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Polyfest 2024: Big crowds turn out as Pacific stages open for day three

William Sangster, Mary Afemata, Riria Dalton-Reedy, Te Rito Journalism cadets

Day three at the Auckland Secondary Schools’ Polyfest is underway, with crowds descending on the festival as competition heats up - with the Pacific stages now open for business.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Performances started as early as 8.30am on the Tongan, Samoan, Niuean and Cook Islands stages.

Schools from all around Auckland are performing today and tomorrow, before the popular festival wraps up again for another year.

Marist College friends Jennifer Kaufusi, Gabriella Simoni, Sina Lemana and Olyvia Kaufusi were among students performing at the Samoan stage early this morning.

Sina was chosen to be this year’s taupou dancer for the group.

The taupou is a highly sought after position and sees her performing a special traditional dance at the end of the group performance.

It is a position traditionally reserved for the daughter of a high Samoan chief.

Speaking after their performance, Sina said although she was nervous, the siva (dance) felt natural because they had been practising and working hard together for the past few weeks.

Her friends wore a beautiful blue puletasi (Samoan dress) for their uniform.

“We’ve been practising our hardest - a sisterhood. We know each other now,” Sina said.

“A lot of us didn’t know each other, but now we’re friends and doing Polyfest - we got each other.”

Just after 9am, it was estimated around 500 people were in the crowd near the Samoan stage - and people were still coming.

There was lots of cheering and applause as students took to the stage. Baradene College’s item included a Samoan song sung to a tune from Mamma Mia.

The Tongan stage is also heating up, as schools start their performances.

The Tongan stage is somewhat different; in that schools perform separate kinds of dances at different times.

Marcellin College, in Royal Oak, performed their first dance for the day - the Māʻuluʻulu. They will go on stage again later this afternoon.

The area around the Tongan stage was already full just after 8.30am, with lots of engagement from the crowd as students sang and danced.

Marcellin College head boy, Fa’e Jnr Takai, and fellow student Sheila Latu, were among those performing today.

Over at the Māori stage, competition is heating up on the third day of the festival.

Sacred Heart’s two manukura tāne, year 13 students Michael Sanderson and Daniel Abraham, celebrated their group’s stellar performance with a hearty pūkana after getting off stage.

The mates have been with the all-boys kapa (group) for seven years and this is their last Polyfest performance.

Daniel said: “Feeling pretty exhausted, but a lot of emotions.”

Michael said the heartfelt performance was a tribute to one of their Marist brothers who died last year.

Both students hope to continue their haka journey in senior groups in the future.

The noise was just as loud at the Cook Islands Stage, where Ōtāhuhu College students were seen dripping in sweat after an energetic performance this afternoon.

For year 13 student Angite Ruarau, it was her first time performing at Polyfest.

“It was really nerve-racking, but it was good.”

It has been a long-time coming for the college, which stepped back onto the Kuki Airani stage for the first time in eight years.

Angite grew up one of the Cook Islands’ most remote islands - Pukapuka - before moving to Aotearoa where she was 12 years old.

She said dancing helps her feel more connected to her island home.

Ōtāhuhu College also brought the heat to the Niuean Stage.

Co-leader of the group, Mary Bell, said: “It felt like it was a privilege to be expressing...getting back to our roots through the Niuean culture.”

Tyson Falemaka, who hails from Hukutuvake and Tuapa in Niue, is the only boy in the group and said: “I was nervous at first. But then once I got on the stage, all my nerves just went away.”

Government announces ongoing support, but no sign of Prime Minister

Fa’e Jnr said: “For me, it’s a time where everyone showcases their culture. It’s beautiful and lovely to see.”

Pukekohe High’s Tongan tutor, Siaosi Niumeitolu Andros Talau, acknowledged the importance of culture and bringing everyone together to help build the importance of identity among the younger generation.

Pacific Peoples Minister Dr Shane Reti announced the Government’s ongoing support of the festival - to the tune of $60,000 next year and $60,000 in 2030; when the festival celebrates 55 years since it was established.

Reti and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters attended a special VIP function at the festival this morning.

Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins and a host of other politicians are also there.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon did not attend - breaking what has become a sort of tradition for sitting PMs to visit on one of the four festival days.

A spokesman for Luxon said the PM received a very large number of invitations to events and could not attend all of them.

“Unfortunately, he was not able to attend Polyfest due to other commitments - although, he did attend the Pasifika Festival in Auckland earlier this month and had a great time.”

The spokesman also acknowledged that several other ministers from the coalition Government and MPs would be attending.

Peters left immediately after the function.

Reti continued on a short tour of the festival - as previous prime ministers and Pacific Peoples ministers have done, traditionally - meeting and speaking with young people and members of the public.

Next year’s 50th anniversary of the Polyfest is already a big deal for organisers and plans are underway about how to mark the golden jubilee.

“Over nearly five decades, Polyfest has grown into one of the largest Pacific festivals in the world.

It’s a fantastic showcase featuring thousands of Māori and Pacific youth who proudly showcase their culture through performance, speech, dance and song,” Reti said.

The Government had also pumped $55,000 in sponsorship for this year’s event.

Reti acknowledged the importance of the festival in helping to maintain Pasifika languages.

“Alongside corporate and other support, the Government’s sponsorship of Polyfest - specifically its speech competitions - is recognition of the value and role languages play in building young people’s confidence and achievement in education and employment.”

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