The Cook Islands Library and Museum Society will hold a special ceremony on Monday to celebrate the society’s 50th anniversary. Traditional, religious and political leaders will be among the guests at the special ceremony, with all three main pillers of the community having contributed to the establishment of the library and museum.
A special plaque will be unveiled on the day, and through the year a number of unique events will be staged at the society building at Takamoa including film showings, photo exhibitions and lectures by local and overseas lecturers. Through the years, the society has not only had some remarkable people visit, or serve on its council, it also has had and continues to have many sponsors and benefactors – all dedicated to the cause of creating, maintaining and improving a library and museum that records and preserves the nation’s heritage and culture. Cook Islands Library and Museum Society manager/curator Jean Mason shares the history of the society.
The formation of a library and a museum in the Cook Islands had many stops and starts.
As far back as 1918, the then-Resident Commissioner, Frederick Platts, wrote to the parliamentary librarian in Wellington asking for assistance to set up a library on Rarotonga. Platts said that the minister responsible for the Cook Islands, Dr Maui Pomare, was favourable to the idea and added that Judge Ayson would call on the librarian in Wellington to discuss the matter. Records are scant on what transpired after that meeting, if indeed it took place.
Stephen Savage, official interpreter and author of the Maori Language of Rarotonga Dictionary published posthumously in 1962, was for a time voluntary librarian at a library on Rarotonga in the 1920s, but little is known about that library. In the 1930s Joe Stubbs and his wife Esther started a lending library with books they were able to borrow through the Country Library Service of New Zealand.
Volunteers for the lending library operated with books in boxes in the courthouse but then the library shifted to the home of the head of nurses at the hospital, Matron Hawke.
By 1942 Judge Jack Morgan and Lionel Trenn, court registrar, had formed what could be called the forerunner of this society today, called the Cook Islands Society, which had its own rules adopted at a general meeting held on October 22, 1942.
The Resident Commissioner, Judge Hugh Ayson, became its first patron.
A room in the old Legislative Council building in Avarua was its first premises but a hurricane in March 1943 badly damaged a schoolroom. The premises were required for use by the school, and the newly-founded society had to relocate.
When William Tailby succeeded Ayson as Resident Commissioner, the offer of premises was withdrawn.
However, artefacts were still being collected and stored in the courtroom. These artefacts were handed over to the Library and Museum many years later.
By 1947, the lending library was again housed at the Legislative Council buildings, and by 1952 it had shifted again, this time to Rev William Murphy’s study at Takamoa Theological College.
The library then had a stint at the NAC (National Airways Corporation) building in Ngaruretu, Takuvaine, before being moved into a building on the Public Works site (where the Ministry of Justice building now stands).
Finally, the library committee raised enough funds for the library’s first ‘permanent’ home and erected a building next to the bowling green in Tutakimoa.
Interest in a museum was revived when Roger Duff, then director of Canterbury Museum in New Zealand, visited the Cook Islands on his way to Pitcairn Island.
Duff gave a lecture on Polynesian migration at a room in the ‘men’s club’.
Meanwhile, Dr Thomas Davis, who had completed his medical studies in New Zealand, returned to Rarotonga in 1946.
With Tautu Aneru, Ua Turua, and Kati Heather, he set up a separate Cook Islands Museum Society with the backing of the Cook Islands Progressive Association.
They raised some money, and after having difficulty finding a site on which to build, finally selected a piece of land belonging to Raitia Tepuretu.
Princess Te Puea of New Zealand visited in June 1947 to lay the foundation stone which had been obtained from Marae Araitetonga.
The stone still stands at Ngatipa.
Davis went overseas again for postgraduate studies in tropical medicine and the fledgling association collapsed.
The balance of money collected was later paid into the new society’s account.
Things really got moving when a meeting called by the then-Resident Commissioner, Albert Oliver (Ollie) Dare, was held in the courtroom in Avarua on February 17, 1961.
Those assembled at that meeting resolved to build a museum and a library.
After looking over a number of potential sites, the action committee accepted Makea Nui Teremoana Ariki’s donation of 2 roods 27 perches from a section of land, the traditional name of which is Tukitea (or Tu ki te Atea, meaning ‘independent’), located in Avarua.
This is the land upon which the society conducts its operations today.
Fundraising for the building began in 1962.
The Legislative Assembly approved a pound-for-pound subsidy to a maximum of 2000 pounds sterling per annum over three years.
Donations came from individuals, firms, and Cook Islanders living in New Zealand, as well as youth clubs, schools, government departments and others in Rarotonga.
A penny trail through Avarua township was one of the highlights of fundraising.
All of the inhabited islands in the Cooks contributed to making the library and museum a reality.
In return, the society had the interests of those living in the outer islands at heart.
“We hope that every island of the group will produce something of interest and that visitors to the museum will see the past not only of Rarotonga but of all the Cook Islands,” noted the society’s first newsletter, put out in March 1964.
The late Ken Mills, a New Zealand architect and long-time resident of the Cook Islands, designed the building and by September 30, 1963, building had begun.
Theological students from the Takamoa mission helped with the initial clearing of the land. By February 1964, the foundations were laid and the steel frames for the building had been erected. By August the roof was added, the cement floor poured and windows framed. By September that year the lino-tiles were laid and the inner walls were plastered.
The society was formed on April 24, 1963. Rev Bernard Thorogood, LMS minister, proposed rules be accepted and steps taken to incorporate the society, that a meeting be called the following week to elect the officers of the society and its council.
Members elected Judge Morgan as the society’s inaugural chairman, Bill Coppell as honorary secretary, Ken Mills as honorary curator, William Estall as treasurer, Resident Commissioner Ollie Dare as patron, David Stone as librarian, and scientist, Stuart Kingan as editor.
Council members were Makea Nui Teremoana Ariki, Raitia Tepuretu, Ringiao Manarangi and Nooroa Tangaroa.
Legislative Assembly members represented on the council were Tangaroa Tangaroa and Julian Dashwood.
Cook Islands Library and Museum Society (CILAMS) was finally incorporated on February 3 1964, the delay being due to the time it took to appoint a court registrar.
The Library and Museum building was officially opened on December 22, 1964.
The opening was low-key.
Tupapa elder, Raitia Tepuretu, said a prayer and Makea Nui Teremoana Ariki opened the door.
Subscribing that day were 55 adults and 12 juniors.
Bernice Hynes (now Davies) was formally appointed on August 31 and brought from New Zealand to run the library.
Staff and students at the Teacher’s College helped out Mrs Hynes before the opening of the library in December 1964.
Tereu Raitia (now Urirau) was appointed assistant librarian and commenced duties on December 21, 1964.
In 1964 the library had 2850 books lent to it by New Zealand’s National Library Service, and 1500 books were acquired from the library in Tutakimoa.
The legislative assembly voted to assist financially by way of an annual grant to help pay the salary of a librarian and an assistant librarian.
By contrast today, there are about 40,000 books in the library’s collection, most of which it owns. The Society also houses the library of the University of the South Pacific, Cook Islands branch and is also a depository library for the World Health Organisation.
The society has been self-funded since 1991 and two staff and eight volunteers continue to take care of the facility on a daily basis while a council of nine oversees its administration.
Ms Hynes left Rarotonga in September 1966, at the end of her two year contract, and Miss Smallwood looked after the library for nearly 15 months.
In July 1967, Cook Islander Carmen Temata returned from training in New Zealand and took over.
She held the position of chief librarian from 1967-1991.
By 1970 the building was already deemed too small for carrying out its business. The building was being increasingly used for public meetings and lectures.
Alex Bowman of Nelson, New Zealand, helped prepare a plan of proposed extensions to the building.
The society engaged architects in Auckland, New Zealand to draft design plans for an extension to the library.
Although the council expressed admiration for the design, it was less impressed by the $180,000 price tag – thus the project, which would have involved tearing down much of the existing premises less than a decade old, was canned.
Visitors, donors and benefactors
A number of prominent visitors include New Zealand’s governor general Sir Bernard Fergusson, Prime Minister Mr Keith Holyoake, and the leader of the opposition, Mr Arnold Nordmeyer who came for the Cook Islands self-government celebrations in September 1965.
They were accompanied to the premises by premier Albert Henry and his wife.
In February 1971, HRH Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, along with Admiral Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Lord and Lady Brabourne and other members of the Royal Party toured the library and museum during their visit to Rarotonga.
In 1972, governor general Sir Arthur and Lady Porritt visited.
In a separate visit, Dame Annabelle Rankin, career politician and Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand, paid a visit following an AUD10,000 donation to the library and museum from the Australian Government for equipment and furniture.
Professor Peter Bellwood gave a talk entitled Early Settlements of the Cook Islands, and a former captain of the brigantine, Yankee (which ran aground in 1964 on the reef at Avarua), Captain James Bercaw, gave a slideshow in 1972 and in 2003, professor of human genetics at Oxford University, Bryan Sykes, presented a public lecture about DNA and the origins of people of the Pacific, which was one of the most popular lectures in the history of the Society (the museum was full to capacity).
Through the years, the society has not only had some remarkable people come to visit, or serve on its council, it also has had, and continues to have, many sponsors and benefactors – all dedicated to the cause of creating, maintaining and improving a library and museum that records and preserves the nation’s heritage and culture. Many of these people have passed on but their legacy remains.
In addition to these individuals the society has enjoyed the generous support of businesses over the years.
The people’s Library and Museum
Many Cook Islanders today appear to be showing a declining interest in our country’s rich, historical and cultural heritage. The library and museum, however, remains an important player in the Cook Islands community. It has gone through some difficult periods, but its continuation has never been in doubt, and this year we celebrate its golden anniversary.
The Cook Islands Library and Museum Society Inc has survived as a non-profit organisation for 50 years, thanks to government, businesses, international bodies, the governments of other nations, voluntary organisations, and hundreds of donors, benefactors and volunteers – including those from overseas – and the enthusiasm of those who have served on successive councils. People who become members of the library, or who pay to visit the museum, are contributing to the institution’s financial survival and its daily liveliness.
The staff, volunteers and supporters of the Cook Islands Library and Museum Society remain as dedicated in the pursuit of the Society’s objectives as were the idealists who incorporated the Society on 3 February 1964 to express their collective vision by creating the Society we have today.