Approximately 1.5 million Pacific Islanders reside
in the United States. Outside of Hawaii, Utah has the highest percentage of
Pacific Islander with 35,000 Pacific Islander residents, the majority of whom
are Tongan or Samoan. Approximately
70% of those Pacific Islanders live in Salt Lake County. In 2013, acknowledging the growing Pacific
Islander population in Utah, Governor Herbert declared August as Pacific Island
Heritage Month. This was an answer to
NTAS’s annual Friendly Islands Festival to bring awareness to the growing
Pacific Islander population in Utah, promote Pacific Islander arts and crafts
as a means to encourage cultural preservation. It also serves as an avenue for first and second generation PIs to identify ways to integrate
their PI traditions into their new American lifestyle. The Pacific Islander
Heritage Month provided an avenue to proudly share PI arts and crafts, culture
and tradition with the mainstream society.
The National Tongan American Society recognizes
the cross-cultural environment that many of the first and second generation families
are forced to live. Very few opportunities are available for the production or
appreciation of PI arts and crafts. NTAS
seeks to promote and provide opportunities to the PI community and others who
are interested in learning, teaching, and increasing their skills in PI arts
NTAS recognizes that the arts are avenues of
cross-generational interaction and learning within the Pacific Island community
as well as across main stream and other communities. Arts can allow youth to
combine traditional art forms with modern technology and share with the elders
of the community arts through film, graphic arts, fashion design, and quilting similar
to that of the artisans of old.
The art of dance, song, traditional
craftsmanship of wood carving, weaving, tapa-making and oral histories are
ingrained in the Pacific Island culture. Traditionally, daily living required
clothing articles made from weavings and tapa cloth. Today, these items and other crafts are sold
for income and are used for traditional weddings, funerals, decoration and
gifts. Without the elders teaching the next generation, the art of creating
these items will soon disappear.
Music is intertwined into all aspects of PI
culture. Events are not events without music, singing, and/or dancing. Telling
stories and expressing our connections and feelings through the music and the
performing arts are normal traditional practices. The tradition of selfless
giving, the importance of having a strong sense of belonging, bonding with
family and extended family members, with love and respect are taught through
music and dancing.
Promoting PI Arts & Crafts
Through many of
NTAS's events, we have promoted PI arts and crafts. To promote the first year of the PI
Heritage Month, women in the community who were skilled in traditional arts and
crafts came together and held a women’s handicraft expo of PI hand made
clothing, jewelry, quilts, and basket weaving.
In addition, the Miss Pacific Islander Utah
pageant included an Island Creation category to display clothing designed with
traditional materials. All contestants
were also to perform a traditional dance from their island of choice.
NTAS Annual Pohiva Kilisimasi (Nondenominational Church Choir Christmas Concert)
has been ongoing for 15 years, promoting traditional polyphonic singing.
Christian missionaries who came to Polynesia in the 1790 brought written hymns.
It naturally merged Polynesian polyphonic singing with church singing,
which is today, a spectacular, important part of PI religious culture. Music is
a characteristic of PI people -- especially at Christmas time. The Pohiva Kilisimasi
is held the 2nd Sunday of each December and rotated among the Tongan Church
denominations. All Pacific Island community's diverse denomination choirs are
invited to perform Christmas and religious songs which promotes unity in the PI
The Annual Friendly Islands Festival
the growth and popularity of PI arts and crafts continue, we find many
individuals, organizations and churches interested in increasing the art and
crafts programs of the annual Friendly Islands Festival.
the 2014 festival, the Discovery Area was a new event organized by the
University of Utah's Pacific Island Student Association. Using storytelling,
poetry, and songs from the rich history of the South Pacific, students worked
with the traditional craftsmen and women to educate festival attendees about
the traditional crafts that were displayed.
Demonstrations illustrated time and history of the arts and crafts
pieces. The Discovery Area will be a place to discover the similarities and the
differences of the Pacific Island countries.
addition to the Friendly Island Festival is the Ukelele, Sing-A-Long Jam
Session area. Festival attendees will be encouraged to bring a uke or guitar
and participate in a play-and-sing-along; or others can come and sit, relax,
and just enjoy the melodies of others.
- To encourage the participation of children in
the arts and crafts, we have a stage that will have non-stop performing arts and
craft activities from all communities. Children will also have
an area where different art or craft activity every hour through out the 2 days
will be offered. Some of the crafts will
be lei-making, tapa stamping, weaving, Tongan language & dance, quilt
squares, and sidewalk art.
addition, the Utah Pacific Island Arts Council will host a film festival of
Pacific Islander documentaries and/or films during Pacific Island Heritage
We would like to add to Pacific Island Heritage month an event to include
the men's kava clubs. All clubs will be given a proverb or a theme and
each club composes a song with that specific theme in mind. They will also choreographic a tau’olunga
(traditional Tongan dance) where young ladies will perform the tau’olunga dance
to the clubs original music piece.
The Importance of PI Arts & Crafts
In the United States, some of these art forms
are dwindling, often times frowned upon as ‘old’ tradition and not worthy to
pass along. Often, as families assimilate to the American culture, traditional
PI arts are not being handed down to the next generation. Unfortunately, many
PIs have the thought that westernization is modernization.
ZAP funding these events, foster acceptance, understanding, and
appreciation of cultural differences within and outside of the Pacific Island
communities. Through participating and demonstrations of the Pacific Island
arts and crafts, we seek for culture sensitivity across all Salt Lake
communities and the understanding of PI communities that you don’t have to
westernize to modernize. That
understanding and accepting our cultural differences and working productively
together, can make Salt Lake City, the state of Utah, and our great country the
best place to live, eat, work, play and do business for all -- regardless of
race, religion, sexual preference, ability, and culture -- harmoniously!
Ivoni Nash is the Program Director for the National Tongan American Society whose mission is to "Strengthen the Pacific Islander Family by promoting health, education, cultural preservation and civic engagement."