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By Susana Suisuiki, RNZ Pacific journalist

About 23,000 Melanesians live in Aotearoa and yesterday they had their first very own festival showcasing their diverse cultures.

Fijians make up the bulk of the population but there are also ni-Vanuatu, Solomon Islanders, Papua New Guineans, West Papuans and Kanaks from New Caledonia.

The founder and director of the Melanesian Festival, Joana Monolagi, said after years of planning and lots of patience it was wonderful that the event had finally happened.

New Zealand's first Melanesian Festival
New Zealand’s first Melanesian Festival. Image: MFA2022 poster

“From the people that I have spoken to through this planning they have come and voiced their feelings to me and their views are that it’s been a long time coming,” she said.

“They’ve been praying and waiting for something to showcase Melanesia.”

Ni-Vanuatu and Melanesian community advocate Leina Isno said the festival put a spotlight on cultures in the Pacific that “often go unnoticed” in New Zealand.

“A part of the Pacific that is so under-recognised and under spoken about, especially in the culture of New Zealand. We deserve that recognition, we deserve to be talked about.”

The festival included food stalls, arts and craft displays and cultural performances.

Papuan students
One of the groups that performed is the Papuan Student Association Oceania, led by AUT postgraduate communications student Laurens Ikinia.

Ikinia said he was grateful to the event organisers who had worked tirelessly to give the Melanesian community a platform.

“It’s incredible how they’ve put their commitment and their focus just to make this event happen,” he said.

The West Papuan students performing at the festival yesterday.   Video: Nik Naidu/Whānau hub

“It’s quite sad to say this year is gonna be the first year for the first celebration but you know on the other hand it’s a great acknowledgement for Melanesian communities who are living in Aotearoa.”

Monolagi said she spent years working to get everything to fall into place and she was determined, now it had come to fruition, that this weekend’s festival would not be a one-off.

She said it had all the potential of reaching the same level as other cultural events in New Zealand.

“There’s room to move,” she said.

“I think in this short time I’ve experienced the interest not just in Auckland but I recently came back from Wellington and they looked forward to coming up this weekend to celebrate with us.”

The Melanesian Festival took place at the Waitemata Rugby Club Grounds in Henderson, Auckland.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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