The National Auditorium is one of government owned assets managed by Cook Islands Investment Corporation. PHOTO: Ministry of Culture
We are the only country in the Pacific that reveres our culture so strongly that we established a standalone ministry dedicated to the nurturing and preservation of our culture – our peu Maori, writes Prime Minister Mark Brown.
Last week I had the great honour of speaking at the
rededication of Te Are Karioi Nui, our National Auditorium, as well as
celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the foundation stones that led to the
Sir Geoffrey Henry National Culture Centre, Te Puna Korero, of which our Auditorium
is the centrepiece.
It is a testament to the high standard of construction by
then contractors Mainline Brown, that it was 30 years before any major
renovation was undertaken. And how timely it is now that we are renovating this
grand old lady that has hosted numerous events for our country – from the
hosting of the 1992 Festival of Pacific Arts to numerous Maeva Nui
celebrations, sports events, major conferences and private functions.
Our auditorium has always been a magnificent building,
designed with the adjacent buildings in the shape of a voyaging vaka. To see it
now refurbished and renovated by local contracting company Raro Weld and
restored back to its former glory – well, we should all be proud as it is a
symbol of our own nation’s revival as we make our way out of this Covid-19
I remember back in the early 1990s when the project to build
the National Auditorium attracted its fair share of detractors and sceptics.
The idea of a national culture centre was conceived by our first prime minister
Albert Henry, but was only implemented and constructed during the time of Sir
At the time it was difficult to get anyone to finance the
cost of a venture that many did not see as commercially viable. But Sir
Geoffrey, using his close relationship with then President of Nauru Bernard
Dowiyogo, managed to secure a loan from that country to finance the
construction of Te Puna Korero.
This was one of the earliest forms of South-South Pacific cooperation that is now being touted as a form of assistance, whereby members of a region provide support to each other. In later years, when Nauru fell on tough times and asked for the Cook Islands to pay in full what we owed, our country was more than happy to assist and paid their loan back with grateful thanks.
The sceptics of the time called the Auditorium a white
elephant that would never be filled – well, time has certainly proved that
claim to be false. Our auditorium has been bursting at the seams on many
Sir Geoffrey wanted to create a special place, a focal point
that would encourage and ensure the continuation and development of our
national cultural identity. We are the only country in the Pacific that reveres
our culture so strongly that we established a standalone ministry dedicated to
the nurturing and preservation of our culture – our peu Maori.
Three decades on, the cultural wealth that Te Puna Korero
represents – through the Runanga Pakau (National Museum), the Runanga Puka
(National Library), the Runanga Akamou Korero (National Archive) and Te Are
Karioi Nui – is a testimony to that dream of Albert Henry’s, fulfilled years
later by his nephew Sir Geoffrey.
With foresight aplenty, they both forged ahead, and in doing
so created a cultural hub for all the people of the Cook Islands – indeed, a
truly national community and cultural centre, as evidenced by the Pa Enua
hostels that have sprung up around it as the years have progressed.
Now that this revered venue of ours has been renewed, I know
it will not be long before it is once again humming with life and the sound of
drums – especially as we look ahead to Te Maeva Nui, our annual celebration of
nationhood which will be coming up in just a couple of weeks’ time.
But even as we look ahead, we should also think back, on the
vision and determination of those who came before us, who had the courage to
stand by their convictions and belief that this was a good project – and that
has proven to be true.
As well, we acknowledge the spirit of mutual cooperation and
respect that brought this wonderful gift to us, the Cook Islands people, from
the generous gifting of land by our Ui Ariki to the support of the people of
Nauru, who helped finance the project.
As the generosity and forethought of their generation is now
benefitting ours, so too should we as a generation today bear in mind those to
come after us, as we continue to build and maintain a legacy for all Cook
Islanders now and into the future.