Ho‘oulu Lāhui: Regenerating Oceania

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Keoni Souza: Trustee At-Large

The 13th Annual Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FestPAC) presents an unparalleled opportunity for Hawaiʻi to engage with neighboring nations across the Pacific.

FestPAC is the largest celebration of Indigenous Pacific Islanders and was created in 1972 to “halt the erosion of traditional practices through ongoing cultural exchange.” The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) recognizes the monumental significance of this event, particularly since this is the first time Hawaiʻi will host since its inception 50 years ago.

I am excited to share that my fellow trustees and I have approved a $1.5 million sponsorship of FestPAC. The decision to allocate funds to the Festival of the Pacific reflects OHA’s dedication to promoting unity, collaboration, and positive change on a global scale for our Indigenous people. And it emphasizes Hawaiʻi’s commitment to being a leader in addressing the challenges and opportunities that define the contemporary Pacific landscape through our culture.

With Festival Commission Chairperson, Kalani Kaʻanāʻanā and Festival Director, Aaron Salā we are assured that FestPAC in Hawaiʻi will be worth the long wait. Their vision (nuʻukia) and deep knowledge (ʻike kūhohonu), are sure to unify the delegations from 28 Pacific Island Nations for “10-days of cultural exchange, appreciation, and celebration.”

About 2,000 delegates are expected to participate, including 100-person delegations from American Samoa, New Caledonia, Australia, Palau, Fiji, French Polynesia, The Cook Islands, and more.

The theme this year is “Hoʻoulu Lāhui: Regenerating Oceania”.

Along with showcasing culture and the arts, FestPAC is scheduled to address pressing contemporary issues including economic prosperity, climate change, education, and cultural appropriation.

The festival aligns closely with OHA’s mission to mālama Hawaiʻi’s people and environmental resources, and OHA’s assets, toward ensuring the perpetuation of the culture, the enhancement of lifestyle and the protection of entitlements of Native Hawaiians, while enabling the building of a strong and healthy Hawaiian people and lāhui, recognized nationally and internationally.

FestPAC will take place June 6-16, 2024, with a Waʻa Ceremony scheduled for June 5. Opening and closing ceremonies will take place at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and the Festival Village and Expo will be at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center, with other venues that include ʻIolani Palace, Bishop Museum, Kawaiahaʻo Church and more. The official FestPAC website is: www.festpachawaii.org.

Beyond my role as an OHA trustee, I am especially excited to meet representatives from different countries and share my passion for music and dance. My wife, Mahina, was fortunate enough to participate in the 2008 FestPAC hosted by American Samoa. She was invited with her hālau, Ka Lā ʻŌnohi Mai o Haʻehaʻe and nā Kumu Hula, Tracie and Keawe Lopes to join the Hawaiʻi delegation that year. She recounted the enlightening cultural connections she made during her time at FestPAC, as opening the door to meaningful friendships that have contributed to her resilience and strength as a Kānaka Maoli.

As preparations for the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture gains momentum, OHA looks forward to being the lead organization to host the Pacific nations, presenting an opportunity to foster meaningful dialogue, cultivate lasting partnerships, and inspire collective action toward a brighter future for all Pacific peoples.

My ʻohana is very much looking forward to FestPAC in June, which will allow our keiki the opportunity to engage with and fully immerse ourselves in Pacific Island culture and arts. What a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience for us all!