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James Griffin: The Pasifika experience

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James Griffin: The Pasifika experienceTe Maire O Rangi Atea performers cover themselves in coconut oil before their performance at the Pasifika Festival, Western Springs. Photo / Michael Craig

As the cicadas pack up their incessant chirruping for the winter and Auckland enters what some are calling its post-Bruce phase, there is still time for the city where, apparently, "the show never stops" to sneak in one more mega event: Pasifika.

If you haven't been to the Pasifika Festival, you really should. It is a chance to walk around Western Springs, sampling the cultures, music and, above all, the foods of the many wonderful Pacific Island nations with whom we share our little corner of the planet.

At Pasifika you can chow down on palusami (which involves taro leaves and coconut cream) at the Samoan village, then whip across to Niue for fai kai, which is a fish dish baked in coconut cream. And then, if the concept of coconut cream-based cuisine is hitting the spot you can scurry on over to Tokelau for sua ika, which is another fish dish, this time boiled in coconut cream.

After that you can waddle over to the Cook Islands village for a dessert of poke, which involves even more coconut cream, plus the added bonus of banana.

For those not into coconut cream there is plenty of other food to be devoured. The Tonga village will be whipping up tunu puaka, which is pig on a spit. And if underground cooking is your thing, there is plenty to go around at the lovo at the Fijian village.

Meanwhile, above ground, over at the Aotearoa village there's a good, old-fashioned boil-up to be had.

Many cultures, one park, two days. A gluttonous good time is guaranteed for all.

There is, however, in my humble opinion, one Pacific culture that is missing from the myriad cultures at Pasifika: the Palagi culture. Sure it may not be politically correct to celebrate the people who are only really in this neck of the ocean as a result of colonialism but I think it would be wonderfully inclusive if somewhere, in a quiet corner of Western Springs Park, there was a Palagi village.

The Palagi village would be a place of restrained and self-effacing celebration of the assimilation into the Pacific world of those locals of European descent. The village would be surrounded by a freshly-painted white picket fence and the lawns within would be meticulously mown. The centrepiece of the Palagi village would be a structure representing the back of a traditional villa, or house, with a deck attached as a space on which to perform Palagi dances and rituals.

Among the many Palagi cultural items that would be performed on the deck/stage over the course of Pasifika would be a dance known to the Palagi as "Shouting Along To Tom Jones Singing Delilah After A Few Beers Too Many At The Party". Strangers to the Palagi world could also be invited to get up on the deck and try the traditional Palagi dancing style of tucking the elbows tight into the side of the body, balling your fists and then swivelling back and forth like an agitator in a washing machine.

Later on in the day a rousing game of backyard cricket would break out. Visitors would be able to stand and admire the way the Palagi argue over whether the batsmen was out "leg before" or if the ball was "going over the top". People could even join in if someone hands them the bat, as long as they understand that if they hit the ball over the picket fence and into the neighbouring Tahitian village that it is "six and out".

Food is, as stated, the most important element of the Pasifika experience and this would certainly the case in the Palagi village. The skill of the Palagi chefs in taking a humble vegetable like the asparagus and rolling bread around it would be there for visitors to watch and then partake. For the more adventurous eaters in the throng there would also be things on sticks.

Meanwhile over at the traditional Palagi cooking shrine (or "6-burner gas barbecue" as it is known in the Palagi parlance) visitors could watch the Palagi menfolk as they stare at the meat being charred. Occasionally one of the menfolk will point at a piece of meat and mumble something, which the Palagi man holding the sacred ceremonial cooking tongs will ignore. Later, when the meat is sufficiently scorched it will be doused in tomato sauce and served to the visitors or "guests" on a paper plate.

As enticing as all this sounds, I'm afraid there won't be a Palagi village at Pasifika 2014.

Maybe next year. This does not in any way detract from the awesomeness of the event and if you have never been to Pasifika you are hereby urged to get along.

Especially if you like coconut cream.

- NZ Herald

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