Ngavaine Makitai in the makatea of Mauke to collect maire. MELINA ETCHES / 20111216.
When maire ei orders come from Rarotonga, three Mauke sisters get down to work, and trekking into the makatea with sharp jagged rocks is part of their labour. Senior journalist Melina Etches had the firsthand experience of maire ei making during her recent visit to the southern group island.
maire makes you feel quite special, lucky, royal even. The fragrant leaves of
the maire are soothing
islands of Mauke/Akatokamanava and Mitiaro/Nukuroa supply Rarotonga’s high
demand for the native maire plant eis for special occasions, birthdays,
weddings, official functions etc.
work is involved in the creation of an ei maire.
been to Mauke many times, but had never really bothered to hike into the
makatea with the women.
week I had that opportunity when I visited the island with Cook Islands
Tourism’s Daniel Fisher and Louisa Purea.
island is as I remember it; warm and friendly (everyone waves and smiles) with
bright coral roads – a stark contrast to its deep lush flora and trees that
sweep around the island. It is a quiet, peaceful and a happy place.
guide Lisa Turaki (Tou Ariki’s wife) introduces us to three wonderful,
heart-warming sisters Ngavaine Makitai (55 years), Tupuna Mo’o (60 years) and
Joanne Stephens (62 years).
parents are Vaine Terepai John, who was also known as Mama Tango, and Rongoape
are 11 siblings, all were born and raised on Mauke; but at present only the
three women and a brother live on the island.
women kindly shared with us their Mauke maire experience.
Siblings Joanne Stevens, Ngavaine Makitai and Tupuna Mo’o at their family homestead the “White House’. MELINA ETCHES / 20111208.
weather has an important role in the making of maire eis, it is best picked
when it’s been raining, says Ngavaine.
maire eis are ordered from Rarotonga, Ngavaine has to plan for a time to head
into the makatea – an unforgiving area of fosilled coral rock that juts upright
with sharp edges and points.
the more robust of the sisters, she prefers to pick the maire on her own. “My
sisters came with me once, but they took too long. They’re not used to the
makatea, so I tell them to stay home, I’d rather pick it by myself, it’s
faster,” Ngavaine says with a laugh.
sun-shining Saturday morning we follow her into the makatea; it had rained hard
the night prior, so that was a good sign.
arrived on her bike dressed in a t-shirt, thick overalls that cover her ankles,
shoes and carrying a sack - suitably dressed for the task ahead.
(Fisher, Purea and I) were dressed sort of mix matched, one of us wore shorts,
we had socks and shoes.
felt anxious before we started, worried that I would hold up the team as I was
seriously the most unfit and did not want to disappoint our guide who was there
to get her maire, not muck about too much, and get out.
our trek into the makatea. It is not for the faint hearted.
are sharp jagged rocks everywhere and a fall can cause serious injury, gaps
along the path are so small you have to bend and squeeze under gnarled tree
branches and through prickly pandanus leaves.
the beauty inside the dense forest was serene like; so quiet, surrounded by
coral, healthy green plants, the darkness of the ancient trees, the filtered
sunlight streaming and refreshing light rain.
no soil, just the leaves from the trees that nourish the plants.
good it rained a little to cool it down, she says, as it can get very hot.
indicates which maire to pick, “when you see branches with brand new leaves
sprouting, leave those, they have been recently picked.”
expertly continued into the thicker, tougher area part of the makatea while we
took a break and rested.
hours later, we head back towards the coastal road. Ngavaine carries her full
sack of maire with one hand and uses the other arm for balancing her motorbike.
clearing, it’s a relief to Lisa and Joanne waiting, with nu.
the maire is only the first stage that takes between 3 to 4 hours, depending on
the amount of orders.
why we don’t like last minute orders (or day before) from Raro. We don’t just
walk outside our house and pick the maire from our garden, we have to go into
the makatea,” says Ngavaine.
us through one of the easiest places to access, there are many other places
that are way steeper and difficult, she adds.
arrive at their huge brick white painted family house locally known as “the
White House’ for the stripping of the bark and leaves from the stalks.
and Tupuna prepare to help too, mats are laid out, basins are ready, coffee is
made and each has a pareu on her lap.
Sisters Joanne Stevens, Ngavaine Makitai and Tupuna Mo’o help one another and work well together making ei maire. MELINA ETCHES / 20111213.
you strip the leaves and bark from the stalk then kupu, tie it together and
weave it, then spin, usually six strands make one ei,” says Joanne.
easier when it’s been raining so when you strip it from the stalk it glides off
quite smoothly. But if it has been hot and dry, it becomes difficult to strip –
we then have to use a tool to soften the bark all the way down one stalk, its
tedious and takes much longer.”
believes there are enough maire to keep up with the orders from Rarotonga.
leaves and branches grow when the maire is picked, when you pick they multiply;
but there have been times when the maire are eaten - by the wild goats!
is the only market for the maire that brings in an income for the women here.”
special about maire?
explains: “Maire is mei po kerekere mai.”
you look at the maire, it’s like a gift that has been given to Akatokomanava.
Maire is the pukuatu (heart) inside of us in Akatokamanava.
when you wear one, you feel very special, like you are royalty.”
the maire for weeks is normal practise for them, “we don’t throw it away after
wearing it a few times, we keep it and hang them in rooms and we keep the
stalks, until they have dried out completely.
leaves dry, its scent changes…
why I call it the heart of us here in Mauke, we treasure it.”
sisters work well together and help each other where and when they can.
returned to Mauke in 1995, she works at the Bank of the Cook Islands branch and
part time at Kato’s store.
and Tupuna returned in November 2019.
Joanne Stephens proudly adorned with maire – the heart of Akatokamanava. MELINA ETCHES / 20111215.
living back here, we get involved in community working bees and the functions,
it’s so good to be here, this is my home,” says Tupuna.
to promote our island.”
siblings spoke of the recent trip of Apii Nikao, “every student who left had an
the kids told us they had never felt so special, some had never worn one and
only see them on Ministers or higher people.
was good to see how happy and special the children felt wearing maire when they
left for Rarotonga.”
The siblings also rent out their fully furnished “White House” to visiting groups.
The writer’s trip to Mauke was sponsored by Cook Islands Tourism Corporation as part of an initiative to promote domestic travel experiences in the Pa Enua.