On behalf of the Pukapuka/Rarotonga community on Tumutevarovaro, president Makirere Poila and the executive committee sent invitations for the grand opening.
Over six hundred guests attended, wearing their best pareu ware and ei’s.
Invited dignitaries included Ariki from neighbouring vakas, wolo metuas, Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters and Lady Marsters, minister Mark Brown, Tupapa MP George Maggie, New Zealand High Commissioner Joanna Kempers, and many more. A tere party of around 70 New Zealand-based Pukapukans from the Te Ulu o Te Watu Society Incorporated in Auckland also flew over for the grand opening.
The afternoon began with welcome speeches, singing, ribbon cutting and the unveiling of the new hall with an intricately carved wooden sign that reads “Te Watu a Mataaliki, Ko Te Ulu o Te Watu, May - 6 December 2013.”
Te Ulu o Te Watu is the original name of Pukapuka, meaning the Head of the Rock, from which the founding God Mataaliki emerged.
This moemoea or dream started back in 2011 under the leadership of Pukapuka community president in Rarotonga Makirere Poila.
Over the period of two years, the executive committee including the president, his assistant Tuakana Marukore, secretary Helena Paulo Tiere, assistant secretary Poiti Poila, treasurer Teautoa Peua and assistant treasurer Sharon Katoa and the entire committee worked tirelessly on fundraising and organizing.
Over two years, the Pukapukan Rarotongan community managed to raise $285,000 to get the project off the ground.
Romani Katoa, Pukapukan architect and programme manager, worked with the committee and larger community in designing, budgeting and planning the building starting in January 2013.
More fundraising occurred by selling raffle tickets, raising $150,000 just $50,000 short of the target.
The overall budget for the building was just under $550,000.
Most projects of this size and scope in Rarotonga cost closer to $1.5 million dollars. To save costs, the design, planning, costing, onsite supervision and overall project management and construction was all done ‘in-house’. All the work was completed by Pukapukan builders, labourers, electricians, plumbers, block layers and plaster painters.
The entire Pukapuka/Rarotonga community and the larger Pa Enua community offered food throughout the building process.
Groundbreaking progress occurred in April this year and only eight months later, the building was completed on December 6 – Pukapuka Gospel Day.
The pride of the Pukapuka people in raising the building with 100 per cent Wale sweat and love could be heard in the imene tuki.
The dark ocean blue building used state-of-the-art ecological design.
It was designed and built to withstand cyclone conditions using 0.99mm aluminium roofing, a PVC gutter system to collect rainwater in a 100,000 litre water tank, the latest Biolytix sewage treatment plan with an ‘eco-trench’ system – where treated effluent goes into the gardens – and the electrical system has been set up for solar panels at a later date.
On opening day, visitors stated, “it looks like a five-star hotel”.
Many women in the Pukapuka community work at resorts in Rarotonga and know how to akamanea, or make the accommodation beautiful.
Mama Tuki donated pareau fabric and others gave flowers. Tamayele Mataora, Maota Gosselin, Tarani Poila and all the women worked through many nights to sew white sheets, purple pareau print runners, colourful throw pillows, blankets and more for the sturdy wooden beds built by Papa William William.
While the entire project took a village, the Pukapukan builders and all the mamas received special recognition on opening day.
Only four men on the team had previous building experience – lead carpenters Zekaria William and Willie Katoa, leading foreman Pili Tiro and foreman Valia Marukore. The electricians included Charlie Koronui, Rippa Tauia and Glenn Nooroa. The plumbing was completed by Willie Katoa and Raro Plumbing. Paid labours included Pastor Clarke, Papino Akaruru, Jnr. Ruarau, Sinbad Teopenga, Papa Fonu, Charlie and others.
Free labourers included Nauma Atiau, Maloti Vave, John Hagai, Aloiva Akama, Vai Peua, Joe Angiano, Tutai Williams, Papa William William, James Auwola, Kirianu Nio, Rotika Tengere, Tema Melota, Tiwn Tiro, Melody Melota, Tinokura Bodyred, Tewola Jack, Aluia Roumanu, and others who came after their day jobs and on Saturdays. The papas, particularly Tukia Mataora and Tiaki Wuatai and the mamas particularly Mama Williams, Tamayele Mataora and Maota Gosselin lived at the hostel or came daily to ensure completion for opening day.
Many more people not named here both from the Pukapuka community, and also the larger Pa Enua (particularly Manihiki, Rakahanga and Penryhn) all helped make this dream a reality. In addition, the larger Pukapuka community in New Zealand and Australia supported the project from the beginning. The Te Ulu o Te Watu tere party that flew over from Auckland were the first to enjoy the hostel accommodation.
The evening of the grand opening ended with a large umukai for 1600 people including 100 pigs and 200 cartons of chicken cooked in the large umu, salads, taro, all sorts of poke, baked kumara, raw fish, varaoa karo, paw paw, paua, curries and more. Brother Love and his band were flown over for the opening to share their island reggae love.
The lopa (young men) offered a tila (wrestling chant) and the young men and women an ula pau. As the evening wound down, mamas and papas came out to the grassy auditorium under the stars of Mataaliki and danced away the evening in true island community style.
The Pukapuka community accommodation building will be available for short-term stays by special request and will primarily be utilised by the visiting Pa Enua Pukapuka community. The courtyard will also house a traditional kikau umu, merging past wisdom with modern wisdom. Overall, the building stands as a testament to what can happen at the ground level when a community comes together for a larger purpose – and of course, puts in a lot of hard work, prayer and play.