Voices bellowed, Aue te okotai O te aronga paieti! Aue te rekareka anga O taua aronga nei! as we stood, acknowledging the start of the awards.
I looked up to the stark concrete pillars of this great building we were in as the harmonious voices of our Rakahanga people resonated from pillar to pillar, as those of us who stood in the crowd at the start of the Imene Tuki, understood its significance.
My thoughts raced to my grandparents and parents, my Uncle John Taru and Aunty Te Kau Ariki who as founding members of the Newtown PICC, could only have dreamed when they arrived in a cold wet and windy wellington in the 1960s that one day their Imene Tuki would be sung inside the halls of legislative power, inside the walls of the Parliament buildings of New Zealand and in their lifetime.
I heard this Imene Tuki for the first time nearly 10 years before, standing at the back of Tereora College, moved deeply by what I heard, feeling the words fill a part of me which had sat empty for a long, long time, and the significance of hearing these same words at the Beehive in Wellington was not lost on me.
It was the Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards and these awards would be led by our own Caren Rangi who started the evening with a Pe’e as guests walked in, humming passed the Rakahanga drummers and singers who literally set the tone for the rest of the evening.
In and amongst the many Ei Katus, be they Cook Islanders or not, was our very own Glenda Tuaine Newport with her husband, daughter and family, who would receive the Special Recognition Award that recognised an individual whose work, influence and commitment have raised the standards, expectations and reputation of Pacific Arts and artists.
It felt strange to have the lamps on me when I am now used to doing that for others, says Glenda, as we speak after the awards. Maybe she couldn’t see that when you shine a light on others, invariably some of that light shines on you too.
Her sense of service and of promoting others, our youth, our singers, opera, theatre and the creative space, was deeply acknowledged. And, in her humble self-depreciating fashion, she acknowledged her grandparents, her parents, her links to Arauara Enua and the Cook Islands.
Her acknowledgement of others, of feeling somewhat uncomfortable being awarded or being in the light, was a sentiment shared by many of the other award recipients. It was captured in the words of Anapela Polataivao, who spoke of standing on that same stage as Glenda and the many that have loved and mentored her, and how it enabled her to bring those that journeyed with her out from the shadows.
People with a gift like Glenda’s bring others out of their shadows, and allows the light to shine on their potential, and especially their creative gift.
For in life sometimes we need someone to bring us out of the shadows so we can face the light and stand in it, knowing we are not alone.
Glenda says, yes, you can do anything and don’t be afraid, and yet it is her standing with those in the shadows as so many in the creative space do, that allows the shadow to be exchanged for the spotlight by so many of our talented, but terribly shy creative people.
Through art we can discuss the issues that cannot be discussed, she says, as the arts allow it to be discussed and draw it out from the dark, and as she talks I better understand why this award is hers and why we must support the creative space.
This has been a weekend of celebration for all our Cook Islands communities both here and in Aotearoa and Australia.
As more than 100 women were awarded for their outstanding contribution to our communities at the Vaine Rangatira Awards, and Glenda the night before at the Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards, what should be clear is that the gap between our communities in New Zealand and home are closing.
That we are really starting to see the benefit in each other’s experience, one lived at home and one in New Zealand, and we can no longer see these as two separate experiences, and instead enmeshed experiences that should complement each other.
All we have is each other and ocean has never divided us and never should it be allowed to.
As these celebrations clearly show we have so much to gain if we can but acknowledge the skills that each situation brings to our people in New Zealand and Australia and our people at home for together we have always been stronger.