Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, the fourth annual Small World Festival bridged cultural gaps Saturday and brought the community downtown.
More than 4,000 people swarmed Hinesville for the festival, where they sampled international cuisine, shopped global gifts and crafts and watched performers present a kaleidoscope of culture.
The Liberty County Convention & Visitors Bureau sponsored the event, and the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority partnered with Fort Stewart Morale, Welfare and Recreation to coordinate the festival.
“Our community is such a multicultural melting pot, and this is a celebration of the fabric of our community …,” HDDA Executive Director Vicki Davis said. “And it gives them an opportunity to share their own culture.”
The event’s turnout was double that of last year, though Davis said it rained for about eight hours during the 2011 event.
“What’s successful that we’re really starting to see this year is that we’re really starting to grow our audience from outside the region,” Davis said. “So we’re really starting to promote tourism.”
The event, which traditionally is in May, was moved to April in an attempt to beat the heat — but it still was a scorcher, with highs in the 90s and no precipitation.
The Savannah-based Hac Long Duong Lion Dance Troupe also brought a new twist this year with a traditional, rhythmic Chinese dragon dance.
Attendees of all ages cheered and clapped as warriors in bright yellow garb tried to tame and slay festive white dragons during the group’s two performances.
Performers included Conjunto Folklorico, Orgullo Panameno, Hinzarrah Gypsies, Hispanic Heritage and Bhavi Patel.
Another group, Children of Polynesia, performed dances from Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti and Samoa, according to organizer Reba Maloata, who moved to the area with her husband about 20 years ago.
“There is a big community of Polynesians that live here, and we all just hang together,” Maloata said. “And we do this, really, to help our children who aren’t raised back home on the islands, and we do this to give them a taste of their culture.”
Based out of the Samoan Church of Christ in Ludowici, Children of Polynesia has performed for 20 years, and their largest performance is at the annual Savannah Asian Festival. They enrich the experience with luaus, home parties and language lessons that celebrate the Polynesian Islands.
“Everybody just brings everybody together,” she said about building cultural ties. “You can spot an islander.”
The group also sold its signature pineapple drink — a pulpy, sweet yellow beverage — alongside other food vendors, such as the Fort Stewart Hispanic Heritage Club.
Attendees stood in at the Hispanic tent for favorites like fried plantains, yellow rice and Puerto Rican chicken stew.
Newcomer Maggie Beggs and her mother, Terry James, who was visiting from Oregon, said the international food court was a major draw for them.
“Being that we’re from Oregon, we don’t have boiled peanuts,” James said as Beggs approached with a batch of fried Oreos.
“We’re new to the area, so we’re always looking for something unique and new,” Beggs said.
The women both marveled at the performers and the crowd’s reaction.
Beggs’ toddler son, Colten Beggs, said he liked seeing the Chinese dragons perform.
“They were not scary, they were just fun,” Colten said.
“They’re dancing with smiles, all of them,” James said. “And you see the little kids learning.”