Celebrating Pasifika culture

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Ashburton College head of student culture committee Mounga Ulupano performs the Kaupou dance.
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Sounds of the Pacific filled the air at Ashburton College on Tuesday evening as students had a full dress rehearsal for family ahead of their performance for Canterbury Polyfest at Hagley Park in Christchurch this Saturday.

Canterbury Polyfest is a representation of Pasifika traditional dance, music and custom featuring secondary school students from around the region.

This year students from 25 secondary schools around the greater Christchurch region, as well as Ashburton College and Timaru Boys and Girls high schools will take part.

Ashburton College head of student cultural committee Mounga Ulupano (year 13) is one of 78 students from Ashburton College participating. She is proud of her Tongan, Tokelauan, Samoan and Fijian culture.

Mounga said polyfest was about uniting Pasifika cultures.

‘‘It’s about representing your culture and showcasing it. There are no winners as it’s not a competition,’’ Mounga said.

Polyfest was inaugurated in 2000 and is the most recognised Pacific festival in the South Island.

‘‘The students will perform a Cook Island, Tongan, Samoan dance and a traditional Tongan war dance performed by the males in the group.

‘‘Each of the dances we are performing link into each other and tell a story,’’ Mounga said.

Regardless of the students’ culture, they perform all the dances.

The main piece of the 15 to 20 minute performance by Ashburton College is the Kaupo dance.

‘‘The Kaupo is normally performed by a strong independent woman. The most important women in the village, often the eldest women and a leader, a person with mana. I am nervous about performing it. It is such an honour for my family that I am doing this,’’ Mounga said.

Mounga was chosen by her peers from the group to be the soloist.

Ashburton College students prepare for the Canterbury Polyfest.

Ashburton College head student Ripena Umaga, from the village of Leulumoega Tuai, Upolu in Samoa, has taken part in the 2021 and 2023 Canterbury Polyfest as one of the Samoan representative leaders. Ripena said she was looking forward to the audience seeing the pieces the students have put together to perform on the day.

‘‘Last year I taught the Sasa, which was taught to me by one of the tutors from Tagata Mai Saute Academy,’’ Ripena said.

‘‘This year I am helping out the students performing. I am looking forward to seeing the other school’s performance and their individual pieces to showcase their cultures, let alone just enjoying the environment and the atmosphere that everyone will bring to polyfest this year,’’ Ripena said.

‘‘I took part in polyfest to showcase my love for not just my own culture but other cultures too, such as Cook Island and Tonga. To showcase the culture that lives within Ashburton. This year as a collective (the polyfest leader group) decided to try introduce singing to our performances and so far it’s been a roller coaster trying to adapt to the change as we’ve always used audio but have slowly but surly managed with a lot of practice,’’ she said.

Ashburton College students have been working on the costume design and other aspects in preparation for the Canterbury event.

The students have been practising after school and in their lunch hours for the last seven weeks.

The whole performance from costume design, choreography and rehearsals is student lead by a group of 10 students along with support from staff, parents and cultural advisors. About 25 adults will accompany the students to polyfest.

The costumes have been designed by Paula Preece and the student leaders are school blue. The parents have been working hard for weeks making the adornments that represent all three cultures to go on the costumes.

Polyfest is attended by up to 20,000 people. It takes in cultural performances, Pasifika food and stalls selling Pasifika goods.

‘‘I am excited and nervous about taking part, but looking forward to performing as its something different,’’ Mounga said

Ashburton College students prepare for the polyfest.