Contemporary Rotuman Artists


From Fijitimes Online (3 May 2009)

Reviving Culture

by Geraldine Panapasa

Reviving material culture which have been lost over the years while nurturing and developing artistic excellence are two important aims of the Rotuman and Polynesian art space called Rako.

Located at the Fiji Centre of Arts along Waimanu Road, Rako started as an initiative by Fiji Arts Council director Letila Mitchell and LäjeRotuma Initiative (LRI) founder Monifa Fiu to research and revive many art forms that Rotuma had but not been practiced for years.

LRI is a community-based environmental education and awareness development program in Rotuma and the art space provided the creative freedom for the organization to explore new ways of working in the community through arts.

According to Mitchell, LRI gives Rako the needed cultural grounding and support to ensure cultural arts are rooted deeply in Rotuma heritage.

"I became quite aware from my work with Fiji Arts Council since the Pacific Arts Festival in Palau in 2006 about the lack of representation of Rotuma and Fiji based Polynesian artists in the arts sector in Fiji," Mitchell said.

"So I felt with my experience and my networks, I needed to find a way to provide a platform for these communities, particularly the Rotuman community to become involved.

"I spoke about it with some of the representatives form the Rotuma Council a few years ago and the idea further progressed when one of my mentors Reverend Emotama Pene and Vilsoni Hereniko encouraged me to take it on."

She was approached by a few members of the BSQ Krumping squad, a few Cook Island artists and other young Rotuman artists for support and when the Fiji Centre for the Arts was developed in December 2008, they paid for the art space for emerging and senior artists.

Mitchell said the space is not an exclusive space to only Rotumans and Polynesians but its main focus was on the revival of Rotuman art forms that have not been practised over the years.

"Monifa Fiu and I are part of a smaller collective called MamaHanua, which means Mothers of the Land," Mitchell said.

"We worked together a lot last year for about six months and were really excited about the collaboration.

"We realised from this work together how important it would be for both Rako and LRI to come together to support each other.

"The aim of the space is to bring our artists and community together in a space that is conducive to learning, to teaching and to creating.

"Rako and LRI both benefit because at the end of the day our goal is the preservation of our traditional knowledge and the revival of ancient environmental, conservation and artistic practice which in the Pacific is all connected." Mitchell said Rako means school or a place of learning in Rotuman and with 30 current artists within the collective, the space is an interactive portal where many artists learn new disciplines. She said through story telling and mentoring from the elders, many art forms are slowly being revitalized.

"Some of our dancers are now painting and some of our visual artists have begun to try dancing. Every week, a new skill is learnt like last week, our boys began to learn fire dancing," Mitchell said.

"We have started to research old practices that don't exist any more such as the solo female dances, the tapa cloth and tattoos that Rotuma has lost.

"It is a space where we bring our elders together with our young artists to pass on stories and teachings which is something that would have happened naturally if we were all on the island living in our traditional homes, but being in the city, the reality is that these story telling circles now very rarely exist." Some of the programs at the art space include a Dance for Fitness class every Tuesday, Kids Krumping class on Thursday, Kids Pacific dance class on Saturdays and arts mentoring sessions on Friday afternoons. Mitchell said work has already begun with LRI where two artists in Rotuma are undergoing training. Alfred Ralifo, one of the founding core group members of LRI said they needed an office space and Rako offered to share their studio space as co-tenants.

"A lot of the members of Rako are Rotumans who like to learn more about their culture and heritage," Ralifo said.

"LRI also use art as one of its tools during its outreach program. We can also tap into the talents of Rotuman artists who are members of Rako.

"Through its activities on the island, LRI is able to identify young and talented artists and through its link with Rako and the Fiji Arts Council, we hope to be able to connect these budding artists to further develop their skills through organized workshops and other programs. LRI is a close associate and friend of the Fiji Arts Council. Having an office space for LRI is a milestone.

"It has shown how LRI has developed and evolved from humble beginnings since 2002 to where it is today."

Ralifo said the office space would assist LRI with its daily affairs.

Rako's first exhibition is on May 14 but other artists have also been invited to participate in an exhibition to celebrate Rotuma Day called Otomis Rogrogo - Our Stories.

Mitchell said they are also anticipating an art exchange program with Tahitian artists and musicians in July where Rotumans have had a historical connection in the past.

"The talents are exceptional, diverse and very special but we seriously lack the support and awareness of how important it is to nurture these talents," Mitchell said.

"The creative sector is the fastest growing industry in the world and with so much unemployment, crime and violence amongst our youth throughout the Pacific, it is essential to start to look at the creative sector to provide new types of employment and careers.

"While the talent is there, I just hope for the community to begin to provide more support and encouragement.

"Many of our artists have come to Rako with low self esteem and have little value for their work and often this has come from the lack of encouragement or in many cases told for much of their lives that they are a waste of time.

"This is heart breaking because in ancient times in our traditional communities artists were valued for their contributions to community and this has been lost. We hope this would be a stepping stone for Polynesian artists. It has at least been for the current members and we hope it will be for others who join."

The art space is open to everyone and includes workshops and dance classes. Mitchell said keeping a positive environment was an important aspect of Rako. The launch of the art space was held at the Fiji Centre for the Arts two weeks ago and was blessed by Reverend Raki Tigarea of Churchward Chapel.

Rako flyer

From Fijitimes Online (20 July 2009)

Tuamotu's close Rotuman link

By Ruby Taylor Newton

Close heritage links bet-ween Tuamotu in Tahiti and Rotuma were explored through song and dance between youths from French Polynesia and Rako dancers from the Fiji Centre for Arts on July 15.
Niukia Tamariki Ariki, led by Perry Alphonse and his five all-male band, taught Rako youths a few songs, ukulele and guitar strumming, drums, and the famous Tahitian haka.

The locals in return taught them a Rotuman chant and other cultural practices.

Perry, a songwriter, composer, musician, choreographer and music and language teacher in French Polynesia said they wanted to do a day-long exchange program with the locals.

Niukia Tamariki Ariki means Royalty Child of Niukia, islands in Tahiti," Perry explains. "They play music using ukulele, guitars, drums. They also teach Tahitian dances and songs," he said.
Perry says his six-member delegation was just a small taste of what Niukia Tamariki Ariki was all about.

It's actually a well known Tahitian song and dance group made up of 8 female dancers and 10 male dancers, who entertain on French Polynesia.

The delegation performed its last act on Wednesday night -- the main venue for the second Pacific Youth Festival.

"We've accomplished what we wanted -- we taught the locals some of our songs, how to play the ukulele and drums and a dance, and we've learnt from them too, so it has been a wonderful learning experience for us all," a happy Perry said.

Rako, made up of Rotuman youths, has been around for six months.

"Rako in Rotuman means a place of learning where it's about our young people retaining their heritage, learning more about their culture and their language and because they become strongly rooted in their culture, they are able to them express themselves creatively and in a contemporary setting as well," Letila Mitchell said.

"The band is here from Tuamotu and they have very close heritage links to Rotuma and so we are trying to find those reconnections, so it was a first chance for us to exchange music and they also taught some of our girls a dance, we taught them a Rotuman chant, so it was really about cultural exchange to reconnect those ancient heritage links."

The two groups performed what they had learnt as the opening act to the Birds and Turtles art exhibition at the Fiji Centre for Arts on July 15.

Contemporary Rotuman Artists