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'Home Away From Home' for Pacific communities

The Dancing Queens
Source: RNZ Pacific

Auckland, NEW ZEALAND — Nestled in the heart of Henderson, West Auckland, lies the Corban Estate Pacifica Arts Center.

Established in the late 1980s by a group of Pacific Mamas, all of whom were first-generation immigrants to New Zealand, the center provides a home away from home for indigenous communities.

The leading founder was Cook Islander and Pacific Arts Advocate, Mary Ama. She encouraged fellowship through the exchange of stories and maintenance of traditional art practices among members.

Her daughter Jarcinda Stowers-Ama follows in her footsteps as director of the center.

"When we are living away from our ipukarea, when we're living away from our home, it's essential that we still gather. Our identity, our language, even the food that we eat is so important to who we are as people of the Moana,"

"That's what our center hopes to provide, a home base for all our communities. It's not just about having a place to gather, it’s in our DNA, we have to do this we have to keep this (our traditions) alive."

The space provides the opportunity for an intergenerational exchange of traditional knowledge. Community elders provide workshops on the unique creative arts from their island homes.

Weavers, carvers, artists, dancers and more congregate at the centre to share their talents with younger generations of New Zealand-born Pacific Islanders.

Some communities gather at the center just to socialize and reconnect. The biggest indigenous group is Tuvalu, which meets twice a week.

A member of the Tuvalu community, Anita Molotoi said it is a way for their people to hold on to their cultural heritage.

"It's open to anyone, they're welcome to join, they usually come here just to be with each other, to socialize over a game or story, playing cards, dominoes, over a cuppa tea as well"

"Sometimes we sing songs together, we make the fatele traditional dance, it's a very informal gathering just to socialize, reminiscing about the good times in Tuvalu and also talking about the issues we face here and how we can better equip ourselves as elders, to still maintain our culture."

The center has been recognized for its contributions to the community. In 2012 it was acknowledged with the Creative New Zealand Pacific Heritage Arts Award, and the Aotearoa Arts Access Corrections Community Award in 2015.