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Ma’uke Mission: Exploring 200 years of London Missionary Society connection

Saturday 24 February 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features


Ma’uke Mission: Exploring 200 years of London Missionary Society connection
‘Oliveta church in Kimi’angatau, during construction. This photo was taken by the-then resident agent William Cooper just after his arrival on Ma’uke in 1913. Cooper’s wife and their three sons are pictured in the photo. MA_1058261. Atiu, Mauke or Aitutaki, 1910s, Southern Cook Islands by William Saunderson Cooper. Gift of Andrew Cooper, 2001. Te Papa (A.018145)/ 24022352

A book which captures some aspects of the London Missionary Society connections with Ma’uke, will be launched next week.

“Ma’uke Mission – 200 years” will have its launch at Tauranga Vananga’s (Ministry of Cultural Development) library beginning at 12 noon on Thursday, February 29.

“The book was a last-minute thing and it ended up taking much longer than it should have,” says writer Moana Moeka’a.

Moeka’a began work on a military-themed book in 2022. But at the beginning of 2023, he said things were starting to turn out like his first book – The Last Army Recruits – which took nearly 10 years to research and complete.

“I was – and am still – waiting on a couple of service records, photos, and other bits and pieces of information from family members of former Cook Islands soldiers, and I couldn’t see this book being finished in good time.”

In April 2023, Moeka’a put it to one side and decided to write a short book on Ma’uke to coincide with the 200-year celebrations in July.

“I was lucky that I had some notes on Ma’uke tumu korero, the late Ā’iturau Ra’iri who, in the 1970s, passed on information about some of the Ma’ukean ‘orometua including my great-grandfather who served in Papua.

“Ma’uke has never had an English missionary based on the island so a lot of the information was passed down by word of mouth.

“It was also an opportunity to write something on my father’s homeland as very little has been written on Ma’uke.”

By June, he had written up – what he thought – was all the material he needed. But there were a couple of hiccups with the layout, which he says may have been a blessing in disguise.

“I was able to add to the book during this time. There was also some information which threw some light on the ‘re-opening’ of Ziona church in ‘Ōiretumu.”

Ziona celebrated its centenary in 1982.

However Moeka’a believes it should have been celebrated a year later in 1983.

“Ziona has the numeral 1882 painted on the wall where the entrances are. I believe it stands for the year 1882 and I am sure that this is how the date for the centenary came about.

“The congregation wanted a new ‘orometua and Iosepha was replaced by Ta’unga in late 1882.

“Iosepha may have had his own opening in 1882, I don’t know. But in July 1883, Rev. William Wyatt Gill – who had described the church as a ‘little gem’ – wrote that it had ‘not yet been opened’. Wyatt Gill also wrote of how Rev. Hutchins had taken Tiavare that month to replace Ta’unga who had spent nine months at Ziona.

“It is acknowledged by Ma’ukeans, including papa Ā’iturau, that Tiavare was the ‘orometua who opened the newly renovated church. So if he arrived in Ma’uke in July 1883, then the church must have been opened sometime that year.”

Moeka’a believes that – based on what has been written – Ma’ukeans should think about celebrating their Gospel Day on July 22 rather than a day later.

“The John Williams/Robert Bourne journal which documents the historic trip appears to indicate that the boat arrived at Ma’uke on the 22nd and left that same day to return to ‘Ātiu. If people believe that John Williams, Rongomatane and Haavi arrived at Ma’uke on the 23rd of July, then I don’t believe that the LMS reached Rarotonga on the 25th of July – the day the main island commemorates its Gospel Day.”

The issue of ‘Ātiu’s gospel day, celebrated on July 19, is another area that interests the author.

“Again, the journal states that there were two Tahitian ‘orometua already on ‘Ātiu when they arrived there on July 20. So when should ‘Ātiu celebrate its Gospel Day?

“I guess at the end of the day, you go on what has been written. What else can you go on?”

But if there is a bit of confusion over when Ziona was opened, it is no different at the LMS church in Kimi’angatau.

“One thing I know about ‘Oliveta is that it was opened in 1914. But there are two plaques – one inside and the other outside – which depict different opening dates!”

Moeka’a says that one of the problems he has encountered while researching on Cook Islanders is that information is scattered all over the place.

It doesn’t help, he says, that the LMS records can be difficult to access online and there is restricted access on Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) records.

He adds that one only has to go through the Journal of Pacific’s special issue on the CICC which was published in 2022 to see how much information was accessed by the writers.

“I believe the CICC should acquire access to all LMS records and open it up to Cook Islanders who want to research. What I have found in my short writing journey is that researching things on Cook Islanders is very difficult. I have said this before – it is easier to write a story on the English LMS missionaries who were here in the 1800s than it is on our own people – even those who have passed away over the past 50 years.”

Moeka’a says, even with all the technology available, the state of record-keeping in this country since self-government is very poor.

“We never really learnt from the New Zealand administrators because most of their records are still around.”

There were three publications put out in 2023 – two by Auckland-based scholar Kevin Salisbury and one on Tinomana Enuarurutini Ariki – to celebrate the arrival of Christianity, and Moeka’a hopes that his book won’t be the last in this area.

“It’s funny that the 200 years thing has come to a grinding halt. If anything, we shouldn’t be stopping here. I believe something is coming out on Mangaia which celebrates its bicentenary this year. It should be interesting because there was a lot written by the missionaries who stayed on Mangaia.

“If there is one thing that I would like to see encouraged is for Cook Islanders to get into writing our own history on a regular basis. By the time we know it, it is 50 years down the track and it becomes hard as we try to piece things from memory.”

Moeka’a would like to acknowledge those who have contributed to the book and Tauranga Vananga which assisted with printing costs.

The book will be sold at $30 at the launch.