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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (October 29, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---The 8th Pacific Festival of the Arts, currently taking place in New Caledonia, has overcome its "painful start," Festival Organizing Committee chairman Octave Togna told Oceania Flash on Sunday.

"It's true, the Festival has had a painful start. Even before the Festival started on October 23, we had to accommodate around 300 people who arrived as early as October 18th, and accommodation was only planned from the 21st onwards," he said.

The Festival, the Pacific region's major cultural event and held every four years, had kicked off on an uncomfortable footing with the opening ceremony postponed from Monday October 23rd to Thursday, due to bad weather, and also a strike within major partner RFO (Réseau France Outremer, French Overseas television and radio network).

On the night of the opening ceremony, which came three days late, there was a live radio broadcast, but the planned television live coverage still didn't take place due to a failure in the microwave link between Magenta Stadium (Nouméa suburbs) and the RFO studios.

Also, choreographer Australian Aborigine Raymond Blanco was not there to supervise the show. He had left the day before.

The recording of the opening ceremony was finally aired on local TV Friday night.

Delegations also expressed disappointment at the logistics and claimed they didn't have enough food.

Other complaints were raised about poor scheduling by Togna's COFAP (Arts Festival Organizing Committee).

However, a lot of the ill feeling eased on Friday and Saturday, when many of the shows moved to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's (SPC) headquarters, only a few yards away from the Festival Village.

There, under shade trees and on the grass, performing groups and the public alike seemed to appreciate the much more relaxed atmosphere, bringing some serenity to the sometimes heated situation.

"It's great here. We feel it's really the Pacific Community's place here. We feel at home," a Vanuatu theatre group member said.

Choir singing, dances, and a Pacific fashion parade on Saturday night were witnessed by huge crowds flocking into the compound of the Nouméa-based regional organization.

Many members of the public in attendance had thrown rugs on the lawn, and were enjoying a picnic atmosphere.

"This is a beautiful site. I'd never been here before. It’s the perfect site for this type of show," a Nouméa resident said.

"We're proud to host part of the Festival. This has also given us an opportunity to showcase the programs we operate within SPC. This has given us an opportunity to bring here some of the local crowds and visiting tourists and I think now there is an increased awareness from the general public about what we do," SPC cultural affairs advisor Rhonda Griffiths told Oceania Flash.

"I think the people from the Pacific really felt the Pacific Community is their organization and, on this particular occasion, a natural home to the Pacific Festival of the Arts. I think the two ideas fit very nicely together."

Some delegations taking part in the "decentralized" Festival in the northern parts of New Caledonia also seemed to feel relieved to get out of Nouméa. They even said they felt much better in rural villages, where local organizers, although struggling to make-do with very little direction from the head office, were considered much more helpful.

"I feel much better here in Koné. We are much better taken care of than in Nouméa," the head of a delegation said on local RFO television news Friday.

But Togna said some of the demands were quite exceptional. "Some went as far as asking for seat belts to be installed on each seat of the bus they were being transported on because, according to them, the security was not enough."

Other delegations had a more forgiving approach.

American Samoa Festival officials told Pacnews they would like all visiting participants "to appreciate what New Caledonia’s hosts had put together."

"We need to do more organization the Pacific way," American Samoan delegate Tia Sunia said.

"And that Pacific way is to be appreciative of the host and the host, in return, to be more willing to give."

A member of Papua New Guinea's delegation, Silas Sabagas, Deputy Governor of New Ireland Province, said they would "go with the flow."

Sabagas said they would like to stay focused on the main reason for their attendance at the Noumea Festival.

Meanwhile, the Fiji delegation, which is showcasing a message of ethnic unity during its stay in New Caledonia, also went with the flow and on Friday celebrated Diwali, an Indian feast symbolizing the victory of light over darkness.

The Indo-Fijian artists performed several traditional Indian dances for a big crowd at the Festival Village at Anse Vata.

Meanwhile, Fiji Assistant Minister for Women and Culture Adi Senimili Dyer was treated to a truly Indian meal prepared by the six Indo-Fijian families residing in Nouméa.

There was singing and dancing at the Fijian Village and Indian food and sweets distributed to over 100 spectators, Pacnews Arts Festival reporter Matai Akoula said.



By Caroline Yacoe Pacific Islands Report

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (October 29, 2000 – PIDP/CPIS)---"Words of Yesterday, Words of Today, Words of Tomorrow" is the theme of this year’s Pacific Festival of the Arts but it is dance, music and art that appear to be the most expressive mediums of the 23 cultures currently gathered here.

The highly anticipated Opening Ceremonies, postponed from Monday night because of rain took place took place Thursday evening under clear skies and a bright Southern Cross. Over l0, 000 people packed the stadium. The early sold out status was probably due in part to relatives and friends of the hundreds of local school children who participated. Speeches by local officials (accompanied by very vocal audience reactions) followed before the evening’s highlight: the presentation of each delegation. Flowing blue banners, simulating waves of the Pacific Ocean covered the amphitheater grounds. Then, with a flourish of music and oratory, each group once again "migrated" across the "sea" to greet the audience.

One Fijian man wore full tapa (masi) regalia reminiscent of early times. A large and very fierce New Zealand contingent caused the crowds to draw back from their "attack". Samoans with full tattoos so enjoyed their dancing that the exiting processions were delayed. On and on they came, each with different looks, characteristics, dances, and dress, leaving a lasting impression and appreciation of the diverse and strong Pacific Island cultures today.



By Jack Metta of The National, Papua New Guinea

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (October 27, 2000 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---For the first time since their arrival in this French territory for the 8th Festival of Pacific Arts, the 90-member Papua New Guinea contingent split up for their various commitments at the Festival.

The Muga cultural group of West New Britain was led away into the hinterlands of North New Caledonia by traditional elder Leonard Mou, lovingly referred to by his troupe as the living encyclopedia of traditional songs.

"We are fulfilling our mission here," Mr. Mou said, before departing, adding that preserving and promoting culture and arts through open cultural expression is important and it is through opportunities such as these that this heritage is passed onto the younger generation.

The Muga cultural dance group is comprised of 16 members who come from Kimbe town and Mundina and Garove islands.

The group and their Morobe counterparts, Kuntara, stole the show at the official opening of the Pacific Village at Ansa Vata on the Nouméa waterfront.

Kuntara led PNG officials, including National Cultural head Dr. Jacob Simet, onto the main arena to present gifts to the Kanak chiefs, in appreciation for their hosting the Festival.

The kundu drums, PNG's traditional regalia and the routine were a delight for the hundreds of people who gathered.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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