The Mayor at the Pasifeka Festival
Yesterday I went along to Auckland’s Pasifeka festival. Len Brown was performing the Mayoral tour of each Island Nation village at 10 am and the call had gone out for elected people to go on his walkabout with him.
The turnout by elected people was very poor. There were members of the Youth Council and the Pacifica Council present but no Councillors, and only five Local Board members, three from the South and two from the West. The US Ambassador and his wife and some staff were present. We fairly quickly assumed the mantle of being Len’s homies, meant in the nicest possible way.
The poor turnout did not deter Len. Clearly the past two and a half years have had a significant effect on him. But for the Bevan Chuang relationship I suspect that Len would be lining up his third term as super city Mayor. This incident and the toxicity of Auckland Council mean that a third tilt at the mayoralty is not feasible. I believe that Len has done the right thing by deciding not to stand again. I believe however that history will record his tenure as mayor as a time when significant changes and improvements were made.
Len clearly enjoys Pasifeka and was really in his element.
Our first stop was at the Rarotongan village. The official speeches were taking a while so we quickly bypassed to Tokelau. This set the theme for the day. Young and not so young women were dancing, the crowd was happy and the sounds of guitars and people singing was every where. A short speech by Len was finished by a rousing rendition of Pokarekare Ana by the homies.
Second stop was the Tahitian village where a rousing dance by four young women was interrupted by our arrival. Another speech, an acknowledgment to the role that a Tahitian played in the discovery of New Zealand, another waiata, this time Te Aroha, some more dancing and we were off.
We then went to the Tuvaluan village where the extraordinary Fala Haulangi had organised a very impressive village. We arrived just at the time that the Labour MPs were in mid speech and unintentionally stole a bit of their thunder. Len gave another speech, was dressed in a colourful dress and performed another dance and we left, but not before Fala took the opportunity of reminding us all that if Auckland really wants to be the world’s most liveable city then it should be paying everyone a living wage.
After this we went to an open stage where a young rapper was performing. Len was greeted by him and then engaged in a fierce rap battle where the words “Ngati Whatua Room” were mentioned. He took it in good humour and was then thanked and acknowledged.
Next stop was the Hawaiian village and some stunning dance performed by a local dance school. The American Consulate took the opportunity to say a few words and then Len also spoke. Another waiata and we were on our way. This crowd was spared the sight of our dancing.
Then to the Tongan village and more dancing on stage. This crowd was not as lucky as the crowd watching the Hawaiian stage. Te Aroha was sang twice, the second time because the audience participation was so poor.
After that we walked past an area where Mai FM had set up. Things were that happy that even the police were dancing.
Len decided to respond but did not quite have that same sense of grace displayed by the Police Officer.
Then to the largest village, the Samoan village. Another warm greeting and words of thanks and this time a Samoan hymn, Fa’afetai. After that a few more photos and then time to go.
The whole festival is extraordinary. Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world and it is right that we celebrate the various cultures. I have spent some time in Rarotonga and Samoa and this had let me start to appreciate the deep and vibrant culture in each country and the differences. This was reinforced by Pasifeka. Each culture has definite similarities but also clear distinctions. The whole day is one big celebration of diverse Pasifeka culture.
And Len? I suspect these events are the highlight of his working life. He is capable of doing the hard graft and the gentle advocacy that is required to get projects such as the inner city rail link over the line despite the hostility shown by the Government to this project.
He is able to handle the knuckle fights that too many Council meetings degenerate into. He is able to keep working even though the relationships on this Council are as toxic as I have seen.
But he genuinely likes people and is not in the slightest stuffy. And the warm funny happy gentle approach that the Polynesian people display at Pasifeka is something that he is very comfortable with.
Len was greeted at every venue with all of the reverence and affection that his position demands. Every trip was punctuated by greetings and high fives and selfies and photo ops. He really is loved and respected by the Pacific Community.
Overall the festival was a great success and deserves to continue to receive Auckland Council support. And I am sure that Len will be back next year as a private citizen enjoying the Ice Cream and Pineapple, singing boisterously and high fiveing everyone who shows the slightest inclination of responding.