Students showcase dying Polynesian cultures

LUISA AUSAGE

The University of Queensland South Pacific Islander Association (UQSPIA) has hosted a special cultural event to showcase the music and dance of some of the many Pacific islander cultures that are present in Australia.

UQSPIA performing a Samoan dance

Students from UQSPIA perform a Samoan dance that depicts the myth of Taema and Tilafaiga. Photo: Luisa Ausage

Student-led group UQSPIA held the event, called ‘Find Your Mana’, in September with the aim of depicting various myths and legends from a total of 11 Pacific island nations through dance and song.

Some of the groups represented on the night are confronted with the alarming reality that their islands are “disappearing” and their cultures are dying out, with dwindling numbers of people continuing to pass on the traditions.

UQSPIA social events coordinator Catherine Dexter said the night was a chance for each of the island nations represented to share their culture and tell their stories.

“The [Mana theme] showcases myths and legends passed down [through] each generation and tells a story of how each island in the pacific has come to be what we now know it as,” Ms Dexter said.

The event, which was held at the University of Queensland’s Schonell Theatre, showcased cultural dances from Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, the Cook Island, Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, Rotuma and Kiribati.

UQSPIA’s 2017 president, Robati Harrison, said the event was important as it was a way for many of the students to represent their Pacific identities.

“Culture is one of the three aims that embody UQSPIA as a university society,” Mr Harrison said.

“It is important that we, as an association, represent our culture with such pride because, after all, our ancestors did not fight to keep our culture alive for us to not do anything about it,” he said.

President of the Queensland Niuean Rugby League Association, Patrick Knight, said he was proud that Pasifika (or Polynesian) culture was being represented at universities.

“Although my country [Niue] wasn’t represented tonight, it was still good to see the representation of Pasifika culture in other countries,” Mr Knight said.

UQSPIA performing a cultural dance from Kiribati

Students from UQSPIA perform a cultural dance from Kiribati that depicts the ‘story of the creation’. Photo: Luisa Ausage

“Especially from university students, it’s great that they are willing to take the time to teach everyone about our countries and culture, so that it can live on in our children and doesn’t die out, even if our countries do,” he said.

“I migrated from New Zealand, but will always be Niuean, even if the culture dies out.”

“It’s in my blood and I won’t ever stop promoting that to future generations.”

“I want my country to be remembered.”

Niue has a rapidly decreasing population, and in 2016 there were only 1600 people registered as living on the island country, with most migrating to New Zealand or Australia to look for a better life for their families.

UQSPIA founding member and advocate Toli Reupana said exposure of Pasifika cultures was important as some of the islands had rapidly declining populations while others were vanishing.

“The Pacific is slowing deteriorating because of climate change and the effects of that is causing some islands to sink [for example] Tuvalu and Kiribati,” Mr Reupana said.

“It’s important that our different [Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian] nations get as much exposure as possible, because the reality is in 25 years’ time some islands we call home could be just a memory to us,” he said.

UQ is one of a number of Australian universities that has an association that aims to represent Polynesian culture through events such as ‘Find Your Mana’.

For more information about UQSPIA, visit their website.

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