Swinging their hips to the sound of rapidly beating drums, four female dancers glided across the Rohnert Park City Center Plaza lawn in unison, the leaves of their faux grass skirts shaking with every step they took.
The traditional Tahiti otea, or dance, garnered occasional cheers of support from the group of 300 spectators that surrounded them. A few small children danced along to the music.
The dance, performed by members of the Taimalietane Islands of Polynesia, a Santa Rosa-based group, was one of several acts on display Saturday afternoon during the Rohnert Park Pacific Island Festival.
The event, which is in its eighth year, started as a means to raise extra funds for the Rohnert Park Warriors, a nonprofit youth cheer and football program, but has since additionally served as a staple celebration for the Pacific Islander community within Sonoma County, said Raquel Kilmartin, 43, the coordinator for the event.
“It’s all about bringing the kindness and the community feeling back during these times,” she said. “I think the Polynesian community is really a big proponent of that.”
The festival hosted several local food vendors, including Petaluma’s Trader Jim’s, a vegan soft serve and pineapple float shop that operates out of a mobile “Tiki Trailer.” Another favorite, Mama Nita’s Filipino Hut, served classic Filipino cuisine, including a sweet and savory chicken adobo, pork skewers and lumpia, a crispy Filipino egg roll made of ground pork and chicken.
Rohnert Park resident JayJay Rico, 35, said family members decided to start the eatery about four years ago and named it after his late grandmother, the matriarch of the family. His uncles, aunts and cousins run the food stand for special events, like the Rohnert Park farmers market, when their schedules allow.
“It’s a family affair” Rico said.
The Rohnert Park nonprofit carries strong family roots within the organization itself, said Tracey Poueu-Guerreo, 46, who was one about 25 parents who helped establish the organization in 2007. Several of her family members, including her own parents, were supportive from the outset. Her sister, Sheri Poueu, took over her position as president of the group’s board earlier this year and her aunt runs the Taimalietane Islands of Polynesia dance studio, which teaches classical Pacific Island dances.
“We all were like, let’s put something together for our kids and so we started the Warriors and this came about,” she said. “The crowd grows every year, and it’s always mix of people.”
While the event is free to attend, vendors pay a fee to set up their booths. The fees, along with funds from Rohnert Park Warriors merchandise sold at the event, helps bring in money to pay for things like referees, field time and replacing equipment, Kilmartin said.
The nonprofit also offers scholarships to young athletes who may not be able to afford the costs associated with joining the program.
“I have a big sense of pride and honor,” Poueu-Guerreo said of the event. “This is still something that is relevant and wanted.”
You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @nashellytweets.