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Vaka voyage sails to silver screen in fight for ocean health

Thursday 29 February 2024 | Written by Candice Luke | Published in Entertainment, Features


Vaka voyage sails to silver screen in fight for ocean health
Tāua E Moana - Ocean and I screens this Friday, 6pm at Empire Cinema, Avarua. 24022860

In 2021, a special voyage was taken by three Cook Islands non-government organisations. Cook Islands Voyaging Society, Kōrero o te ‘Ōrau, and Te Ipukarea Society teamed up for a tour to each of the 15 islands, a first for the traditional vaka Marumaru Atua.

Their mission was to spread awareness of ocean health and discuss concerns of the communities across the Cook Islands. 

This Friday at 6pm their journey will be displayed on the silver screen, free of charge, at Empire Cinema, Avarua, in the three-part documentary series “Tāua E Moana - Ocean and I”. 

The film will give the audience insight into life on the treasured Marumaru Atua vaka.

Kōrero O Te `Ōrau shines a light on the current health of Cook Islands ocean, in an attempt to inspire protection and preservation of te Moana Nui o Kiva (Pacific Ocean). Te Ipukarea Society dives into deep conversations with Pa Enua (outer islands) communities, NGOs and licensed mining companies on the current exploration phase and environmental risks of deep sea mining.

Cook Island Voyaging Society secretary Byron Brown says the film beautifully captures scenes of the Pa Enua and its people. 

“2021 seems such a long time ago when the voyage was undertaken, so to see the voyage and be able to share it with our local community here is very special. This content has been made by locals here from filming to editing so it’s great to show our own local talent on screen.”

Te Ipukarea Society director Alanna Smith says the NGO focused on understating the views and opinions from the Pa Enua community on the current topic of seabed mining. 

“The primary purpose of this voyage was to run an ocean health educational awareness raising programme within schools and the wider community on the state of our ocean currently, what we use our ocean for and potential threats that our ocean is facing today; like deep sea mining, overfishing, climate change and ocean pollution.”

The film features comments from the three seabed mining companies currently researching deep sea mining in Cook Islands waters. 

Smith says the documentary will exemplify why a moratorium is needed to ensure robust independent research is being carried out “to tell us how we should proceed in the sector or if it’s even viable”.

Marine biologist Dr Teina Rongo, chairperson of Kōrero O Te `Ōrau, says “Tāua e Moana - Ocean and I” brings attention to the idea of kinship.

“We want to treat the ocean as part of our family, rather than seeing the ocean and its resources as a commodity.”

Rongo says the documentary highlights the decline in fisheries.

“We get to hear from fishermen and elders, what they think about what we should be doing in terms of our fisheries and also their view on deep sea mining.”

For Rongo, the expedition highlighted the need for Cook Islanders to practise traditions.

“Some of the islands have revived their welcoming ceremonies such as the kiriti maro tai, and it really indicated the different protocols and practices. This was an opportunity for us to revive all of that knowledge.”

Cook Islands journalist Tiana Haxton, who edited the Voyaging Society footage, said: “It was all about reconnecting with the islands and it was so beautiful going through the footage and seeing all of the islands’ welcoming ceremonies and traditions, the school students getting involved on board, mamas and papas eagerly joining in the discussions.”

Haxton resonated with the voyage as she first connected with the vaka Marumaru Atua as a school student on her home island of Mitiaro.

“It was absolutely incredible seeing the vaka pull up on the horizon as the sun set, meeting crew members and listening to the stories and history of the Vaka Marumaru Atua and feeling this sense of connection to my tupuna, feeling connected to the wayfinding history of my ancestors.”

Haxton adds: “Our country has more ocean than land, it is a concept that is literally in our blood. These three productions will highlight how important this is and I truly hope it inspires our iti-tangata to value this relationship.”

Tāua E Moana will be available on YouTube after the free public screening.