It had taken the Solomon Islands forty long years to host the most prestigious regional cultural event in the Pacific, the Festival of Pacific Arts (FOPA). The Festival brought to the Solomon Islands about 2,500 dancers, artists, and other cultural practitioners from twenty-two countries in the region to share, interact, and display the uniqueness and diversities of their Pacific cultures and traditions in the context of a changing Pacific.
From 1 to 14 July 2012, the Solomon Islands hosted the eleventh FOPA under the theme; ‘In Harmony with Nature,’ to reflect and signify the need for Pacific islanders to re-establish their traditional respect and intimate link with their environment, the basis of their existence over past generations. The theme also speaks of the need to reject threats to the very existence of future generations, such as rising sea level due to climate change, a serious threat to the survival and future of many Pacific islands communities today.
Every four years since its inception in 1972, FOPA has been bringing together thousands of artists and other cultural practitioners to showcase their cultural and contemporary dance and music, theater and film, literature, culinary arts, navigation and canoeing, and their various forms of handicrafts. Pacific countries first initiated FOPA as a long-term strategy aimed at preserving the Pacific’s unique cultures and traditions in response to eroding external forces of influence. While more recent festivals had to address emerging challenges to FOPA, such as its relevance and sustainability in the face of increasing hosting costs, FOPA has been hailed as the ‘Pacific Cultural Renaissance.’ A tribute to FOPA’s role in raising the profile of the Pacific region while being an ever-important venue for cultural exchange among Pacific communities.
At the closing ceremony at the Lawson Tama Sports Stadium in the capital Honiara on July 13, Festival Chairperson Ms. Doreen Kuper, said FOPA has developed into one of the most important social gatherings of the ordinary people of the Region. ‘As part of that development trend, we now see wider participation by other regions with our brothers and sisters from the Asian region, such as Japan and Taiwan, now taking part.’ She said that there had never been a gathering in the Solomon Islands to rival the eleventh FOPA.
About fifty overseas and local journalists covered the Festival and were as impressed about its achievements.
An Aboriginal new Media Artist, Jenny Fraser, described her delegation’s arrival in the Solomon Islands before the official opening as hitting the ground running and describing the Festival as being ‘hectic and massive with so much going on which you cannot absorb within the short period of time’ She also described the audience as ‘inspiring, warm, enthusiastic, and welcoming’.
A visiting Papua New Guinea journalist, Simon Eroro, said that during the performances, he realized that ‘I have failed to live my own culture, and all I can do is to try to ensure that my own children would not go the same way’, adding that it is one’s culture and traditions define a person as a human being and are fundamental to existence and survival.
Ms. Linda Patterson, who spoke at the closing on behalf of the Secretariat of the Pacific Commission (SPC), described the eleventh FOPA as the best.
The Festival village was the largest attraction with its well-decorated and well-structured setup. It gave regional participants their own Pasifika venue to display their arts and crafts and to perform songs and dances. A separate Solomon Islands’ village was set up so locals were able to have a venue to display the diversity of their Melanesian, Polynesian, and Micronesian multicultural society. The Solomon Islands’ village had an artificial lake and different huts with specific designs and styles to represent the country’s nine provinces and their different styles of art and decor, which add color and beauty to the cultural diversities of Solomon Islands’ society. Many visitors and commentators spoke of the Festival as creating new potential and opportunities to take the regional event into new heights, new horizons, and new visions.
The Governor General of the Solomon Islands, Sir Frank Kabui, also spoke of the Festival as ‘a source of wealth, knowledge, inspiration, and new horizons’. And to the performers he said that ‘you created in us a feeling of happiness and fulfillment by your dancing, art, music, color, and imagination. You have opened our eyes to the world of art and its importance in society.’ His Excellency added that the Festival ‘binds us together in friendship and identifies us as the peoples of the Pacific with distinct cultures, traditions, and experiences’. He also appealed to the regional governments and donors ‘to recognize the importance of Pacific cultures and traditions and to invest more financial resources to preserve, develop, and improve our cultures and traditions before they are lost forever’.
Visiting PNG-Australian-based journalist, Tania Nugent, who has been a TV producer and presenter with ABC for eighteen years, described the Festival as an incredible two-week showcase of the diversities of Pacific cultures. She said the main venue was very well organized and enabled visitors to find out what was going on without any difficulty. Her observation about the Solomon Islands’ village was it had brought the culture alive. Ms. Nugent also praised the participation by so many young people in the Festival. She said that the spirit of FOPA is to preserve our cultures and that the eleventh FOPA has shown these endeavors are indeed working. Young people not only participated in the various cultural activities in the Solomon Islands village but gained real sense of pride in their own cultures. ‘They realize just how special, valuable, and unique they are in a country of so much diversity when you put them side by side with other countries,’ Ms. Nugent said.