Leading lights steered country to calm waters

Friday December 26, 2014 Written by Published in Economy
Local economist Vaine Wichman gets into the festive swing of things. Local economist Vaine Wichman gets into the festive swing of things.

Vaine has worked extensively throughout the Cook Islands as a development economist.

She began writing these columns at the request of women and men asking her to explain the working of their economy. Views in this column are Vaine’s.


Over 30 years ago I remember following Tai Herman of Aitutaki and his son (who was about seven years old then), on an Arutanga passage run to pull a barge full of bananas to a waiting ship for direct shipping to the Auckland market.  

To a young holidaying student the trip was a real experience in the dark night, exciting yet perilous if you weren’t in capable hands. But it was the person holding the spotlight that I remember in this column, because in those days, without the reflector beacons they now have, the spotter had to have a very confident memory as to where the next marker was for the tugboat to steer through the long passage to the ocean. 

That spotter was the little son, and his leading light took us out to the ship and back through the passage quite a few times that night so that loading could be completed that night and the ship could go on its way.

Government is calling for nominations for some of the most memorable people who have stamped their personal and professional mark on our country’s development. Some of my mamas challenged me for some names. I provide these names respectfully, choosing from my limited perspective. Please, my list is not conclusive but indicative only, and I apologise if I overlook some of our greats in this short unworthy column of mine. 

Papa Arapati must feature prominently, as his vision for a Cook Islander-led country, based on a visitor economy that uses the wealth of cultural, human and physical assets, can’t be paralleled. The economic activity that vision has realised is being enjoyed by all our people down the generations to today.

Sir Geoffrey Henry stands out in my books as the next prominent visionary leader who took economic reform requirements by the horns and steered our country out of an economic abyss caused by bad public accountability, based on tattered colonial legislation. All other leaders merely come through to refine, revise or consolidate the ground already made on the road to social and economic prosperity.

Then there are the quiet leading lights in the social sector that have built up a critical mass of confident and go-getting Cook Islanders. 

Here I pay respect to all our teachers and health workers and in this category there is a host of lights. My small list doesn’t do enough to recognise their pioneering work that has built platforms for our children to follow. Please forgive me if I leave some you know out, beacause this list is indicative only of the wealth that this sector should yield. There was Uncle Ngaei Tou, and before him I believe Dr Tamarua. There was Dr Tom Davis who went on to work for the South Pacific Commission and then NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in the United States. Then there were the nurses and I fondly remember those who have kept the lights on in the Northern Cooks over the years, because those are the most severe outposts of our country and all those who have worked there over the last 60 years must be recognised.

In featuring our teaching profession, I remember those who were posted for four years to isolated outposts to ensure our children received the basic education levels our self-governing promises said they should have. Those who stand out are the ones who have gone beyond the call of duty, sometimes to the extent of using their own limited resources to make ends meet and to get the job done. You know who you are...stand up and take that bow.

I think of the Cook Islands National Council of Women and the bold steps the leaders made back in 1985 to begin pressuring our Government to adopt the international convention on eliminating discrimination against our women. 

Their visionary step has led to our country being in the region’s forefront in efforts to promote the lives of women and their families in employment, social and economic, and political life. I take my hat off to Aunty Tutini, Aunty Vereara and Esther, and Frances who were in the driving seat in those days. Most of our young women will never have to feel the effect of the discriminatory actions that our women had to endure in the early years of self-government and that is a result of past advocacy and the live programmes now tackling these issues.

Then there are the customary leaders, the likes of the late Te Tika and Tamarua Mataiapo who brought the Koutu Nui’s work into the light of day and the story of how the lower house of sub-chiefs has a pretty important role to play in the daily affairs of the matakeinanga.

In the sporting field, you will all have your pick of the greats. I will stay home to pick mine and limit it to any who have made it from the homeland into international teams. Margeret Matenga (nee Kamana) has to stand out as the first trailblazer in this field above all the rest. She was sent to Wellington to take up tennis (no scholarship, no support), and ended up playing for the Silver Ferns for over 10 years. But I also acknowledge our gold medallists at all of our Pacific Games, who trained on substandard fields and made it with the help of locally-based coaches of the past and today (like Teaea Parima), to achieve excellence in their codes.

I could go on. The main thing is I have shared my small comprehension of the enormous task it will take to identify our leading lights. Calm, quiet, respectful, risk-taking men and women who have made their mark by just wanting to help and by leading confidently. Everyone will have their list of those who they believe should be nominated. 

As for the private sector, a special one for me remains Papa Tekake, a humble man who weathered the impossible storms of government bureaucracy and island council complacency to make Manihiki the black pearl-producing island his vision insisted it would be. 

In the Southern Cooks, there are Roger and Kura Malcolm who continue to promote the eco-friendly surrounds of Atiu.  On Mangaia, Babe Pokino stands out as the younger trailblazer sustaining life on this conservative island in spite of the economic odds of returns to investment. And the names can keep rolling in.. 

As I close this column on this year, may we continue to pray for Christ’s guidance, especially as we enter into His season of Light, that He will continue to keep our hearts pure in love with the people and the place He has blessed us with. May we move into the New Year always acknowledging His graces and blessings on us all, now and forever more. Amen.

Kia Mau te Selenga...Kia Mau!

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