Held from Monday to Friday last week, the programme was run by non-government organisations, the Korero o te 'Orau, Manava Ora o te Ivi Maori, and Ruatonga Mapu and supported by the Ministry of Agriculture through the Ridge 2 Reef Project.
Manava Ora o te Ivi Maori co-founder Jackie Tuara-Newnham said the positive feedback they have received from the parents and children was overwhelming and prove that the children want to do these activities.
“They don’t always want to be playing on technology or watching DVDs, they do want to get out and learn about their very real world. It confirms the sad reality that many of us parents are too busy and take our culture and Cook Islands way of life too much for granted believing that it will always be there,” Tuara-Newnham said.
“The very real concern is that if our children never learn about it, don’t live it daily, if we don’t spend that valuable time regularly doing these things with them, if they are not immersed in it, how will they know it, how will they live it, and how will our Cook Islands culture, language, values and way of life survive? The honest answer is that it will not.”
Tuara-Newnham said the onus was on the parents to spend more time with their children, teaching them about the land they inherited and how to protect the environment that surrounds them.
She said it was important that children learn the life skills like living off the land and sea (such as how to plant and how to fish), and the Cook Islands way of life and values to instill a true sense of belonging of knowing and understanding who they are.
Tuara said it was also vital to equipping their children with tools that would help them and the Cook Islands culture survive and thrive in this modern world.
“Too often we believe our culture is a living vibrant culture because our performing arts is very visible – but even that part of our culture is deteriorating,” she added.
“Too often we think of it as an activity for tourists to learn about, enjoy and be entertained by. It has all become about the excitement of ‘the show’ and dancers in fancy costumes, but unfortunately many of these performers have little understanding about the true essence of this one aspect of our culture.
“Very rapidly our Cook Islands way of life is being substituted for another and it is now more important to use our culture for financial gain … we have forgotten that more importantly we need to learn and live and enjoy our culture.”
Tuara said the weeklong school holiday cultural programme was a way of ensuring they are doing something about changing the current mindsets and giving their children the opportunity to learn.
“The huge response and positive, heartfelt, feedback we’ve received proves that so many parents and children (unknowingly) have been waiting and wanting something like this to happen.
“We’ve started a spark that we hope will create a fire that will burn fiercely in our children (and parents) and future generations. It is our hope that this fire will be fueled by us all, by those of us who have the knowledge and skills to do so, by parents spending the time with their children to do so, by the community at large and for only the right reasons.”
Programme co-ordinator Dr Teina Rongo of Korero o te 'Orau said it was good to see the children enjoying things they disliked growing up.
“For me personally, I used to cry if told that we were going to the pa’i taro; seeing the children enjoy themselves really made me appreciate what I went through as a child,” Dr Rongo said.
“Going through this programme, I can’t help but feel that we owe our children an apology for not making the time to create a programme like this sooner.
“We don’t expect the children to fully understand the importance of the various activities, but this should start them thinking and asking questions about the importance of the areas we visited and the activities we carried out.”
Dr Rongo said the culture and way of life on Rarotonga was like an engine that was no longer used and is abandoned.
He said although they have people who still love and know how to run this “engine”, all they needed was the opportunity and time to have it running again.
“Indeed, through this programme, we have started this engine again and I believe like-minded people will come together to grow and sustain this programme.
“We expect to expand this programme and include more activities in the future, working with more partners such and the Voyaging Society, traditional medicine practitioners, local fisherman, local carvers ...”
During this programme, the children started planting utu bananas in an area of around 100 square metres up at the Takuvaine valley. The utu bananas used to grow abundantly there but are now covered by invasive species, Dr Rongo said.
“We plan to reforest this valley with utu for food security in the next three years. We also intend to reforest the Rarotonga coastline with native trees (e.g., tamanu, tou, and miro) to prevent coastal erosion in the face of climate change.
“The children planted over 12 trees in front of the Nikao Cemetery coastline, which was badly eroded by previous cyclones.”