Twenty-one students from the local college (which is the equivalent of high school in the U.S.) were selected to perform at a competition in Hawaii. They presented their cultural routine over dinner at the sports center. We were excited to see what type of performance this would be as they are always different. Not just in dance routines and costumes, but in story-telling. We had no idea what to expect.
It had been a particularly rainy day. Buckets and buckets of water came pouring out of the sky throughout the day. Our friends on Leela (Graham and Janicky) decided to brave the elements with us. Matt and I were super lucky in that it was only drizzling on our way in. We had our foulies (dry weather jackets) and dry bags and made a run for it and only get a few sprinkles. But, 5 minutes later, our friends came in drenched. Ugh.
After standing around for a little bit, we commandeered a table. The boys went next door to buy dinner tickets and to wait for our food. The parents of the performers were in charge of the BBQ which smelled divine.
The boys came back with a steak and chicken combo that was accompanied by a pasta salad and bread fruit. Way too much for the table, but we dug in!
The setting is really pretty with all-natural decorations. The colorful plant leaves are placed into cut tree trunks that create the border around the stage area. In the background are two constructed changing areas for the performers to change into their costumes.
The Story Begins
I had to make a lot of assumptions, since I do not speak Mangarevan and do not know the cultural significance of the dance. I did ask a local friend of mine on some of the interpretation, but most of it is my assumption based on the dance moves throughout the story. The biggest difference between this performance all of the other performances we have seen is that the dancers are extremely humble and solemn. There is no great joy or passion or smiling faces. They have a story to tell and were taught to tell it with respect and honor.
The musicians were setting up during dinner which included 5 sets of drums and a very loud aluminum drum. The beat or rhythm was unlike anything we have ever heard and it reverberated throughout the sports center.
Covered in green leaves and topped with crowns, the kids started their story. There are three students who are lead characters. They all were semi-bent over as they raised their hands and swayed from side to side. It was as if they were paying homage to someone or something.
The kids ages range from 12-15 years old. It makes me wonder why the serious faces.
The boys knelt and hovered over the girls while raising their hands. These are two of the leads that remained in front and were charged with the main story telling.
The female lead remained bent over for most of the beginning and then she started holding her tummy. Hmmm, is she pregnant (in the story). The male lead would walk her around gently and reverently as if showcasing his proud mom to be.
Preparing for the Baby
We did not know it at the time, but the next part of the story is preparing for the baby. The girls all sat while the boys knelt down beside them. First, they cleansed them with water by cupping water in their hands and slowly washing it over their arms and legs (top and middle left photos). Next, they dusted their arms with mixture that looked like sand but I am sure it was something far more significant (bottom left photo). The final part of the preparations was the cutting of the hair (lower right photo).
This is a photo of the cleansing water and ointment spread on the arms and legs of the women.
After the preparations were done, the lead girl was surrounded by her community while chanting was going on. When she appeared next, her husband was carrying a baby. He took the baby to an area where they cleansed and baptized it before presenting it to the community.
Boys Transition to Manhood
In Polynesian culture, at the age of 14, boys perform a series of tests before coming of age or transitioning into “manhood.” Once they have completed their tasks or tests, they receive tattoos telling their stories. The performers showed the older boys giving the younger boys a “traditional tattoo” using the tapping method. After they receive their tattoo, the older boys apply oil and then perform a dance introducing them into the community as a man. Then they all celebrate in dance.
I was able to capture this group photo before the event started. I love the little baby in the lower right corner looking at the kids with awe.
It certainly was a unique experience. I am sure it would have been far more powerful had I understood the language or known the story. But even without that knowledge it was beautiful to see the cultural significance performed by the young people.