Polyfest 2021: 'Our community needed this and we deserved this'
Auckland, NEW ZEALAND — Since the beginning of the year, Nevlynn Pahivi and her fellow students at Avondale College have been looking forward to this year's Auckland Polyfest.
They have been practising tirelessly in the hope of defending their Polyfest title but they have had to wait two years.
In 2019, the event was cancelled due to the Christchurch terror attacks and then in March last year, the Covid-19 outbreak forced organizers to pull the plug on the world's biggest Pacific dance festival.
The four-day annual competition this year attracted thousands of students, parents and friends to the Manukau Sports Bowl.
Despite the heavy rain on most days, organisers were happy with the turnout.
Event coordinator Seiuli Terri Leo-Mau'u said this year's festival was not about the numbers, but having the children back on stage performing.
Students wowed the crowds with their performances and speech competitions on the different island stages: Māori, Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Cook Islands and the Diversity stage.
Seiuli said this year's theme of 'Healing the body, mind, spirit and soul with the strength of Culture' was appropriate as it showed the resilience of the students and their teachers, families and friends to come together and celebrate their language and culture with the songs and speeches.
"Right now, our community needed this and we deserved this. We deserved having our students back out there on stage and celebrating our young people.
"The reward has been seeing our young people and to see how happy they are to be finally on stage showcasing their culture.
"And that's what we've seen on stage throughout the four days: the resilience, the strength, the healing of the heart, that we're back. Polyfest is back and bigger things to come so bring on 2022."
For Nevlyn Pahivi, this was her first time at Polyfest as a performer.
The South Auckland youngster would like to see more young Pasifika taking part in the festival.
"It's been a privilege representing my aiga and island and I hope to see more Pacific students at next year's event."
The Year 9 student of Avondale College said she had always looked forward to coming to watch the dances and enjoy the food at Polyfest since she was little.
"It has been tough getting everything ready and under control with all the time since we only had after school to prepare and there were extra sports activities that we also had to prepare for.
"We just had to balance the time that we had for practices but I have enjoyed myself in my first year."
Would she be back next year? "Absolutely! I can't wait," Pahivi said. "And I want to return each year that I am in high school."
Teacher Sharon Cope agreed with her student saying it was a lot of work.
"The students do get tired and you have to rally them on to keep them motivated. But what's lovely to see is the senior students have been great in helping the younger ones out. They look after each other.
"It's been tough but it's all worth it to see these kids engage with their culture. They are proud, their families are and that makes me proud too.
"And I'm looking forward to returning next year to do it again. It would be cool."
Cope has spent three years working with the Niue group.
"It's a lot of work but so worth it, to see these kids engage with their culture and be so proud, it makes me proud."
Miss Niue Aotearoa Liana Vaipa-Rice was at Polyfest supporting her old school, Avondale College.
"I'm very happy to be here. It's a very important event. It's a place we get to celebrate our culture unashamedly, where we can be completely ourselves and show who we are."
Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu was happy to be back at the festival after a two-year hiatus.
She said the event took a big financial hit after it was cut short in 2019 due to the Christchurch terror attacks and was cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"So these last two years it has been trying to find and secure the funding to continue the drive to make sure that this festival happened."
She said it was great to see so many tamariki enjoying the event with their whānau.
"I think right now our community needed this, and we deserved it. We deserve to be back out there enjoying our culture and our heritage and just celebrating our young people.
"Our reward has been seeing our young people and the happiness they have to finally take to the stage.
"I think it's also celebrating the resilience. Our theme is healing the body, mind, spirit and soul with the strength of culture and that's what you're seeing on the stage - the resilience, the strength, the healing of the heart that they're finding on stage and being able to celebrate everything they've been working hard for.
HIGHLIGHTS OF POLYFEST 2021