The popular Oka Festival organised by the Samoa Culinary Association is gaining global appeal.
That’s thanks largely to international coverage being provided New Zealand’s Fresh T.V. and other international media groups.
Filming the Festival for the third time since its inauguration in 2016 was New Zealand based Fresh T.V, who have become big supporters.
Lisa Taouma, Producer of Fresh T.V. and founder of the online community Coconet, said the Festival is important not only for Samoa but for Pacific Islanders all over the world. This is why she makes it a point to film it every year.
“Even though Fresh T.V have filmed the event every year, but I’ve never been able to be here so I’m so excited because it’s the first time that I’m here,” she said.
Being here personally to participate was exciting for her, proving that the oka festival has a point of difference in the vast list of global food festivals.
“This event is fantastic because it’s so dynamic and there’s lots of food festivals in the world and there’s hardly any that have this adrenalin and physicality,” she said.
“All the food fests globally they try to have a point of difference but there’s nothing that has the adrenalin, when you see these guys going hard out, cracking the coconuts, squeezing the pe’epe’e and its amazing because its like a really physical challenge – it’s not just creative challenge.
“You’ve got everything there, you’ve got a physical challenge, you‘ve got the adrenaline of the comp and you’ve got the creativity and the sheer skill of handling fish and making Samoa’s most prized and common dish.
“It’s a really unique selling point for Samoa because it elevates the humble oka to a level of this kind of competition but also because these guys don’t have to be top chefs to do it or have special culinary skills to do it with creating their favourite version of the oka.”
Organising such a big event is taxing activity on anybody and Taouma commended the organizing committee who had the foresight and passion to accomplish something unique to Samoa and the Pacific.
“Big props to Joe and Horace and Samoa Culinary association because I tell you these guys are just working their butts off, they have done just a massive job to market and promote this event. You can have any amazing event you like but if there’s no one driving it or marketing it then it’s not going to work. They are working so hard today. It’s amazing.”
She added that it was important for Samoa Tourism to get on board in supporting and promoting community initiatives that have the capability of drawing international attention and perhaps participation in the future.
“The passion and commitment to the festival is wonderful. Samoa Tourism should be getting right behind this. This should be on the event list for Samoa tourism every year because there’s nothing like it and everything that is unique to Samoa needs to be highlighted.”
For Samoans and other islanders around the world who are able to tune into a local event such as the Oka festival through Fresh T.V, Tauoma remarked that its popularity with viewers was due to the unifying theme of connection over island food.
“It’s the Kiwi islanders in New Zealand, every single islander no matter where they are in the diaspora around the world they know raw fish – no matter what you call it,” she said.
“So the connection to this festival to everyone back home and in the diaspora, the Kiwi Samoans for example they may not be able to connect to their culture in many ways – they may not speak the language or be able to get back here but everyone connects through food so these are memories of everyone’s childhood, connections to their families and these dishes. And that’s a way of getting the whole cultural connections with islanders all over the world to engage with and that’s the best way to do it.”
According to Tauoma, Soul food is making a comeback and what encourages her ongoing commitment in promoting the Oka Festival is the engagement of younger Pacific Islanders in connecting with their culinary heritage again in a generation that is growing up in a culture that values fast foods.
“Food that is made with love and soul food is making a massive comeback because so many islanders around the world are too busy to do a lot of cooking and I think the generations that are coming up just don’t know a lot of our cooking techniques – they might not know how to make oka.
“It seems unthinkable and so connecting people to this kind of soul food which they may never have time to make, it just inspires them to go out and do it.”
Taouma and her Fresh T.V plan on coming to next year’s Oka festival and even though she was excited to finally to present at this year’s oka affair, she only had one complaint, “I really like seeing all the younger kids here and its getting more popular from what I can see. I think it needs a bigger venue because every year it gets bigger and it’s probably out grown this space.”