“I was overwhelmed with the celebrations, especially the spirit and the pride from the Cook Islands people,” Puna says.
While he was speaking at the thanksgiving service on Constitution Day, Puna says what struck him was the warmth coming through from the thousands of people assembled there.
In many ways, he says it provided him with the energy and the wisdom to say the right things in his speech at the service.
“You could feel the national pride coming through. It was just an awesome experience.”
Aked about the large number of international delegates who attended the celebrations, Puna says he is certain that everybody left with a positive experience and impression of the Cook Islands.
In particular, he says the President of French Polynesia, Edouard Fritch, was ‘overwhelmed’ by the thanksgiving service.
His remark was, ‘goodness, we brought Christianity to this country and yet some of the practises are missing our own country’.
Puna says he made a point of reaffirming the Cook Islands’ commitment to the Christian principles in his speech at the service, and that this really touched President Fritch.
“That is one leader who went away totally impressed with what we showed him about our country.”
“I think all our people felt the same way. They were just overwhelmed and happy and proud to be Cook Islanders on that particular day.”
Puna says it was nice to show people how far the Cook Islands have come as a nation.
He says the presence of different countries, some of whom are ‘big boys’ like China, France, Germany, Australia and Spain, reaffirmed to Cook Islanders showed that they’re not alone in the world.
Puna adds that having everyone here for the celebrations was definitely useful for further diplomatic relationships.
Asked about the live feeds of Te Maeva Nui and local news to the Pa Enua, Puna says government is looking at continuing this in the future
“It is important to us as a country for the outer islands to be in communication and in touch with Rarotonga.”
He says it is also a chance for Rarotonga residents to get to know what is happening in the outer islands.
“That feed need not be one-way however, it has got to be two ways. So that’s an initiative that we are very pleased about.”
Speaking about the cultural competition, Puna says everybody seems to agree that the standard of the performances at the auditorium has lifted considerably.
“It would be true to say that everybody was a winner, or should be a winner, because of the obvious extra efforts that they put in, not just to the performances, but to their costumes.”
But Puna says what really amazed him, were the Cook Islanders from New Zealand and Australia who had not been born here, yet they were clearly proud of their heritage and their culture.
“They performed like seasoned pros on the stage, and for me that was really wonderful.”
Puna says as prime minister, the main objective of the celebrations wasn’t to make money or kickstart the economy with extra visitors.
He says the main aim was to bring Cook Islands people together from the outer islands, from New Zealand and Australia, look after them, and make sure that they enjoyed the celebrations.
“I think we can all say that we achieved that. Not just government, but our people together have done that.”