The idea of a Festival of Pacific Arts was conceived by the Conference of the South Pacific Commission (now the Pacific Community) in an attempt to combat the erosion of traditional customary practices. Since 1972, delegations from 27 Pacific Island Countries and Territories have come together to share and exchange their cultures at each Festival of Pacific Arts.
In 1977, at the 3rd meeting of the South Pacific Festival Council (now the Council of Pacific Arts), the Council determined that the Festival's major theme should continue to be traditional song and dance, and that participating countries and territories should be free to include other activities depending on the resources available to them.
The 27 participating Pacific Island Countries and Territories include: American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Easter Island, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji Islands, French Polynesia, Guam, Hawaii, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Norfolk Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.
Source: Organizers Guide to the Festival of Pacific Arts, SPC NNC, 2003.
Festival of Pacific Arts
Beginning 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 recognized 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 recognizes 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 organizing 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.
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 neighbors, 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 realization of what has been missing in the more Westernized 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 honor. 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 revitalized, 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.