Pacific nations strengthen ties at massive FestPAC celebration in Hawaii

PHOTO: Courthouse News

A crowd of thousands bid farewell to the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture on Sunday during a large-scale celebration at the University of Hawaii that hosted delegates from 27 island nations. 

FestPAC, hailed as the world’s largest Indigenous Pacific Islander celebration, concluded its 10-day run on Oahu after hosting more than 2,200 delegates from across the Pacific at the main Hawaii Convention Centre festival village and other satellite venues around the island. 

“I think the fact that Hawaii showed up in full force to provide a proper hosting is something for all of us to be very, very proud of,” said festival director Aaron J. Sala at the closing ceremony. 

“The point of this festival is to remind us we come from one ocean, and that ocean unifies us.” 

The festival adopted the theme “Ho’oulu Lahui: Regenerating Oceania” this year, emphasiSing strengthening ties among Pacific Islanders and providing a platform to tackle issues like climate change and preserving cultural traditions in the digital age.  

The festival’s finale at the Stan Sheriff Centre incorporated a national roll call, where organiSers saluted each of the 27 visiting countries for their involvement. Each nation then got the chance to display their island’s customs in response.  

The closing remarks by Governor Josh Green and First Lady Jaime Green did not go smoothly. Protesters produced several large banners in the crowd, many bearing the words “Deoccupy Hawaii,” a slogan they then chanted loudly, making it difficult for the first lady to deliver her speech. 

The FestPAC “family reunion” atmosphere quickly resumed after the disruptions, with each participating nation proudly and loudly expressing gratitude for the event. Some islands sang their national anthems, while others performed chants and dances. The crowd amplified the enthusiasm, echoing cheers for each nation’s display. 

Nicolea Mateariki, a youth ambassador for the Cook Islands, told Courthouse News her first trip to Hawaii taught her about more than local customs. 

“Prior to my trip here, I thought I was coming to learn about culture and traditional knowledge. The first day of our conference was a workshop, it was all about climate change and sustainability,” the 19-year-old said.  

Mateariki said one of the highlights of her trip was seeing her brother and sister, who are champion dancers back home, have the opportunity to perform for a crowd of thousands. 

“We also took a trip to Maui — to Lahaina to sort of study community management and how we as young Pacific leaders can help make a better environment for our future when we become the leaders. There’s quite a lot we learned on this trip,” she said.  

FestPAC proved successful in fostering relations among Pacific nations. Earlier this week, leaders from Aotearoa — the Maori name for New Zealand, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Chuuk, and Hawaii signed the Tuurama Ariki Declaration at ‘Iolani Palace in Honolulu. The declaration sought to unify the signatories’ influence on matters concerning the Pacific region. 

Pauliana Angelfromheaven Felise-Vitale, the newly crowned Miss American Samoa 2024, told Courthouse News, “We’re part of marginalized groups that are often in the line of fire regarding global issues such as climate change. So it’s important for us to gather together and live in the theme of this year’s Pacific Arts Festival, regenerating Oceania.”  

She emphasised the necessity of tradition. “We come from such a small place that it’s important to keep our cultures and traditions and especially our languages in a Western-dominated world.”  

New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific, was named the host for FestPAC 2028. But the territory’s delegation pulled out of this year’s festival amid civil unrest sparked by the French government’s attempt to grant voting rights to French settlers through controversial electoral reforms. 

The event concluded with hula and a massive dance party in the centre of the stadium, where all of the delegations gathered for one last song and dance. 

“We are so grateful that we had this time together, to renew our friendships, to renew our family ties, to find each other again,” said First Lady Green. 

“Although this festival is coming to an end, this is just the beginning because we as a people of the Pacific are not single islands, we are not single canoes, we are people of the Pacific and we will move forward together,” she said.