Curtain rises on the largest Polyesian school festival

Ponsonby, NEW ZEALAND — For seven weeks, the Samoan group at St Paul's College have been practising tirelessly in the hope of defending their Polyfest title - tomorrow, they'll find out if they've done enough.

The annual competition in Manukau attracts thousands of students, who perform on different island stages and compete in a speech competition.

The competition is fierce, which forces most schools to practise in secret and only show their performance on the day.

But like the thousands of other competitors, the group of about 50 teenage boys from St Paul's College in Ponsonby have had to manage practice around school work, home, church and sports commitments.

St Paul's principal Kieran Fouhy did not let any students compete two years ago when he joined the school, because he wanted to make it clear that academic achievement was central to the boys succeeding.

"I know from my own experience [now], you can have an excellent Polyfest, you can have excellent results and you can have excellent behaviour," Mr Fouhy said.

Last year the group was allowed to go - and came first in the Samoan boys' stage.

For the students, it was more than winning. It was about learning about Fa'a Samoa, or the Samoan Way, and connecting with their culture, they said.

"Just because you may be a different skin colour, you still have the Samoan blood inside you, you still have the culture," student Shepherd Vili said.

"[Polyfest] gives you 20 minutes to express it and show people that you are Samoan and you can do it."

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