Ngatangiia MP Tamaiva Tuavera called in Parliament for improved protection of historical sites, saying they have “stories and history to be written”.
On his last trip to Ziona Church on Mauke, he said, the seats made of locally-sourced, hand-sawn timber were visibly infested and damaged by insects.
On Mangaia, the once-pristine Lake Tiriara was full of weeds.
And in his own constituency of Ngatangiia, sites like Vaerota Marae had fallen into disrepair. “People do not know the names of such marae” he said. “This place is famous in our history.”
Cook Islands News has obtained an official inventory of Cultural and Historical Places in the Cook Islands.
There are three broad categories of sites: unique or special historical sites and buildings; traditional or cultural sites where a significant historical event took place; and archaeological sites like pre-European marae and koutu ariki that may require excavation work.
“It is places like this that we need to preserve, and we need to record the history of,” Tuavera said. “I am sure there are places that people do not know the history of.”
However, Rau Nga, an assistant pastor at the Cook Islands Christian Church in Ngatangiia, said the history of sites such as Vaerota Marae should be “left in the past”.
“The London Missionary Society changed the beliefs of our people” said Nga. Places such as Vaerota Marae had a “dark past” and it would be wrong to unveil the history of such places.
“It is a dark age of the Cook Islands – a memory of the past, leave it there.”
The Cook Islands government ratified the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in 2009, to protect cultural and natural heritage. It links together the concepts of nature conservation and the preservation of cultural properties. It recognises the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.
It also sets out the duties in identifying potential sites and protecting and preserving them. By signing the Convention, the Cook Islands pledged to conserve World Heritage sites.
The Convention stipulates the obligation of the Cook Islands to report regularly to the World Heritage Committee on the state of conservation of their World Heritage properties.