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A heart for service

Saturday 25 February 2023 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Features, Opinion

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A heart for service
Cook Islands Development Agency New Zealand’s Liz Faalili (Rakoia), left, and Louisa Masters with All Black Beauden Barrett. SUPPLIED/23022434

Aotearoa New Zealand and the Cook Islands (Avaiki Nui) are inextricably tied together and have been since our people migrated there when Vaka left its shores bound for Avaiki Tautau in and around the 12th century. Our migration story starts then and happens again on mass in the 1950s and 1960s through to today with close to 100,000 people in Aotearoa identifying themselves as Cook Islands Maori, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

Our constitution and governments are lashed to each other, as is our relationship as sovereign countries, though each on their own path and ‘aerenga, navigate this relationship as they explore their own sense of sovereignty, self-determination and identity. Sometimes pulling together and other times apart, the two Vaka continue to sail the Va or space of potential and possibilities.

I watched with a real sense of pride the vaka from Te Mana o te Vaka project take to the water – a project proudly sponsored by the University of the South Pacific, NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade – and led by Papa Michael and Aunty Awhitea Tavioni along with the Cook Islands Voyaging Society. The project is a real symbol of the lashing relationships we have formed as a country in the region and with our constitutional partners, and a microcosm of this relationship as each Vaka took to the water and sailed eventually under its own wind. Kua tano te matangi, te ‘akaruke nei tatou.

The apii’anga or lesson for us all may be that our dependance on each other is not one of domination or servitude, but one where we allow each other to build our Vaka, lending a hand to each other as we build, and launch into the Moana when the time is right, and to support each other till the wind carries us to our own destination or moemoea. Each Vaka supporting the other but not taking the wind from the sails of the other, so the sail is not more arduous then needs be. Our dependance on each other as peoples, as Vaka builders or as nations is one of mutuality, tauturu, akatapu and one that is always best understood with the balance of self-determination as the Oe and mutual akatapu and tauturu as the kiato.

Never have we needed this rotai’anga and support then through the disaster that has been Cyclone Gabrielle that hit Aotearoa a week ago, and in such times as these we have seen the strength of our community, Ekalesia and faith communities, churches, marae and NGO’s come to support people in great need. From the top of the North Island in Kaitaia where our own Pops Arona was cooking meals to the hungry and needy, to Auckland where Harry Toleafoa (husband to Lena Wong) who when the camera crew arrived at the Mangere Hub, was sleeping in a bunk there after nights of setting up and service, to make sure that a family who had been sleeping in their car could sleep the night their too.

Or our very own CIDANZ (Cook Islands Development Agency), Rouruina Brown, Liz Fa’alili (Rakoia), Louisa Marsters, Sean Kaihua Apai and Anthony Tangata-Tou who have also been working with government to deliver food parcels, clothing and support from a central hub in Mangere along with our Metua Pakari team led by Helen Raneka. They were supported on air and online by our Tumu Korero, our Tuatua Akakite broadcaster Tauraki Rongo, Consular General Te Pini Keu Mataroa and the president of the CIRAC (Cook Islands Religious Advisory Council) Reverend Mata Tumu Makara.

Or to the regions where so many of our communities live and work, with our Cook Islands communities and their halls setting up beds and hot meals like the one in Hastings in Swansea Street where Derek Teariki and Barbara Tangi along with many other volunteers including Sylvana Taroro-Puia and Elijah Ioane ensured people had somewhere to sleep and food to eat. From Kaitaia to Whangarei, Auckland to Tokoroa, Hastings to Poneke Wellington our communities have been supporting each other as we do, because its who we are. I have never been so proud of being a Cook Islander, to see our people come together as they have for anyone in need with so many others with a similar heart for service.

Their service to people is beautifully captured in this proverb, “Ko toku puku’atu e te nga rima, taku ka rauka I te ‘oronga – My heart and my two hands are all that I can give” – (Teina Lily Napa 1968).