The Festival of Pacific Arts (FOPA) is one of the most important cultural events in the Pacific Islands Region. Since 1972, it has been hosted by a different Pacific Island country or territory every four years. Originally, the festival was created by the Conference of the South Pacific Commission, which is now known as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). Its mission was to ‘preserve and develop various local art forms, as well as providing the occasion for Pacific Islanders to meet, share, and celebrate their cultural heritage.’ After 44 years and 10 host countries and territories, the 11th FOPA celebrations will soon be hosted in Guam. There, 2,500 cultural practitioners and artists from 27 Pacific Island countries and territories are expected to join for two weeks of festivity. The Pacific Islands Society Managing Director, Keiko Ono, therefore took a moment to speak with Sinora Rufina Mendiola, the Chamorro Studies Administrator for the Guam Department of Education, about the significance of the event, including how the festival will provide Guam with an opportunity to showcase its unique Chamorro culture.

With particular reference to Chamorro arts and culture, how has Guam’s past participation in FestPac impacted the lives of people living in Guam?

In 1985, in Tahiti, Guam first sent a complete delegation representing the indigenous Chamorro language and culture (e.g., performing arts, visual arts, traditional practices, and literary arts). Prior to their participation, the indigenous Chamorros had lost their knowledge of indigenous dances especially within the performing arts. This was replaced by the adopted dances from 400 years of colonization by countries in power – Spain, United States and Japan. While participating in the 4th FestPac in Tahiti, the participating Guam delegates were saddened that, as Pacific Islanders, the Chamorros had witnessed the loss of indigenous identity in the art of dance, songs and chants. They have been since dedicating themselves to re-establishing that aspect of Chamorro culture (e.g., dance, songs and chants) through research, re-creation and connection so they can again be recognized as Pacific Islanders. Today, through dedication, commitment, hard work, and determination, they have [experienced a resurgence] of the indigenous identity of the Chamorro people, [which has been] recognized and accepted by the community of Guam. This would not have happened if they had never participated in the Festival of Pacific Arts.

In your opinion, how does the festival compare to other arts festivals in the region (e.g. Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival; Pasifika Festival, etc.).

The goal and objectives of the Festival of Pacific Arts is to preserve, perpetuate, educate and protect the indigenous language and culture of the Pacific People, through performance presentation, exchanges, education, forums, workshops, and conferences. Cultural practitioners and cultural leaders will come together during the Festival to share ideas that best protect and preserve the indigenous language and culture of the Pacific People. This is what separates the Festival of Pacific Arts from other festivals that basically showcase Pacific language and culture. In comparison to other cultural festivals, the Festival of Pacific Arts offers more opportunities for Pacific Islanders to learn, share, preserve, present, educate and protect their indigenous identity as Pacific People and foster the knowledge for future generations.

Why did Guam choose the theme: “What We Own, What We Have, What We Share, United Voices of the PACIFIC”. “Håfa Iyo-ta, Håfa Guinahå-ta, Håfa Ta Påtte, Dinanña’ Sunidu Siha Giya PASIFIKU”?

We have a 4,000 year old history in the Mariana Islands. Before Western contacts, the Chamorros owned lands, resources, and our language and culture. We have commune with our spiritual ancestors, elders, and families. We all shared the beauty of our island, people, language and culture not knowing the cultural genocide [that would] occur in years to come. There are voices in the Pacific echoing the need to protect our indigenous identity, language, and culture. For these reasons, the selected theme was created to align with the goals and objective of the SPC – the organizing body for the Festival of Pacific Arts.

For many Pacific Island Countries, festivals showcasing traditional arts is a huge tourism draw. Is there a concern that cultures are commercialized in order to preserve them?

There will always be concerns over the commercialization of indigenous culture. Money is the global language of today, and a means of survival. One can commercialize culture, but cannot culturalize the commercial. You can make your cultural presentation look beautiful. However, you cannot put heart and soul into commercial products. It is the determination of the indigenous communities [that determines] whether they are willing to sacrifice and devalue their indigenous heritage through commercialization. They can both coexist without having to sacrifice one over the other.

How does FestPac impact regional relations between Pacific Island countries and territories?

By allowing us to share our cultural knowledge in the protection of our indigenous heritage. Pacific Islands that are [overly] westernized are mentoring islands less developed to heed the warning signs of cultural genocide.

Beyond FestPac, how can we look to uphold and promote the arts and cultures that are so important to Pacific Island countries and territories?

FestPac only reminds us of who we are and what we are as indigenous people. It is up to us – the indigenous communities – to take that awareness and foster that pride within our communities so that we can continue to preserve, perpetuate, educate and promote our indigenous language and culture for future generations.

What role and/or involvement do governments, civil society and local communities play in protecting Pacific Island cultures? What would you hope to change through FestPac?

They play an important role in preserving our inherited identity, our indigenous languages and cultures. I am a Chamorro living in an American Society. I hope that the Festival of Pacific Arts will touch people in such a way that [places value] on our inherited indigenous identity without removing ourselves completely from our western [needs and lifestyles].


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