Pinktober fever in the villages

Pinktober fever has reached the villages in Samoa. It happened yesterday when the Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts group from Sydney, Australia, visited Afega.

The group is in Samoa to perform in honour of their friend, mentor and former Miss South Pacific, the late Manamea Apelu-Schwalger. Her friend and another former Miss South Pacific, Maryjane McKibbin Schwenke said it’s an honour to dance for Manamea in a fundraising concert titled Love is Bigger than Cancer at the Orator Hotel.

Manamea passed away in April this year after a long battle with breast cancer, but not before becoming the face of Samoa’s Pinktober campaign.

 “I promised Manamea I would keep her legacy going,” Ms. Schwenke said. “Everything she did, she did out of love. Without her I might have not checked myself earlier this year and treated my own cancer scare.”

Ms. Schwenke and her husband Frederick Schwenke are the directors and founders of Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts, a dance group established to give Pacific Islanders in Sydney a space to be themselves among peers.

The group has over 300 students registered from island nations far and wide – Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Maori from New Zealand, Hawaii, and Fiji. They are in Samoa this week to perform at the fundraiser for the Cancer Society, but on their way are making a few special stops.

One of the families in the group comes from Afega, so yesterday morning the dancers visited the preschool and primary school to gift sports equipment and share a dance or two. The children of the preschool performed a siva-tau for the group and received a Maori haka in return.

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Ms. Schwenke said her people are highly represented in negative statistics in Australia.

 “When you’re in Samoa, you see the best of yourself, but outside of Samoa, in Australia, you’re shown the worst.”

According to Ms. Schwenke, Pacific Islanders in Australia suffer low confidence and self-esteem, which produces poor results at school and therefore later in life.

“Pacific Islanders have very deep roots, going back 3000 years. Becoming a minority in Australia, that has got to have some impact, right?

“By immersing these kids in their own culture and in each other’s cultures, we try to uplift them and give them confidence in themselves,” she said.

Not only that, but the dance group creates bonds between a myriad of different groups.

“Sydney is such a divided city, even between Samoans, I’m sad to say. But at Matavai, we unite these kids and connect by telling each other stories of our people.”

The group’s success has gone beyond the children and parents who dance at their purpose-built warehouse in Prestons, Sydney.

They have been invited to perform on Fox, in the children’s show Play School, and for large audiences at national sporting events.

“They are calling us, our kids, to entertain them and that’s great because there aren’t enough brown faces on TV,” Ms. Schwenke said.

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