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Vaipae prepares to mark 200 years of Christianity

Monday 20 March 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National


Vaipae prepares to mark 200 years of Christianity
Temanu Unuka Jr, chairman of the ‘Tamariki Vaepae Akarana’ in Aotearoa New Zealand and his father former Konitara Temanu Unuka. MELINA ETCHES/23031746

Te Vaipae Pae O Pau committee and community on the island of Aitutaki are well underway with their plans and preparations for the historic ‘Te Arikianga o te Evangelia’ 200-year Bicentennial celebrations which will be held from March 26 - April 2, 2023 to mark the acceptance of Christianity to the village of Vaipae.

Aitutaki was the first of the Cook Islands to receive and accept the arrival of the Gospel, when Christianity first arrived to the island on October 26, 1821 introduced by the London Missionary Society (LMS).

However, Vaipae was the last village on Aitutaki to accept Christianity – two years later on March 30, 1823.

Prior to the arrival of the Gospel there was a great war on the island, said retired Reverend Tuvaine Glassie from Vaipae.

“It took the Gospel which arrived in 1821 to bring that war to peace between Vaepae and Aitutaki, hence the reason why Vaipae didn’t receive the Gospel at first, they were angry with the Gospel coming here and interfering with us,” said Glassie.

Former island Konitara (councillor) Temanu Unuka said: “E tumu tetai e akaperaia, no te mea te vae nei te riri o Vaipae … ko Vaipae i te taime me mua te tuatau etene control a Vaipae te enua katoatoa.” (Explaining that before the arrival of Christianity, Vaipae was at war and more or less ruled over the other villages)

Unuka is happy that Vaipae accepted Christianity. “Toku mataora teia, e kua ariki ia te Evangelia.”

Temanu Unuka Jr, chairman of the ‘Tamariki Vaepae Akarana’ in Aotearoa New Zealand and his father former Konitara Temanu Unuka. MELINA ETCHES/23031746
Temanu Unuka Jr, chairman of the ‘Tamariki Vaepae Akarana’ in Aotearoa New Zealand and his father former Konitara Temanu Unuka. MELINA ETCHES/23031746

Some of the children were not aware of the history of Vaipae, said Unuka, who added that more of its history will be revealed during the Bicentennial celebration.

Unuka’s son, Temanu Jr Unuka is the chairman of the “Tamariki Vaepae Akarana” group in Aotearoa New Zealand. He returned to Aitutaki earlier this month for the special celebrations.

Unuka Jr, who was raised in the village, said: “For us, our parents in Aotearoa speak of three names – Papa John Pao, Papa William Varu and Papa Tauta Tutai, and in 2012 the village came together and put together the history of Vaipae, our history is written in our own book.”

“I feel very humbled and emotional being here seeing the community come together to prepare for the event.

“This is exactly what we do when we have a big occasion in the village, everyone comes together to host and help out for birthdays, weddings and events. We see this as an opportunity to come together in fellowship.”

Orometua Tuakeu Daniel for the village of Tautu, is from Vaipae and has been involved in the preparations. Around 2000 people from Aitutaki and overseas are expected to attend these celebrations, he said.

Maxine Arere, one of the committee members, said: “For a lot of us the younger ones, we didn’t really understand what really happened back then when our village didn’t accept the Gospel back in 1821, now we know and its good for us to learn our history.”

Most of the food preparations have been done. A few weeks ago, men in the village got together to slaughter over 30 pigs ready to be stored in freezer for the event.

“The seafood has already been prepped in the freezer, the moa Maori (local chicken) will also be caught, plucked and prepared, and then we will prepare the accommodation places for our visitors,” said Arere.

Leading up to the events week, the committee and people of Vaipae have been busy attending rehearsals nearly every night for their Nuku show, singing and learning the songs.

“It’s been hard work,” said Arere.

“We know that during the whole celebrations there will be sleepless nights for us, cooking meals and everything else but we will get through it and we are excited.”

Arere also shared the story behind Vaipae’s nickname “Hollywood”. After the war ended, U.S. troops would return to Aitutaki in the 1950s and 60s to bring supplies and new Hollywood movies which would be played at the Vaipae football field.

“I think that’s why Vaipae is so special too,” said Arere, “we are Hollywood to the world.”

On the opening day of the event on Thursday, March 26, the Morning Vesper will start from 5.30am-7.30am at the Vaipae CICC church followed by breakfast at the Vaipae Hall canteen. The opening service will be held from 2pm-3pm at the Vaipae CICC Church. The Uapou will be hosted at the Vaipae Sports field from 3pm-4pm and dinner will be served at the Vaipae Hall.

The Vaipae Pae O Pau committee welcome everyone to join in their celebrations.