The first group will leave next Monday and the second group the following week.
“We had a break in our church schedule,” said Mama Tira Patia the lead organiser in Rarotonga, “and we decided this was our chance to all go.” Mama Tira Patia has been to Tahiti before to attend the conference but for most of the mamas it will be their first time. For Taulia Mataola of Pukapuka, the youngest of the group at aged 16, this will be her first time on an airplane. “I am excited to just go check it out, travel around and have a look around” she said. Then she added laughing, “I miss the taro patch.”
The women have spent a lot of time saving money and fundraising for their fares. The Avarua women sold lunch plates while the Pukapuka women sold ipu koti (taro baked in coconut) and doughnuts. Manongi Latham, the only woman from Penrhyn to attend said “a lot more people from the northern group wanted to come but couldn’t because of the expense of transport for us.” Eight women from Pukapuka will attend though transport challenges which means the two week trip will take them two months. Along with Rarotonga, Mitaro and Aitutaki will also be represented. While most of the Pukapukan women have travelled to New Zealand and Australia before, this will be their first time visiting another Pacific Island nation. “Given how much Cook Islanders love to travel, many more women would have come if given the opportunity,” said Latham.
In addition to fundraising, the two year preparations included the design and weaving of original hats by Latham. “I am a weaver,” she said “and I love coming up with new designs. I weaved most of them and also had other women in Penrhyn weave them and then we brought the hats down here for the women to buy.” The stunning pandanus hats include pearl shells and finely woven on-island local materials. Mama Tuki of Tuki’s Store helped design the dresses. Of the dresses, Mama Tiraa Anguna of the Avarua parish said “green is our national colour and we wanted to add a dash of yellow.” And as an afterthought Mama Anguna added, “Cook Islanders always want to look good.” Attending Avarua CICC church on Sunday, the women looked dashing in their green with a dash of yellow dresses and green and white hats.
While all together in Rarotonga, the women have spent the last two weeks practicing their Cook Islands singing. They plan to present seven songs, including one himine tuki. To sounds of laughter at the Avarua CICC church on Sunday, the women sang their himine tuki with half the women signing the low men’s parts.
The women emphasised their excitement to travel and meet other Pacific women. “We will come back with new ideas to improve the gospel and support our women,” said Patia. Pare Walewaoa, the lead organizer for Pukapuka said “this is our first time and we just can’t wait to get on that plane. We look forward to getting all together.”