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The opening ceremony of FestPac was held at the University of Hawai'i.

Photo/ PMN News


FestPac: Absent nations missed but not forgotten

PMN's Khalia Strong says while a few countries have withdrawn from the Festival of Pacific Arts, their absence has not gone unnoticed.

PMN Author
PMN News
11 June 2024, 3:31pm
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While thousands have converged on Hawai'i to consume a cornucopia of Pacific dance, song, and culture, there have also been some noticeable absences from the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture.

As PMN News’ Khalia Strong told Pacific Mornings, West Papua has a party of just two people, while the Pitcairn Islands, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu declined to send delegates citing political instability or economic hardship.

Strong said while there's been a real atmosphere of celebration and excitement amongst attendees, delegates had also been well aware of the challenges some nations faced to attend.

“There are 28 Pacific nations that are recognised at FestPac, but many couldn't make it, for what is very much an expensive and time-consuming trip for many Pacific nations. So one of them is the Pitcairn Islands ... who withdrew a week or so back.

“They are [an island] smack bang in the middle of [the Pacific] between New Zealand and South America ... made up of four volcanic islands and a population is just 47 people.

"So I can understand why they might not want to send 10 per cent of their population over to visit but their presence is noticeably absent."

West Papua is another who cited “civil unrest” which is understandable as Strong points out, given the country has had as many as 500,000 indigenous people reportedly killed by Indonesian forces over the last 60 years.

“I feel like we can't have these gatherings without acknowledging the reality, and the different issues that our Pacific nations are facing,” Strong said.

“The Indonesian government has banned international media and human rights organisations from operating in West Papua. [But] there are two representatives from West Papuathe [here], who were invited by the University of Hawai'i, and they were proudly holding their flag, just the two of them, at the opening ceremony.”

With the recent unrest in New Caledonia, it also comes as no surprise that indigenous Kanaks from the French territory withdrew.

But as Strong reports, this hasn’t stopped other nations from showing solidarity with pro-independence protestors, with one Fijian man drawing much attention on social media for keeping vigil in the empty New Caledonia section of the conference facilities.

“So in the village, there is a hale [house] set up for each country, and noticeably empty is the hale for New Caledonia,” Strong said.

[But] last night when I was walking past there was a kava session, with the Fiji delegation singing hymns in that area, and then in comes the Taiwanese delegation to join with them in song and solidarity.

“And I think that was a beautiful moment to see these nations, Fiji, New Caledonia, and Taiwan [come together], who are no strangers to political instability.”

Hawai'ian warriors at the King Kamehameha lei draping ceremony. Photo/ PMN News