the center pattern come from the mulberry tree, from which saipo is made. The many strands signify the items of Samoa’s material culture —the ie toga (fine mat), the tuiga, (ceremonial head-dress), the fue and to’oto’o (orator’s whisk and staff), and Samoan ‘ava. The logo represents the sun, symbolising both beginning and end.

Image2000 Festival of Pacific Arts, New Caledonia
Pacific cultures on the move together
Words of Yesterday (Paroles d’hier)  The souls of our forefathers
Words of Today (Paroles d’aujourd’hui)  Free expression and a clamour of competing voices.
Words of Tomorrow (Paroles de demain)  The way forward

Words of Yesterday  These represent our ancestral wisdom and fit into the precise hierarchy of a strict social order. They are our history since the founding myth; they are our laws. They are the bond between the elders and the children of their children. Yesterday’s words spring from forms of expression anchored in tradition. We wish to pass them on to our children.

Words of Today  Traditional societies have all had to come to terms with major influences from the outside world. How can we resist the violent impact of Western cultures, which are penetrating our societies, especially through the new communication media? What is the effect of modernity and how can our traditional societies absorb it? More specifically, what are the concerns of today’s younger generation, such as the problems due to deep social change and acculturation, which Pacific societies are experiencing because of migration and urbanisation? How do we react to monetisation and the shift to the market economy? Such are issues to be pondered during the Festival.

Words of Tomorrow  What are the ‘Words’ we will need to address the cultural and economic issues of the Pacific in the third millennium? Now the men and women who will share the destiny of this region have their chance to say.

The 8th Festival of Pacific Arts was held in New Caledonia from 23 October–3rd November 2000. Over 2000 participants from 24 Pacific Island countries and territories attended. In an effort to bring local communities and festival participants together, the 8th Festival had many venues in various communes in New Caledonia’s three provinces. The issue of the evolution of culture and the impact of modernity on traditional societies was the focus of debates and round-table discussions, which were recorded and later published. Festival activities also included dance and performing arts, film screenings and photo exhibitions. Writers, publishers, painters and carvers played a large role, and arts such as tattooing and traditional canoeing were also represented.

The logo symbolised the 8th Festival theme of words from the past, present and future. The conch shell calls all Pacific brothers and sisters to come and join the great celebration. The upper portion combines roof-top spears (characteristic of kanak culture) and the soaring architecture of the Tjibaou Cultural Centre within a hair-comb motif. The central component refers to common identity combined with ethnic diversity, and takes the form of peoples’ heads in profile looking in the same direction. Herein lies the idea of a citizenship for the country. The ceremonial axe is an artefact of power and trade, while the three lines represent the Pacific Ocean.

Image2004 Festival of Pacific Arts, Palau
Oltobed a Malt – Nurture, Regenerate, Celebrate                

The 9th Festival of Pacific Arts was held in Palau from 22–31 July 2004 and was attended by over 2000 participants. The theme selected by Palau for this Festival was “Oltobed a Malt – Nurture, Regenerate, Celebrate”.

Oltobed a Malt signifies the process of promoting new growth through which the essence of a people is not lost, dependant on the wisdom and the endurance of the ancestors. The physically able youth power the canoe, while the elders stabilise the country, and navigate the course. The youth have keen vision to seek and select new and effective ideas, which will ensure a successful tomorrow.  The Festival assures the protection of cultural heritage and supports the aspiration of our youth.  And so shall the youth live in unison with and conserve the wealth of our aquatic continent, in stormy weather or in calm.  We shall celebrate with the arts and through the arts to express the unity and respect among Pacific peoples.

In opening the 19th meeting of the Council of Pacific Arts in March 2004, His Excellency, Tommy Remengesau Jr, President of the Republic of Palau stated, "It is our goal as host of the Festival to provide a setting where all cultures will be nurtured, and all cultures will experience regeneration of our traditional ways through our celebration.  This nation is truly honoured to be the host of the very first Festival to be held in Micronesia and the first ever to be held in the Northern Pacific.  It will be an event for us all to remember long into the future."

For more information see

Image2008 Festival of Pacific Arts, American Samoa
Su'iga'ula a le Atuvasa: Threading the Oceania 'Ula                  

The 10th Festival of Pacific Arts was held in Pago Pago, American Samoa from 20 July to 2 August 2008.

The theme selected by American Samoa for this Fesitival was "Su'iga'ula a le Atuvasa: Threading the Oceania 'Ula". The 'Ula or necklace is an adornment that is always representative of a celebration and/or festive occasion - what better way to describe the coming together of the Pacific family than by preparing our 'Ula's for the festivities to come.

For more information about the Festival of Pacific Arts, contact Élise Huffer, Human Development Adviser (Culture) by e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 January 2009 )
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