The Festivalisation of Pacific Cultures in New Zealand: Diasporic Flow and Identity within 'a Sea of Islands'

26 Mar 2012

In the second half of the twentieth century, New Zealand witnessed a period of significant change, a period that resulted in dramatic demographic shifts. As a result of economic diversification, the New Zealand government looked to the Pacific (and to the at the time predominantly rural Māori population) to fill increasing labour shortages. Pacific Peoples began to migrate to New Zealand in large numbers from the mid-1960s and continued to do so until the mid-1970s, by which time changing economic conditions had impacted the country's migration needs. At around this time, in 1976, the first major moment of the festivalisation of Pacific cultures occured. As the communities continued to grow and become entrenched, more festivals were initiated across the country. By 2010, with Pacific peoples making up approximately 7% of the population, there were twenty-five annual festivals held from the northernmost towns to the bottom of the South Island.By comparing the history of Pacific festivals and peoples in New Zealand, I argue that festivals reflect how Pacific communities have been transformed from small communities of migrants to large communities of largely New Zealand-born Pacific peoples. Uncovering the meanings of festivals and the musical performances presented within festival spaces, I show how notions of place, culture and identity have been changed in the process. Conceiving of the Pacific as a vast interconnected 'Sea of Islands' kinship network (Hau'ofa 1994), where people, trade, arts and customs have circulated across millennia, I propose that Pacific festivals represent the most highly visible public manifestations of this network operating within New Zealand, and of New Zealand's place within it. Pacific festivals are spaces through which a range of Pacific identities are (re)affirmed, and through which connections to belonging elsewhere, or to other cultural realities, are asserted and communicated. Concurrently, and through a process of territorialisation (Duffy 1999a, 2000), Pacific festivals also recode and alter the places in which they take place, situating New Zealand as a Pacific nation and allowing Pacific peoples to stake a claim and assert a belonging to the New Zealand nation. Finally, these processes are interrelated, creating 'mooring posts' around which dynamic, fluid and evolving urban diasporic Pacific identities can be created, negotiated and celebrated. These displays of 'polycultural capital' (Mila-Schaaf 2010) are critical in the process of creating diasporic identities, often conceived of as belonging to neither here nor there. Through the Pacific festival space, these identities are stabilised, representing and asserting a belonging to both here and there.

Publication Details
Published year only: 
Subject Areas
Geographic Coverage