It is always a possible consequence of bringing Pa Enua teams here for the annual celebration, he says.
However, if government was to dwell on concerns about Pa Enua performers staying on in Rarotonga or leaving for overseas rather than returning home, ‘we would never have any celebrations’, the prime minister says.
“If we were to look at that we would never be able to bring our people together (for Te Maeva Nui celebrations). Depopulation will always be with us.”
The Statistics Office has no figures on how many people are brought to Rarotonga and then return to their Pa Enua.
Puna says it’s an important issue, but ‘heaven forbid that any leader should put a restriction on our people, even if we can see there is a real risk of depopulation’.
While many people have tried to put a ‘face’ on depopulation and the reasons for it, politics is not to blame, the PM says.
“People travel because people choose to travel, they want to travel. We’re humans and we always think the grass is greener on the other side. We show that with our feet – we move.”
Puna says he’s thought deeply about Cook Islands depopulation and the single reason why people leave is because ‘we can’.
“And that has all to do with being New Zealand citizens and that is where we should be having our discussions.”
Head of Statistics Taggy Tangimetua says questions asking departing Cook islanders whether they were leaving permanently and their reasons for leaving were added to departure cards in an effort to better understand the reasons why Cook Islanders continue to emigrate.
“But capturing those responses can be very subjective.”
She says statistics show the country’s population of under 15,000 has remained ‘quite stable’ over the last five years because emigrating Cook Islanders are being replaced with incoming foreigners. Ethnic groups like Fijians and Filipino’s do not require permanent residency status to be included in residential population figures.
Just 54 people now remain in Manihiki after the performing team travelled to Rarotonga for Te Maeva Nui. Statistics show the Manihiki residential population to be about 233.
Puna says an additional 30 people will be returning after the celebrations to spend time on the island.
The northern group population is currently 1,112 and the southern group 3,920.Rarotonga’s resident population stands at 10,572.