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Uniting Cook Islanders through language

Uniting Cook Islanders through language

  • 26 Jul 2020
  • |
  • Cook Islands
received 595659634468555

Abenzar Wichman is following in the footsteps of his parents, who only spoke Cook Islands Māori to him growing up. 

Chairman of the Whangarei Cook Islands Community, Abenzar lives in the Northland town, with his wife Christina Kupa-Wichman (Te Uri o Tai/Rongomaiwahine) and their four children. 

Speaking Cook Islands Māori at home provides a sense of cultural identity for the family, Abenzar says. 

“My family come from Rarotonga, Atiu and Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, however I was born in West Auckland, the eldest of three boys. 

“I was brought up with Cook Islands Māori (Rarotongan) as my first language my by father who speaks it fluently, and my mother. 

“I have taken the same approach as my parents where I only speak Cook Island Māori to my kids, and my wife is learning along the way.” 

While he has been involved in the organisation for nearly a decade, for the past three years, Abenzar has sat as the Chairman of Te Taokotaianga Kuki Airani o Te Tai Tokerau, a community working in association with the Cook Islands Development Agency New Zealand (CIDANZ). 

With aims to enable and empower Cook Island families in New Zealand to take control of their futures, CIDANZ assists community members by supporting the development of local micro enterprises; providing governance and management advice; and providing policy, strategy and business development planning. 

The organisation celebrates the Cook Islands culture and language and is a key facilitator of the annual Cook Islands Language Week, which will be held again on August 2-9. 

Cook Islands Language Week is the fourth of nine Pacific Language Weeks supported by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP), and this year the theme is, Kia pūāvai tō tātou Reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani i Aotearoa, which in English, translates to, That the Cook Islands Māori language may blossom throughout New Zealand. 

For Abenzar, it is an opportunity to promote a culture and language he is passionate about, he says.

“Our push this year is to expose our members to the wider Northland region by posting videos on our Facebook page for the language week – it will give them a chance to practice what they have learnt throughout the years.”   

Cook Islands Language Week coincides with the anniversary of when the Cook Islands achieved self-governance on August 4, 1965, and it is a good opportunity to acknowledge the linkages between the Cook Islands and New Zealand, he adds.   

This opportunity to remember and celebrate our language and culture gives the community a connection to the past to help with the future, Abenzar says. 

“There is hope we as Cook Islanders grow and celebrate this event nationwide. 

“For us in Tai Tokerau, it is about finding our people and bringing them together.” 

Visit MPP for resources and more information about Cook Islands Language Week which runs from August 2-9.