Voyaging canoes and other wa’a from the Pacific come together for a morning Waka Ceremony at the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture in 2012 in Honiara, Solomon Islands. – Photo: Nicasello Photography

What could be the most consequential gathering of Pacific Islanders in Hawaiʻi’s history will occur this summer. For the first time since its inception in 1972, Hawaiʻi will host the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FestPAC), the world’s largest celebration of Indigenous Pacific Islanders. Artists, cultural practitioners, scholars, and officials from 28 Pacific Island nations will convene on Oʻahu from June 6 to 16, 2024.

FestPAC, usually held every four years, was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture will be held in Hawaiʻi, marking the first time a U.S. state will host the event.

“The selection of Hawaiʻi as the host country for the festival is a testament to the island’s enduring legacy as a beacon of cultural diversity and inclusivity,” said Kalani Kaʻanāʻanā, chair of the Hawaiʻi Commission. “It’s an opportunity for us to share the aloha spirit with our Pacific Island cousins and reaffirm our commitment to preserving and promoting Indigenous cultures.”

Photo: Hālau Mōhala ʻIlima poses with performers from New Caledonia
Māpuana de Silva & Hālau Mōhala ʻIlima pose with performers from New Caledonia at the 10th FestPAC in American Samoa in 2008. – Photo: Kīhei de Silva

Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, Australia, the Cook Islands, Western Samoa, New Caledonia, Palau, American Samoa, the Solomon Islands, and Guam have all hosted FestPAC.

The Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture traces back to 1972 when the South Pacific Commission, now known as the Pacific Community, sought to halt the erosion of traditional customs and practices among Pacific Island communities through ongoing cultural exchange. The hope was to create a space for Pacific Islanders to share their traditional arts, crafts, music, dance, and oral traditions with the world.

FestPAC is a platform for Pacific Islanders to showcase their unique cultural heritage, exchange knowledge and skills, and foster greater understanding and appreciation amongst its diverse communities.

It has also served as a meeting place for conversations at the highest levels of government within the Pacific region. It has brought together Pacific peoples from different countries to discuss their shared challenges of climate change, geopolitical dynamism, environmental sustainability issues, regenerative economic challenges, and other critical issues.

“All of this is founded through this Festival on the platform of Pacific cultural worldview, cultural knowledge, and cultural practice, all through points that continually and directly connect us to our ancestors,” said Festival Director Aaron Salā. “The Festival of Pacific Arts is more than just a showcase of cultural performances. It’s a living testament to the resilience, creativity, and spirit of the Pacific people. It’s about preserving our traditions, honoring our ancestors, and shaping the future of our communities.”

The theme for FestPAC Hawaiʻi 2024 is Hoʻoulu Lāhui: Regenerating Oceania. In ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, Hoʻoulu Lāhui means to grow the nation. The 2024 Festival will highlight several urgent issues facing the Pacific region, including rising sea levels, climate change, sustainability, coral reef death, and widening social inequality.

FestPAC Hawaiʻi’s official Opening Ceremony is Thursday, June 6, 2024, at 6:00 p.m. at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, T.C. Ching Athletics Complex. The opening ceremonies resemble those of the Olympic Games, with a parade of flags of the participating countries but with the added flare of each Pacific Island delegation’s culture on full display with traditional dress, dances, and customs.

A film festival, fashion show, live performances, an Indigenous philosophers conference, and a youth ambassador program are among the more than 50 symposia, workshops, or events scheduled.

One of the highlights of past FestPACs has been the Festival Village & Marketplace, where each nation can display its culture through performances, demonstrations, displays, and heritage arts.

At FestPAC Hawaiʻi, the Festival Village & Marketplace will be at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center.

Attendees will see authentic cultural practitioners demonstrate all sorts of cultural art forms, from carving to weaving, singing, dancing, kapa/tapa/siapo making, fiber artistry, visual artistry, and more, all under one roof.

Participating delegations include American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Rapa Nui, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hawaiʻi, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Norfolk Island, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna, and Taiwan.

In addition to the Hawaiʻi Convention Center, other venues across Oʻahu that will host FestPAC Hawaiʻi events will include Bishop Museum, Capitol Modern, ʻlolani Palace, Kawaiahaʻo Church, Kapiʻolani Band Stand, Kualoa Regional Park, Polynesian Cultural Center, Pālama Settlement, Kapolei Regional Park, and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

FestPAC Hawaiʻi 2024 expects to attract 100,000 local and visitor attendees. Each of the 28 nations’ ministers of culture is allowed to bring up to 100 delegates who specialize in cultural practices.

For Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders living in Hawaiʻi, this year’s festival will bring forward their homeland’s sights, sounds, tastes, and visuals for all to share.

According to the 2020 Census, 317,497 Native Hawaiians live in the State of Hawaiʻi, along with over 30 different groups of Pacific Islanders. The Samoan population is the largest, at 40,871, followed by Marshallese, Tongan, Chamorro, and Chuukese.

For Salā, who is both Samoan and Native Hawaiian, FestPAC Hawaiʻi offers a rare moment of cultural exchange and unity.

“FestPAC is the foremost platform for the celebration and perpetuation of Pacific arts and culture. This is a once-in-a-lifetime, unique opportunity for Hawaiʻi to showcase our cultural heritage with our broader Pacific ‘ohana, while also fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Pacific’s collective identity,” Salā said.

At its February meeting, Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) trustees authorized the disbursement of $1.5 million to assist the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture hosted in Hawaiʻi. The funds will help support the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, an Ecumenical Service, a Pacific Traditional Leaders Forum, and other event programming.

“It is important that the Native Hawaiian community be at the forefront in representing these islands, and OHA is proud to represent the voice of the lāhui at this international celebration,” said OHA Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey. “This is an opportunity for Hawaiʻi to rekindle our relationship with other Pacific Islanders.”

OHA will bring together traditional leaders from other Pacific Island nations at an unprecedented forum designed to strengthen bonds between the island nations.

“At the end of the day, this Festival is meant to celebrate the people who make up the region and meant to bring these people together in a way that elevates what we have been doing for generations and generations and generations, and reminding ourselves that we aren’t alone in this ocean,” Salā said.

For more information about FestPAC Hawaiʻi 2024, including Festival delegations, event programs, and venue information, visit www.festpachawaii.org.