Hymn book to help preserve culture

Saturday December 20, 2014 Written by Published in Culture
Passionate Cook Islander and talented singer Matthew Gifford, a member of this year’s barbershop quartet contest winners ‘Musical Islands Boys’ is at the start of a two year project to to publish a book of Penrhyn island hymns and folk songs.  14121105 Passionate Cook Islander and talented singer Matthew Gifford, a member of this year’s barbershop quartet contest winners ‘Musical Islands Boys’ is at the start of a two year project to to publish a book of Penrhyn island hymns and folk songs. 14121105

After a month on Rarotonga researching for a project to publish a book of Penrhyn island hymns and folk songs – talented musician Matthew Gifford believes he can, with financial support, bring his project to life.

Matt is of Penrhyn descent on his father Mehau Gifford’s side. The youngest son of Papa Charlie and Mama Tarani Gifford, he is passionate about the project he believes will take him two years to complete.

Matt is also of New Zealand Maori descent on his mother Karen’s Ngati Kahungunu and Tuhoe tribes.

Based in Wellington, Matt is also a member of the quartet ‘Musical Island Boys’, who won the world barbershop quartet contest in July in Las Vegas – the second team out of the USA to do so. 

There is no doubt the young Cook Islander is passionate about his home island and music and says that ultimate aim of publishing a book of Penrhyn island hymns and folk song to also including a CD of the hymns – is to preserve the rich culture of singing from the island for generations to come.

“As a culture that relies on close-proximity and inter-generational oral transmission, these songs and their stories will not survive urban drift and the fragmented communities of Penrhyn Islanders,” says Matt.

“This project is an attempt at capturing these songs and stories before the last of those who possess this cultural knowledge are gone forever.”

The project will also develop a smart-device based app with these songs, their lyrics, and story of their composition with video interviews of elders and or composers. 

The app will allow the user to isolate a chosen voice part, to hear that part predominantly, to help the user learn it. 

“This is a transformational way of ensuring the strong tradition of harmony singing of Penrhyn and the very important stories that they contain are accessible to Penrhyn islanders wherever they live.”

He explains that some compilations to be part of the project range from the ‘hime pure’ or gospel songs to the ‘himene Taranga’ (folk singing), ‘himene Sabati’ (Sunday School songs) and ‘himene takere’ (old songs).

Matt also believes that Penhryn hymns and the voice parts that create them are far more complex than most people realise – far more complex, he believes, than many songs today. 

The Ministry for Cultural Development has agreed to support the project.

Matt has returned to Wellington to fine tune his proposal for funding to get the project off the ground which he believes will take two years.

Matt is keen to make his project and dreams a reality and hopefully with financial backing from the ministry of culture and from outside contributors, the language and traditions of Penrhyn through hymns will survive.  

To contact Matt to show your support for his project, or to share information, songs or provide a service for the project – contact him on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and he will be more than happy to elaborate on his exciting project.  

1 comment

  • Comment Link Deborah Tinker Monday, 23 May 2016 16:09 posted by Deborah Tinker

    Hello Mathew I am studying for uni the subject of preserving culture in the Cook Islands in my Masters degree ..did you finish the project and are you willing to share any information with me.

    Thank You

    Kind regards Deborah

Leave a comment