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Language vital to retaining Pacific heritage arts

23 Jun 2010

This content is tagged as Creative NZ .


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Fluency in Pacific languages is critical to maintaining healthy Pacific heritage arts in New Zealand, according to research published today by Creative New Zealand.

“Many Pacific communities emphasised that the health of heritage arts in this country cannot be considered in isolation from Pacific languages,” says Chair of Creative New Zealand’s Pacific Arts Committee Pele Walker.

“In knowing the language you can pick up the underlying values and the unique aspects of culture. Often, the strength of a community’s language is a good indication of the health of its heritage arts.”

The research conducted by Massey University across New Zealand’s seven main Pacific communities was identified as a priority in Creative New Zealand’s strategic plan for 2007-2010.

“Heritage arts - whether dance, music or weaving - provide a way for Pacific people to express the values, perspectives and attitudes that make their communities unique,” says Ms Walker. “They also underpin and influence contemporary art. Artists have urged us to consider how we can support the preservation and even development of heritage art forms so they are not lost.”

The research will be used by Creative New Zealand to develop a three-year heritage arts strategy as part of its aim to ensure that Pacific communities are supported to strengthen and pass on customary artistic practice.

According to the research adapting to life in New Zealand has had mixed effects on the well-being of Pacific heritage arts. While being away from a ‘homeland’ often encouraged people to hold fast to their traditions they also experienced difficulty in getting access to knowledge and materials.

“There is a strong desire in Pacific communities to preserve their culture and in some instances this has meant selective use of new materials,” said Ms Walker.

While some art forms such as the performing arts, tivaevae and Samoan tatau were thriving others, such as canoe building and aspects of weaving, were proving difficult to maintain for some communities.

“Lack of access to qualified teachers or elders who can pass on skills coupled with a lack of venues where people could meet to share and learn their culture made it difficult for some communities,” she said.

“Throughout the research people often said they needed to be together to practice their heritage arts. For some their local church is where they can gather to maintain their language and culture.”

Community-based festivals, gatherings, celebrations and workshops were seen as an effective way to bring people together to share their history, knowledge, skills and cultural practices.

Other barriers identified included a low awareness of the funding sources available to the Pacific community groups and the difficulty of understanding the application process, forms and reporting.

It will also look to identify opportunities to work with other major providers of services to Pacific people and community organisations.

Health of Pacific Heritage Arts 2009, Research Executive Summary is available on Pacific Heritage Arts research.

For more information contact:
Helen Isbister
Communications Manager
Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa
T +64 4 473 0880 | DDI +64 04 473 0187 | M 021 244 4016 | F +64 4 471 2865