Two dance team leaders have come forward with accounts of political power plays behind the scenes and are hoping more people will speak up for the sake of change.
Jacob and Tofu Helen Samson from the Rakahanga team say they were extremely disheartened to learn that their highly praised Kapa Rima performance had been scored so low, and said it was just another example of unfair practises.
Jacob says the Rakahanga team were struck by the loss of one of their girls in a fatal crash, but were told by family to keep moving forward with their performances to honour their team member.
He says for this reason, they were troubled by the alteration to Friday and Saturday’s original and agreed upon schedule so Manihiki could have a day of mourning.
Jacob says Manihiki used the day to practise tirelessly before their performance on Saturday, which was unfair to the rest of the teams.
However, a Manihiki team member, who asked not to be named has disputed this claim, saying they didn’t use the day to train at all.
Jacob says they then learned that the schedule had been changed so that Manihiki would perform last, instead of Rakahanga.
When he took his concerns to Secretary of Culture, Sonny Williams, saying that Rakahanga did not want the changed schedule, Jacob says the response was shocking.
“Williams said that he is the boss, and if he wants to change the schedule, he will change the schedule,” Jacob says.
When Jacob refuted this, he says Williams told him that Rakahanga had an hour to decide if they would perform in their new spot or not, and if not, they would be disqualified.
“I told him that his reputation was on the line for unfair treatment, and he said he didn’t care and that he and the Prime Minister had already agreed on the change, and then he walked off,” Jacobs says.
Jacobs also emphasised that his concerns were not targeted at the Manihiki team, but only lay with the people in power not doing things right.
“All dance teams need to be treated fairly, and equally, for the sake of the younger generations who work their butts off every year and want to keep coming back,” he says.
When talking about the results, Jacob says he has been inundated with texts, calls and Facebook messages from people who can’t believe their performance was ranked so low.
“Many people told us our performance was one of the best Kapa Rima’s seen in years, and they just can’t believe the results.”
Helen Samson spoke up too, saying everyone who participated in the performances worked tirelessly, and mostly with their own time and money, because they love their culture.
“We paid our own fares here and give our own time to the Rakahanga dance team, but we love it and we love our culture. But young ones may as well go do hip-hop if this treatment continues.”
She also says they were discouraged to learn that Sonny Williams had visited Manihiki to talk to the dance teams ahead of the competition, but had not also gone to Rakahanga nor had they heard any kind of welcome from him when they arrived on Rarotonga.
Helen claims when they were ‘threatened’ by Sonny Williams for disagreeing with the schedule change, the whole team morale just dropped.
“The young ones were crying, and everyone was just disappointed that all their hard work and training might have been for nothing,” she says.
But, determined not to let their preparations go to waste, Helen says the team did end up performing their Ura Pau on Saturday night, despite the commotion.
Both Helen and Jacob are calling for a change in the way the Te Maeva Nui competition is run behind the scenes, saying it is becoming discouraging for the younger people.
“We don’t want to leave the standard where it is, we want the younger generation to keep raising the bar and to not just accept this kind of treatment,” Jacob says.
“The people in power need to do things right and treat everyone fairly.”
CI News tried to contact Sonny Williams for his side of the story but we were unable to get a response before the newspaper was printed .