Our cumulative joy and tears as Marumaru Atua sailed into the Avatiu harbour echoed the tears shed on the September 17, 2017, when tragedy struck this country, struck the people of the Cook Islands.
That was when our vaka Marumaru Atua was ravaged by fire, and her starboard hull, aptly named “Pa Tuterangi Ariki” after ocean voyaging pioneer and previous prime minister Sir Tom Davis, was damaged beyond repair.
This senseless fire sought to extinguish a pivotal part of our identity, to quell our deep sense of who we are, of what we have achieved in our past as conquerors of Moana Nui o Kiva and of the present as modern day voyagers, global citizens as well as our future as a people of the ocean, a people connected deeply to our moana and a people that assailed this vast blue ocean with vaka built by and for our people.
As a country, as a people and government, the heartfelt response, was the donation of $250,000 to her rebuild and this was done because as a nation we truly believe, e vaka tatou e ko tatou te vaka. The vaka is us, and we are the vaka.
As we stood there on Thursday I wondered about our tupuna, sailing into this harbour and other harbours since the beginning of time; the vaka cradling our tupuna deep in her arms, and that we gathered as so many of our people had done before and performed the Kiriti Marotai ceremony, Pe’e, Amu and song, celebrating once again her embracing our crew and Tu Oe of Marumaru Atua across a path well-travelled by our tupuna and across the vastness of Moana Nui A Kiva from Aotearoa to Rarotonga.
As our collective grief accumulated because of the damage that had taken place, our collective resolve swelled ever more so, and was demonstrated as we saw her sail through the Avatiu passage yesterday. Our vaka, Marumaru Atua, better then she was before, stronger, and home. And with a collective pride we celebrated, that together, and with one heart, one mind and many hands nothing is impossible, and there is in fact nothing we as a nation cannot overcome, if we would only work together.
Marumaru Atua and her crew sailed across the expanse of Ocean to her home 3,500 kilometres away. She will now take her rightful place alongside past, present and future vaka and voyagers from the Cook Islands and the present and future that includes you and I. As one who struggles with the challenge of sea sickness, I can say I have never been as challenged, physically, mentally and spiritually as I was with the sail in 2015 from Rarotonga to Suwarrow and back. But I knew also there were lessons only found on the Ocean, and on the vaka, that I could find nowhere else, because e vaka tatou e ko tatou te vaka. The vaka is us, and we are the vaka.
Now the port hull Te Tika O Te Tuaine, named after Mataiapo and Voyager Te Tika Mataiapo Dorice Reid, sits alongside her starboard hull, named “Pa Tuterangi Ariki” after Sir Tom Davis. They sit together as a reminder to us all of our need to work together, to be lashed together with the ka’a or binding of love, aro’a, compassion, tu tangi courage, tu nakau toa and to preserve our place as toketoke no te enua, as people of the land and sea, and to protect our land and Ocean from the ravages of hard drugs, crime, climate change, globalization, colonial thinking and marginalisation.
For this is our home, first, and not a cash register as some treat it, be that on land or water.
It is in fact our greatest responsibility to be the tiaki or guardians and protectors of what God has given us and to ensure its sustainability and protection and management.
This is our burden, our onerous responsibility as Maori and for anyone that calls this place home, and we can be encouraged that the vaka, has always been there as a teacher, to show us how we can best do this, because e vaka tatou e ko tatou te vaka, the vaka is us, and we are the vaka, and together, nothing for us as a country or as a people is impossible.