Utah exhibit explores ‘collective rest’ in Pacific Island communities

The display will be at the Friendly Islands Tongan Festival on Saturday until 9pm

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rain falls as members of Denise’s Polynesian Creations band prepare to take the stage during the Friendly Island Tongan Festival at Jordan Park on Thursday, August 11, 2022.

Looking at carved wooden and bamboo headrests from the Pacific Islands in a museum can be interesting.

At first glance, this shows how a sturdy arch could work as a pillow for individuals or families. But put in context, the artifacts say more. They reflect the history of a people who value collective rest and cultural embrace.

That’s what Amelia Afā’ Aikona Niumeitolu meant when she mounted the exhibition ‘Asoso: Resting Collectively, Rising Collectively’, which opened on Friday evening during this week’s Friendly Islands Tongan Festival in West Salt Lake City’s Jordan Park.

The exhibition will continue until Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“Aikona Niumeitolu wondered how her ancestors in the 1500s and how Pacific Islanders in Utah thought of rest. She found answers in Utah, home to one of the nation’s largest Pacific Islander populations, and in Massachusetts, where a collection of headrests from Oceania is on display at the University’s Peabody Museum. from Harvard.

The resulting exhibition is an immersive collection of photos, cultural objects, videos and stories from children, youth, elders, LGBTQ, Indigenous and Black communities.

“We wanted to have a platform,” ‘Aikona Niumeitolu said, “and raise the volume of those voices.”

She and a team of volunteers from Utah were able to hold and touch the headrests of this exhibit. Now they are sharing the experience and plan to continue this work and visit other community spaces.

Jakey Siolo, a victims’ rights advocate who lives in Salt Lake City, said the project allowed him to share his perspective as half Samoan and a member of the LGBTQ community.

“I find a lot of rest in community work,” he said. But there are also things, he added, that also need to be put to rest in different communities, such as colorism, homophobia and transphobia.

Sinia Maile, who grew up in a Tongan family in Utah, also shared her experience of racial identity conflicts.

“If you’re mixed race, you don’t feel Tongan enough for Tongans,” she said. “Or they’re not white enough for white people.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sifa Kolo and Seti Hausia perform during the Friendly Island Tongan Festival at Jordan Park on Thursday August 11, 2022.

These stories are shared among other cultural activities at the 25th annual Tonga Friendly Islands Festival, which features live entertainment, sports, a traditional kava ceremony, food and vendors from Tonga and other island communities. of the Pacific.

Even on a rainy day, people gathered under umbrellas on Thursday evening to enjoy a barbecue while watching drummers and dancers in traditional dress.

“I see a lot of people coming and bringing their kids,” said Sesili Taukiuvea, who is on the advisory board of the National Tongan American Society and traveled from Ogden to attend the festival. “They want their children to know our country.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Many Polynesian vendors set up for the start of the first day of the Friendly Island Tongan Festival at Jordan Park on Thursday August 11, 2022.

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America member of the corps and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by clicking here.

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