14 Jun 2024

This content is tagged as Ngā toi Māori .


Group of people
Left: Pena Makoare (Ngāpuhi), Sian Montgomery-Neutze (Muaūpoko), Dr Anna Marie-White (Te Ātiawa / Toi Māori Aotearoa), Rangi Kipa (Taranaki) and Ngahina Hohaia (Taranaki). 

Amidst the colourful vibe of FestPAC 2024 in Hawaii, four artists and kaitiaki from Ngāpuhi, Muaūpoko and Taranaki - Pena Makoare, Rangi Kipa, Ngahina Hohaia, and Sian Montgomery-Neutze are on a heartfelt mission to elevate the mana of traditional taonga and Pacific practices. Their FestPAC IDs labelled ‘Permit Declined,’ hang prominently around their necks, symbolising more than just an obstacle but a call to action to raise awareness and respect for traditional taonga and traditions across the Pacific.

Often considered activists for challenging cultural boundaries, these respected artists bear significant responsibilities for their people. "Our passion stems from the impact on our cultural continuity and our lived reality. The Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture provided a platform and opportunity for us to initiate critical conversations with our Pacific brothers and sisters who face similar challenges," says Rangi Kipa.

Pena Makoare explains how important aspects of traditional Pacific culture are often overlooked and how the group aims to shift the perception of traditional taonga from mere personal adornments to powerful symbols of cultural identity and mana motuhake. “ Our taonga should be ethically gathered, created, and presented with ceremony, not as gifts but as expressions of their rightful heritage.” Says Pena. 

FestPAC celebrates the revival of culture, language, and arts. At the opening of the 13th Festival, representatives from 27 countries and territories filled Stan Sheriff Stadium, showcasing their cultural identity and mana with handmade chiefly taonga. Pena says there’s a need for a shift in focus, “We’ve moved away from just having arts and crafts performances for people to clap. This is not about performance and entertainment. This is about countries expressing themselves to create and strengthen relationships.”

Group of people viewing presentation
Hawaii Convention Centre – FestPAC 2024

In a powerful presentation at the Hawaii Convention Centre, nearly 60 people crammed into a small room. The content was so deep and meaningful that one attendee remarked it felt like the weight of the kaupapa could burst through the four walls. The speakers passionately discussed their role as kaitiaki (guardians) of the Tohora (whale), explaining their responsibilities within their iwi or tribal boundaries. They explained their commitment, as descendants, to uphold ancestral practices, detailing the protocols followed when a stranded whale lands in their region. 

When a member of the audience asked what their connection to Tohora was, they were momentarily taken aback, having just spent 50 minutes articulating this spiritual bond. This moment reminded them of the challenge of conveying the significant spiritual connection between Pacific people and moana to those unfamiliar.

Te Kahui o Taranaki & Tania Niwa, photographer
Te Kahui o Taranaki & Tania Niwa, photographer

For over 30 years in Aotearoa, efforts to recover materials from stranded whales have been ongoing. Although the Department of Conservation (DOC) has transferred its authority over stranded mammals to iwi, the legislation has not changed. It remains illegal to recover, possess, or travel with these materials. Domestic laws, such as the Marine Mammals Protection Act and international regulations under CITES, prevent these materials from being transported across borders. “It’s these legal frameworks that present significant challenges for Indigenous communities, hindering their ability to practice and share cultural heritage internationally,” expresses Rangi. 

Photo credit: Trinity Thompson-Browne
Photo credit: Trinity Thompson-Browne

Due to border restrictions, the New Zealand exhibition space became a photo display only after their taonga were declined entry into the U.S.  Despite these challenges, the response at FestPAC has been encouraging. "The permit issues have led to greater engagement. People are now more curious about our mission, leading to discussions we might not have had if everything had gone as planned," says Pena.

The artists are determined to turn bureaucratic red tape into opportunities for deeper cultural exchanges. "We aimed to engage a new audience in discussions about our taonga, such as rei puta, hei tiki, patu paraoa, heru, and niho, which are vital elements of our environment and symbols of chieftainship. Rather than being seen as commodities for personal adornment, these items should be recognised for their cultural significance and the traditional process of exchanging them between nations, honouring the mana of each," explains Pena.

The Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture (FestPAC) is the world’s largest celebration of Indigenous Pacific Islanders. This year, the focus is on Arts, Culture, and Healing. Reflecting on past FestPAC events, Rangi notes, " I remember coming to past FestPAC events and our Pacific brothers and sister nations turning up with their tāonga made of plastic. It’s really ironic for a festival that is supposed to be celebrating our genuine heritage."

As FestPAC continues, this group will continue to generate conversations with iwi-to-iwi and hapu-to-hapu to build cultural continuity and strengthen connections through the Pacific and indigenous communities.

The Council of Pacific Arts and Culture directed a comprehensive review of FestPAC in 2022, resulting in 9 recommendations to enhance its impact and strategy. This positions artists and cultural practitioners at the forefront.

FestPAC will continue working with Indigenous artists and governments, featuring a major festival every four years and activities in the intervening years.