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Polyfest pioneer and Cook Islands stage director, Tupou Manapori.

Photo/ Torika Tokalau/Stuff

Language & Culture

2024 Polyfest: Pioneer calls event growth ‘beautiful, amazing’

As thousands soaked up another successful Polyfest, a trailblazing Cook Island matriarch was able to reflect on how far the festival had come.

Torika Tokalau, Senior Stuff Journalist
24 March 2024, 9:15pm
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A pioneer of the ASB Polyfest can't believe an event that started with just four schools, has grown into the world's biggest secondary school cultural competition.

The four-day festival took place at the Manukau Sports Bowl in South Auckland, with thousands enjoying cultural performances, delicious food and a bustling pop-up market.

And sitting quietly by the Cook Islands stage, observing the speech competition from young New Zealand-born Cook Islanders, was Tupou Manapori.

Fondly known as Mama Tupou, she was a teacher at Hillary College (now known as Sir Edmund Hillary College) in 1976, and was one of those that pioneered Polyfest.

Back then, only four schools took part. Now in its 49th year, the 2024 Polyfest hosts 239 performing groups from 69 schools.

It's now heralded as the biggest secondary school cultural dance festival in the world.


"It's amazing, really beautiful to see it grow and come this far," Tupou said.

Kelston Boys High School's Fijian group. Photo/ Torika Tokalau/Stuff

She's the longest serving member in the organising group, leading the Cook Islands stage, and is determined to stick around for as long as she can.

"I've got so much to offer, I am passionate about language and culture and it's right here, with these kids that we need to impart our pride and knowledge to.

"We started small and we've learnt along the way ... we're still learning. But we do this so our children, especially those born in New Zealand, can learn about where they came from."

Partly funded by Auckland Council through its regional events grant, the 49th ASB Polyfest took place from March 20–23.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

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