Culturally and geographically, the Solomon Islands are part of the archipelago chain Melanesia. Consisting of 992 islands, the Solomon Islands are the second largest set of islands in this Melanesian chain. While the people here are predominantly Melanesians (likely the ancestors of current day Papuan-speaking people), there are also Polynesians, Micronesians and smaller groups of Chinese and Europeans living here and amongst this diversity there are between 65 and 70 different languages spoken throughout the islands.
A central part of the culture on the Solomon Islands is found in the concept wantok, a communal support system existing within a family or clan. Similarly, in the more modern context of contemporary culture, traditional values and cultural practices are asserted through the idea of kastom; an idea advocating the focus on the local and traditional over imported and international traits. An example of this is found in The Festival of Pacific Arts, an event that is held every four years and takes place over a two-week period, creating a unifying experience for artists and cultural practitioners from across the Pacific. 2012 saw the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts which took place in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, from the 1st to the 14th of July and was also the largest regional event ever to be hosted here.
The idea of the festival began in 1972 at the Conference of the South Pacific Commission. The group have vocalised their goal to ‘help Pacific Island people position themselves effectively to respond to the challenges they face and make informed decisions about their future’ with the vision of securing a prosperous Pacific Community. The creation of the Festival of Pacific Arts came from the idea that the erosion of traditional customary practices needed to be combated. The theme for the 2012 festival was ‘Culture in Harmony with Nature’, which once again points to the importance of staying true to the traditional ideas of wantok and kastom and also shows how the festival can be seen to provide the Pacific islanders with an opportunity to ‘unite to enhance their respect for the appreciation for one another within the context of the changing Pacific’.
The festival has four different categories of activities for the artists and practitioners to participate in: symposiums and workshops, performing arts, literary arts and demonstrations and exhibitions. Under the category of performing arts there is room for traditional and contemporary music and dance, as well as drama and storytelling. Within the literary arts, there will be indigenous and foreign poetry, short stories and novels, non-fiction and stage, radio and film scripts. Demonstrations and exhibitions cover a list of artistic possibilities from visual arts exhibitions to tattooing and fire walking and the culinary arts. Overall, the festival creates an opportunity for the people from the Pacific to show how interwoven culture and nature is in this region, but also an opportunity to work together in the preservation of their uniquely Pacific customs.
The video below shows dancers from Fiji, at the 10th Pacific Festival:
By Sarah Mitchell