The Asian Festival might take place in a single day, but for participants it’s a labor of love that’s months in the preparation.
“Oh, we practice year-round,” says Reba Maloata, who coordinates the dances of the local Children of Polynesia. “It’s about repetition – we practice once a week most of the year, but as soon as January hits it might be two a week until the Festival.”
In addition to performing, the Children of Polynesia also create and sew their own costumes.
“Our target is to be done with everything by the end of May,” Maloata says. “We just made it this year, so we have a little chance to breathe now.”
From a humble beginning as a little-known festival in a slow time of year, the Asian Festival has grown into one of the area’s most successful celebrations.
“It’s grown so much -- this year we anticipate about 30,000 people will attend,” says Asian Festival Chairperson Carmencita Limonsnero, who is of Filipino descent.
“It’s an excellent way to foster appreciation and to showcase the different talents of the local Asian community,” she says.
In all, Limonsnero says the Festival will represent about a dozen of the incredibly diverse cultures of the East, including Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Filipino and Indonesian.
Word has spread regionally of the Festival’s success, with inquiries coming from groups as far-flung as Chapel Hill, N.C., and Miami, Limonsnero says.
The Festival has four main components: performances, food, workshops and merchandise.
Limonsnero says two performance highlights this year include a Japanese Taiko drumming ensemble based in Florida and a Chinese acrobat performance.
Local grandmaster John Lee promises his usual spectacular tae-kwon-do demonstrations -- as well as a more subtle display, an authentic Korean tea ceremony at 3 p.m.
Another martial arts display features the Japanese swordfighting martial art, kendo.
Maloata says not everyone is aware of the Asian heritage of Pacific Islanders, such as Hawaiians and Fijians.
“I’ve actually come up with a little paragraph to say before our performance, explaining that it’s believed that our Polynesian ancestors originally came from Malay and worked their way through the islands ” she says. “A lot of them came in these huge, double-hulled canoes that could hold three or four hundred people.”
This year the Children of Polynesia will perform a variety of authentic hula dances from Hawaii, as well as native dances from New Zealand, Samoa and Tahiti.
“The Maori numbers from New Zealand will be performed by our fellas,” she says. “Those are traditional chants sung prior to going into battle, invoking the gods of war.”
Limonsnero says many people come to the Festival specifically to partake of the rich variety of foods from local Asian vendors.
The delicious lineup includes -- but is by no means limited to -- empanadas from the Philippines, Royal chicken from China, curries from India, and fried egg rolls from Southeast Asia.
Maloata says Polynesian cuisine will be represented by a whole Kahlua pig, roasted underground for days in the Hawaiian fashion, shredded over hot rice with a glass of pineapple milk over ice.
“That went over so well last year we decided to put it on the menu again this year,” she says.
The Savannah Asian Festival takes place Saturday June 17 in the Savannah Civic Center from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free.
11-11:15........... Opening Ceremony
11:15-11:45..... Lee’s Tae-kwan-do
11:45-12:05..... Chinese Fan Dance
& Zither Duet
Noon-1............. Chinese & Korean Assoc.
Poetry Lecture & Slide Show
12:10-12:30..... Matsuriza Taiko Drumming
Association Bamboo Dancing
1-1:30............... Liang Acrobatic Show
1-2..................... Calligraphy workshop.
1:35-1:55.......... Children of Polynesia
2-2:20............... Savannah Kendo Club
2-3..................... Filipino Bamboo Dancing
2:25-2:45.......... Traditional Korean Dancing
2:50-3:10.......... Matsuriza Taiko Drumming
3-4..................... Korean tea ceremony
3:15-3:35.......... Classical Indian Dancing
3:40-4:10.......... Liang Acrobatic Show
4:15-4:35.......... Traditional Chinese Dancing
4:40-5............... Traditional Thai Dancing
& Lam Putsapa