Mauke School has four “houses” comprised of students from all age groups. The week began with each house exploring their given area. Guides brought ancient trails to life with stories, explanations and some place names that had all but been forgotten. Some residents, now too old to do the walk, were happy to share information. The four old settlements visited were Tukume (House One), Mokoero (House Two), Araro (House Three) and Vaimutu (House Four).
Teacher Dorothy Moetaua, noted sadly that little is now known about some areas, as those who carried the stories have passed on. There is an urgent need to get information recorded for the future and, in a small way, the school has done just that.
Each house put together presentations of their journey in speech, song and chant, and principal Teata Ateriano was so impressed with the pupils’ efforts that he asked that these be put into writing and kept for future generations.
I walked with House Four through one of the largest ancient settlements, Vaimutu. From a road trail we ducked off and under bush to places new to me. I noted with pride that students really took an interest in Papa Lucky’s commentary and were even taking notes.
It wasn’t just ancient stories being told, but memories from his childhood and more recent decades, when large areas were planted in bananas, including utu (mountain bananas) and other crops, not for export, but to feed the more than 1000 people who once lived here. Our population is around 280 now, so it was hard for students to imagine so many people living in Mauke, some even thinking that might have been a little too crowded.
At one point a horse sauntered across the road. We really are a “one-horse town”, I thought. In conversation with Papa Lucky, I learned that there used to be many horses on Mauke.
"But people treated them like pigs and now there’s only one lonely male left. They just didn’t understand the value of this animal that stands out from the rest."
I can't help but wonder what it would be like to have horses instead of tractors or motorbikes, all that wonderful fertiliser for the garden and no fuel costs.
But would we have enough good grazing to do them justice?
As we rested on a fallen coconut trunk, Papa Lucky shared a personal experience from his youth, when at Vaimutu taro patch, out later than they should have been, he and his friends heard voices and drumming moving past them down a track that once was regularly used to link the inland with Arapaea on the coast.
That particular track is known by some as “Aranui Tangi Navenave”, loosely translated “the musical stone track,” because stones were laid off-balance and if one didn’t know where to step, the clinking stones warned locals of approaching visitors.
A few days later House 4 warned people not to work the taro patch past sundown in their presentation and older members of the community clapped; they understood.
For me, a highlight of that walk was seeing Marae Rangimanuka. It’s famous because it belonged to Uke and is thought to be one of the earliest marae on Mauke.
Had it not been pointed out, I wouldn’t have realised it was a marae due to the growth and coconut fronds lying about, but after a quick tidy up of the area, everyone proudly posed for a photo at this historical site.
Wednesday, December 7 was “Umu Day” so the previous afternoon had students busy digging pits, gathering greenery, plaiting pe'u (umu coverings), and setting up fireplaces. Early Wednesday morning teachers and helpers lit fires and wrapped food brought in by students, who then helped lay it down to cook.
Thoughts of any delicious kai manga had to be put aside however, as it was time to make instruments and practice for Thursday’s talent quest, each house providing a male and female soloist and a string band.
Without the pressure of judges and agreeing that everyone was a winner, students enjoyed that concert as much as onlookers. It was so precious to notice parents pleasantly surprised and looking proud as punch, as children sang or played instruments, some managing both at the same time!
After the show students wove, what was for some, their very first kikau are (roof thatching) for a mini are kikau (traditional house). The disappearance of are kikau from beach picnic spots and the airport area over the past few years is a stark reminder of an art under threat.
On Friday the temperature inside sat around 38C. Outside, we were cooking! Beads of sweat clung to brown bodies like oil, yet everyone laughed, sang and chanted their way to the hall showing off their walking floats (no trucks back then), hurriedly finished off either side of an island-wide tsunami drill to test the sirens.
The week was exhaustingly busy. Each day had its highlights, and performances were made special by the attendance of family and community members. By the end of the week a number of family members, having just arrived for the silly season, joined in the organised and impromptu fun.
Our students stand proud to be Maukean and now, with even more knowledge of the foundations that form their identity, I believe the cultural fabric of each has been strengthened.
Our pearls get the nod
Cook Islands black pearls received a major endorsement in Milan, Italy last week from one of the world’s leading jewel makers and distributers Damiani.
In partnership with Cook Islands Tourism, Cook Islands Pearl Authority created a display of Cook Islands Pearls, including the leading brand Avaiki, for Tourism’s Southern European Roadshow.
The tour, which began on January 14, is visiting nine cities in Europe and will end on February 4.
Stops include Barcelona, Madrid and Bilbao in Spain, then Milan, Bresia-Bergamao, Codopio, Florence, Rome and Naples.
The display was taken to Europe by a dance team and is being handled by Tourism’s representative Nick Constantini.
Italian artisan jeweller Enrica Barri of Nyami Jewellery also created a special range for the display using Avaiki pearls.
The pearls are being showcased in each city to especially invited jewel experts in tandem with travel agents’ exhibition combining a backdrop of pearls, ‘Love a Little Paradise’ tourism promotions and dance performances in each city.
In Milan vice-president of world renowned brand Damiani, Giorgio Damiani, attended the display.
Damiani is one of the most important and renowned brand and jewellery designers in the world.
His work boasts testimonials from celebrities including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Sharon Stone and Eva Longoria).
The group also includes Salvini and Bliss, the “pret-a-porter” (“ready to wear”) lines, with a wider distribution.
Nick Constantini said that Damiani loved the Avaiki pearls. Having worked with Polynesian/ Tahitian pearls before, he said that ‘Cook Island pearls are of pristine quality.’
Despite the pearls not being in high fashion in Europe at the moment, he said that he may be interested in working on an exclusive line with Cook Islands Avaiki pearls.
He expressed an interest in visiting the Cook Islands to see the farms in Manihiki. Negotiations will begin as soon as the Roadshow ends.
Pearl Authority marketing consultant, Alexis Wolfgramm said that the display was the first of its kind that had been mounted in Europe.
He said the process for putting up this type of display involved multiple transactions including preparing cross border customs clearances at each port, security controls for the pearls and translated documentation for the authorities as well as translated marketing material for potential buyers in Italy and Spain.
“Securing buyers in Europe for Cook Islands Pearls is the aim of our partnership with Cook Islands Tourism and we are pleased that there is such high level interest and a pathway to follow up with negotiations, particularly for the Avaiki brand.” Wolfgramm said.