Attending the most densely packed change-making, creative and artistic environment on offer is a dream come true for 23-year-old Zechariah Soakai.
The Poet and English Teacher in training is one of a diverse and talented delegation of Māori and New Zealand-based contemporary Pacific artists and rangatahi leaders selected to represent Aotearoa at the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture in Hawai’i, in June 2020.
Twenty-eight Pacific nations were invited to attend, and the Arts Council extended an invitation to New Zealand-based contemporary Pacific artists to present a voice of Aotearoa within Te Moana-nui-kiwa.
Zechariah was one of three Pacific young people to be selected for the Ka Hao Te Rangatahi (Youth Leadership Ambassador) Programme, along with Emily-Anne Muli and Etanah Fuimaono-Lalau.
New Zealand-born Zechariah is of Samoan and Tongan descent and was raised in South Auckland.
He comes from a family that bred resilience, humility and kindness as fundamental values, he says.
“I'm an English teacher in training with Ako Matatupu's flagship Teach First Masters programme through Mindlab, and a recent graduate from The University of Auckland.
“That's my academic background, but as an artist I've been fortunate enough to win poetry slams, go on poetry residencies and even make a short film.
“It's been a wild journey so far and one I'm thankful to God for.”
Zechariah says his role at the Festival which is themed around E kū i ka hoe uli - Take hold of the steering paddle (Steer your own course) will be to connect with other young leaders, artists and activists from across the Oceanic region.
There the ambassadors will dream, discuss and breathe into the future of what the land and oceans will look like; and also discuss who they are becoming as a people, he says.
“This sort of talanoa can only happen with the guidance of our elders, so I see a lot of inter-generational and cross-cultural talanoa happening during my time at FestPac2020.”
This sets the tone for the real mahi which will begin when the delegation returns with their learnings from the Festival to their respective home countries, he adds.
Although the Festival is a year away, Zechariah says there is plenty of preparation to do beforehand.
“For me, this will be continuing to ground myself in the lived realities of the communities I represent.
“To be diasporic, urban, young and Pasifika, I really feel like the only form of preparation I can do for something as momentous as this is to understand and continue being myself and true to all those I represent.”
He says he plans to bring integrity, compassion and grace to this project.
“I also need to read up - my Pacific Studies background has given me a great critical and theoretical base to work from, but one would be foolish to ever think they could be a master of the world's most diverse region.”
Artistically, professionally and personally, Zechariah hopes to gain insight into what it looks like for Pacific people to “decolonise”.
“I fervently believe the arts have the potential to create change.
“I also want to pick up old/new ways of being that will bring about social and cultural change for our communities…I can continue to up-skill in the emotional, spiritual and artistic mediums to be able to heal those 'invisible' wounds that are sometimes harder for us to recognise but just as potent.”
Visit Creative NZ to see the full New Zealand delegation selected to travel to Hawai’i, for the Oahu-based Festival, from June 10 – 21, 2020.