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FestPAC is called ‘a beautiful, chaotic mess’

HONOLULU — The state’s hosting of the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture is at its midway point, and Makanani Sala, FestPAC operations director, described the event as a “beautiful, chaotic mess.”

As a first-time host, Sala said, there were some logistical challenges the festival faced when accommodating over 2,000 delegates from 27 Pacific nations.

There had been some concerns regarding food distribution, as there were more people participating than initially anticipated.

The state had allocated 100 people per delegation, but some delegations have brought in more self-funded delegates, which resulted in a lack of food supply. Additionally, some delegations have invited local diaspora delegates to participate.

“It’s amazing to see them all work together, but it was logistically difficult to take care of the visiting delegates,” Sala said.

Five days after FestPAC kicked off, Sala said Monday that the committee has “figured it out and are finally getting it right.”

Sala said there have also been a few public comments regarding the prices at the Festival Village marketplace, where each delegation sells its own local products at their designated hale.

Delegates faced extra costs and fees, such as customs, brokerage fees, transportation and trucking fees, general excise tax and point-of-sale system costs when selling their products in Hawai‘i.

The company that was contracted to provide for FestPAC — Gravitas Pasifika — recommended that delegates add those costs, totaling roughly 35 percent, to the products to receive the full amount they intended to receive when selling them.

“Our company has covered all the pre-costs that we’re not getting reimbursed for,” Sala said. “So, the solution was to run it consignment style, where whatever the cut is off the top of their sales goes to pay for the expenses we’ve already incurred on their behalf.”

Gravitas Pasifika is conducting business on behalf of the international delegations because the artisans from all over the Pacific are not licensed businesses in the state of Hawai‘i.

“We are getting a little bit of a misnomer and a rap that someone is trying to make money off of this, but the actuality is just trying to cover stuff that is already incurred,” Sala said. “People are saying, ‘How dare you take from Native artists?’ It looks like a markup, but it’s really to cover back-end fees.”

While the supplemental costs are not legally required, it was a suggestion made by the festival directors to assist the delegates in receiving the full intended amount for their products.

Tonga brought more than 200 items into Hawai‘i to sell, all locally handmade and produced in Tonga, ranging from small wood and bone carved necklaces to large mats and designed tapa cloths.

Pauline Siasau, deputy CEO of the Tonga Ministry of Trade and Economic Deve­lopment, clarified that her hale selling Tongan products in Hawai‘i is not for profit.

Siasau said the products range from $10 to $4,000, with the most expensive being woven mats, which are “very highly valued products according to our culture.”

“We price all our products at the equivalent of our local market prices in U.S. dollars,” Siasau said. “On top of that, we include a margin to cover the fees and logistical costs in Hawaii so that we can cover our expenses. Apart from these costs, there are no additional charges.”

Siasau pointed out a tapa cloth that took about two months to create and costs about 5,000 Tongan pa‘anga, which converts to $2,100. With the supplemental fees, the product is for sale at the Tongan hale for $2,500, priced less than the festival’s recommended 30 percent.

“We had to pay to bring our items here, including cargo and airfare,” Siasau said. “Upon arrival we also had to pay duty for cargo clearance from airlines, as well as customs fees and various other logistics expenses, such as transportation by trucks.”

Laufatu Mataipule, an Ewa Beach resident originally from American Samoa, attended his first FestPAC event Monday and purchased a $35 tapa artwork from the Tongan delegates to “connect” with his Tongan heritage.

He said the arts showcased all over the Festival Village are culturally special, especially because the delegates brought them from their homes to Hawai‘i to share their culture and heritage.

Mataipule believes it’s “only fair to charge their products at their desired rate.”

“There’s something offered for everyone’s price point,” he said. “Some of the art is more affordable, while others are very unique and, of course, priced higher.”

Sala said that the delegations have “honestly been really great and understanding.”

Despite the challenges faced while organizing and hosting over 20 delegations, she believes “the craziness is all worth it.”

“To see people experience the life-changing nature of FestPAC for the first time, it brings me to tears,” she said.

While FestPAC highlights the importance of the Pacific, Sala considered it to benefit local residents the most.

“All these people already live amongst us, but we don’t necessarily value them,” Sala said. “We are sort of at the bottom of all the measures of success in the American context — health, incarceration and socioeconomic-wise.”

“This is a way for us to celebrate who we are and what we bring to the table. We are not just people who have this rap of not being successful in a Western context. You put us in our own context and we thrive.”
Source: The Garden Island

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