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Tenth Festival Of Pacific Arts - Guests Welcomed

Tenth Festival of Pacific Arts - guests welcomed with traditional ava ceremony and mats

Both men and women, young and old played their respective roles in the official welcome ceremony for delegates to the Tenth Festival of Pacific Arts in American Samoa yesterday morning.

While the men were busy preparing for the ava ceremony (kava ceremony), the women were getting ready to display their finely woven mats.

Boys and girls also pitched in, taking their place beside their elders to help in welcoming guests to their shores.

Despite a downpour during the ceremony, the beautiful array of colourful outfits worn by the hosts and different groups from participating countries brightened the ceremony and kept spirits high.

Men in traditional dress took part in the ava ceremony after which women displayed their fine weaving.

As is the tradition, the first cup of ava was poured on the ground to mark appreciation and respect for the earth, the provider of wealth and good health.

Each guest of honour was presented with a coconut shell filled with ava as a sign of welcome. All the delegations were then offered a dried root of the ava plant as a token of appreciation from the hosts.

Wearing traditional American Samoan dress made from woven pandanus, Kalasa Atuatasi, wife of a local matai (chief), led the women's ceremony with a Samoan chant.

The women proceeded to offer guests gifts of finely woven pandanus mats in an age-old custom called 'fa'alelega-pepe'. The mats, woven by women from all over the territory, were presented to each participating country as a mark of respect and welcome.

Atuatasi said the custom of 'fa'alelega-pepe' involves women who weave the fine mats in preparation for a ceremony fit for a king. The finely woven mats used to be the main currency of the people of the land before dollars and cents were introduced.

'The value of the mats depends on how finely they are woven and how old they are, or how many hands they have passed through. When we present the fine mats we chant in our native tongue, praising the work that has been done and saying thank you for them.'

The tradition of 'fa'alelega' is passed from one generation to the next.

Atuatasi says despite not having village societies to help preserve some of these practices, the island is lucky because the government has allocated funds to help preserve customs and traditions.

'Although there are certain things that change, the value of these mats remains. You can't avoid change. Some things are replaced with more modern things but the value behind why we continue these customs still remains. The important thing is to keep the value of our cultures intact.'

Work on the mats presented at yesterday's opening ceremony began four years ago, just after the last Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau in 2004.

'Because so much time and effort is put into making these mats, there's a lot of value placed on them and we present them to our guests as a token of our appreciation.'


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