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UTAH FESTIVAL TELLS STORY OF POLYNESIA

The young man smiles as he slaps his body and dances to the beat of the drums. The young woman's hands, delicate and precise, tell a story about a land most Utahns have never seen.

They're both part of the state's annual Polynesian festival, where there was plenty of food, fun and friendliness.The aroma of good food and friendliness drew people of all races and ages to the campus of Salt Lake Community College, 4600 S. Redwood Road.

Dances, games and food from Samoa, Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti and Tonga were among the features of the festival which began at 11 a.m. and ran until 6 p.m. Saturday. It is a chance for Utah's Polynesian people to share and educate their friends and neighbors.

"It's the true spirit of coming together as a people," said Fineasi "Fine" Nau, director of the Office of Polynesian Affairs. "It's good especially for the benefit of our young people . . . to teach them to be proud of who they are."

"This is us, this is something we know," he said. "To see other people, outside of the Polynesian culture, here gives us a very deep gratitude. That's what really makes it worthwhile."

Visitors got a taste of Samoa's playfulness, Hawaii's beauty and Tonga's pride, among other things.

Papalii Patane, Jr. is the special events coordinator for the Samoan Youth Association of Utah. He narrated as 30 teens from that club danced their hearts out for the audience.

"What we're out to do is keep our kids off the streets," Patane said, "and give them something to be proud of, which is their culture. Our culture is built around family values and respect for elders."

Get-togethers like Saturday's festival go a long way to building bridges between Utah's different cultures.

"It definitely promotes unity and peace out there," Patane said. The Williamson family read about the festival in the paper and decided to attend.

As the West Valley family listened to songs from Hawaii, Karla Williamson said they loved the outing.

What exactly did they love about the festival? Was it the music, the food, or the dances?

"The friendliness of the Polynesian people," said her husband, Wayne.