My great-grandfather was Portugese, and lived in the Cape Verde Islands, before making his way to Rarotonga where he he married my great-grandmother Tupuna (Mata) Aporo, daughter of Tanetuao and Tangirangi, grandaughter of Momoa and Tangirangi and great grand-daughter of Eteke and Akaiti Maurangi. She is our blood link to Tupapa Maraerenga, and to Te Ava Mataiapo and ultimately to Ara i te Tonga and Vakatini Teanuanua Terekura Arerea O Makea.
Papa Kaitanu is buried in the Vaimotu burial grounds across the road from the Arorangi Bakery in and amoungst the Pirangi families buried there also, and his wife Tupuna at the back of our family homestead in Ruaau, where she died giving birth to my grandmother Arasena Kaitanu Duarte.
Planting is in our blood, though all I remember growing up as a child was chasing my mother around our quarter-acre section in Mt Albert weeding and raking the grass, determined to never plant another thing again.
My grandmother would often say, as a daughter of a planter, leaning over to us as children, be careful when you shake the tree, because the rotten fruit will fall down with the ripe.
And in life we can at times be that rotten fruit, by our words and actions, and other times that rotten fruit hits you straight in the back of the head, often when you weren’t looking or expecting it and, sadly, from people you least expected.
Words are so powerful, in fact, that the Scriptures say from the fruit of our mouths our stomach is filled; that the tongue has the power of life and death.
Words are powerful and creative for good or for bad, and for me it has been so encouraging to see the work Cook Islands Tourism has been doing in and around their messaging, their words and the kia orana values.
If there was ever a demonstration of our country and our Cook Islands people’s determination to reset their thinking around tourism then these messages capture it in such a bold and beautifully pe’u Maori way.
Rather then pictures of bikini-clad couples, we have our beautiful Aunty Lydia and Aunty Nane, poised again on a motorcycle with that infectious laugh radiating who we are as Cook Islands Maori, but this time with helmets on and this time the message is as simple as a day without laughter is a day wasted.
No overt sales pitch or marketing, rather a celebration of who we are and our ability to laugh in the face of adversity.
That our faith as a people, and our culture will get us through this because we have endured so much before, be it colonisation, acculturation, forign disease, or the coronavirus utilising those same tools of the past and resilience to get us through this challenge today and captured with a picture of our tamariki.
To see Papa Jake, such an icon of our tourisim with another simple message that success is found in our commitment to our people.
Or in the picture of a woman with an ei katu, looking down at a bowl serving ika mata acknowledging our emergency services, our government agencies, our puna, volunteers and community members and that those who put the needs of others before their own, and that they are the true heroes.
Or maybe the one of Cecile Marten, one of our ocean voyagers, looking up to the stars and the message that we now have the opportunity to reflect and prepare for a brighter future; a message that resonates for us all as we look around at this ra‘ui, this reset and want to take this opportunity to step away from maybe a heavily-commercialised tourism to a more balanced, sustainable, environmentally and culturally ethical tourism.
To change course, one must take different compass bearings, and that will involve the rigours of tacking away from your current direction and sailing into the winds of change, a wind of courage that can create resistsance from those who benefited from your previous destination.
Nonetheless, to those Tu Oe leading the team at Cook Islands Tourism – Halatoa, Karla and Metua – can I express my deepest sense of meitaki, from across Moana Nui o Kiva and the cold grey shores of Aotearoa.
Covid shook the tree, that we could not control. And maybe some rotten fruit fell out because of it. But we now have the ripe fruit to feed us and sustain us on our new voyage and new direction.
It is exciting to see this change of course and is so encouraging to see this vaka taking us, our country, our culture and people in a new, exciting, sustainable and ethical tourism direction.