SIVA: Uniting Samoans in America through dance

(HONOLULU)—As students across Hawai’i prepare for the We Are Samoa High School Cultural Arts Festival Saturday May 9 in La’ie, students in Washington excitedly look forward to the First Annual High School Samoan Arts Competition May 15 in Des Moines.

May is a big month for Samoan language, arts and culture in the state and the nation.

FIRST ANNUAL H.S. SAMOAN ARTS COMPETITION-WASHINGTON

The Washington competition that includes participants from nine schools – is the brainchild of two Samoan student-athletes at Mount Rainier. Tasked with a senior project, football players Jersiah Tafia and Leuea Loto, both 18, decided to expand on the already established Pacific Islander Club at their school. Jersiah was born in Hawai’i and Leuea was born in American Samoa.

Jersiah told tautalatala.com it was listening to his mother’s We Are Samoa stories that gave them the idea to host a similar event. Previously, the Club performed at luau and community events. Grades among club members were poor but the students would all show up to practice.

“Listening to my mom’s stories about high school and her events with club members in Hawai’i…videos, watching them,” said Jersiah, a quarterback and safety who will attend Washington State University on an academic scholarship. “The GPA in our club was low…we were trying to upgrade it. We put dancing and grades together and came up with this idea.”

Leuea and Jersiah say the hardest part was getting the Club together.

“The biggest challenge was trying to get the Club together for our two-hour practice,” said Leuea, a defensive tackle who is on his way to San Mateo College in California. He plans to major in Communications.

“I’m looking forward to being with family, having a nice time and making good memories with our PI family.”

Dancing with the Club has become a powerful incentive, motivating students to do well in academics – first. Pre-Senior Project, there were no academic requirements to participate. Students are now required to maintain a 2.5 Grade Point Average if they wish to dance.

“The focus is academics,” said Sharon Tafia, Jersiah’s mother, a 1998 graduate of Waipahu High School who served in the US Navy. “Their grades were slipping but they would always show up to dance practice. We wanted to encourage them. The students have tutors…we wanted to use dance to help students get their grades up. We monitor their grades and they each have a file. This is all new to them…we have a whole community involved.”

A noteworthy accomplishment for the Club was seeing two juniors make a complete academic turnaround because they wanted to dance. From freshman year to their junior year in high school, the two students got straight Fs.

“They had all Fs as juniors. This is the first year, first semester, they got their grades up,” said Sharon who represented the Waipahu High School Marauders as Taupou in the 1998 We Are Samoa.

Participating schools are: Mount Rainier, Federal Way High School, Kennedy Catholic High School, Cascade Middle School, Pacific Middle School, Evergreen High School, Highline High School, Tyee High School and Sylvester High School.

Practice for Mount Rainier began in February. Dance instructor is Marcus Sagapolutele, formerly of the (now disbanded) United Samoan Organization of Hawai’i, or USOH. Mount Rainier will open the May 15 program with a cultural showcase featuring the dances of Tonga, Hawai’i, Aotearoa and Tahiti. The group is comprised of 45 students of various ethnicities: Scandinavian, Irish, African-American, Vietnamese, Tongan, Hawaiian, and natives of Guam, Kosrae, and Chuuk and of course, Samoan.

The actual individual and group Siva Samoa competition will follow the Polynesian Showcase. Students from the nine schools have been grouped into three dance teams that will be scrutinized by a judge’s panel.

The event will be held at the 700-capacity Mount Rainier High School Gymnasium. It starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are sold out and visitors are expected from California, Utah, North Carolina and Hawai’i. Interest from schools outside of Washington that would give the event 19 participating schools, have Mount Rainier looking for a much bigger venue for 2016. The PI Club is working with a few people at University of Washington and Green River College to locate funding for the competition.

“For most of our students, this is their only exposure to the language and culture...discipline…and respecting your elders. The songs are translated into English so they are learning the language,” Sharon explained. “There is no fighting allowed. We emphasize unity…we are all one family and we love each other.”

Jersiah, future Sports Medicine major, says he looks forward to performing and “seeing everyone give it their all…for dance and culture.”

‘WE ARE SAMOA’ HIGH SCHOOL CULTURAL ARTS FESTIVAL-HAWAI’I

The La’ie event, in its twenty-third year, will see scores of students in high school Samoan and Polynesian Clubs demonstrate their skills in Siva (costuming, poise, dance movements and interpretation), oratory, fire making, basket weaving and coconut husking. We Are Samoa participants say it is not a competition this year.

We Are Samoa, is part of the three-day World Fireknife (Siva Afi) Championships being hosted by the Polynesian Cultural Center May 7-9. Tickets (3,000) for the high school festival sold out a week ago, said the PCC box office, Friday May 8.

Salt Lake-based Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center will sing the opening song at We Are Samoa. It starts at 9 a.m. Hawai’i Standard Time. Watch the livestream here: http://livestream.com/polynesia-live-event/events/4026564

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Photo Credit: 
Sharon Tafia
Members of the Mount Rainier High School Pacific Islander Club in their Tongan costumes after practice. The Samoan arts competition in Washington will open with a Polynesian cultural showcase that includes Tonga.