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Thomas Wynne: Tu Tangata: Our identity

Saturday 6 July 2024 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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Thomas Wynne: Tu Tangata: Our identity
Thomas Wynne.

As a country, and as Iti Tangata, this week is significant as it heralds two very important events. These events capture the essence and Tu tangata of who we are as a people, who we were, who we want to maintain, and who we hope to become in the future, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

One is the beginning of the annual ‘Epetoma ō te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani – Cook Islands Language Week, which celebrates the languages of the Cook Islands.

There will be many celebrations of our Reo this week based on the theme “Toku Reo Kūki Āirani, e tango ketaketa ia no toku ora’anga.”

The other event, of course, is Ra o te Ui Ariki (Ariki Day), based on the theme of Atuituianga rangaranga – taokotai’angaa to tatou Ui Ariki. The interconnecting and weaving of us all through our Ariki.

Both days, like Matariki in Aotearoa, have been instituted in this modern era and reflect a significant part of who we are. Yet, we struggle to get the crowds or gatherings of people to these events, which should give us time for self-reflection on what and who we are actually connected to and why.

Just last week, I was working through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, an invaluable resource for our akapapa’anga and genealogies. After retrieving all our Metua and Vouvou birth certificates, I noticed one thing. Nowhere on them did it say Cook Islands or Kuki Airani; instead, it simply said Māori and the enua they were from.

Māori, not Cook Islands Māori, not Kuki Airani Māori, just Māori, and then where in the federated island states of our country, we have since 11 June 1901, called the Cook Islands. Our Vouvou and Grandfather Teavae Tarurongo – Māori from Atiu, our Metua Vaine Arasena Duarte, Māori from Rarotonga and half Portuguese (actually she was half from Cape Verde, a Portuguese colony at the time).

And as Māori, we have a structured society that reflects who we are with Ariki, Mataiapo Tutara, Mataiapo, and Rangatira. We have Va’a Tuatua, Va’a Araara, and Marae set apart, as well as days to celebrate the traditional leaders of our past, their successors today, and the bloodlines of responsibility and former decision-making that have brought us to where we are today.

Our celebration of to tatou Pou e Toru speaks to our three Pou or pillars that hold up who we are: our traditional leaders, holders of Akono’anga, Pe’u Maori, culture, Reo Māori, and Enua or land and Moana or Ocean. Our Evanagelia, the Church in all its expressions and faith, and of course our Kavamani, our government, our Prime Minister and Cabinet, executive council, democracy, and King's Representative.

But this week is about our Reo Māori and our Ariki or traditional leaders and leadership. Regardless of what we may think of their relevance, performance, or how they were constituted in 1965, our Ariki are a Pou of our Tu tangata that we cannot afford to let go or let diminish. Not because of who they are but more because of who they represent, and the story of ourselves, be it faith, government, land, ocean, or tradition and our akono’anga or culture, that is atuitui’anga, raranga and woven through each one of us, deep within our toto, our kopapa, and ivi. The Arataki or leadership they provide may be questioned in this modern era, but their place as leaders within the tea o Māori world we move in and out of is not.

This week we also have Mama Teremoana Hodges (QSM) in Rarotonga, one of the champions of our Reo Māori and Cook Islands Research in Aotearoa, and leader of the Korero Tupuna Trust. And how fitting it is to have her on our Enua during this celebration of our Reo Māori. We will also celebrate the life of our Uncle, Papa Brian Hutchinson, who made Rarotonga his home since the 1980s. Our Hutchinson, Teavae, and Tarurongo families will gather from around the world, including my

brother Francis and his partner, friends, and family to tauturu Mama Mereana and unveil Papa Brian's headstone next week. We think of you all in the week ahead – Reo akapumaana to tatou family, Te Atua te aro’a.