Clerk of the House of Ariki Tupuna Rakanui says paramount chiefs unanimously decided at the 44th Session of the House that replacing certain words in the national anthem was a good idea and put this to government.
With no movement from the government on the matter, Rakanui says the House of Ariki feels “the issue is long forgotten due to the multiple major priorities of government.”
However, the Office of the Prime Minister which is responsible for the national anthem has confirmed government has not formally received an approach from the House of Ariki to consider a change to the anthem.
The changes, made public at the recent opening of the 46th Session of the House of Ariki, have generated considerable public reaction on social media. A number of people have labelled the actions of the House of Ariki as being akari (stupid) and disrespectful to the late Sir Thomas Davis and his wife Pa Tepaeru Ariki Lady Davis who together, composed the anthem “Te Atua Mou E”. It was formally adopted in 1982, replacing the New Zealand anthem that the Cook Islands had used up until then.
Under Article 76D of the country’s Constitution, Te Atua Mou E is the national anthem of the Cook Islands and the words of the national anthem with its familiar tune are set out in the Fourth Schedule.
As the national anthem is enshrined in Article 76D of the Constitution, any change would require a two-thirds parliamentary approval.
The House of Ariki version of the anthem sees the words “pa enua” in the third line replaced with Kuki Airani. The House of Ariki have taken the words to mean specifically the outer islands of the Cook Islands group, which was never the intention of the composers.
The words pa enua simply mean “all the isles of the sea”.
What Sir Thomas and Pa Ariki Lady Davis wanted to convey in their original lyrics appears to have been interpreted differently by the House of Ariki. Paramount chiefs believe the anthem’s lyrics overlook Rarotonga and that “Kuki Airani” is better because it “captured (sic) all the islands and every Cook Islander. Everyone is then on board this national Vaka,” says Rakanui.
However, some disagree, saying using the words “Kuki Airani” is unnecessary because what Sir Thomas and Pa Ariki Lady Davis composed has been clear all these years. Until now it seems. In addition, it’s been pointed out that the words Kuki Airani (Cook Islands) are coined words and not proper Te Reo Maori.
The Office of the Prime Minister is responsible for the national anthem. Chief executive Bredina Drollet says if any changes are being proposed to the national anthem, “a good process would involve public discussion on the matter”.
She adds this could be done by holding a national referendum to gauge public opinion regarding potential changes. A national referendum would be a costly exercise and ideally should be held at the same time as the general elections, says Drollet.
A legal source says it’s not illegal for paramount chiefs to have their own anthem, which they do and which includes the words Kuki Airani.
But like the office of the Queen’s Representative, the prime minister, Cabinet and parliament, the House of Ariki is recognised under the Constitution and deference to the national anthem is expected from all, says the legal source, who did not want to be named.
Rakanui says the public performance of the Ariki version of the national anthem at the annual meeting opening was “crucial” because it needs to be “made public to get a public reaction, and get the conversation going.”
Reaction on social media to the ariki changing the national anthem has been swift and critical.
Dismay over changing the lyrics has also been expressed by a local singer who has probably sung the national anthem at public events more often than anyone else in the country.
Curly George Taripo said on social media that changing the national anthem was “so wrong”.
The popular singer pointed out that the national anthem does not have the last line repeated, “which most people do.”
The original score confirms that, says George Taripo.
“ I say this too because before our Papa Sir Thomas Davis passed on I had the privilege in sitting with him with my parents at his home in Muri to go through the anthem and also his song, “Te Aere Nei Au E”. That (the House of Ariki version) is an insult to both Sir Thomas Davis and Lady Pa Tepaeru Ariki. Whoever sang it should be corrected and for the Are Ariki to allow (the new version) is a joke.”
She pointed out that during the recent visit of the New Zealand prime minister Bill English, the House of Ariki performed a different turou from the traditional version, and it was not well received by the Cook Islands people here and overseas.
“And now the anthem. And they say the Ui Ariki contributed to the building of this nation in many ways.”
Others have commented that the House of Ariki should focus on issues of greater urgency such as coming up with strategies to keep Te Reo Maori alive at a time when the Cook Islands language is widely reported to be seriously at risk.
Some commentators say there is nothing wrong with the Cook Islands national anthem and that it is widely loved and respected.