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23 January 2021

OPINION: Adapting to a changing world

Saturday 2 January 2021 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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OPINION: Adapting to a changing world
Ngavaine Makitai in the makatea of Mauke to collect maire. MELINA ETCHES / 20111216.

Cook Islanders are survivors and the innate ability to adapt to any situation, is what will get us through, writes Thomas Wynne.

Sitting here at Paradise Cove, looking over the pristine and beautiful turquoise lagoon that is Aitutaki, it seems the most beautiful yet contradictory place to be considering the year that has been – 2020.

People here are free to play volleyball, assail around the island on motor bikes and cars and meet and greet as they have done since January 2019.

That’s almost a year ago because Covid has not touched these shores and the global pandemic has not been seen or felt by this resilient, cheeky, playful and happy people that are Aitutakians or the Cook Islanders.

It’s been almost four years since I was here last and little has changed, despite some more houses built.

The people remain as they have always been and not a global pandemic, nor lack of tourists or tourism will shake this wonderfully connected and joyous people, who’s faith in God and each other remains solid, despite the rest of the world going into lockdowns and suffering economic crisis.

Why you might ask? Because we adapt, and have always adapted, as Pacific and Polynesian people have done over the many centuries as tiaki and caretakers of this vastness we call Moana Nui O Kiva, the Pacific Ocean.

It was our ability to adapt when the missionaries came with their new message that has kept us safe and intact, though elements of who we were have sadly disappeared forever.

It is this ability to adapt that causes us to work through the commercialisation of our culture, land and dance though elements of it have also changed or disappeared.

And it is our ability to adapt that sees tourism come and tourism go, because at the end of the day we are who we are no matter where in the world we may be, and what waves of challenge or crisis may wash over us.

We will, as mountain waves lashed our vakas in a distant past, stare into the face of adversity, and sail through them anyway.

We will as we have always done, put down our hoes and taro pounders, and pick up the morare and spears, and fight for what we believe in and to protect our way of life, our wives, our children and families.

And when that threat has gone, we will pick up our hoes, go back to our taro patches and pick up our kupenga and nets and sail out again to fish to feed our families once again.

Even as I write, the laughter of a volleyball tournament plays out as families, friends and people join together to celebrate life, the simplicity of life and that world view that looks beyond the reef and knows that everything within the reef will be fine, and everything outside the reef will not touch our shores, our hearts, or our people.

Because it is our ability to adapt that will ensure our survival of whatever approaches our shores, it was sown in our DNA as we assailed the vastness of the ocean, and voyaged across the expanse of the Big Blue Marae.

It is this same resolve that plays out in the lives of our 80,000 people living and working in New Zealand, who despite some very worrying social statistics, continue to celebrate and remember who we are in song and dance.

We pass those same values, strengths and skills from one generation to the next, coupled with layers of dreams and aspirations of success and progress, that in many areas we are still to find, but in others we are achieving well above our own expectations.

Aitutaki is a beautiful backdrop to the closure of a full and challenging 2020 and my heart fills and soaks up all that the Cook Islands can give as I make my way back to Aotearoa in the New Year with my wife and our own dreams and aspirations.

When I think of leaving again for work, to learn and gain more skills and knowledge, a big part of me aches for what I know I leave behind, but as I said almost a year ago, we sail away so we can at the right time, catch that wind to sail home again.

Hopefully health measures strengthen, borders open, quarantine ends, vaccines are rolled out and the world adapts to its new normal.

For us as Cook Islanders and Pacific people, we adapt anyways because it is who we are.

We must never forget those immutable qualities that define us, that hold us and keep us safe.

Our faith, our families, our language, our culture and “e tu ki runga i toou paku ivi” - that knowledge that we stand on the shoulders of those before us.