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Protests, profiteering and community visits

Report #6 from LOOP correspondent Sarah Hunter, in Noumea with the New Zealand Pacific Island delegation for the Pacific Festival of Arts.

Protest protest in Noumea at the Festival today (Thursday) as a group of Kanak set up across the road from the main Festival Village. They were joined by Aboriginal musicians, and as the songs got up Maori also came across the road to meet and exchange ideas.

Talked to Gaston with the Kanak group, who said that Kanak people want RESPECT in their homeland. Many Kanak artists had earlier boycotted the Festival, and some delegation members are not happy with French who have organised the Festival. Maybe it's the cliched arrogance that one finds seeping through this tropical island.

Anyway, today's protest was short lived as the police arrived and everyone had to pack up their flags and sounds. Walking out of the village I had thought the protest was an impromptu performance from a local group on the beachfront. The swimmers on the beach continued swimming, and the day continued in a slow manner as the rain has returned. Gaston said the gods have not blessed the Festival, which is why there has been so much rain and cancellations.

A representative from the PNG West Briton group said they had a fantastic time hosted in the Northern Province by Kanak locals. He was not so impressed with Festival organisers and their performance scheduling, with comments about how long it takes his guys to get their paint and costumes on – up to an hour – and then they only get to perform for a short time!!

MAU Dance fluked the weather last night and put on a compact show, with the dancers appearing out of the water with fire and phat beats. A real change from the traditional performances which are so popular. Festival organisers had told people the show was kapa haka, so there were some surprised faces at the near-naked white-painted bodies jumping around.

The Festival has also been selling tickets to contemporary performances! This was not something that had been agreed on, and prices ranged from 1000 to 2000 francs ($NZ20 to $NZ40 dollars). No money for the performers, though. MAU Dance was very well received, although some people were not so sure of the use of Maori karanga in the show.

As I write the weather is closing in again: dark grey clouds. So we might not see much more happening for the final evening of the Festival. Tomorrow is the official closing, and it looks like a traditional Kanak meal is being offered to delegation members.

Anton Carter, Erolia Ifopo and myself went to a local school yesterday in Tindu and came back looking like Christmas trees! The school had happened upon Lemi rehearsing and he in turn taught them a Samoan siva. Then we were invited to their school which has kids from all the local islands attending. We made it and were treated to breakdancing, with MC Antsman (Anton) providing several freeflow raps, which had all in rapture.

The PI delegation came over here with a pile of CDs featuring Pasific sounds (Che, Pacific Underground, Brotha D, Lost Tribe, Teremoana), which has been a gift for all during the Festival. We left some copies of that, a lavalava and some francs for the hospitality we were shown.

Sat down for some coffee and French bread, and then were toured around the village complex: about seven high-rise apartment blocks on a coastal strip not far from some serious urban styles (boarded up buildings etc). We had a great time and were presented with ola made by the kids, a giant snail shell ola, and a Kanak lavalava and photographic book. Sadly we had to decline the invitation to a local kava bar. Favourite image at the school: a huge painting of Bob Marley and the Wailers as Jesus and his followers with Conscious Musique logo.

Upbeat band Stiff Gins from Aussie are giving some sounds outside now, so maybe it is the time of day for a Number One beer and chill, cos no matter what, when in Noumea we hang loose.

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