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Ruta Mave: Cook Islands: Lost in identity, lost in translation

Monday 20 November 2023 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in Editorials, Opinion


Ruta Mave: Cook Islands: Lost in identity, lost in translation
Members of Team Cook Islands at the Pacific Games opening ceremony in Honiara, Solomon Islands. CISNOC/23111911

Who are we? Sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean open and swaying to all manner of whims and calls from whom we think we are going to get our next meal ticket from, writes Ruta Mave.

Do we know who we are? Are we Cook Islanders or Kukis? Captain James Cook didn’t name us – a Russian Baltic German Admiral Adam Johann von Krusenturn who was making an atlas of the Pacific renamed us from the Hervei islands to the Cook Islands in honour of Cook. We could be calling ourselves the Hervei’s if things were different. But here we are plus six eight two for want of a better non agenda title, sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean open and swaying to all manner of whims and calls from whom we think we are going to get our next meal ticket from.

We are the result of a European union that has brought together our fifteen islands who still see themselves as their own entity, so there is no real Cook Island maori name for us as being all together but we do understand as a nation we are stronger. Regardless, we still can’t agree on a maori name so for now we remain as Cookies.

How can we create a harmonious unit when we change our colours. I agree with the letter writer regarding the Pacific Games uniform. I’m not sure what the angle was for our sports codes being dressed to compete on the greatest Pacific competition stage looking like Australians? Maybe they or South Africa are funding our uniforms? Certainly, lime green and yellow are not our colours. If a baby wears a black shirt with a silver fern, I instantly know who their family supports and is proud to be associated with. Even though they want to win gold they don’t make it a gold fern because that is not who they are. Our national sport colours are rukau green and white, with white stars not yellow with Cook Islands boldly and proudly stated for all to see. If we can’t get our sport uniform right, people won’t know who we are, if we don’t really know who we are ourselves.

We are like a chameleon, we change colours depending on our surroundings, we are putty malleable and changeable to appeal to those in front of us. If we don’t know who we are and what we stand for then we can be anything for everyone, sellable to the highest bidder.

Back in the day the favourite local food dished up was chowmein and chopsuey, no mistaking their Chinese origins. We still eat the mayonnaise which derives its origins in Russia, the only local-ness we add to it is we call it minus (or mainese). Lamb chops are promoted as local fare. How many lambs do we have on the islands? For that matter how many potato fields are we growing? Family functions now serve chicken curry as the new go to dish with mushroom sauce on everything.

I recently heard someone remark that because tourists are complaining about the noisy chickens at the market, they are going to chop down the trees to deter them from hanging around. Where is the logic in that? When, tourists complain there is no shade will we then build a big dome with funding from Saudia Arabia? If you want to deter the chickens then start eating them instead of treating them like a holy cow as they do in India.

We have welcomed so many nations lately, Saudi one of the latest has come twice now. If we accept their money, support, charity, funding whatever it’s labelled so it doesn’t sound like begging, will we have to change who we are? Will we have to wear pareau’s over our head and bare shoulders to greet them?

There is no such thing as a free gift, there is always a catch, a trade something that we give them in return. What do we have? Land for a mosque? Mineral mining rights? Free under the radar shipping licences? Have we sold our first born’s future or our souls?

This Christian nation of ours is one thing we do pride ourselves on. We have signed up with the USA so do we stand with them re Israel? We just rescued devotees who had travelled there on a pilgrimage. We also signed up in line with New Zealand’s decision, with over a hundred other nations that support a ceasefire, but what of our other friends and benefactors like China, Korea, India, Japan?

We agree to some of their actions on a one to one and then vote against them in the Pacific forum like with the Fukushima nuclear water release. We are walking a fine tightrope line with these nations.

We are waving so many red flags and changing faces and colours faster than a rubik’s cube. How are we going to line each colour together on each one of our six-sided faces we have? It looks dicey.