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Building and maintaining legacy for all Cook Islanders

Tuesday 13 July 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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Building and maintaining legacy for all Cook Islanders
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 pandemic.

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 Geoffrey Henry.

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 occasions.

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.