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Laufatu o fa`atufugaga

Pacific arts

Totō hau tōkiga nei, aua na tupulaga e fāi mai

Plant a seed today, for the future generations

Help your children to learn about their culture and heritage so they can be confident in their identity – Tokelau proverb

This is a series of four videos showing kaiako from a range of ECE services across the motu (country).

The kaiako share how they support, empower, and nurture Pacific tamaiti, and their āiga in their identity, language, culture, and wellbeing across the four interconnected Pacific arts areas. 

For the purpose of this resource, we look to the Samoan word for the arts, Fa’atufugaga. Pacific arts in this context is Laufatu o fa’atufugaga. Laufatu o fa'atufugaga is presented in four areas through authentic cultural practices and rituals.

  • Laufatu o tala ma fagogo / storytelling and legends
  • Laufatu o pese ma siva / songs and dance
  • Laufatu o mamanu / printmaking
  • Laufatu o le lalaga / weaving

The videos showcase examples of Pacific art forms and demonstrate how they are embedded into everyday life experiences, and how they are interconnected and woven together through combinations of storytelling, oral performance, dance, music, movement, pattern making, and the creation of artefacts such as ula or tapa.

Framing the examples of Pacific art in all of its forms are the three Turu (principles) of Tapasā (Ministry of Education, 2018).

The principles are:

  • Turu 1 – identities, languages, and cultures
  • Turu 2 – collaborative and respectful relationships and professional behaviours
  • Turu 3 – effective pedagogies for Pacific learners.

The overarching Turu encompass all of the Pacific Islands nations.

Throughout each video in this series examples of the Turu are represented. In this way, a Pan-Pacific approach is forged, whilst also acknowledging and emphasising the specificities of particular arts found in the different Pacific Islands nations represented in the videos.

The Turu acknowledge that identity, language, and culture are important. These can be successfully fostered through the arts, as a way of acknowledging individuals within their own specific cultural context. This is significant for quality teaching and to ensure equity and inclusion for Pacific learners and communities in Aotearoa.

 Teachers and children creating art using flowers.

What are the Pacific arts about?

For many Pacific peoples, art, culture, and daily life are connected. The arts are an expression of creation and connection that tells stories of culture, communities, traditions, and genealogy. Most importantly, identity, language, and culture are at the forefront of engaging in Pacific arts by making connections with the stories, histories, values, and beliefs of Pacific nations.

Each Pacific nation has its unique ways of telling its own stories that describe who they are through songs, poems, dance, and patterns. These relate to their environments, unique histories, previous generations, ancestors, and families - but there are also common threads they share.

The use of natural resources and materials in Pacific arts is common. Making use of abundant natural resources connects people strongly to the land and the natural environment. It is an expression of acknowledgement of creation and supports sustainability.

There are indigenous processes across the Pacific that provide frameworks for approaches to life and ways of knowing, being, and doing.

For example:

  • the kakala represents the Tongan process of selecting the most beautiful flowers and leaves to create garlands
  • in the Cook Islands the making of ‘ei katu involves the gathering of flowers and leaves to weave
  • in Fiji the process of salusalu involves weaving dried flowers into a necklace
  • in Samoa, the process of laufatu, weaving flowers and leaves to create ula and floral garlands.

All of these artefacts are created to adorn people and decorate environments for special occasions and events.

This highlights the significance of the art forms surrounding us in connecting to the people, places, and things we engage with in our everyday lives and serve to strengthen and enhance our identities, languages, and cultures.

Pacific people are creative in using the environment to represent their values of welcoming and including people. Spaces are often decorated with art created by using natural materials and resources. Through art practices, values, spiritual beliefs, and pride in identities, languages, and cultures are demonstrated.

Experiencing spiritual connectedness through the arts is significantly important to Pacific people. The actions and words in songs, dance, stories, and patterns convey spiritual connections with the environment and ancestors as well as spiritual beliefs and values.

Why Pacific arts matter

The arts are a way for tamaiti to connect with identities, languages, and cultures and the ways that cultural heritage is passed on through the generations. Connections to identities, languages, and cultures give a strong sense of wellbeing and belonging, which empowers tamaiti to engage in learning and feel confident to express their own ideas and share their knowledge.

When tamariki wellbeing and sense of belonging are strong they are better able to engage in effective and meaningful learning.

Te Whāriki (p26) states that “for Pasifika children, wellbeing is a multifaceted concept that encompasses the child, parent, āiga and wider relationships. It is important that kaiako are sensitive to the different ways that the diverse families represented in their setting may understand and seek to promote wellbeing.”

As a powerful form of communication and cultural expression, the arts have the potential to contribute to learning and wellbeing in many ways. It is important that kaiako can recognise and plan for opportunities that support Pacific tamaiti to engage in Pacific art forms and plan for effective learning outcomes throughout all the strands of Te Whāriki.

Successful learning outcomes are assured when kaiako in early learning services are inclusive and ensure that they engage āiga. This is further supported when learners know that their cultural knowledge will be nurtured and valued and sustained.

“Teachers need to understand that Pacific learners inhabit different realities, learn, and engage in multiple ways and come into early learning settings … with unique skills and talents and knowledge”. (Tapasā, Ministry of Education, 2019, p9)

In a Pacific worldview, the arts are undertaken with a specific purpose. This could be weaving a basket to carry something, creating patterns and prints for a tapa to be used for a ceremonial occasion, or performing a traditional dance, where cultural knowledge is shared through the story told within the dance routine.

These art processes and practices all provide Pacific peoples with ways to feel deeply and spiritually connected to their ancestors and their own histories. Through art experiences like these, children in our early learning services can feel a deep sense of belonging and connectedness.