Return to Pukapuka

Sunday January 27, 2013 Written by Published in Return to Pukapuka

When I left Pukapuka last year to return to Hawaii, tears streamed down my hot face. I wore three pandanus hats to shield the sun.

“I will be back within five years,” I told everyone as we hugged at Yato beach.

I returned within one year.

Our family lived in Pukapuka from 1977-1981 while my father completed his research for his doctorate in anthropology. After completing my doctorate in clinical and cross-cultural psychology, I returned to this childhood atoll to make sense of the faded past. I found the home I had always dreamed of with a bustling village life, singing, dancing, fishing and a way of life nearly lost in Hawaii.

Planning to only stay three days, I stayed for four months. I especially enjoyed my time volunteering as an English teacher at Niua School. I returned to Hawaii to reconnect with my family and friends there, take belongings out of storage and look for a university teaching job. I found the return to Hawaii challenging and missed the community of Pukapuka. For better or worse, I could only find part-time university teaching and freelance writing work. I met my new goddaughter and nephew, went to a wedding and reconnected with everyone’s busy lives.

While in Hawaii, I spent a lot of time with Johnny Frisbie who said to me “why don’t you go write the New Book of Pukapuka.”

When an older person asks you to do something, you listen. I have been called back here, a kind of magnetic pull. This time, I brought enough supplies to last a year. While here, I plan to relearn the language, spend time in the taro patch and write. I will write regular news from Pukapuka for the Cook Islands News and a regular health column for the Atlantic magazine online, the same magazine Robert Dean Frisbie wrote for back in the 1930s. And I will attempt to write the New Book of Pukapuka as Johnny asked.

I am also working on fundraising for a documentary film, with more information to unfold in the Spring. I am also, of course, napping and swimming.

I recently realised that people find my story interesting because I am white or as Sonny Williams from the Ministry of Culture said “an albino Pukapukan.” If I were a brown Pukapukan returning after thirty years away I am not sure anyone would take notice. There are many such Pukapukans who have become expats in New Zealand and Australia, some to return home to serve their community. I am simply one of these many.

I owe a huge thank you to my families and the whole Pukapukan community. Thank you to the Katoa Family, Taunga Family, Wiriton Family, Frisbie Family, Lavalua Family, Teingoa Family, Peua Family, Borofsky Family and to John Woods and Cook Islands News for sharing the news especially with all those Cook Islanders abroad who miss these beautiful islands.

Atawai Wolo.

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