26 Mar 2017

25 years on: the changing faces of Pasifika

4:29 pm on 26 March 2017

For many, the 25th anniversary of Auckland's renowned Pasifika Festival is more than about celebrating the rich culture of Pacific people who take pride in their identity as New Zealand's Pasifika community.

Every generation that has been a part of the festival over the years reflects the changing faces of what remains the largest Pacific Island cultural festival in the world.

This weekend's 25th anniversary is, not only a testament to the festival's longevity, but it also told a story of the multiple generations in many families who have been a part of the Pasifika experience since it began.

Tua, a local Cook Islander who migrated to New Zealand more than 40 years ago is no stranger to the festival.

He proudly admitted to missing only three festivals in the 25 years the festival has been running.

"I've been coming all the time. I used to come with my wife and my other older children and now I'm starting to bring the grandchildren around to give them a bit of experience of what our culture is all about," he explained.

Cook Islander  Tua has only missed three out of 25 Pasifika Festivals.

Cook Islander Tua has only missed three out of 25 Pasifika Festivals. Photo: RNZ/ Koroi Hawkins

Eighty-nine-year-old Niuean mama Vai Apelu shared her enthusiasm about the anniversary celebrations and used the word "marvellous" to describe how she felt about this weekend's anniversary.

Ms Apelu has been a part of the festival every year since it began.

Vai Apelu

Vai Apelu. Photo: RNZ/ Koroi Hawkins

"You know me, I been here from the beginning! The people with us in the beginning, they've all gone. They all pass away except for me. Yeah, I'm still going on!" she said.

Accompanied by her daughter Apeka, Ms Apelu explained how five generations of her family had now experienced the Pasifika Festival.

"Yes, it's a big part of our family and they enjoy it and that's why I continue on every year."

Minister of Pacific Peoples Alfred Ngaro also shared his memories of Pasifika.

"I was around when it was just a picnic where Pasifika families came along," he said.

"We enjoyed what it meant to be Pasifika. That means there is plenty of food, plenty of fun, families together and really that tradition has carried on to where it is today."

Minister of Pacific Peoples Alfred Ngaro

Minister of Pacific Peoples Alfred Ngaro. Photo: RNZ/ Koroi Hawkins

While the very first festival held in 1992 at Western Springs Park attracted around 10,000 visitors. Pasifika's growth over the years boasts of more than 100,000 visitors at the peak of its history with 60,000 visitors were expected this weekend.

Its co-founders Roy Vaughan and Bill Te Ariki expressed their gratitude towards the Pasifika community for their support as they addressed the crowd at the anniversary celebrations held at the Samoan stage.

Mr Vaughan said the festival was now bigger than he had ever dreamed it would be.

"It's very emotional for us because we started this with nothing," he said.

Mr Te Ariki shared the same sentiment.

Roy Vaughan and Bill Te Ariki

Roy Vaughan and Bill Te Ariki Photo: RNZ/ Koroi Hawkins

"As you see now I have no hair 25 years after the festival was started and Roy's hair has gone grey as well," he joked.

"It's been a journey that we have enjoyed and we still enjoy seeing our people come here and celebrate."

Sunday's programme closed the anniversary celebrations with a two-hour choral programme to mark the festival's 25-year-run.

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