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Children’s author sparks elemental shift in Cook Islands Māori

Thursday 30 May 2024 | Written by Alana Musselle | Published in Art, Features

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Children’s author sparks elemental shift in Cook Islands Māori
Cook Islands children, especially those in the outer islands speak Māori as their first language, and currently do not have the words in their Māori curriculum to even start to understand the hard sciences. PHOTO: ALANA MUSSELLE/24052810

A children’s book author is working to introduce new words into the Cook Islands Māori language, which if successful will make the Cook Islands the first Pasifika nation to expand their language into sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology.

At least 20 new Cook Islands Māori words, a mixture of new and existing words are ready to be reviewed by Te Kōpapa Reo Māori Kūki 'Airani, the body that manages the Cook Islands Māori language.

Author Joyana Finch says the mission began when she realised that to translate her children’s book series “Rhyming Science Books for Kids”, there was the need to expand the existing language.

“It was at that point I understood that these translations weren’t just a ‘nice-to-have’ option in my efforts. We must give our children these words to use. We must open the door for their education and interest in the STEM industries.

“If they are using a light bulb at home, or riding in a car ... Let us equip them with the knowledge of how those things work. Beginning with expanding our language so we can do so,” she said.

Māori words for atom, electron, proton, neutron, photon, electromagnetic waves, covalent bonds, molecules, data network, artificial intelligence are all on the list to be introduced.

Secondary Māori Advisor for the Cook Islands Ministry of Education, Vae Papatua said that there is a significant need for language revitalisation efforts to ensure the continued existence and flourishing of Cook Islands Māori.

“It’s widely recognised that maintaining and revitalising indigenous languages like Cook Islands Māori is crucial for preserving cultural identity and heritage. While there may be varying degrees of proficiency and usage among different generations, there’s generally a consensus that more can be done to ensure the language’s survival and vitality,” Papatua said.

Once reviewed and agreed upon, the new words will be published in an official gazette.

  • Alana Musselle/Te Waha Nui (AUT Student Journalism)