Drums echoed from inside the Golden Valley High School gym Sunday, as a three-day Tahitian dance competition came to an end on Sunday.
The 35th annual Kiki Raina Tahiti Fete brought dance groups from throughout the state, as well as from other parts of the country, to compete in several cultural dance competitions.
The dances were characterized by thumping drums and decorative headwear.
Andrew Vivo, 16, of Hercules came with his Polynesian dance group Ta’ere Tia’i. He said competition is part of the event, but it’s really about “getting loose” and having fun with family.
Vivo said his group travels to events at least 15 times a year, and Merced’s festival marks the beginning of the season. “This one’s like the kick off for all of them,” he said.
About 10 vendors sold island-style food, jewelry and dress. One popular item was the “pareu,” a Tahitian wraparound worn by men or women. The lines for food built up around the vendors who sold kalua pig, salmon poke and Hawaiian shave ice.
Another performer, Alfonso Hernandez, said he made the trip from San Diego to dance and see friends. “Every year, we look forward to seeing each other,” the 35-year-old said.
Hernandez, a Merced native, said there is something enticing about the Tahitian-style of drumming that made him fall in love with the dance.
There were short breaks Sunday between the parade of dancers shaking their hips as the drum beats sped up and slowed down.
At one point, Iona “Papi” Terriipaia of Oahu, Hawaii, showed the crowd the traditional way to shuck a coconut, break its hard shell and squeeze the meat for its milk. The 73-year-old yelled, “It’s easy,” as many of the volunteers struggled with the wooden tools.
The Tahiti Fete attracts about 1,200 each year, and likely reached that number this year, said organizer Becky Manandic. She has yet to count the tickets.
It’s regarded as the oldest and biggest Tahitian festival outside the island itself, according to organizers.
She said her organization, Te Mau Ta’ata Anuanua, or “People of the Rainbow,” estimates the event pumps $250,000 into the local economy through food, gas, hotels and other sales to dancers and their families.
“We’re happy to be here,” she said.