‘Just be quiet - because you don’t live here!’

Monday November 19, 2018 Written by Published in Opinion

“Don’t comment on what’s happening here in the Cook Islands.

“You’ve chosen to live somewhere other than the Cook Islands, so you don’t have a right to speak.”


This is sometimes our stance when we are confronted with comments and suggestions from some of our people living overseas. And I do consider them “our people”, no matter where they may choose to live or where they take their first breath.

Social media has in fact given so many of our people living in other countries the opportunity to speak about situations and decisions made by those of us based here in the Cook Islands. At time though, their opinions are not welcomed and are in fact shunned by some of us who are resident here. Sometimes this is because those who don’t live in the Cook Islands may not fully understand the context of what’s happening here and make comments that lack an understanding of the full picture or an understanding of the stresses and pressures faced on those living in our little paradise.

Of course this is not always the case. Nonetheless, there is now a virtual community of Cook Islands people resident in New Zealand and Australia and the world, who show some interest in the affairs and decisions made in the place that they also call home. And it is this sense of connection, that same connection that we often celebrate and applaud as Maori, that may cause them to engage in comment and the same connection that may well be driving their concerns.

On the face of it, over 63,000 people live in New Zealand and identify themselves as Cook Islanders and I used to be one of them. With 22,000 also identifying themselves as Cook Islanders based in Australia, resulting in a spread of people of close to 90,000 who live, work and have families in their respective countries. Countries that we visit from time to time, attending fundraisers at community halls and churches, when often those of us resident in the Cook Islands need funds ourselves to support church builds and functions that these same people will often not attend.

It is not unusual for us here to ask of those that have left, to contribute to their country in money and finances or in physical support and it is this same community thousands that some say have no right to comment and have no right to an opinion about the affairs of home.

If this is our stance then what then are we saying to them, “We are happy to accept your financial support and somtimes physical support from families that return for reunions every year, but do not comment on what we do and how because quite simply it is none of your business.”

And yes, it is frustrating at times, when our people abroad have opinions on issues that are based more on perception then fact. Sometimes they take that perception and call us out on what they think is happening - and not what actually is taking place. Would it not be better then to show humility and grace and afford them the opportunity to understand better - because understanding always builds relationships, where taking a position often creates misunderstanding.

I am currently in New Zealand and visiting family, it was interesting to me that the first flurry of questions about home were based on our perceived relationship with China and whether we as a country were in danger.

You see, we are happy to accept colonialism from European countries, where in fact we will invite them with open arms, but any suggestion that colonialism could happen from a country outside of those we already know is just not palatable.

It is of interest that the current rhetoric is about takeover and control from a foreign power, when for a very long time we as a country said yes to this very same thing. For myself - and this is just my opinion, colonialism served up as a dish, no matter who it is that serves it to us, is a dish that will only in time poison the deepest parts of who we are. That we then take this same poison of colonialism and feed it to our children as broth, tells you how insidious this poison can be.

Maybe the takeover of another culture and aspects of its way and life and language has happened already. For as Job declared, “that which we feared the most has already come upon me”. And what this stance says to our many part-Chinese Cook Islanders, can be quite hurtful and not indicative of how we treat each other.

I don’t think we can just choose to ignore the input and perspective offered by our people and communities overseas, and for the most part they care enough to contribute, even if it is on social media. Yes, there are those who continually troll and write inane and senseless comments, but we cannot allow the few to dismiss the many that care and want to still contribute at some level. A contribution based not only on their decision to identify as Cook Islanders on the census form of the country they now live in or were born in, but also because of the akapapa’anga that they all identify with and are connected to and is common to us all as Cook Islands Maori.

I believe that as the world continues to challenge us at a rapid and demanding pace, and with the advent of submarine cables and high-speed broadband, our connection to our global community will in fact strengthen and not weaken.

The challenge for us, then, is how we continue to engage with each other, contribute to each other and build a Cook Islands that is strong, vibrant and ready to meet the challenges of the 21 century – and which includes the 90,000 Cook Islanders living offshore.

And the simple answer to that question is this: We will do as we have always done since conquering the Pacific on voyaging vaka centuries ago…and that is we will sail this vaka together.

E Vaka eke noa.

Editor’s note: Thomas Wynne’s popular weekly column usually appears in Saturday’s CINews but was held to Monday for space reasons.

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