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Storyteller battles language loss with children’s novel

Tuesday 21 November 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Education, Local, National


Storyteller battles language loss with children’s novel
Pua Taea Dyer has just released his fictional Māori book titled ‘Vaka E Te To’ora’. MELINA ETCHES/23112025

Storytelling has long been a cherished practice for preserving culture, celebrating heritage, and sharing diverse perspectives.

Ten years ago, Pua Taea Dyer embarked on his own literary journey, one that interconnects Cook Islands Māori culture and creativity.

A few weeks ago, 200 copies of his very first book, “Vaka E Te To’ora”, arrived in Rarotonga. This fictional children’s book, written entirely in Māori, explores the rich culture of the Cook Islands.

“I have written an entertaining story for our children to read,” said Dyer.

“I’m really excited, I’m over the moon and I’m satisfied with the feedback I have received so far.”

Dyer was motivated to write the book in Māori when he recognised that not many children on Rarotonga could speak or read Māori.

Neither were there any fun interesting fiction Māori story books on shelves for children to read.

“I am saddened to know that our language is dying and that nothing is seriously being done about it, it doesn’t seem to be addressed with concern.”

He expressed how he wanted to provide entertaining Māori reading material for our young generation to engage in.

“To encourage children to learn, read and speak our reo Māori,” he said.

Dyer noted that he used to attend Te Kopapa Reo Māori language workshops for many years, when the late George “Captain G” Paniani was the chairman.

“That’s when I realised our language is disappearing,” he said.

“Our young generation don’t speak Māori, my own kids don’t … I’m a great grandfather. So, I asked myself, ‘what could I do to help out’?”

What started as a small, basic children’s fiction storybook evolved into a more in-depth children’s novel spanning 455 pages.

As Dyer began writing, more thoughts and ideas kept “popping up”, and the storyline expanded.

The theme of the book centres around a young boy named Vaka, the son of a chief who escapes danger on his home island with the help of his friend, a to’ora (whale).

Vaka travels to several Pa-Moana islands, learning more about culture and gathers reinforcements to return to battle.

Vaka E Te To’ora presents Māori readers with an opportunity to delve into entertaining, mythical storytelling, fostering a deeper understanding of their culture’s connections.

Dyer was born on the island of Mauke to parents Rongo nee Kokaua and Tupou Taea Dyer. He is one of 15 siblings.

Although retired, he still works part time for his own accounting company.

Dyer would like to acknowledge his sisters for proofing and editing his book, local artist Henry Tavioni for his art work on the front and back covers of the book and the motifs inside, and Maxine Kokaua for her graphic design.

He dedicates his book to “i taku utaro-tamaroa ko Laboom, e toku au Ai-Metua,” – to his late grandson Laboom and elders.

Vaka E Te To’ora is available for purchase at the Cook Islands Library and Museum.

Dyer is currently in Aotearoa New Zealand promoting his book. One hundred copies are available for purchase in Aotearoa, and he is scheduled for an interview with Tauraki Rongo, the Cook Islands’ own Pacific Media Network (PMN) broadcaster, in Manukau, Auckland.