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American Samoa: Pagopago Festival of Arts Begins

Pagopago livens up for Festival of Arts

The streets of Pagopago came alive Monday morning with different languages, drumbeats and songs as some 2000 delegates, including the Hawaiians who'd just gotten off the plane from Honolulu, marched to the grounds where they were traditionally welcomed with an ava ceremony.

Delegates had converged on Utulei Beach, just outside the main Pagopago city centre, before sunrise to observe a traditional welcome ceremony performed mostly by Polynesian communities which has to be done before sunrise, on the beach.

Bad weather prevented a planned exercise that would have meant state representatives sail onto the beach on canoes. Instead, delegates entertained themselves to impromptu performances as they awaited breakfast, brought to the beach.

Governor Togiola Tulafono then joined heads of delegates including Fiji's Education Fiji minister Filipe Bole and Macuata chief Ratu Aisea Katonivere.

The delegates then marched along the main Pagopago street to participate in the ava ceremony which lasted almost four hours, complete with the presentations of gifts of mat by women.

"Before I drink this ava, in the Samoan culture, I pour it back to the earth to acknowledge mother earth and the gifts we have from her, '' Governor Tulafono said.

"It is also a prayer, we thank God that he has allowed all of you to reach the shores of America Samoa, welcome to America Samoa."

Mr Tulafono welcomed delegates before the remaining state representatives drank a cup each. The ava ceremony was an elaborate exercise, involving only high chiefs which included one woman.

Considered sacred and a ceremony where movements were strictly kept to the minimal, the ava ceremony was carried out only by high chiefs from the different districts.

Even young American Samoans were watching the ceremony for the first time themselves. Before it started, an outer 'line' of men holding war clubs guarded the space within which the ceremony was held.

"If anyone attempts to move into that space, those men will not hesitate to use the clubs," a local volunteer explained.

"I don't remember the last time this was performed but we have certainly heard about it from our parents and grandparents."

The official opening will begin at 5pm. Every delegation has been given three minutes to perform a small number before presenting their gifts to the hosts, as is traditional for such festivals. The programme starts proper Tuesday (Wednesday Fiji time).


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