Delegations from twenty-seven Pacific nations gathered in Palau from 22-31 July 2004 for the Festival of Pacific Arts, a magnificent celebration of Pacific cultures that takes place every four years. Launched in 1972 in an effort to safeguard Pacific art and performance traditions, this Islander-organized and Islander-oriented festival remains the foremost arts event in the region.
For participants, selection as a delegate offers a marvelous opportunity to travel to a different part of the Pacific, to learn about the practices of other Pacific islands, and to proudly represent the home culture through carefully prepared presentations or cultural displays. Many report an increased pride in their own heritage and greater awareness of its importance as they reflect on the similarities and differences that mark Pacific cultures. For the observers who come from around the world, the event presents continuous performances and exhibitions that run from morning until late at night, providing an unparalleled concentration of outstanding music and dance as well as access to an incredible array of Pacific [End Page 512] Island traditions in one locale. Exhibits of modern visual arts, festival booths displaying beautifully crafted local products not easily found elsewhere, culture-specific demonstrations (featuring everything from traditional medicines and food preparation to tattooing, wood carving, and weaving), an ecumenical worship service, and ample opportunities to listen or dance to popular Island music now enliven the festival program and extend its dimensions far beyond the traditional music and dance performances emphasized in the early years. In addition, symposia, film showings, and cultural presentations provide venues for intra-Pacific dialog and achance both to follow emerging regional trends and to hear Pacific artists and cultural representatives discuss issues of current interest to Pacific Islander artists.
Given the range of people who participate in the festival—as organizers, performers, artists, cultural representatives, government officials, observers, documenters, and scholars—it is possible to appreciate the event from several different angles. My viewpoint, as a scholar documenting music and dance performances, is only one small part of the picture, albeit one that draws on attendance at five of these festivals as a point of comparison.
The choice of Palau as host for this Ninth Festival of Pacific Arts proved to be a truly excellent one. Previous gatherings have taken place in Fiji (1972), New Zealand (1976), Papua New Guinea (1980), French Polynesia (1985), Australia (1988), Cook Islands (1992), Sāmoa (1996), and New Caledonia (2000); this was the first time the festival had invited the member nations to experience Micronesian hospitality. Although many initially wondered if a community the size ofPalau (population approximately 20,000) could accommodate such a substantial and concentrated influx of over 2,000 visitors, Palauans proved beyond a doubt that thoughtful planning, careful execution, clearly defined lines of responsibility, and close attention to detail could override any concerns about their ability to deliver a large, multinational event.
This festival was like a finely tuned dance. The planning for the festival was superb, and festival coordinators were remarkable in their ability to keep everything on schedule. In contrast to some previous festivals where overbooked performing commitments and widely spread venues left participants little time to interact with other delegations or even to enjoy the festival themselves, Palau's organizing committee skillfully designed both awell-paced, varied program and a strong central hub of activity around the bustling festival village in downtown Koror. Close attention to the myriad logistical details required by such a large gathering meant that delegations arrived at the proper place on time, venues were well equipped with sound and light systems, police kept the traffic moving, and we awoke each day to a clean town and renewed festival village.
Festival organizers attributed the success of the festival to their reliance on traditional Palauan social structure and being able to adapt established chains of command to the festival context. Assigning host sister states to assume the responsibility for each delegation had several benefits. The festival was no longer purely a "city" [End Page 513] event; it moved into the lives...