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Cook Islands drum up excitement at FestPAC with captivating shows

Saturday 15 June 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Art, Entertainment, Features


Cook Islands drum up excitement at FestPAC with captivating shows
Cook Islands National Arts Theatre (CINAT) dancers perform at Hawai’i’s Polynesian Cultural Center this week. FestPac Cook Islands 2024/ 24061431

The pulsating drums, magnificent performers, vibrant costumes and skilled artisans from Cook Islands are capturing crowds at the 13th Pacific Arts Festival and Culture in Honolulu, Hawai’i, with their captivating shows and highly crafted artistic skills.

Cultural experts, Jane Rubena and her partner Mark Short, are the leaders of the Cook Islands National Arts Theatre (CINAT) performing arts team.

With her decades long experience in Cook Islands culture, Rubena has a deep appreciation and passion for it.

She is delighted to be attending FestPAC for the first time and is thrilled with the performers and skilled talent in the team.

“Everyone here present with us at this festival, our artisans and costume designers and carvers, showcasing our arts and crafts; and witnessing the culture of the participating Pacific nations has been amazing,” says Rubena.

The Cook Islands National Arts Theatre (CINAT) performing arts team co-leader Jane Rubena, left, with other members of the team. Ambushia Mateariki/24061443

CINAT has prepared 12 items for FestPAC, and although they haven’t performed every item to date, the group has another seven days in Honolulu before returning home next week.

Rubena says every taunga has their own way of teaching their skills and creating their items.

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“I’m very open minded, I’m about working with the new generation – our youth, how else are we going to develop and encourage them.

“The creations we have put together are a collaboration of everyone’s input, this is not just a one-man-band.”

CINAT has integrated both traditional and contemporary dance into their performances.

“We have our taunga who have always inspired us with their music and compositions that we are honoured to perform to,” explains Rubena.

Rubena would like to acknowledge the five CINAT members from the island of Aitutaki who have become an integral part of the team, thanks to the kind sponsorship from Ewan Smith of Air Rarotonga for supporting their flights to Rarotonga from Aitutaki every week for rehearsals.

“We are so grateful to Ewan and Air Raro for making this possible for our performers – Alone “Ally” Monga, Kalan Turia, Retire Puapii, Mereana Bishop, and Nicola Christian.”

The singers in the group are: Elizabeth Pitomaki, Jane Rubena, Teata Nga Moeara, Tupa Tupa, Tina Koronui Herman, and Alone “Ally” Monga from Aitutaki.

A male dancer entertains the crowd at the Polynesian Cultural Center this week. FestPac Cook Islands 2024/24061432

The costume designers are: Mareta Angene Teira – lead designer, assisted by Kura Taruia and Tautape Samson.

Rubena and Short are both passionate about passing on the knowledge of our culture and have been teaching their children, Mahanarei (17 years), Akirata (just turned 16), and Kaena (11 years), the art of drumming since they were four-years-old.

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Hawai’i had requested for children with cultural talent to be a part of the team.

Rubena was thrilled that her children, due to their expert drumming skills, were selected by Tauranga Vananga to be part of the team.

Watching her children perform on the international stage has been a highlight for her.

“I don’t think they realise how big this festival is. This is a very special one for me, being here with my kids.

Cook Islands dancer Tiare Anguna with a fellow dancer at the Polynesian Cultural Center this week. FestPac Cook Islands 2024/24061444

“I thank Tauranga Vananga, the Minister, Secretary and government for giving me this honour to lead this 2024 CINAT performing arts team.”

Rubena says she is also very proud of the delegation – the drummers, dancers, costume designers, singers, artisans, media, organisers Tauranga Vananga, Prime Minister Mark Brown, Cultural Development Minister George “Maggie” Angene and Cook Islands New Zealand Consul Keu Mataroa for their support and being part of the team.

“All glory to our Heavenly Father for this blessing. This festival has definitely been a highlight for everybody, Kia Orana e Kia Manuia.”

The artisans and some of the group will be returning to Rarotonga tonight.

The performers and Emile Kairua, Secretary of Tauranga Vananga, will be returning home on June 22.

-          Melina Etches in Honolulu