At the 47th House of Ariki Conference this week, discussion on the subject, which was topical in the late ’60s and early ’70s, was revisited again with the Cook Islands high chiefs keen on getting some of the more important customs legislated.
The traditional leaders are concerned with customs involving issues including investiture, land and other important matters that are regularly disputed and challenged in court.
Puna Rakanui, secretary of the House of Ariki, says they are working against the grain in terms of the judicial system. That’s because when matters dealing with traditional customs get to court, it “normally gets out of our hands”, he says.
He says one of the pressing issues House of Ariki members will discuss during the conference which will end today, is to work out ways to legislate “as much of the customs as possible”.
“It (this topic) came up in the late ’60s and ’70s. The Koutu Nui at that time made a couple of submissions to the House of Ariki to ask the government to legislate certain customs including the way to induct titles in the Ui Ariki, the Aronga Mana and mataiapo and rangatira and land entitlements, adoptions, etc,” says Rakanui.
“There were lots of discussions doing the 1970s but it never eventuated into legislation. We are picking it up again because of the pressure and various developments in court and with what we see (happening) in our country, we are hoping to get somewhere.”
Rakanui says while customs are enshrined under a constitution amendment, it is not specific enough.
“It is a broader enshrinement of the customs, where (outer islands residents) need to work on specifics, and each island has got to come up with their own. If we are to get somewhere, they need to start working.
“The problem is that they wait until they encounter issues and problems, then they speak up. It’s too late by then; we have got to be proactive.
“We have been to all the islands in the southern group, pushing them, encouraging them through meetings, dialogues and workshops but guess what? Only one island has come back with a document and that is Aitutaki.
“I commend Aitutaki, they worked so hard to come up with the way they install their ariki which will help, but there are questions that still need to be answered before we are able to submit that to the government.”
Rakanui says given the diversity within the country’s 15 different islands, legislating customs will be no easy task.
However he says they need to protect their customs to avoid conflicts in the future.