Pasefika Student Union represents at dance showcase

The Utah Tech Pasefika Student Union is a student-run organization that holds members of a diverse group of Polynesian students, intending to preserve cultural heritage. This group of students have been putting in time and sacrifice meeting 2-3 times a week in preparation for the annual Utah Pasefika Intercollegiate Showcase March 23. | Photo courtesy of Hetiare Tahauri-Atuaia

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The Utah Tech University Pasefika Student Union will be participating in the annual Utah Pasefika Intercollegiate Showcase, a celebration of tradition, culture and shared identity.

The showcase unites Pasefika students from across Utah to gather and display Pacific Islander culture through dance and song. It is hosted by Utah Valley University and will include performances by Utah Tech, Weber State University, University of Utah, Salt Lake Community College and Southern Utah University. The performance will take place March 23 in the Rebecca Lockhart Arena and is free and open to the public.

This year, Utah Tech will be representing the island of Tonga. Each participating university was assigned a Pacific Island to represent in the showcase through cultural song and dance.

“Getting to experience the Polynesian community and being able to learn their culture through song and dance has been so fun and interesting,” said Hakela Ogden, a senior history major from Oahu, Hawaii.

PSU has been preparing for the showcase since last semester and will be performing both women’s and men’s dances. There will be three group performances and one solo performance.

President of PSU Nasinu Finau, a freshman dental hygiene major from Lehi, will also be performing a solo dance.

“Each song has a story that goes along with it,” Finau said. “For example, the first song represents how the ocean can be calm and rough, which relates to our lives. We have to be calm during the rough stages.”

The women will be performing the tau’olunga, a traditional Tongan dance for young women that uses hand movements, which interpret the meaning of the song. They will be dressed in ta’ovala mat skirts, kiekies, ribbons, jewelry and feathers. 

The men will be performing a dance about fishing, which depicts how to cast out a fishing net and reel it in quickly. Fishing is an integral aspect of Tongan culture, cuisine and life on the island, and the men’s dance captures its livelihood.

Tonga, like many Pacific Island cultures, uses dance and song to portray meaningful stories, messages and lessons. Utah Tech’s second dance is aimed to portray the islands of Tonga and how men are taught to respect women from a young age. The showcase is meant to teach both participating students and audience members these lessons through each dance.

“As we have been learning the choreography and dance, we have had the opportunity to learn about Tongan culture, which is a great opportunity since it isn’t really taught around here,” Finau said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 1% of the population of St. George identifies as a Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander alone as of July 2023.

Aside from showcasing Tongan culture, the showcase has allowed Pasefika students the opportunity to collaborate together and foster a sense of community.

“The best experience that I’ve had at Utah Tech has been getting to know other Pasefika students in Utah,” said Tiafu Gora, a freshman general studies major from Oahu, Hawaii. “It was eye-opening to see men at this school who didn’t think they could do this join and show that they can.”

While the majority of the students performing in the showcase are of Polynesian heritage, non-Polynesian students have also been participating in the student union and its events.

“Anyone is welcome in the club,” Finau said. “It’s for everyone, and we’re all learning about Polynesian culture together. Learning about other cultures is what makes us more understanding to others and lets us grow.”