My 2006 Pacific Youth Festival experience: A Reflection
by TeRito Peyroux in Auckland
In March of this year, before even sending an application to be part of the New Zealand delegation attending the inaugural Pacific Youth Festival (PYF) in Tahiti, I was already excited. I suppose it was almost as if I knew that my going would be a liberating home-coming of sorts, to a place in Polynesia which (like Rotuma, Rarotonga and Aitutaki) is a significant part of both my family heritage and cultural identity. "Liberating" in the sense that I would be returning to Tahiti without the comfort and security of my parents or ma'piga on hand, should I want it.
So with my own cultural identity being at the root of initial thoughts and feelings from the very beginning, it was quite natural (after finding out that I had actually been accepted to go and would therefore need to look for funds) that my attitude, learning and overall experience of the PYF were strongly influenced by things pertaining to cultural identity. My cultural identity--as a multiethnic, urban New Zealand born and raised, Methodist young woman, in 2006.
For sure, the PYF provided a myriad of conferences and workshops ranging from health and education right through to governance and sustainable development, which were designed to be all very relevant to the 1000 or so youth participants in attendance. There was even a representational group that met devotedly every evening to help piece together a Pacific Youth Charter, on the PYF’s behalf.
Of course, no Pacific gathering would be complete without the flamboyance, richness and celebration of cultural dance, songs, stories and friendships, and in a land so well versed in creative Maohi performance and hospitality, Tahiti was certainly no exception. This was superbly complemented by the nation’s annual Heiva festivities as well.
I suppose I could also dedicate a paragraph of my reflection to the political woes of French Polynesia and other Pacific Island nations that were shared from the perspectives of those whose portrayals when shared in the media aren’t usually very comprehensive (if they’re shared at all). However, due to my fear of digressing, with regard to politics, I’ll stop right here.
Still bearing all of the above in mind, the main highlight for me is something that even up until now I pleasantly continue to unwrap. From this PYF experience, my highlight came in the realisation that regardless of things measurable, predictable or linear, my sense of belonging and cultural identity is something that I journey toward discovering, understanding and accepting for myself, and thus I need not anyone else to demarcate for me.
Regardless of whether I’m a son or a daughter; whether I’m a first, last or even only child; whether or not I can fluently speak my mother/father/or ma'piga tongue for that matter; whether I’m half, quarter or an eighth of an ethnicity, whether I can sing hymns or chant ri jaujau; regardless even of my religion or whether my theology is orthodox, liberation or otherwise influenced …by birth and by upbringing, I am a part of all of these types of variables and they are all a part of me.
Thus in relation to my ethnic identity for instance, despite the arithmetic and despite any explanations or justifications, I am Rotuman. I am Tahitian. I am French. I am Scottish. I am a Cook Islander. I am a New Zealander. I belong and have just as much of a right and responsibility to each of these different groups as anyone else whose journey through understanding their own sense of identity and belonging leads them to these places also.
And so, with very cherished experiences in heart, a host of stirred understandings in head, heaps of awe-inspiring new friends on hand, and a nurtured spirit in tact, I certainly look forward to the next Pacific Youth Festival which is expected to be held in Fiji.