The Legend of Song: An Interview with Te Fare O Tamatoa

The core of our annual Seattle Children’s Festival is to create a space for youth and families to get to know their neighbors and the diverse cultures that thrive within our big neighborhood. One of those cultures that we’re very excited to have represented at this year’s festival is the beautiful Polynesian culture. Te Fare O Tamatoa, a nonprofit organization based in Beacon Hill, strives to raise cultural awareness by educating the public about Tahitian drumming and dancing.

Comprised of members of all ages, Te Fare O Tamatoa spreads the beauty of the Polynesian culture through offering drumming and dance classes and performing at various festivals and gatherings. We are so excited to have Te Fare O Tamato at this year’s Seattle Children’s Festival. Check out our interview with Nanave Radford, the Artistic Director of their dance group, Te’arama, where we chatted about the Polynesian culture and what we can expect from their performance at the upcoming festival on October 8!

We are so excited to have you at this year’s Seattle Children’s Festival! Can you give us a little hint of what to expect from your performance?

Your audience can expect a high energy performance of traditional Tahitian culture with some modern flare.

Can you explain the meaning of Te Fare O Tamatoa? How did it originate?

Te Fare O Tamatoa translates to ‘The House of Tamatoa.’ When we use the name Tamatoa, we are speaking of the King Tamatoa II from the island of Raiatea in French Polynesia. It is from him that our matriarch, Manio Radford and her family, are descended. Many of Te Fare O Tamatoa’s instructors and directors are of the Radford family and in trying to choose a name for our organization 10+ years ago, we decided to go with something that held true to our roots. Something that held meaning for us and who we are and what our mission is. Spreading Tahitian culture through song and dance from our culture to yours.

On your website, it says that dance was used as a way of communicating when there was no written language. What role do you think the arts play creating a form of communication within our multicultural community?

“Art is a very powerful and personal way of communicating. “

It is so important that these ways of sharing history, emotion, experiences, etc. stay alive in our communities because not only is it a unique way of expressing a group or one’s self, but it’s a part of who we are and where we have come from. Every culture is very different yet the same in some ways. We may not always understand each other when we speak. However, an image, a sound, or a dance, can all speak messages beyond what words can express. It’s a way to understand one another even if we can’t speak to one another

How do music and dance help you to celebrate the Polynesian culture? What role do the arts play in Polynesian culture?

These arts are a part of who we are as a people and who we always have been. Arts even beyond song and dance with things like jewelry and clothing/regalia. The role it plays is an identifier of who we are.

What is one thing about the Polynesian culture that you wish people knew?

“I wish people knew that Polynesia is more than Hawaii and Moana.”

Growing up a mixed Polynesian individual, it is nice to see this change. With the recent release of Disney’s Moana, the Polynesian culture has had great exposure, but I feel like this could also cause people to be confused. My older brother’s name is Tamatoa. People think he’s named after a shiny crab. he’s not; He’s named after the King from Raiatea.

What kind of stories do you share through song and dance?

Within our organization, our performance group, Te’arama, mostly shares legends. My favorite so far was our legend “Te Vahine aita-ata” which means the man eating woman. This woman keeps her daughter sheltered from everything until one day, a man makes it onto the grounds where he falls madly in love with the daughter. In the lovers’ plan to escape the mother, she finds out which leads to the eating of the man. There are of course songs of everyday life such as how to use the ground oven, the beauty of a woman, or falling in love, which we will also dance to.

What is one thing you learned from the founder of Te Fare O Tamatoa founder, Manio Radford, that you wish to pass on to future generations?

The importance of knowing your culture’s language. If we do not continue to speak our language, it will die.

Why do you think it’s important to expose the youth to various cultures, identities, and people?

Because it’s good to know that not all people are the same yet we can tend to have similarities within our different cultures.

How do you live out the meaning of “folk life”?

Our goal with Te Fare O Tamatoa is to share as much knowledge as we can about Tahitian and Polynesian culture. I personally am still very limited in my knowledge, but whatever I can share, I will and in whatever way that I can.

Join Te Fare O Tamatoa, Northwest Folklife and Seattle Center in celebrating Our Big Neighborhood at this year’s Seattle Children’s Festival, happening on Sunday, October 8, at Seattle Center. Witness the beauty of the Polynesian culture at Te Fare O Tamatoa’s performance at the Armory Court Stage from 4:15-5 PM.

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