Faculty and students from the Samoan Studies Institute at ASCC, who recently returned from participating in the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, share their cultural and educational highlights from their participation in the event. [Photo: J. Kneubuhl]

“Despite the differences in traditions and customs, all cultural barriers were down because of the overwhelming culture of love, culture of brotherhood, and culture of believing in God”, said Okenaisa Fauolo-Manila, Director of the Samoan Studies Institute (SSI) at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC), describing the 11th Festival of the Pacific Arts held earlier this month in the Solomon Islands.

Fauolo-Manila, along with SSI staff and 22 students recently returned from the Solomon Islands, where they were a part of the American Samoa delegation to the Festival. Reflecting on the event, they shared their thoughts on the cultural and educational benefits of having participated, as well as their impression of the overall regional unity among the diverse Pacific peoples who also took part.

Following a travel route from Samoa to Fiji, then Fiji to the Solomon Islands, the SSI group had initially been scheduled to give just six festival performances, but they soon received invitations to enliven additional festival events with their show highlighting Samoan music and dance.

“The US Consulate to the Solomons asked us to participate in his Fourth of July celebration at the Pasefika Village,” recalled Fauolo-Manila. “We also performed at the Honiara Yacht club as part of the send-off ceremony for the sailing crafts which had arrived from different Pacific countries,” added SSI instructor Sia Achica, who noted with pride that Samoa was represented by the “Gaualofa” haku and its crew. In addition, no less than the owner of the Honiara Hotel personally requested the SSI group to do their show at his venue.

The American Samoa group also made enough of an overall impression to be featured in front page photos of the local newspaper three times.

Proving themselves adept at more than they had rehearsed for, the SSI students further assisted with modeling clothes from our islands during a Fashion event, and also helped represent American Samoa at a Literary Arts event.

 During the literary event, students Helen Pulou and Brett Faavae read their original poems and the group sang a Samoan song to accompany a story told by fellow delegation member and former ASCC student Shane Taafua.

The SSI contingent further took the opportunity to attend a local Pentecostal Church ceremony and contributed a Samoan hymn to the service, and over the course of the festival many of the students observed the many symposiums that took place, at the urging of Fauolo-Manila who wanted them to gain firsthand exposure to current Pacific issues.

Besides showcasing the artistry of the Pacific, the Arts festivals offers a unique opportunity for its diverse peoples to get acquainted with one another through living and working side by side for two weeks. From their home base in a dormitory of the Solomon Islands College of Higher Education, Fauolo-Manila noticed her students forging friendships with their counterparts from Fiji, Niue, Rapa Nui, Guam and Australia.

“I’m quite proud of our students,” echoed Achica, “who made every effort to be accommodating to anyone who approached us. Even the local Solomon Islanders often said they found us to be the friendliest guests of all.” Achica described the Solomons as “way bigger than American Samoa,” with a population of about 600,000 who speak nearly 100 different languages. “The people there were so friendly,” she added, “and it was awesome to see their enthusiasm for the performances and how they communicate using the commonly spoken Pidgin, as well as English.”

Summing up the experience, Fauolo-Manila and Achica said they hoped their students gained a change in perspective as to their identity as Pacific islanders. “No matter how different we Pacific islanders may appear to each other or outsiders, we remain connected in so many ways,” explained Achica. “For someone like myself, who has merely studied Pacific people and cultures, with only books, films and western professors to shape my understanding of Pacific issues, there are not enough words to describe how attending the festival has influenced my views. I believe most of the students had a similar experience. They were able to adapt to the different situations, shift perspectives, and develop sound respect for others and themselves as Pacific people. It did not take most of them long to realize they were part of a historical event.”




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