Chris Thompson: Polyfest 2015

Voices - 7 April 2015

Chris Thompson, from our 2015 Cohort, teaches Maths at Southern Cross Campus. Here, he describes his experience of Polyfest 2015.

Located in the South Pacific Ocean, 2400 kilometres to the Northeast of New Zealand is the ‘Rock of Polynesia’ - Niue. However, for me it was about to get a whole lot closer. I had just started my Teach First journey into becoming a High School Maths Teacher at Southern Cross Campus (SCC; located in Mangere). Being a keen and eager (and naïve) new teacher, I wanted to throw myself into everything possible – despite all of the warnings about how hard first year was. And so I put my name down for being a Teacher in Charge for our Niuean cultural group which would perform at the ASB Polyfest. I had been to previous Polyfests as a student, but this was to be my first time actually being involved in a group.

Polyfest, if you have never been before, is a massive celebration of culture, with students from all over Auckland performing cultural songs and dances. The largest festival in the world of its type, there are six main stages – Maori, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Niue and the Diversity stage (which features cultures such as Chinese, Fijian and Indian). Every student strives for their best, as the ultimate goal of trophies and honour pushes them to great heights. It is an amazing experience. What you don’t see though, is the amount of hard work, effort and time that goes into what seems like an amazingly short 20-30 minute performance on the day.

From Week 2 of Term 1 till Week 8, our school was abuzz with Polyfest. During that time school becomes a chorus of beautiful singing, loud sounds of the pātē (a Polynesian wooden drum), ukuleles and guitars. It is a celebration of culture in its most raw form, and I had a lot to learn. I quickly learned some basics in Niuean when our boys started learning their takalo (a war dance similar to a haka) although the words used during that are probably not ones you would say to anyone unless you were looking for trouble.

We would practise from 3.30 till 5.30 every day after school (so planning for lessons often got…postponed), and the students absolutely pushed themselves. The community also plays a huge part, as we were lucky enough to have one of the fathers of the students come and help with the choreography, and one of the mothers helped out with the costumes. The week of Polyfest, all the groups have a Fiafia (or Fiefia depending on whether you are Tongan or Samoan) night – where the parents get a chance to witness what the students have been working on and offer advice – kind of like a mini Polyfest. It was a great to meet some of the parent, and slip in the cheeky word about how their children are doing in Maths.

On the day our students showed no signs of nerves (unlike me – I was a wreck trying to get them all organised). They went out there and gave an amazing performance. Unfortunately we didn’t place anywhere, but it was the largest Niuean group SCC has ever had and they did themselves proud. However, our Tongan group won the Lakalaka, and the Cook Island group came second overall – a great performance by SCC! The week after Polyfest was very odd. There was no more singing and no more ukuleles. However, the sounds of the pātē will always stay with me. It was an amazing experience, an awesome celebration of culture, and really show-cased just how talented our students were. BRING ON NEXT YEAR!