The beautiful art work on her grandfather Tutai Pukerua’s grave, was a special gesture from his descendants and granddaughter Merle Pukerua for his unveiling ceremony held on December 7.
Merle grew up listening to bedtime stories told by her grandfather, legends from his homeland of Manihiki and Rakahanga such as Maui and the Sun, Te Nionio Roroa, and Te Kapuanga.
Her daughter Heleina Mihiana Strickland designed the art that depicts his heritage and his journey by sea from Manihiki to Rarotonga with his family.
Strickland explained that the vaka in the artwork represents her great-grandfather’s voyage and and his skills as a master fisherman.
“The birds symbolise him and his 17 siblings, the island of Manihiki sits in the sail and mat is Rakahanga. This signifies where he comes from and his Fakaheo Ariki line.”
Local artist and dear friend of the family, Ashley Chaloner, painted the sketch onto the grave, a first experience and one that made him feel honoured, he says.
“This was special, I did its freehand over three days.”
Papa Tangatatutai Pukerua, fondly known as “Papa Tutai” was born on January 20,1921 in Manihiki and buried in September 2005 at the Avarua Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) burial grounds.
When he lived on Manihiki, he was active, passionate and involved in youth, sports and cultural activities.
He and his brother Ben Pukerua were known composers of Manihiki drum beats. He served as secretary for the Tahunu Ekalesia for many years and was a Deacon in their church, says Merle.
“He was a great fisherman, going out to sea to fish for his family and a hardworking man who taught us good principles and values.
“Our papa was a man of God. Living with him, it was a must for us to attend church and be greatly involved in our church activities.”
Papa Tutai was a son of Papa Pukerua and Mama Miri Rahi, and is the last of his 17 siblings to pass away. He was a father to Grace McDonald, Araipu Tutai Pukerua, Tokorua, Tutai Junior and Mamakore.
Another occasion took place earlier on the same day: the christening of Stuart and Jenny Henry’s son Tetaura Raru Stuart Hugh Henry. Merle is the child’s godmother.
Tetaura is a great-great grandson to Papa Vahua, who is a brother to Mama Miri Rahi and both are descendants of Tekaria and Varavo, says Merle.
“It was beautiful to have the two occasions conducted on the same day.”