Cook Islands cultural festival welcomes Melanesia wantoks

Two boys from the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have been showing Cook Islands locals their skills at this year's Te Maeva Nui festival.

Nikao village is one of four teams from Rarotonga competing in this year's cultural competitions. 

Vanuatu's Julian David joined the village team three years ago, while Alfie Ngire from the Solomon Islands came in six weeks ago. 

Both boys say they have enjoyed learning the cultural dances of their new homeland, but have made history for Melanesians who are a key part of the migrant worker community in the country.

In past years, other ethnic groups have led guest evenings celebrating their own indigenous cultures - but for the two young Melanesians, it's been a steep and fun-filled learning curve taking on the technique, sounds and learning of often gruelling physical performances alongside Cook Islanders. 

On stage, their skin colour has been the only difference alongside their fellow performers, including their ability to carry a kapa rima (action song) tune, work out those knee joints for the ura pa'u (drum dances), and belt out a pe'e (chant) in the Māori language.

Nikao team leader Walter Tangata says the desire from foreigners to learn more of Cook Islands culture is a good thing.

"We are actually quite proud of them. To have someone who is not a Cook Islander to want to learn our culture is an awesome feeling. They [David and Ngire] are showing our people our culture, and it should be the other way around," says Tangata.

"I hope our people look up and understand we have foreigners wanting to learn our culture and that's an impressive thing to achieve especially for guys who are so young. They actually want to learn."

Tangata says it's a sign of the times and the infectious influence of Cook Islands cultural dance across the world.

He says the impact of Cook Islands drumming and music is already being seen in other cultures of the region, whether creatives want to admit it or not. 

"They've become part of the furniture," he laughs. "We're happy to have them and for any other people who want to join, we welcome them with open arms."

"We're quite happy to share what we know. At the end of the day if we don't share what we know, then our kids of tomorrow won't understand what our culture is all about."

The final performances for the festival were held last night and the awards will be presented today.