Ten Days In Tahiti

A View From The Pacific Youth Festival

by Rosie Catherine Kamoe in Suva

When I was first told of the trip to Tahiti for the Pacific Youth Festival, my immediate reaction was of nervousness and excitement. I guess the idea of experiencing this country known for their exotic dancers, able paddlers and meeting family members from Wallis & Futuna whom I have never met before was intriguing.

Rosie Catherine Kamoe

However, the idea of being part of a team that would be in Tahiti to advocate safer sex, represent Fiji and be part of a group of more than 1,000 active minded young people was also worrying.

On arrival, the sound of French Polynesian people singing away to the strumming of ukuleles quickly put me in a mood so warm that I quickly realized I was in a country much like my own.

The Tahitians welcomed us with sweet smelling tiares and leis setting the pace for what quickly became a busy week of cultural exchange, information sharing and most importantly, of forming friendships which hopefully will benefit the young people of the Pacific.

Amongst other things, one of the main outcomes for the Pacific Youth Festival was the formation of the Pacific Youth Charter.

The issues on the agenda ranged from education for sustainable development to cultural diversity, peace, good governance and education and training for all.

Anyone who thought they were in Tahiti for a holiday would have been surprised. Don’t get me wrong, Tahiti Nui, the island is beautiful and its oceans strongly justify the country’s being at the top spot of Pacific tourism.

Logistics did not turn out to be the strength of the 2006 Pacific Youth Festival but what they lacked in administration, the Tahitians more than made up for in enabling the cultures of up to 30 Pacific Island countries to come alive in song, dance, art and craft.

Controversial president Oscar Temaru set the pace for cultural awakening when at the opening speech he openly criticized the domination of French culture in Tahiti.

Temaru refused to welcome the 800 plus delegates in the French language and said he was not welcoming us to French Polynesia but to Tahiti Nui.

He was of course criticized later and a fellow government official even ‘apologized’ on his behalf but the Tahiti president urged all of us to make a place for indigenous language and culture.

The cultural items from then on left us pretty much in awe. At least I and several other delegates I spoke to were excited at the chance to perform our traditional mekes, ta’ulungas, hulas and renditions of these dances and others.

It was exciting too, to be able to meet other young people, each with hopes and ambitions for a better South Pacific. A region where their rights are protected, interests promoted, cultures preserved and economy buoyant.

There were many opportunities to access information and discuss it with like minded young people and that I felt was the best feature about the Pacific Youth Festival 2006.

From the struggle of the Kanaks to gain independence, the Hawaiians effort to raise awareness on the harmfulness of ‘Ice’ and my hope of reaching out to young people to practice safer sex -- there was so much to learn from one another.

Naturally, it was not all work at Tahiti.

It is not everyday that one gets to travel to an island paradise so the trip out to the more beautiful Moorea island was both a welcome reprieve and a chance to remember how important it is to preserve the beauty of our islands.

At Moorea, the success of the turtle and dolphin conservation and the chance to find out why this country is visited by thousands each year made for an experience that I for one, can only continue to thank donor agencies for funding.

Like many regional functions, we have returned home each with our own hopes and plans to apply the lessons learnt at Tahiti.

My hope is if not anything else, that we maintain our networks and continue to learn best practice and lessons from each other.

It might seem a little ambitious and like anything else, the success of our plans depend on funding but I hope that each country comes up with a way to build on the skills and information we learnt in Tahiti.

This article was published in the September 2006 issue of Pacific Magazine