A draft of the New Testament plus the Psalms is currently in circulation amongst the Pukapukan community and should be ready for publication just a few months from now.
“At the moment we’ve given the community three months to read through it and make sure that it’s clear in the Pukapukan language and they understand it, and it feels natural to them when they read it,” explained Pukapuka-Nassau MP Tingika Elikana, who attended last week’s three-day conference on the Puka Ya at the National Auditorium and USP.
“It’s a project that has been going on for some time – nearly over 20 years, and it started off with a couple of old people in Auckland, working towards having the Bible translated into the Pukapukan language,” Elikana said.
“The underlying drive for that is to retain our language. The concern was that most of our people in New Zealand – and also here (in Rarotonga), are being more or less forced to speak in Cook Islands Maori and in English, and they are not focussing on the Pukapukan language.
“So having the Bible in the Pukapukan language is a way that we can retain our language – and get more people reading it.”
The Puka Ya project is the first time work has been translated entirely into Pukapukan and the Bible translation is also running in parallel with the compilation of a Pukapukan dictionary.
Pukapukan is significantly different to other Cook Islands languages or dialects, and has been described as being much closer to the Samoan group of languages.
The dictionary is also an ongoing project – words to be added are approved by a Pukapukan language committee, and will be published once the Puka Ya project is done. “Not forgetting that we’ve got to keep adding to it,” said Elikana.
“The whole idea is so that you get two source documents, so if you are interested in learning about the Pukapukan language you can use these two documents as sources for learning the language.
“Part of the hope is that our young people, are children who are coming through – because they are of mixed descent, Pukapukan and other Cook Islanders, will be able to pick if they want to learn the Pukapukan language.”
While the Puka Ya project was first conceived of and driven by a group of older Pukapukans in Auckland, New Zealand, and then spearheaded by community leader Nuku Rapana, “the intention has always been to have the traditional chief take ownership of the project”, said Elikana.
“The reason for that is because we want to make sure that this is a Pukapukan project driven by our chiefs, by our head chief and the sub-chiefs – because we always look to them as guardians and custodians of the Pukapukan language and also of our traditions. So that’s why we recently moved it and put the whole project under the guidance of our chief, Tetio Kaisara Pakitonga Aliki.
“I must also mention the good work of our friends – we’ve been assisted in this project by husband-and-wife team Kevin Salisbury and Dr Mary Salisbury the linguist.”