In all my missionary travels this attitude is evident at low levels in some cultures, high in others. It’s overbearing in most and in some countries, sadly affects young school age children to the extent that they abandon school to take the streets knowing exactly who the tourists or new faces are in town. They hit them up for money unashamedly or sell cheap Chinese items from sunrise to sunset.
We in the Cook Islands are no exception to this problem.
Sadly, we see road cleaning teams hard at work keeping our roads clean and tidy, roadside car wash fundraisers and hardworking local vendors on roadsides trying to sell their family produce. At the same time we see energetic, athletic teenagers jog by with buckets, pots and ice cream containers accompanied by drummers on the back of trucks, drumming down gold coins like money can just dance out of the sky.
I recall few years back when 30- 50 of our church members would do hedge, rubbish, stream, beach, guestroom and restaurant cleaning jobs for four hours each Saturday from 8.00am – 12noon at $10 per head. We raised over $2,000 each Saturday, thanks to the general manager of the Rarotongan Resort and Spa, Tata Crocombe, who was offering these publicly advertised earning opportunities.
After some months, we had raised well over $100,000 to renovate and refurbish our church. The Takamoa Theological College students did the same to raise money for their missionary hall at Takamoa.
The most saddening and embarrassing twist is watching our own people take patipati tere parties abroad. They keep begging off our own people who are barely surviving their hardworking lives in New Zealand and Australia. And they are doing this when the money is in fact right underneath our feet, merely waiting on us to adopt hardworking attitudes of our Papas and Mama of old - planting, picking or digging up crops during harvest times rather than begging or borrowing off others.
Once I wrote a newspaper editorial headlined ‘Poor God in Cooks’, addressing these same horrible and humiliating patipati attitudes and re-emphasising basic Christian principles of faith, reminding our own fellow Christian churches that, “We have the same rich, rich Jesus Christ right here in the Cooks as in all other rich, rich countries of the world.
The late Professor Papa Ron Crocombe was the first to call me, congratulating me on the courage and boldness of addressing this hush-hush subject.
I can clearly recall how almost every household on my island of Aitutaki back in the 1960s,’70s and even into the ’80s were growing, harvesting and exporting bananas, tomatoes, mangoes, citrus and even copra. The northern group islands were exporting their fish, pearl, copra and women’s crafts; Mangaia and Ngaputoru were the major taro and pineapple-producing islands, with Papa Dick Browne and Silk and Boyd’s inter-island vessels shipping them from the outer islands to Rarotonga. From there they went over to the Union Steamship Company for the last loading onto the MV Maui Pomare and Moana Roa for their final journey to the markets in New Zealand.
We as little children joyously received our fair share of the rewards and running to the shops for ice creams on those big boat days. Those were the days when agriculture in both the outer islands and Rarotonga was our economic backbone – it was the number one economic industry of the Cook Islands.
The big contrast between the once-booming agriculture industry to the tourism boom of today is that, almost everyone in every household were involved with shared benefits, from the northernmost and most humble island families to the southernmost, where all incentives were family innovated, community-orientated, and government-driven.
Today we see the frightening sight of houses and buildings very rapidly taking over the former agricultural lands with the tide of economic prosperity taking an almost 360 degree turn to too much reliance and dependency on tourist dollars, foreign aid and imported products.
It reminds me of the elder brother who carelessly and greedily sold his first born birth rights - as Esau in Genesis 27 and 28 did to his younger brother Jacob over a mere bowl of soup. So now we see God-gifted and family owned taro swamps giving way to family homesteads. And our downtown landscape is quickly turning into another Coronation Street or Sesame Street – concrete-paved communities with little more than home gardens to provide fresh salads and vegetables for a family dinner.
This patipati, begging and borrowing mentality which often turns into stealing, still but at a fast and furious speed. We all need to be reminded of the dangers and negative effects such a lifestyle can bear upon our Cook Islands society if our people are not trained in biblical work ethics.
In real life there are no shortcuts or easy ways.
1. From the very foundation and beginning of human civilisation, our Creator God speaks to our very first forebears Adam and Eve in Genesis 1: 28 saying, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the foul of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth, and at (verse 30), have given every green herb for meat (food): and it was so”.
2. God literally told them both, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till to the earth ye shall return” (Genesis 3: 19).
3. King Solomon rebukes the unproductive people and calls them as “sluggard – lazy”. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest, how long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard” (Proverbs 6: 6 – 11).
4. Jesus removes the blessing from an unproductive person. “Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath 10 talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Mathew 25: 28, 29).
5. The Apostle Paul gives stern warning to the Church, those that do not work should not eat. “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3: 10).
6. Paul further rebukes fathers who do not provide for their families. “But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel (nonbeliever)” (1 Timothy 5: 8).
7. Paul instructs the Church that living a life of owing or indebtedness to anyone is not of God. “Owe no man anything...” (Romans 8: 13).
It is on this last and final point that I cringe when I see fellow Christians and churches in particular as well as our country, government and people continue to live in debt. They keep begging and borrowing, whether it’s hard or soft loans, aid money or whatever. It demeans, disgraces and defies the all-sufficient grace of our Christian all-powerful, all-supplying and all-sustaining God, our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2: 13).
If these seabed deposits of manganese nodules in our very own territorial waters are God’s gift to quickly rescue and deliver our Cook Islands nation and people out of our most ungodly and shameful kaiou, kaiou, kaiou lifestyle. I call on heaven above – “Save now, I beseech thee O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity” (Psalms 118: 25).
It somewhat reminds me of one of the funny jokes that the comedy act the Laughing Samoans poked at their own Pacific Islands people thus: “When you see green, leafy-coloured food on the table, it is not for decoration; that is real food for you to eat”.
I do hope that scientific-minded people do not dwell too much and too long on thinking that the wealth and prosperity that has now been discovered on our seabed is not postulating as Mother Earth’s decoration at the bottom of an unseen ocean floor.
Finally, one of Israel’s greatest leaders, Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 28: 12 – 14: “The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow. And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandment of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them: And thou shall not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them”.
Enough is enough, stop borrowing, go make your own, locally owned and God-deposited money! Manage it right! Watch our people return and the rest of the world come borrow and loan off your own Kuki bank.
God save, bless and prosper the Cook Islands!
Bishop Tutai Pere