A celebration of culture at the Pasifika Festival

By Jessica Ball

A kaleidoscope of culture is set to take over Victoria Park Lake on Saturday, with the stage set for Pasifika Festival.

The sounds, flavours and colours of the Pacific Island communities, including Samoa, Tonga, Maori, Cook Islands and for the first time, Hawaii, will be on display with traditional performances, foods and crafts.

Event organiser Mellisa Silaga said it was all about fostering cohesion, unity, harmony and understanding.

“It's the stage for Pacific Islanders and Maori people to share their culture to the greater community,” Mrs Silaga said.

“Our people are stereotyped quite a bit and have many stigmas against them because of their stature, colour of skin, attitudes.

“With our festival we're educating our community that there's more to us than what you see on the surface and that our roots are really embedded in the values that we grew up with.

“Our culture is much sweeter than sour.”

Hawaiian culture will be represented for the first time at the 2019 Pasifika Festival with Nj Dennison, age 7 ready to take centre stage. Picture: Megan Fisher

Mrs Silaga estimates the Greater Shepparton Pacific Island community is around 2500-strong.

“It's a big community; many have come in for seasonal work and just never left because they have made it home,” she said.

“There's work and it's quiet — it's very similar to island life, other than there is no ocean and sand, which they miss greatly.”

Mrs Silaga said the event belonged to the youth of the Know Your Roots program.

School groups have spent the past 10 to 12 weeks learning the cultural significance and mastering the moves of different cultural dances and songs.

“It's to help our Pacific Island and Maori community reconnect with their culture as well as help their peers and teachers better understand them as Pacific Islanders and Maoris,” she said.

Now in its fourth year, the program's first primary school group, based at Gowrie Street Primary School, will perform at the 2019 event.

Sharon Simaika, age 13 at the Pasifika Festival dress rehearsal ahead of Saturday's event. Picture: Megan Fisher

Grade three student Yulkirri Bamblett said she enjoyed learning about a different culture.

“I like when we're doing the dance, it makes me feel happy when I dance,” Yulkirri said.

When asked what she was most excited about ahead of the weekend's performance, grade four student Indiana Scarpetti said "the whole thing".

“I like doing the dancing because I like doing concerts,” Indiana said.

Alongside the student performances, Mrs Silaga said The Refugee Band was set to be a crowd pleaser with its island take on ‘90s R&B and hip-hop hits.

There will also be food and craft stalls selling traditional fare.

“The band is made up of Pacific Islanders, who refer to themselves as refugees, who came together as a band because they love music and Australia is their refuge and home,” she said.

“There's going to be islander desserts, island coffee — we call it koko Samoa, which is made purely from cocoa beans straight from the islands.

“The craft stalls range from an 11-year-old making headpieces — head leis, we call them — to adorn your head, to a lady selling single island flowers, artificial ones.”

Pasifika Festival will be held from 3 pm to 8.30 pm on Saturday, November 23, on the boat ramp side of Victoria Park Lake.