‘One of a kind’ Mama Ngai Tupa

Saturday 13 March 2021 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Weekend

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‘One of a kind’ Mama Ngai Tupa
Mama Ngai Tupa’s son MP for Matavera Vaitoti Tupa leads his mother’s casket into the Avarua CICC Church. 21031205.

The late Ngaingatara Tupa also known as Mama Ngai wore many hats during her lifetime.

As a well-known businesswoman, Mama Ngai was the backbone of Tupa’s Store renowned for its popular donuts, a former Member of Parliament for the Democratic Party, an advocate for child welfare and women, the founder of the Tauae Bulls 7s team and a strong supporter for the village of Takuvaine.

Mama Ngai passed away on Monday, March 1 at Rarotonga hospital, she was buried yesterday next to her beloved husband, the late Tupa Urirau Tupa.

Mama Ngai was born on April 24, 1936 to parents mother Tetini Ioaba and father Nii Taraupoko Wichman and baptised at the Avarua LMS Church.

She was educated at St. Joseph Catholic Primary School, and later became a teacher at the school.

On November 26, 1955 she married Tupa Urirau Tupa. Their children are Nooroa, Kopea, Vaitoti (Matavera MP), Teremoana, Ngamata, Henry, Ranginui, Teokotai and May.

She worked at Island Craft, Scott and Watsons and John Taripo’s shop near the Empire Cinemas in the 1970s and then moved on to the “university of keeping a home and looking after her family”.

Her eldest son Nooroa described her as, “hardworking; she gives freely too and has helped a lot of kids”.

Kids who had no homes or vulnerable would pop in and she would feed them and give them a place to sleep.

When asked why she was so good to those boys including some who had been in prison, she would reply, “because you don’t need anything, they do”.

Nooroa said: “Some people would turn up after a night out and ask for a tin of fish to ‘kaiou’ from her shop – mum would just give it…”

“My dad also said to me, look you always have food on the table, but these kids don’t.”

Mama Ngai was also an ‘Earth Mother’, one who loved nature, plants and animals.

Centipedes, wasps or bees were not to be killed on her watch. “If a centipede crawled into the house, she would put her hand out the centipede would crawl on and she would let it go in her garden,” said Nooroa.

A huge wasp nest at the corner of the shop was also left alone, like a security alarm to deter thieves, he added.

And she grew all types of fruit trees and plants and “only she was allowed to trim her plants…”

The Tauae Bulls team was formed when the boys in the village who didn’t make the cut for the Takuvaine A grade asked her to sponsor them.

With her late husband, Mama Ngai founded the Tauae Bulls 7s (named after a bull tethered in the front yard) in 1990 – a year after the inaugural tournament.

She would pamper the players, house and feed them, have a big kaikai and take them out to an island night.

Her granddaughter Antianna recalled when the overseas players would leave, special gifts from the island were presented to each person: pearls, pareu’s, eight stringed ukulele’s gifts for their parents or partners. “She was one of a kind, always giving.”

Mama Ngai also treasured her tuitui tivaevae, crochet, gardening and flowers.

She was a workaholic, on Saturdays she would peel the taro and prepare the dough for the donuts on Sunday, she added.

Mama Ngai was passionate about the welfare of children and their mothers and was a dedicated member and former president (for 20 years) of the Cook Islands Child Welfare Association (CICWA). She was the current patron, and a commissioner to Girl Guides.

Rose Kairua, the current CICWA president, said: “She has been such a blessing, a big heart with a giving spirit, she is one of the fallen pillars of our organisation.”

Her family service was held at the National Auditorium Domes on Thursday evening emceed by Taoro Brown, with the presence of Prime Minister Mark Brown who had just flown in from the north.

Brown has known Mama Ngai since he was very young, and has fond memories of her popular shop with its famous donuts tied together with a kiriau string.

They have history together – when she was president of the Takuvaine Club, Brown was the treasurer.

In the 2006 snap election, they both ran for the Takuvaine seat. Mama Ngai won and Brown visited her that night to congratulate her.

“It was a real lesson in humility, for me personally,” Brown said during his speech.

In 2010 they both headed for the polls again, this time Brown won; Mama Ngai too went to see him on that night to congratulate him.

PM Brown said she dedicated her life to helping children and their mothers and she was very generous in her sponsorship for things in the village.

The two remained friends, and she would call Brown occasionally to chat about how the village was doing.

Half an hour before her funeral service at the Avarua CICC yesterday, Nooroa cut of his trademark long silvery hair, a personal salute for his mother.

He was with his mother at Rarotonga hospital when she passed that Monday morning.