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Gone Racin' to the 7th Annual Pacific Islander Festival of Orange County

Gone Racin' to the 7th Annual Pacific Islander Festival of Orange County
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The 7th Annual Pacific Islander Festival of Orange County was held on September 20-21, 2014 on the grounds of the Huntington Beach Central Park, right behind the city’s modern Central Library.  My family and I never miss this very special event hosted by a council of dedicated men and women from many island nations throughout the Pacific region.  They have found a perfect spot to hold their cultural display of island crafts, music, dance, food, history and heritage.  The site is situated on a rolling hillside lined with trees and walking paths.  The purpose of the Festival is to provide a venue for the Pacific Island people to show off their culture and to invite the public to participate in their way of life. 
     There is ample parking around the library and it is free.  We had no trouble finding a spot to park and the walk to the Festival was short.  There is also paid parking that is only a dollar a day should the library lot fill up.  As we walked down the path we were greeted by Festival security; very large Polynesian young men with smiles and a courteous greeting who showed us where to go.  The Festival is free to attend and the food, drinks and crafts are very reasonably priced.  The first booths that we came to were for the public to see what the island cultures were like. 
     The Hawaiian tent was large and spacious and filled with volunteers who were ready to answer any question on their history and heritage.  There were displays of traditional musical instruments, weapons of war, and the island’s floral bonanza.   The women wore the colorful Muumuus or long gowns.  Next in line was a booth dedicated to the heritage of the Marshall Islands, then Samoa, Tonga, Guam, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand (Maori) and Tahiti.  The Samoan booth had a large display of old war clubs, tapa cloth and fine mats, flags, books in the Samoan language and articles of clothing.  The ladies wore the traditional Puletasi, which is a long skirt with a short dress over the skirt, in a variety of blues, reds and floral prints.
     The Tongan booth also had cultural displays that included potted plants of the islands; taro, yams, kava, plantain and banana.  If you took a fancy to having a tropical island plant to take home and plant, the Fifita family would give you a good price and carry it to your car for you.  Besides the cultural island booths there were also booths for vendors to sell island merchandise and health and business companies who had products they were advertising.  There was a wide assortment of old and traditional musical instruments, clothing for the public and specialized clothing for Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian dancers, drummers and singers.  We saw floral adornments for the hair and island jewelry.  There were toys for the children and island products for the grown-ups.  There were three big rig trucks that had displays for health care, the VA (Veterans Administration), and local law enforcement.
     The food booths were the most popular with the public and the island people.  The food booths included; Guam, Tonga, Samoa, Marshall Islands, Hawaii and one for drinks and shaved ice (snow cones).  Guam was heavily influenced by Filipino and Spanish foods.  Hawaii became a melting pot for foods from all over the world.  Tonga, Samoa and the Marshall Islands were distinctively old traditional island fare.  We sampled the huli-huli chicken, the beef ribs, plantains, panikeke and palusami.  There was also laulau and Japanese noodles.  The plantains (bananas) have a sweet, potato like quality to them.  The palusami consisted of taro leaves, corned beef and coconut milk wrapped in foil and baked until the taro leaves and coconut milk dissolve and blend into a pudding like consistency.  It is sweet, addictive and fattening.  The Polynesians know how to barbecue chicken and meats.  They were as tender as any meats I have ever had.  Panikeke are like Filipino malasadas; round donut holes flavored with pineapples or bananas.   The banana panikeke’s were the best.  We ordered the traditional Tongan drink of pureed watermelon, pineapple and coconut, which uses the pulp as well as the juice.  To top it off we also had a shaved ice drink.  The prices were cheaper than your typical Island fast food places and they had sales near the end of the event.
     There are few benches to sit and most people brought their folding chairs or sat on beach towels on the lawn.  There was plenty of shade and the late September date usually has perfect California weather.  This year the temperatures were in the high 70’s and was bright and sunny.  There were ample Porta-Potties and nearby were portable sinks and hand-wipes to wash one’s hands.  Around the grounds were walking paths and great expanses of lawns and trees to picnic in.  Normally there is a lake, with wildlife below the Festival area, but this year the drought has been so severe that the lake has dried up, leaving a huge meadow for children to play in.  At the northern edge of the grounds is a large, raised, concrete stage for the dancers, musicians, drummers and singers to entertain the crowds.  I estimate that there were about 500 people milling about until the dancers began the entertainment program and then the crowd literally doubled in size.  The Festival area is so large that this event could easily attract 2000 or more at any given time.
     It is the entertainment part of the program that brings people to the Festival.  It is an opportunity for Polynesian dancing troupes and musicians to show off their skills.  There are many dancing clubs and programs in Southern California and they are open to people of all ethnic and culturally backgrounds.   They train young men as well as young women in the culture, heritage and history of the Islands as well as in the dancing and singing arts.  Some of the groups that have danced at the Festival in the past includes; Nonosina, Matalasi, Tupua and others.  Each island group has a distinct cultural aspect to their dancing.  The Hawaiian Hula was intricate and delicate and the swaying of the hips was muted and the hand gestures were beautifully done.   The wild and wanton hip-shaking Tahitian Tamure dances by both the men and the women showed the vitality of the dance.  The Hawaiian and Tahitian costumes were well done.   
     I have a preference for the more robust and earthy Tongan and Samoan group dancing.  The Sasa or group sitting dance has both men and women swaying and singing.  It tells a traditional story and is quite lively.  The Siva Faataupati is the slap dance done by the men and is very animated and quite humorous.  The Maori Poi ball dance by the women and the Haka dance by the men were well done.  There were also dances relating to the traditions of the Melanesian Papuans of New Guinea and the ballet-like dances of the Micronesian Marshall Islanders and Guamanians.  The finale is the Samoan Taualuga and that is the most expressive dance of the evening and always ends the show to great acclaim by the audience.
     The Taualuga is led by the Taupo, who is the chief’s daughter and the only woman allowed in the Kava ceremony honoring guests to the village.  So honored and respected is the Taupo that in ancient days she often led the warriors of her tribe in battle and could not be touched or harmed.  Great respect is given to the Taupo, who is wrapped in traditional tapa clothing and has a massive headdress of feathers and mirrors which she wears on her head.  The dancers and singers make way for her and she enters the stage and dances a slow, swaying dance that is mesmerizing.  The big warriors will drop to the ground and the Taupo will dance on their backs.  It is carefully choreographed and yet it looks like a huge battle scene with the men and women dancers and chanters weaving in and out.  People will approach the stage and toss dollar bills onto the stage as a sign of their respect for the Taupo and the skill of the dancers.  This is often called the “money dance.” 
     In between the traditional songs and dances the master of ceremonies will announce the various histories of the islands or have singers come to the stage to provide more modern island songs.  The emcee is Stephen Tupua Seanoa, who is also the Festival Chairman and is assisted by his wife Melody Seanoa.  They also own Tupua dance troupe and train young and old alike in all the Pacific Island dance styles.  Even when there are no entertainers, singers, drummers and dancers on the stage there is music played by the audio volunteers on CDs.  I have seen many dancing programs in Hawaii and on the mainland and I have to rate the Pacific Island Festival of Orange County as one of the best I have been to.  It isn’t just the music and dancing, but the ambience of the place itself and the people who put this show on.  It is comfortable and pleasant.  The people go out of their way to be friendly.  It isn’t expensive to buy food and souvenirs and there is no parking or entry fee.  It is easy to get to the park and from the parking lot to the Festival area and there are people to help you if you need them.  It is an event that is great for young and old alike.  The music and dancing is superb.  But mostly the reason that I like this family event is the people. 

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected].  Reprinted courtesy of Internet Brands, photographs courtesy of www.hotrodhotline.com.