Nearly 100 Māori and Aotearoa-based Pasifika artists represented this country at the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts in Guåhan (Guam) this May into June. With 26 other Pacific nations represented what began in 1972 as the South Pacific Arts Festival is considered the premier arts and culture event for the Pacific region. The festival takes place every four years, bringing together more than 2000 artists and other cultural practitioners. In 2016 the theme was; What we Own, What we Have, What we Share, United Voices of the Pacific. The Māori committee of the Arts Council of Creative NZ were responsible for Aotearoa’s representation. Auckland hip hop, Pacific and avantgarde engineer/producer Matthew Faiumu Salapu, aka Anonymouz, was on board (just) and very kindly agreed to provide NZM with this diary of his trip to the little-visited land of Guåhan (as it is written in the island’s indigenous language, Chamorro).
My exciting journey as one of over 100 Aotearoa NZ artist delegates to the 12th International Festival of Pacific Arts held in Guåhan started off crazy – realising at the early morning Auckland departure boarding at Whenuapai base that I had forgotten to pack my passport. I had focused too much time the night before double checking the packing of my portable studio gear that I was taking over for my soundscape project ‘Resample: Guåhan’.
My wife immediately booked me onto the very next domestic Air NZ flight to Wellington in order to board with the delegates there after the Royal NZ Air Force flight had picked up the Hamilton lot. Having redeemed myself upon arrival there, little could have prepared me for the epic journey we were all about to embark upon!
Following the five hour flight to an overnight stopover in Townsville, Australia, we found ourselves back in the air on the way to Guåhan, having waiata practice on the plane in preparation for various upcoming functions.
Upon arrival in Guåhan and clearing customs, we were met with a traditional welcome from the local indigenous Chamorro people, to which our contingent replied with a karanga and haka. We were then shuttled off in school buses to Okkoru High School where we were to be based, along with the Mariana Islands’ delegation.
After settling in, my video artist Tuki, assistant Junior and I decided to join a bus load of kids from Saipan on a late night run to K-Mart, which proved to be an eye opener. On one side of the store was a packed in-house pizzeria, while another aisle featured locals mulling around in the crossbow section analysing arrow tips.
After spotting Junior’s and my traditional Samoan ‘pe’a’ tattoos on our knees, a local Chamorro homie by the name of Ben approached us to ask if we were from either NZ or Samoa. Our reply that we represented both brought a flurry of excited selfies and conversations about the All Blacks before we hopped back on the bus, marvelling at the craziness we’d already witnessed just hours into our stay on the island.
Hafa Adai! It was quite surreal sitting at breakfast and seeing esteemed musicians like Maisey Rika, Rob Ruha, Paddy Free and Horomona Horo wander past with their cornflakes. Inspirational stuff!
We were all bussed out at 4am to the shores of the main festival village to witness the arrival of many waka that had navigated their way from their respective islands using only traditional voyaging techniques. They included a lone aboriginal man who had rowed all the way from Australia on a three-metre wooden raft! Unbelievable. I managed to record some beautiful pukaea sounds and local chants and percussions as well.
The official opening ceremony held in the local Paseo stadium in the evening featured each delegation proceeding down centre stage to offer up gifts, accompanied by traditional performances. Come our turn, we felt like All Blacks walking down and performing in the middle of thousands of screaming people led by the amazing current Matatini Kapa Haka champions Te Whānau ā Apanui. The night ended with an epic performance from the local contingent that involved a huge choreographed cast, flaming torches and fireworks.
My project on this trip was to produce a 20-minute soundscape work created entirely out of location and performance sounds recorded around the island, loosely arranged chronologically and thematically to the little known story of I’iga Pisa, a Samoan chief exiled in 1909 to Saipan. He daringly voyaged solo to Guåhan before eventually returning to Samoa years later.
Today, we hired a rental and headed off to the northern most tip of the island where I’iga landed, Ritidian Point, to record the sounds of the sea there, the very same waters he would have heard upon arrival over a century ago. With this critically important sound recording completed, we offered up a prayer on the shores before heading back off out south to check out the amazing views.
Headed back out to Ritidian where we coincidentally came across a tour group of scientists and archaeologists in the jungle being shown around by an amazing kuia by the name of Emily G. Sablan. She kindly invited us to join them, and we managed to get some great sounds and footage of some ancient pre-colonial environments.
Headed into the traditional tattoo village to record some sounds, and amazingly, we bumped into Ben again (from our K-Mart escapade), after which he declared that it was no coincidence, inviting us out crab and pig hunting sometime over the next few nights. Game on!
At night, our delegation hosted and entertained Guåhan’s governor and other heads of delegations at the picturesque Jimmy Dee’s beachfront bar, ending in traditional Kiwi fashion with an open mic and singalong at the night’s conclusion.
We headed out with Ben and some of his family at night in two 4WDs deep into Marble Cave bush territory, where we caught some coconut crabs in a cave before heading further up to a cliff top, where I recorded some epic waves crashing below – as well as the crackle of a fire they lit to bring the pigs and deer out. It was a pretty quiet night however so we exchanged stories and legends before heading back to our drop off.
The morning featured a combined church service in the Sinajana district where Junior recorded the university orchestra performances before our delegation was treated to the most epic feast ever (over 40 dishes including 15 different meats!) before performances were exchanged between us and the locals.
Ben picked us up for dinner with his whanau at his place, where we returned the favour by holding an impromptu interactive demonstration of sampling and making beats with their family kids, using the sounds of his backyard.
Kickstarted the day attending an awesome music wānanga at the museum where I was so inspired by the pearls of wisdom shared by Maisey, Rob and Horomona, before hitching a ride out to the university theatre to catch a whole bunch of awesome Kiwi shows. Hugely inspired by the day’s events, we headed back to the studio to recalibrate the soundscape.
Our premiere of the soundscape tonight at the museum’s indoor theatre went awesome. We were blessed with a full house, the presence of the NZ and Samoan head of delegations as well as I’iga Pisa’s great grandson Siliga who gave a heartfelt testimony. We found out that tonight was also the very same night his great grandfather left Saipan for Guåhan. Mindblowing. We played the soundscape through twice, the first time in the complete dark and the second with Tuki’s accompanying visuals. Plenty of laughs and tears in the theatre during and afterwards, it was a great reception all round. Mission accomplished!
Lots of shopping for the family!
We’re headed home! Our delegation is bussed out early morning to the airport, where Maisey serenaded a beautiful native ko ‘ku bird that had come out to farewell our street artist couple Charles and Janine who had painted two of the most amazing large scale bird murals ever. We depart for another overnighter in Townsville, looking out the windows on takeoff reminiscing on the most amazing two weeks that had just flashed by.
An early morning RNZAF flight brings me right up to this present moment as I type these final lines in the clouds, somewhere between Australia and Aotearoa, having obviously successfully remembered my passport this time!
This trip has been a once in a lifetime experience, meeting amazing people and interacting with other creatives of all disciplines at the top of their game. One cannot help but be hugely inspired being immersed in such a cauldron of culture and creativity for two full on weeks.
The most grateful of thanks to Tanea Heke and Creative NZ for having me and my team on board, and also to the rest of our delegation whānau who we have bonded with.
To the people of Guåhan / Guam, your amazing manaakitanga, your hosting, your fa’aaloalo has been second to none. Biba Guåhan! Biba Chamorro!