So why did we allow others to name our country? Why was the name of our newly formed country decided on by a group of old white men, sitting in a room in Wellington in 1901, as opposed to a name chosen by our Ariki, our tumu korero, a name that reflected our Pe’u Maori, our akono’anga, our culture?
It was by an Imperial Order in Council of May 13, 1901 under the New Zealand government’s Colonial Boundaries Act of 1895 that the annexation of the Southern and Northern Groups of Islands were made to New Zealand. This Order on June 11, 1901 sealed the name Cook Islands, and without any consultation of the people that would then come under this name.
This New Zealand Act of Parliament is why we are called the Cook Islands, and despite there being consultation with our Kings and Queens, and there being 8000 people resident here, there was no thought of consultation by the New Zealand government at the time with those people. Such was the colonial attitude of the time, that others knew better what was good for us and what we should be called as a nation.
So here we are in 2019, and 118 years later the opportunity to self-determine our name, a name that best represents us has come to the fore. But this is not the first time, because past Prime Minister the late Sir Geoffrey Henry raised it in 1994 and though then the referendum failed to bring change, 24 years later we are given again the chance to correct what in my own mind is an irreconcilable wrong.
For in a world where Kiribati changed from the Gilbert Islands and Ellice Island to Tuvalu, I ask would we rather still have our colonial name than our own. In a time when what was the New Hebrides, a name also given by Captain Cook, has now become Vanuatu (which means “Vanua, the Land...tu...I stand on), would we rather our colonial dog tag, determined by others instead of a name that best reflects who we are today, decided by us and for us.
For this is a time of change and a time of reset and as our Pacific partner New Zealand and ourselves, consider again our relationship and consider our place in the world. This reset tells us there is a mood for change, and now is the time to consider change to who we are, and how we are to the rest of the world. Even New Zealand, is having a referendum on including formally the name Aotearoa as an official name -- a referendum that is long overdue.
If papa’a literally means four layers of clothing, then I ask, is now the time we take off these layers of old colonial clothes and instead put on our own? That we consider taking off these clothes that never fit us anyway and stand proudly in a name of our choosing. Our Ariki are already working on potential names with some of our tumu kororo, and government will be approached with their views on the matter.
There is a process for change and one that will include the voice of the people. My hope is that in my lifetime, and soon, we will see a name that reflects us, chosen by us, in our mother tongue -- a name that encompasses our nationhood, our people from our northern most Islands to the South, and one that will carry us, our identity, our sense of sovereignty and nationhood into the 21st century. At the stroke of someone else’s pen 118 years ago our name was changed forever. At the stroke of our own pen we can correct that great injustice and I long for that day, because that day is today.