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  • Mauatua Fa’ara-Reynold

Akamai Night 2024

Words by: Mauatua Fa’ara-Reynolds (she/they)

Over the past couple of months, I’ve often experienced these waves of existential dread and bone-deep hopelessness where I can’t imagine a way out of this dystopian situation we’re in. There are genocides left, right and centre. Our nations are led by archaic monsters. And Mother Earth is so tired. It’s all so heavy, so exhausting. But there are these lovely little pockets of incredible promise when I’m just given a little morsel of something to hold out for. And Akamai Night was one of those; I have never felt more proud of the upcoming generation of Pasifika learners and thinkers. 

But first, a little bit of context. PASI101, ‘The Pacific Heritage’, culminates in a creative project that reflects the student’s understanding of the course, which they can choose to present at the Akamai night. Overall, twenty-four students from PASI101 performed at Akamai, showcasing their hard work from the past eleven weeks through dance, song, visual art, poetry, short story or sculpture. Started by the late Teresia Teaiwa, the Akamai nights (deeply cherished by Vic’s Pasifika students) first began in 2001 and continued until 2019 but was transferred online because of a certain funky little epidemic. So, this was the first Akamai to be done in three years — a long-awaited event. 

By the time I’d entered the Hunter lounge, I hadn’t slept for two days — I was exhausted and felt so sluggish. But I persevered, and as with any Pasifika event ever, I was immediately met with a wave of sound (I’m pretty sure it was Kolohe Kai playing) and familiar faces — an instant mood boost. For the rest of the night, I had taps on my shoulder followed by massive hugs and an “Oh my gosh! I haven’t seen you in so long! How are you? You been well?” or a “I’m not sure if you remember me, but …” “Of course I remember you! I missed you!”. It’s moments like those when I’m reminded of the breadth and width of our love for one another.

As the starting time drew closer, more students filed in with their families. Beautiful young women in their puletasis, beaming mamas with tiare behind their ears, proud papas with their heads held high, and kids with too much energy to be sitting down for three hours. Soon enough, the lights dimmed, the island jams quietened, and a voice called from above on the balcony. The PASI101 2024 cohort joined this voice, singing ‘E hō mai’, a Hawaiian chant usually performed before a ceremony that requests knowledge and wisdom from the akua — I had goosebumps trailing up my neck. 

April Henderson, the programme director of Va’aomanū Pasifika, then walked up onto the stage. She warmly welcomed all the students, families, and supporters to the event. She explained the importance of the Akamai project, stating that “Pacific histories and stories have always been produced and disseminated through art”, thus honouring indigenous methods of knowledge (re)production.

After April spoke, Nālani Wilson-Hokowhitu, the new lecturer of PASI101, came up to greet everyone and praise the students for their hard work. She then explained her reasoning behind opening the event with ‘E hō mai’, saying it helps decolonise and indigenise the event, ‘activating’ the space. This embodies the whole ethos behind Pacific Studies; how do we indigenise traditionally colonial spaces? Well, we run events like this. 

Once both lecturers had spoken, the two MCs came up to the stage, Daniel Kumar and Marina Jokes. And the energy these guys brought to the show, oh my goodness. Daniel was hyping up the performers like they were his own cousins and punctuated his sentences with a cheeky little ‘slay’ here or a ‘boots’ there — perfect for engaging our chronically online rangatahi, e.g. me. Marina balanced Daniel’s vibe really well, bringing the formality and appropriate etiquette that I’m sure a lot of parents and grandparents were looking for.

Once the show started, I oscillated between dangerously close to sobbing and just straight-up sobbing. I was so taken aback by the quality of the performances and art presented by the students. They were thoughtful, well-researched, and full of love. The students evidently had a really strong understanding of course content, and took it one step further, using course material to make sense of their own worlds and shape their dreams for the future. This is true learning. This is deep learning. When information gets stuck in your teeth and takes a week to digest, but dear god does it nourish you. Given the space and opportunity to explore their own (hi)stories and ideas, the students truly flourished and presented incredibly innovative work

Okay, in full honesty, I’m giving you all an extremely biased review of Akamai Night. I’ve been a walking billboard for Pacific Studies at Vic for the past two and a half years. My evidence:

a) wrote a feature article about how much I love PASI

b) was a tutor for PASI101 

c) shamelessly attempted to recruit high school students to do PASI as a major

d) will YAP if you mention PASI within a 100m radius of me

So yes, this isn’t an objective review. And no, I could not give less of a fuck. Because I know just how formative and influential this programme is. PASI101 is one of those special courses that bleeds into your everyday life and makes the world a little clearer and more detailed.

Thus, my recommendation to the reader: go to Pasifika events. Sit and listen to what they’ve got to say. Enjoy the cheehoos and hyena laughs. Dance along to Nesian Mystik. Clap and cheer. I think you’ll be surprised by how assured and hopeful you’ll feel after. There’s some incredible thinking and doing happening amongst our communities. E.g. watch this space.


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