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Letter From Elsewhere: Pasifika

Three small dark blue flowers sit round the crown of the sunhat. Thin blue cords thread through its finely latticed – what? Flax? I realise I don’t even know exactly what these graceful hats are made of, though I’ve been wearing them in some form for most of my life.

Anyway, I need it now – and it’s beautiful. “How much is it?” I ask the shy boy who gets it down off the pole for me. He looks over at the queenly woman sitting in the shade at the back of the stall, and she nods. “Eight dollars.”

Though I grew up in Auckland, I moved to Wellington long before it achieved the distinction of being the largest Pacific Islands city on earth. And this is the first time I’ve made it to Pasifika, the biggest one-day festival celebrating Pacific Islands cultures.

I remember Western Springs as a huge, bare, dusty field, transformed once a year by the magic of the Easter Show. Now that field seems to be the car park, and the festival spreads around the lake and through the trees. We move slowly through the eight “villages” for the different Island groups (including “Village Aotearoa”), and long lines of stalls, stopping to catch what’s happening on the four performance stages – children’s, cultural, contemporary, and performing arts. (This is a great place to discover new talent, say the APRA people – APRA is one of the festival’s sponsors.)

We stand longest on the edge of the huge crowd that’s settled in to hear a masterly pair of rappers. A little kid has climbed a tree to see them better. He’s soon joined by half a dozen more. In their brilliant red, blue, yellow and purple T-shirts, they look like a bright flock of birds. The whole thing is a photographer’s dream (and I haven’t got my camera).

By the time we get back to the gate, the sun’s getting low, the stallholders are packing up and the giant blow-up Palm corned beef tin is slowly sinking to the ground. Pasifika is almost over until next year.

On every second tent pole we saw signs telling us that this event was proudly supported by the Auckland City Council. But the Council is currently going in for a notorious orgy of cost-cutting. Is Pasifika safe?

Ayliss Ripley, the Pasifika contact at the Council, is certain it is. She says the Council funding is not under threat and will certainly continue.

I hope she’s right. Pasifika is obviously a vital gathering for the Pacific Islands community. But it also has to be one of the best tourist attractions that New Zealand, let alone Auckland, has to offer. The festival website claims that some repeat visitors, especially from Germany, plan their whole trip around Pasifika. I can well believe it.

We’re repeatedly told how important tourism is to our national economy. And at last we’re moving beyond the bungy. Cultural tourism is now being recognised as crucial. As the report from a recent industry workshop on cultural tourism pointed out:

“Cultural identity is the central ‘point of difference’ for New Zealand tourism: 3 of the top 4 tourist activities here are cultural. Globally, 50% of tourist are culturally motivated. Cultural tourists stay longer and spend more.”

The East Asia-Pacific region is increasingly where they’re heading. It’s predicted to show the fastest growth in arrivals over the next twenty years. And where can you experience an absolutely genuine taste of every Pacific Island culture, in one place? In Auckland. At Pasifika.

So if those hard-headed Auckland businesspeople are having any doubts about funding something because it’s good for the community, they can rest easy. It’s also incredibly good for business.

© Scoop Media

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