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Cook Islanders paving the way in research and tradition

Friday 12 August 2022 | Written by Sian Solomon | Published in Culture, National


Cook Islanders paving the way in research and tradition
Dr Sam Manuela. Photo: MELINA ETCHES/22081120

A research symposium hosted by Te Vairangi Kite Pakari Cook Islands Research Association at the Crown Beach Resort yesterday discussed the relationship between research and tradition.

The daylong event, which included a variety of presentations, highlighted the work and research of a number of outstanding scholars, researchers, and keynote speakers from the Cook Islands and the Pacific.

Of those, was Cook Islander Dr Sam Manuela, who gave a presentation about what quantitative research can achieve when guided by Cook Islands’ knowledge and frameworks. 

He has been conducting a rare study of mental health in the Cook Islands.

“The kinds of research I do generally doesn’t have inclusive space for traditional knowledge or even just Cook Island values,” Manuela said. “But our research really attempted to do this, so I wanted to share a little bit about our journey and that process of what that looks like, and what we can achieve with things like surveys and quantitative methods when we allow ourselves to be Cook Islands in doing that.

“(Also) I didn’t want to show any data that was collected as we are still analysing it,” he added. “But I wanted to show some of the demographic data that we’ve got, which highlights the diversity in our population here.”

During his presentation, Manuela spoke about working around the limitations of survey methodologies, to reflect a more holistic mental landscape.

He shared that his research was all about asking more questions in a survey, and reducing the distance between researchers and participants, while also designing questions that are inclusive of the diverse demographics and identities of Cook Islands populations.  

“If you are doing a survey you can’t really speak more, you can’t go into detail about your experiences, you can only answer the question that is there,” he said. “So we wanted to talk about how we can ask more questions in a survey that is still a bit limited but can give us a better picture.”

“(Also) usually with a survey it can be done online, so you’re not even talking to a person at all,” he added.  “But this way, the approach that we took... having people who could talk to participants meant they could also be an ear to listen to some of the extra stories that people wanted to talk about, that they couldn’t answer in the survey. So we are going to take some of those experiences now, and we’re going to look in the future at how we can capture some of those experiences too.”

Manuela shared that for him it was exciting to be back in the Cook Islands, and “really encouraging” to see the amount of research that is happening here.

He added that it was important for him to come back to the Cook Islands and share how he has incorporated a lot of local values and knowledge into the mental health message that he and others have been working on here for the past seven months.

“It’s important that any research done here is Cook Islands lead. It’s fabulous to see the amount of Cook Islands research that is happening, as research should happen here.

“(Also) for me personally, I would like to see more researchers embracing their curious spirits. I think we are all researchers at heart, and there are great careers in this pathway as well.”