Micronesian Songfest Held in Portland, Oregon

The audience crowded around the edges of the room, leaving the center for group after group of performers. Pingelapese and Marshallese watched dances and listened to chants, sharing traditions with one another and strengthening ties to Micronesia. They had already shared a feast, complete with roast pigs and other foods familiar to those with roots in the tiny islands in the Pacific.

Micronesian Songfest

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Highland Christian Center - Portland, OR

Cracker tins and pieces of wood came together to create a cacophony of enthusiastic drumming. Boys and girls held large metal cans in one hand and pounded unmercifully on the cans with a piece of wood in the other. The dance and drum performance was based on a tradition shared by Micronesian miners far from the home islands, creating entertainment with the materials at hand.

Young women waved woven fans and mats, embroidered with bright colors and patterns. The movements and song told a story passed to the women and girls by their grandmothers. Young men and boys danced to traditional chants as they re-enacted a canoe journey. Most of the performers were born away from the islands in Micronesia where the dances and songs began centuries ago.

The audience crowded around the edges of the room, leaving the center for group after group of performers. Pingelapese and Marshallese watched dances and listened to chants, sharing traditions with one another and strengthening ties to Micronesia. They had already shared a feast, complete with roast pigs and other foods familiar to those with roots in the tiny islands in the Pacific.

The Third Annual Micronesian Songfest began with a worship service. Bible passages and prayers were heard in three languages. Hymns were sung and welcomes given to all gathered to share the time together. Saipan, Tonga, Guam, Pohnpei, Pingelap, Mwoakilao and the Marshall Islands were represented. Psalm 150 was chosen as the theme for the daylong event. Verse 6 was key to the day: "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord." Dr. W.G Hardy delivered a sermon that resonated with the congregation of islanders and guests.

After the food and entertainment, the crowd drifted to the sanctuary to begin the Songfest itself. Group after group came forward in turn and offered traditional and contemporary music with enthusiasm and excitement. Both instrumental and a cappella music was performed for the appreciative audience. The harmonies are reminiscent of early American Sacred Harp singing. It may be that missionaries carried the "shape note" hymn style to the islands in the 1850s. Several hours later, the event came to a close, leaving participants and observers happily anticipating the next chance to celebrate together.

Passing an island heritage to children born in the US is complicated. Sons and daughters who have never seen Micronesia have a hard time visualizing anything other than I-pods and shopping malls. Seeing traditional dances performed at a Songfest by other young people has inspired youth with island roots to be exuberant performers. Of course, proud parents with cameras and camcorders sprout up instantly to preserve the event on film. The songfest turns out to have several rewards for participants - the fellowship of believers, the sharing of food, and the gift of a heritage to eager learners.