Some of our northern brothers consider South Florida vacations to be trips to paradise. They fill up on ice cream at Jaxson's in Dania Beach, drive their Le Cars slowly toward the Hollywood Broadwalk, lather coconut oil onto their bodies, and then squirm into their thongs. Yum -- baked Québecois.
Clearly "paradise," like thong aesthetics, is a relative experience. For us, South Pacificconjures up both the seduction of tropical archipelagos and the mysteriousness of Polynesian cultures. We don't seem to know much about people from that region except for what we've picked up from the centuries-long leak of images through drawings of heavily tattooed Maori warriors, the paintings of Paul Gauguin, or the syndicated visits by Greg, Peter, and Bobby Brady to haunted Hawaiian burial grounds.
Now's your chance, however, to recognize that those cultures, while similar in many ways, are also very different. This weekend's Polynesian Culture Festival in Easterlin Park (1000 NW 38th St., Oakland Park) will show off the broad diaspora of Polynesia -- from Hawaii and Samoa to Tahiti, Tonga, and New Zealand. Consider dance, for example. At the festival, you should expect to see hula from Hawaii, fire dancing from Samoa, and a warrior dance that represents New Zealand's Maori people. If you think your barbed-wire armband makes you cool, check out traditional Maori designs. Poseur.
Oh, yeah, there's audience participation. Should you bring your own grass skirt for the hula dance? Not necessary. "We have the skirts," promises Tama Leao, president of the Oakland Park-based Polynesian Culture Association. They also have food (like pork, rice, and taro, which is mashed potato-like roots) and arts and crafts. As an indication of how far away the South Pacific really is, according to Leao, there may not be more than 50 or so families of South Pacific origin living in South Florida. "Maybe 200 people tops."