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Thomas Wynne: Head of State Residence – A building that speaks of who we are

Sunday 24 September 2023 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion


Thomas Wynne: Head of State  Residence – A  building that  speaks of who  we are
Columnist Thomas Tarurongo Wynne. Photo: CI NEWS/16040843

Tarai, is to build or to carve, to use a chisel to carve out something especially, but not exclusively, when we build vaka, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

Ka kite koe i te tarai te vaka? Do you know how to carve or build a vaka? And the same could be said for buildings as we also built buildings to live in, to dance and celebrate in, like the Are Karioi, and to meet and discuss matters of importance.

When the missionaries came, it would not be long before they too set about to manifest their message in wood, coral and stone, and churches began to pop up on the new road, the Ara Tapu that would solidify their presence long after they were gone.

Because buildings do just that, speak to us of something significant long after the builders have gone.

From the pyramids to the Greek and Roman temples, to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Turkey or the Temple wall in Jerusalem, buildings have been a legacy to what we as a people have held in regard, have turned our backs on, and have pointed us to the future.

What we build in our hearts, like the Are Karioi in town, starts in the heart of its people or like the Are Karioi in the heart of former Prime Minister Sir Geoffery Arama Henry.

Ngatipa is a Tapere of land that runs from the ocean next to the Tupapa Maraerenga Meeting House, all the way up to the residence of the New Zealand High Commissioner.

Houses and roads of all kinds lead up the gentle slopes, winding up to Ngatipa Rd.

I remember my first time to Ngatipa. I was taken aback by how beautiful and palatial it was, being there for many functions, celebrations, and formal events, its presence a place of prestige for the New Zealand government, and its message to us as Cook Islands Māori, is clear as you look out over its well-manicured grounds, buildings and out to sea.

Meanwhile, the official residence of the Cook Islands Head of State is not fit for purpose, and in fact our current Head of State has not spent a single night in its leaky abode.

For the many of us that have also attended functions and celebrations there, it was clear and evident, the stark contrast between Ngatipa and the Titikaveka residence of our Head of State, and I often wondered why this was so, and what does that say about us.

If we think of the way we love and care for the house of God and its people, palaces for our Ariki, and even some of our large local homes, something is not right when we see such a disparity.

And yes, it is just a building, but it’s not the bricks and mortar, it’s the message it conveys.

In my mind the most beautiful place for a dignitary in our country should be the Head of State residence, because this is a reflection of who we are, and how we see ourselves in the world, and to each other.

Samoa and Tonga have Heads of State in buildings that reflect the position and status of these offices, and there would not be a building or office that would supersede these. Buildings like churches and the High Commissioners residence reflect the status of the government they serve and the office of the people in them.

I am pleased to see there is a budget allocated that will ensure this situation is rectified and that we have a building that speaks to the status of our Head of State Sir Tom and Lady Marsters.

A building that speaks of who we are as toketoke enua, fit for purpose, and sends a clear message to ourselves and to all who sit in its shade, are sworn into government, are received as overseas ambassadors, or simply witness the daily workings of our Head of State: that the bricks and mortar, steel, and concrete reflect the status of the office of our highest official, our country, and us as a people.