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A late opening, pub lights and highlights

Report #3 from LOOP correspondent Sarah Hunter, in Noumea with the New Zealand Pacific Island delegation for the Pacific Festival of Arts.


It is now Sunday morning, and the sun is truly frying us all at the Festival.

The opening ceremony: I never made it, and after hearing reports from those who did, this was just as well. Comments were: bad lighting; bad choreography; bad sound; a fireworks display that most people felt they do better in their own back yard at Guy Fawkes; 500 local kids were part of the show but had no real purpose; overall it dragged on for too long.

An opportunity was lost, with such a great gathering of people in fantastic national costumes who can deliver phat beats and rhythm at the click of a finger.

So where was I during the ceremony? Some of our PI delegation went for a cruise to support a local Kanak festival that is happening as an alternative to the Festival.

The first part of the journey to Dumbea had us in a surreal scene: we followed a sign to Dumbea off the motorway and suddenly we were in pitch black, with the only source of light a pub on a rise.

Pulled up to ask for directions and next thing we are being given the local brew, Number One. Erolia signed autographs on the PI delegation booklet (the one that LOOP helped put together) and there were photo opportunities aplenty with the group of road construction workers and their families having a laid back session in front of the pub. Crazy.

One guy was a bit drunk and not so friendly so we moved on. Managed to travel down two motorway exit lanes the wrong way and eventually found Patrice Kaikilekofe and his Festival.

Patrice's family came from Wallis and Futuna and he has established an arts and culture centre in his neighbourhood: a place for the local youth to try out music, art and performance. The buildings are fantastic and there were some local bands playing. Very very laid back. Patrice trained in sculpture at Whitireia some years ago and the Whitireia group, who have paid their own way here, are doing performances and exchanges at the Dumbea centre.

The opera went off, with standing ovations at both performances. The venue organisers have asked the crew to return: the most beautiful thing they have heard in Noumea they said. Performers Mabel Faletolu, April Nero, Brandon Pou and Robert Wiremu did the late Iosefa Enari proud. They also added plenty of risque humour and in-your-face attitude to lift the spirits.

Lemi and the Mau dancers paid a tribute to Iosefa in the first show with a short dance tribute involving lanterns and a coral rock that Lemi poured a flammable liquid over to add flames (a you-had-to-be-there kind of thing). Both concerts ended with the singers performing the Samoan song Farewell My Feleni (Farewell My Friend), the power of which still resonates. The Maori Queen was among the audience last night.

Writer Hone Kouka is at the Festival doing the literature thing, and he and his daughter Maareri are great company to bump into. He told us that at a readers' session yesterday (Saturday), some of the Maori participants walked out after a 'dry' French writer started dissing a Kanak legend!

The fashion parade last night included Palau with great traditional costumes (pre-Spanish invaders), Norfolk Island featuring descendants of the Bounty crew, and Maori designers such as Charles Royal in the house.

The Fijians were popular; in fact they got the most (un-PC) wolf whistles, with the Chinese and Indian designs featuring some high cuts and lithe figures. Yes the Fijians have included Chinese, Rotuman and Indians in their delegation! At one show, they mentioned they are here to reflect the harmony in Fiji! Seemed a bit rich so soon after the coup, but of course anything goes out of the eye of the media! Best harmony moment: a big Fijian guy grabbing Wellington's very own 'Meanest Indian in the Land', Meena Kadri, out of the crowd for a dance.

The Samoan siva we saw one afternoon went off; far from the plastic delivery that American Samoa featured. The announcer from Savaii was very funny and the front row folks got a lot of machete blades and axes in their faces – no cuts to report.

Maori crews are so popular. Kapa haka champs Te Mataarae I Orehu from Rotorua were on at the 'village' yesterday, kicking the dust up around them as the huge crowd went wild. Proof:overheard an Aussie saying she'd clicked off two rolls of 36 film – couldn't help it, she said!

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) are another group that have won over the crowds. Painted in earth red colours, they were sweating galore in the midday sun with some choice grooves and moves.

The 'village' is continually packed: hot hot hot. Trying to make a date with some of the food that is being cooked up. Missed the Tongan umu; more to come, though.

The search for Bob Marley continues. This is the Pacific Jamaica, with the Kanaks decked out with dreads, Bob shirts and the dak, but I heard that visiting reggae bands are banned – too revolutionary for the authorities!!

So yeah, in Noumea we is hanging loose. Touch base later.

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