Terito-o-Ngakura Story may not live in Cook Islands right now, but it is never far from her thoughts.
That’s why celebrating Te Epetoma o te reo Maori Kuki Airani, Cook Islands Maori Language Week 2020 in New Zealand is really important to her.
“Cook Islands Maori ties me to my culture, ancestors, and beautiful homeland,” she says.
Hailing from Ma‘uke, both Story’s parents grew up in the islands and speak te reo Maori fluently.
They blessed her and her siblings with the ability to speak and understand Cook Islands Maori and English, for which she is very grateful.
“I was definitely very young when I started speaking Maori,” she said. “But it’s gotten harder to speak it as I use English more often.”
Story was born in Cook Islands and is now completing a Marine Science degree at Auckland University.
Growing up around the ocean in Ma‘uke made her passionate about marine conversation, another key component of her link to her culture.
She said people are becoming more concerned about the state of Maori language, especially in places like New Zealand because an increasing amount of young Cook Islanders do not understand and/or speak Maori.
“This is why this week is important, Cook Islands Language Week allows Kukis away from home the chance to showcase our culture, language, traditions and more,” she says.
“It’s also a week to hopefully teach others! There are a growing number of places here in Aotearoa that teach Cook Islands Maori which is very beneficial for anyone wanting to learn our Cook Islands language.”
It’s a blast to understand Cook Islands Maori, she adds.
“The jokes are funnier, words have a deeper meaning and the conversations are usually filled with laughter,” Story says.
“I also love how our language is the doorway to our ancestral knowledge. Knowledge such as natural medicine, techniques for cooking and planting and many others.”