Hawai’i rugby encouraged to ask permission to use Tangaroa icon

Tuesday August 25, 2020 Written by Published in Culture
The Tangaroa image used in Kanaloa Hawai‘i Rugby’s branding. 20082305 The Tangaroa image used in Kanaloa Hawai‘i Rugby’s branding. 20082305

The image of Tangaroa has been legally protected, officials say, and the Kanaloa rugby team must ask permission to use it. 

The Secretary of Culture says a Hawai‘i-based rugby franchise is in breach of international copyright treaties by using a Rarotonga depiction of the demigod Tangaroa without permission.

Anthony Turua said the Kanaloa rugby team should have asked first, and is encouraging them to contact him.

“Because it’s a Pacific team, we don’t mind them using it – they should just ask us as a courtesy,” Turua said. “And then we would be honoured and proud for them to use it.”

Kanaloa Hawai‘i’s New Zealand-based chief executive Tracy Atiga has apologised after a public outcry over her use of a distinctly Rarotongan image of Tangaroa in the new franchise’s commercial branding.

Atiga, of Aotearoa Maori and Samoan heritage, previously lived in Rarotonga for three months, working with Cook Islands Rugby.  She and her husband Matt are major forces behind the new Pacific franchise hoping to join the American Major League Rugby contest.

But though there is widespread support in Cook Islands for the Kanaloa rugby initiative, Atiga’s decision to use a Rarotonga depiction of Tangaroa sparked concern. Yesterday, she apologised and promised to consult with Rarotonga leaders and create a fresh new image.

Turua said the Government gazetted the Tangaroa when it was first used on the $1 coin.

“They should have come to us and asked for that image,” he said. “It’s already legally protected, so they are in breach.

“I’m glad the chief executive has apologised and, hopefully, we will now receive a letter from the franchise seeking permission to use the image.”

He noted Cook Islands is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organisation and a signatory to the Berne Convention. “If there are any infringements, the World Intellectual Property Organisations will take over and they could be liable for a substantial amount. But we don’t want to go down that path – there could yet be a Cook Islander playing for the team and we’d be very proud!”

Jean Mason, curator of Cook Islands Library and Museum, has written on Tangaroa previously. She said that if there were no Cook Islanders in the team, then they were misappropriating a representation of a major ancestor figure and deity of the ancient Cook Islands.

“There is no doubt that the image is based on the famous carved Cook Islands image which is still very much prevalent on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands,” she said.

“Cook Islands is one of the few places in the Pacific that uses elliptical shaped eyes in their ancestor carvings.

“Many Polynesians may be able to claim Tangaroa as an ancestral deity but they cannot and should not claim Tangaroa in this form.  This iconic, middle-aged, paunchy figure is an ancestor, called Tangaroa Nui, who led his people from Avaiki to what is now the Cook Islands.

“He was a real person, a Moses-like figure, an ancestor of many southern Cook Islanders and his name features at the beginning of our genealogies.

“Tangaroa in this form represents wealth, wisdom and seafaring ability.”

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