Born Pauline Margaret Rakera Taripo in 1919, the traditional leader was bestowed the title of Dame in the 2012 Queen’s New Year Honours.
She was made a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), the second-highest rank in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
It was her second Queen’s honour: In 1993 she was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year honours list.
Dame Margaret was the second eldest of 13 children born to the late George Karika Ariki and Ngapoko Vakapora-Wilson.
She attended Avarua Primary School and St Joseph’s School before working as a sales assistant with the Cook Islands Trading Company and in a Takuvaine farmer’s store.
On the death of her elder sister in 1928 she became an aide to her grandmother, Karika Takau Ariki.
It was during this period, until the death of her grandmother in 1942, that her ariki duties were fostered. Her father acceded the Makea Karika Ariki title from 1942 to 1949, and at 29, Dame Margaret succeeded her father to the title on May 14, 1949.
She was appointed to the Rarotonga Island Council the same year and served until self-government in 1965. In 1942 she married her late husband Ernest Teiho Taripo, who was from the Tinomana Ariki family and held the tribal title of Teariki Tapurangi Rangatira.
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Together they had five children – Pauline, Tauira (Vira), George, Tiberio (Rio) and Annie. Dame Margaret had many grandchildren as well as great, and great-great, grandchildren.
She served on the Cook Islands Legislative Assembly from 1957 to 1959 and represented the Cook Islands at a South Pacific conference in Papua New Guinea during that time.
Dame Margaret was an inaugural member of the House of Ariki, established in 1967. She served as vice-president for the first term of the house then became president in 1978, a position she held until 1980 and again between 1990 and 1994. She also represented the organisation at a Polynesian indigenous people’s conference held in Auckland in 1992.
A Girl Guide since the organisation’s inception in the Cook Islands in 1928, she served as president for more than six years.
A true all-rounder, Dame Margaret was also an active sportswoman, excelling in tennis and athletics and winning the Cook Islands women’s sprint champion title in 1939.
She was a past-president of the Pan Pacific Southeast Asia Women’s Association, a devoted member of the Avarua Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) and an advocate of the Takuvaine Ekalesia.
Dame Margaret also supported other church denomination activities on Rarotonga and was patroness of the CICC women’s fellowship.
She was a past patroness of the Cook Islands National Council of Women, as well as the Child Welfare Association. She was an active member of the association for many years and served as president.
From 1902 to 1922 Dame Margaret’s grandmother made land available to the Crown for public purposes and government buildings in Avarua and she continued to honour the agreement. In 2004 she officially opened Rarotonga’s new courthouse.
Dame Margaret was a landowner of the Takitumu Conservation Area and a strong supporter of the protection of wildlife and the environment. She continued her environmental work through the Girl Guides and from 2003 when she took part in the International Waters Project.
In 2009 the National Environment Service launched an annual environment award called Makona Aorangi, and Dame Margaret was the first to receive it for her long standing commitment to environmental causes.
She was also a driving force behind the establishment the village structure to recognise past environmental practices and appoint a pu tapere for Takuvaine.
Dame Margaret was one of the landowners who carried the first endangered kakerori birds to Atiu for resettlement in 2001, and from its inception in 1996 was patroness of the Te Ipukarea Society. She continued her interest in the environment until late in life, even providing leadership at a protest against purse seine fishing in April last year.
Dame Margaret Karika, who was 97 at the time, led one of the anti-purse seining marches, pushed in her wheelchair by her niece Pepe. She continued to be an honoured guest at traditional ceremonies and important events on the island, right up to her last days.
A tribute to Dame Margaret from the House of Ariki will be published next week.
- CI News reporters