(Picture caption: Celebrations to honour five Cook Islands Language Champions have have taken place during the 2021 Cook Islands Language Week.)
Five pioneers who have championed the Cook Islands language in Aotearoa were honoured during the 2021 ‘Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani – Cook Islands Language Week.
This year’s Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ (MPP) Pacific Language Weeks series has seen the introduction of Language Champion Honours, which acknowledges the significant contribution, service, and leadership, made by those, past and present, who have advocated for Pacific languages in Aotearoa.
The five Ta’unga Kama’atu were acknowledged at the opening and closing ceremonies of Cook Islands Language Week which ran from August 1 to 7.
Among the recipients was Tupou Tamata Manapori.
Mama Tupou grew up caring for her grandparents in Rarotonga, where she also completed her Certificate of Teaching, majoring in Home Economics.
Eventually, Mama Tupou relocated to New Zealand, where she started teaching at Kowhai Intermediate, and then Hillary College.
Mama Tupou soon recognised the need and opportunity to build on the Cook Islands Language, and she has been one of the main driving forces behind the initiation of Polyfest.
She also pushed the Cook Islands language to be an NCEA-recognised subject, and Hillary College has since become first college in New Zealand to teach Te Reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani as an NCEA subject.
Another language honours recipient was 87-year-old Mama Tepaeru Tereora, known for her wisdom and knowledge Mama Tepaeru was the first Chief Commissioner of Girl Guides in Rarotonga, in 1969.
She also taught at Avarua and Nikao schools.
An expert in Tivaivai making, she used to travel from island to island teaching the women the art of tivaivai making.
In 1982, she helped to set up Te Kōhanga Reo with the Māori Women's Welfare League, and together, they created the programme for teaching Te Reo Māori in early childhood centres, which continues today.
Taiau Makirere Nicholas also received an award for her contribution to the Cook Islands language.
Taiau had a disciplined upbringing by her grandparents in Aitutaki.
In 1974, she moved to New Zealand, where her strong Pacific values benefitted her immensely.
Supporting her children's school and being involved with culture, Taiau became a Board member for Tangaroa College from 1989-2011, and she continues to assist with culture at the school.
John Paoo received his language honours in Auckland at the closing ceremony.
John comes from a family of village speakers for Vaipae, Aitutaki and he has inherited this role for the Vaipae community in Auckland.
He worked as an Office Clerk at Aitutaki Airport before relocating to New Zealand 1971, where he worked at a paint shop in New Market until 1987.
While in New Zealand John wrote several books including The Establishment of the Uapou Fellowship in New Zealand, A Perfect Day in Tribute (2013) Tupuanga o te Ekalesia Kuki Airani I Aotearoa, and Te Vaipaepae o Pa’u e tona Tupuanga.
John believes the Cook Islands language is alive, but the mindset of our people today is not the same, and we need to work together.
The final Ta’unga Kama’atu named for 2021 was Raemaki Temaeva Karati.
Raemaki worked for the Cook Islands Government for 24 years across several Ministries including Parliament, Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands TV and the Ministry of Culture which he led in 2007 before relocating to New Zealand the following year.
Culture has always been his greatest passion, from dancing to composing, choregraphing, and eventually tutoring Performing Arts.
A founding member of the Orama Dance team in the early 1990s, Raemaki co-led the team with Georgina Keenan before starting his own team several years later.
He has been instrumental in the growth of the Temaeva Nui Competition since it began in 2000.
In New Zealand, he has continued to be proactive in the promotion of culture and and language, by tutoring for Akirata and Te Maeva Nui Competition, which he also helped to facilitate.
He believes times are changing and we must address whether we are all doing enough to keeping our culture and language alive for future generations to enjoy.
Congratulations to this year’s Cook Islands Language Champions.
Visit the MPP website for 2021 Pacific Language Weeks information.