Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Performance at the official opening of ASB Polyfest 2018 © Ben Campbell Photography

ASB Polyfest

The ASB Polyfest is an iconic Auckland festival filled with color and culture. It celebrated its 43rd anniversary in 2018, with more than 12,000 secondary school students from across the Auckland region performing on six stages and a record 241 performing groups from 68 schools.

The event began in 1976 when two college students challenged three Auckland schools to a performance competition to celebrate their different cultures. It was a small event but a huge success, and the competition has continued to grow while maintaining its purpose and vision.

The festival celebrates Auckland’s diverse cultures and attracts over 100,000 people each year with visiting schools and organizations from around New Zealand and the world. The level of performance through speech, song, and dance is of a high standard, and it is the world’s biggest event of this kind. Through non-competitive and competitive sections, Auckland secondary school students prepare traditional performances choreographed to the annual event theme and composed to fit aspects of their respective culture.

ASB Polyfest 2018 Themes

  • Tuia te muka tangata (Thread the fibers of humanity)
  • Tuia te muka wairua (Thread the fibers of spiritual well-being)
  • Whiria te ahurea tuakirikiri (Bind together the essence of cultural identity)
  • Whiria te ahurea tuamanomano (Weave together the diverseness of cultural awareness)

Cook Island style performance, Sir Edmund Hilary Collegiate © Ben Campbell Photography
Students prepare and perform speeches and dances across six stages—Cook Islands, Maori, Niue, Samoan, Tongan, and a Diversity stage, which comprises cultures from China, Fiji, Tokelau, India, Korea, countries in Africa, and many others. Students perform on these stages with pride and passion and the honor of being the top school in their respective culture.

A leader from a Central Auckland College says, “I’m looking forward [to everyone] getting together as one big Polynesian nation [to celebrate] our culture. It’s my last year this year…I can’t escape it whether I try to or not, it’s a part of me, like I’m never gonna lose it. Home is where the heart is.”

Some acknowledge their past like one leader from a South Auckland College who stated, “Just finishing it off with a big bang since it’s my last year. This one’s dedicated to my grandpa because he just passed away end of last year and he was all about culture.”

And similarly many affirm their identity by saying, “Culture to me is everything; it’s like a part of my world, and without it, I wouldn’t know who I am today.” The success and survival of the festival is due to the understanding and recognition students and their community gain from being a part of it. Everyone involved would agree that they do all of this for the kids and for the culture.

Associate Minister for Pacific Peoples, Hon. Carmel Sepuloni, said of this year’s event,

ASB Polyfest, being the largest Pacific youth festival in the world, celebrates and showcases the diversity of our cultures, our languages, and importantly our youth of today…Pacific cultures are unique, a point of difference, and our voice and it is important to nurture cultures and keep that identity alive to ensure our youth thrive on any stage they take on. It is important that youth are confident in their cultural identity, as this will serve as a platform for future success.

ASB Polyfest Festival Director, Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu, this year described ASB Polyfest as

more than four days of competition, speech and performances. It’s a place our children can express themselves, it’s an avenue that creates time with our Mamas and Papas and learning the old ways of how to weave and make your costumes, how to sing or chant the way they do back in the homelands, how to articulate and pronounce words properly, how to be respectful and be disciplined, how to be a leader. All these attributes, characteristics, skills our children take back to school and our hope is that they apply these to their studies and future career aspirations.

The festival fosters many values, particularly celebrating diversity, pursuing excellence, and strengthening community engagement. It creates an opportunity and place for young people to affirm their identity and express themselves by learning and understanding where they’ve come from, in order to know where they are going.

Auckland, New Zealand, celebrates this festival every year in March and welcomes all visitors to join us and experience the food, the people, and the vibrant expression of culture and language that makes up the diverse tapestry of ASB Polyfest.