Auckland’s Polyfest has proved that island cultures are reaching out to those from other traditions who have a love for its song and dance.
For Thai teen Joann Rattanachai the Massey High School Cook Island Polyfest group attracted her early on with its music and dance style. Through this experience, she has grown as a person.
Learnt to be confident
Rattanachai says before her friend roped her into joining the Polyfest group three years ago, she was a quiet, shy, under-confident girl.
“My best friend made me join. I didn’t want to do it because I had no confidence. But she made me do it and it was really cool.
“I’ve now learnt how to be confident in my body. I just go out there and smile and have lots of fun.”
Polyfest is an annual youth competition and festival held in Auckland, which celebrates Maori and Pacific Island culture through dance, song and speech.
Lexi Tariau, the Massey High School Polyfest Cook Island leader, says it is rewarding to see the non-Pacific Islanders grow as performers - but also as people.
“At the start of Polyfest, our non-Cook Islanders were really shy and mumbled when they sang. Now they’re dancing like they are the Cook Islanders in the group.
“It’s pretty cool to see how far they've come and how much they enjoyed our culture.”
Open to all cultures
Tariau says the Cook Island group has always had a range of diverse cultures and encourages anyone interested to join.
“We don’t think that if you’re not Cook Island you shouldn’t be allowed to join. If they really enjoy the beauty of our culture then that’s more of a reason to include them.”
Tui Feu’u-Marsh from ‘the Cook Island group’ is of Samoan-European descent and has grown up in a European home but wanted to learn more about the Pacific Island culture.
“It’s a way to get back to my roots even though it’s the Cook Islands and not Samoan,” he says.
He also believes the best thing about the group is how many of the members have become friends and created a “brotherhood” among each other. Tariau believes the tutors have really captured the attention of the group and have made the trainings fun, with individuals gaining in confidence.
“I love the teaching of the items because our tutors are so passionate about our culture and really capture us when they teach us. I like how the boys become warriors on stage and bring out all they have.
“Most of all I enjoy how much the group bonds over the Polyfest training time and how every person in the group has fun with our culture.”
Massey High School's Cook Island group performed at Polyfest in South Auckland and improved on its last few years’ performances, finishing third.
Heath Moore is a final year Bachelor of Communication Studies student journalist at AUT University.