Otufelenite Tongan Dance Ensemble
IDENTITY: Tongan / Meetu'u Paki
The ancient kingdom of Tonga sits in the middle of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by the islands of Samoa, Tahiti, New Zealand and Fiji. This tiny archipelago boasts spectacular natural extremes, from low coral islands to towering volcanoes. It is the oldest and last remaining monarchy of the Polynesian Islands and it is the only one that has never been brought under foreign rule. Consequently, there is an age-old purity in the artifacts, dress, music and dance of Tonga.
In general, all Polynesian dance can be seen as a visual extension of poetry. It uses chants as a vehicle to pass on the cultural history, to pay homage to the land, and to praise high-ranking chiefs. Maintaining ties between family and community is an important value for Tongan people. This concept, known as tauhi vaha'a, is key to the preservation of the culture. Evening gatherings, called po-lotu, are held regularly where over 1,000 community members may join together to discuss religion, community and family values, and to socialize through music and dance.Tongan-born director, Siu Tuita, is a member of the extended Tongan royal family. She founded the Otufelenite Tongan Community Organization 20 years after migrating from Tonga to Oakland. Otufelenite, meaning "friendly islands," fosters thousands of Tongan immigrants in the Bay Area to reconnect with their heritage through history and art programs. These include, training in music, dance and the art of tapa cloth making. Made from the bark of the mulberry tree and dyed with natural color, this age-old tradition is maintained by the women of the community. Traditional songs and special seated dances are done during these communal tapa-making sessions.
TITLE OF PIECE: My
Otufelenite Tongan Dance Ensemble presents a loving tribute to their homeland. Three dances, the Paddle Dance, the Kava Dance, and Girls Beauty, express the love and honor of the Tongan heritage. They evoke images of nature, artifacts, and people of the island.
Hand and arm movements are emphasized in Tongan dance as they illustrate the words of the chants. There is less hip-swaying then Hawaiian dance, yet the legs and lower body are used to maintain the earthy rhythmic pulse. The use of the hands is quite articulate, such as flexing and extending the wrists, curling the fingers, changing palm facings and clapping the hands.