ASCC-SSI Reps Attend Tahiti Polynesian Festival
September 23, 2016
By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer
Te fare Tahiti Nui (also known as the Maison de la Culture) hosted the first edition of their Polynesia Festival from September 12th – 17th in Papeete. The event brought together delegations from throughout the Polynesian Triangle to showcase and share their culture. Highlights included native language classes, traditional dance workshops, storytelling sessions, craft exhibitions, a musical concert, and more. Organized around the theme of “Transmission,” the diverse cultural activities offered during the week mirrored what the event organizers believe needs to be transmitted to the people of Polynesia.
Representing American Samoa at the festival were two members of the Samoan Studies Institute (SSI) at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC), Director Mrs. Okenaisa Fauolo-Manila and Samoan Language Interpreter and Translator Mrs. Tamari Mulitalo-Cheung. They were initially invited by the Tahitian Academy (a separate entity from the Maison de la Culture) to participate in a Polynesian Language Forum to run concurrently during the festival. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Polynesian Language Forum was cancelled, but the Maison de la Culture invited the intended Forum participants to be part of the festival workshops focusing on the languages of Rapa Nui, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Hawaii and Tahiti. “Even though the Forum did not take place, one of the definite highlights of our trip was meeting with the Tahitian Academy Secretary Mr. Hubert Lai, and him introducing us to members of the Tahitian Language Commission,” said Mrs. Fauolo-Manila.
With Tahiti making a concentrated effort to preserve and perpetuate its indigenous language, the SSI visitors who work along the same lines to maintain the integrity of the Samoan language found they had much to learn from and share with their Tahitian counterparts. “The Tahitian Academy has remarkable Polynesian languages resources,” said Mrs. Fauolo-Manila. “Along with the Language Commission set up by their government in 1972, the Academy finalizes translations and correct spellings of new Tahitian words. As gifts, the Academy presented the SSI visitors with a dictionary of the Tahitian language as well as a guidebook for translating French to Tahitian. The SSI members reciprocated with two volumes of their publication “Tala le Tau” as their gift to the Academy.
Mrs. Fauolo-Manila noted how the various Polynesian groups at the festival share a common challenge in maintaining preserving and perpetuating their languages and cultures. “I heard the term ‘cultural revival’ on several occasions,” she recalled, “and I found it interesting when some islanders made reference to the revival of their ancient gods and the affirmation of their royal lineages. This ties-in with a resurgence in traditional arts such as storytelling and tattooing. It was also interesting how much credit the missionaries deserve for their part in documenting and preserving Pacific cultures. Missionaries created most of the written forms of Polynesian languages that we still use today. The churches also preserved artifacts that could have been lost forever, such as the 24 rongorongo tables, the only evidence of the ancient Rapa Nui form of writing, that are today preserved by the Vatican in Rome.”
While in Papeete, the SSI Director made a personal connection with the region’s rich past when she Visited Point Venus, where Captain Cook landed, and where The Duff, the first missionary ship to arrive in what is now French Polynesia, also made port. “As a history teacher, it was a blessing to stand at the beach of Matavai where they landed,” she said. Mrs. Fauolo-Manila also feels that her and Mrs. Mulitalo-Cheung’s presence at the festival helped to establish ASCC-SSI one of the contributors to the study and perpetuation of Polynesian cultures. “The festival coordinator, Billy Vaitoare, told me how the positive responses to us being there from American Samoa made him realize that the festival is worth it,” she recalled. “Even at the opening of the festival, we were acknowledged by the president of French Polynesia. That was a nice touch.
For further information about the Te fare Tahiti Nui Polynesian Festival, visit their website at: http://www.maisondelaculture.pf. For information about classes on Samoa and the Pacific offered by the SSI, see the ASCC Catalog, available online at: www.amsamoa.edu.