I would presume the majority of Cook Islanders (especially those living overseas) would like the name to remain. Unfortunately, I believe many of our people do not know the facts surrounding the name.
It was the Russian navigator Adam Johann von Krusenstern who gave us the name to honour Captain Cook (many seem to think we gave it to ourselves or New Zealand gave it to us).
To my knowledge Krusenstern neither landed on nor sighted any of our islands. Can you imagine a Maori sailing around the world randomly giving names to places without even visiting them? I can't imagine Mother Russia would be pleased nor any other country.
Obviously this is a very sensitive time as the Black Lives Matter movement has stimulated a detailed assessment of all historical leaders around the world and the principles they espoused and actions they undertook.
Appraising Cook in this light is unflattering given his direct orders of floggings, beatings, killing, burning of homes and villages.
Let me also state unequivocally that he was a world class explorer, navigator, and cartographer. But in the past that is all most people talked about without considering his life in totality.
Recently, people around the world have given similar assessments of their past leaders. The result is that a lot of statues have been toppled around the world the last few months and it looks like more will come down.
Speaking of statues, if we love our name so much why don't we have a statue of Captain Cook in the middle of town? Or anywhere?
Why do we not have a national holiday in his honour? Why do we not have his face on our coins/notes? Any other country that I am aware of that is named after an individual have all these accolades and more. So why don’t we?
I suspect the answer is because the name Cook has no mana to us. The word itself and the person has no meaning to us.
When I hear people advocating the name, their reasoning is usually along the lines of “because that is what we have always been called”; their appraisal has nothing to do with the pride of Cook himself or his accomplishments.
This coin word Kuki Airani and Kuki is abhorrent. Everytime I watch us play international sports on television (mainly league and sevens) and the announcers mention "Kuki" I cringe. To me it sounds like a cartoon character accompanied by our cartoon "Kuki" bird mascot on the sidelines.
You think we instil fear or respect from any of our competitors with the name “Kukis”? I think not.
I'm just thankful they don’t laugh in our face. Kare e mana ... quite frankly it’s pathetic and I’m embarrassed.
Finally, we are the only Polynesian nation with a papa’a name – the use of Aotearoa is strengthening and Tahiti predominates. To me, I’m embarrassed again.
Of course the most difficult part of this discussion is what is the alternative name to consider? I think, surprisingly to your readers, I have a suggestion that Captain Cook was directly involved in.
Tupaia, the Polynesian navigator, was invited to sail on the Endeavour partly to chart all the islands of Polynesia that Cook was not aware of. During these discussions and under Captain Cook’s supervision, they drew a map of Polynesia based on Tupaia’s information.
At the center of the map from which Tupaia oriented all of Polynesia is the word “Avatea”.
Avatea means light, daylight, and more specifically, the high noon light. It would not stretch the imagination that Tupaia would use the biggest and brightest star directly above his head (being a celestial navigator using the high noon sun) to orientate himself throughout the Pacific Islands.
Avatea is a lunar deity and considered as the father of the gods whose eyes were believed to be the Sun and the Moon. He was also known as the god of light. We could be considered the nation of “light”!
I am fond of this name Avatea because:
1. There is history invoking our Polynesian gods at its root;
2. Subsequently, this creates mana behind the name;
3. It is a word that is used frequently in today’s Maori conversation thus having colloquial recognition;
4. It is short and easy to pronounce;
5. It is not associated with one particular island thus encapsulating all the Cook Islands;
6. Captain Cook was involved in writing this name on Tupaia's map thus honouring Cook indirectly.
Moreover, Tupaia has direct connections to our country. First, if you look at the map, they wrote down the name “O’Rorotoa” thus directly identifying us on the map.
Secondly, he was educated at the Tainu’u/Tainui marae in Raiatea which has direct connections to Kainuku/Tainui on Rarotonga.
I know the business community (I am one of them) is resistant to this name change due to tourism/branding/economic reasons but slowly incorporating a new name alongside Cook Islands over time should not be so onerous.
In fact, it’s interesting that Tourism’s new branding strategy is mana tiaki ... it would be difficult to find something more mana tiaki than the god Avatea!
Lastly, I am not averse to Avaiki or Danny Mataroa's suggestion of Atea (meitaki Danny, your letter inspired me to write mine) which is similar to Avatea.
Conversely we could just call our country Rarotonga (Hawai’i and Tahiti have hundreds of islands and they don't seem to have a problem) and be done with it!
Let’s base this discourse on facts and ideas. Looking forward to it.
Te atua te aro'a,