I'm generally not a sports fan. But on Saturday I rode my mates' wave of enthusiasm and tuned in to the Mate Ma'a Tonga vs Toa Samoa rugby league World Cup match. After Tonga's national team took the win I grabbed my camera and headed over to Ōtāhuhu, aka "Little Tonga" because I knew there would be a Nuku'alofa style block party going on. It's exactly the area police had issued warnings about earlier in the week—calling for calm, fearing a viscous stand-off between Samoan and Tongan fans. On the night, I watched as a happy crowd of young and old fans waved flags at a parade of decorated cars, blowing their horns as they drove down Great South Road. While most people were dressed in red, the colour of Tonga, many flew the Tongan and Samoan flags together.
I am always aware of my surroundings, especially in crowded places, but I didn't pick up on any tensions. Yes, a drunken brawl did apparently take place and arrests were made, but that's not exactly unusual for a large gathering regardless of cultural or ethnic backgrounds. The atmosphere was hardly the scene of chaos and riots portrayed by mainstream media outlets, and the streets of Ōtāhuhu didn't transform into a battleground where Tongans and Samoans violently settled some ancient rivalry. As well as Tongan and Samoan colours I spotted flags representing Fiji, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tuvalu and New Zealand. It was clear to me that this was more than a gathering of Tongans celebrating their win over Samoa—it was an impromptu celebration of Pacific Island culture here in Aotearoa.
I hope my photos convey the night's true atmosphere.
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