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OPINION: Three tough Kuki’s

Tuesday 7 June 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion


OPINION: Three tough Kuki’s
Bishop Tutai Pere. Photo: CI News/09061732

I have, very recently been somewhat amazed and impressed with the life story of three particular people, here on Rarotonga, whom I would classify ‘Real Warriors and No Whinners’ at all.

We see coconut trees that bend in the wind but never snap – is how I would describe of these three persons I should rightly call them as ‘Three Tough Kukis.'

If there be real tough Kukis in businesses to be acknowledged and highly commended with distinctions, it is:

Mr Jack Cooper of ‘Trader Jacks’, whose history in restaurant business on Rarotonga goes as far back as 1986, who amazingly has had real encounters and took the bulls by the horns so-to-speak – took the brunt of three major cyclones ‘Sally – 1986-7’, ‘Pam – 1997’ and ‘Meena – 2005’ plus all head on several tropical depressions that passed by. Cooper like a lion king sprung right back to full restaurant service operations, despite losing millions of dollars and spending thousands more on recovery costs and restoration.

I had the privilege of knowing more about him, three years being on the Liquor Licensing Authority Board representing our Cook Islands religious community while he represented the business community. Though a pakeha or papaa from Ao-Te-Aroa, NZ, but became Cook Islands Permanent Resident (PR), he had grown his roots deep into helping develop our National Sustainable Strategic Economic programmes, where his heart also found a real home to be – Rarotonga, Cook Islands. E Toa, one tough and real warrior Kuki Airani with 37 years in restaurant business on Rarotonga – Papa Jack, you’re just one of a kind, you and Mama Rose – Atawai wolo ye maneke!

Mr Tapi Taio of ‘Tapi Taio Shipping Company’, the historic interisland local shipping company, a life-line freight and passenger services to all islands of the Cooks Group established in 1991. Like Mr Jack Cooper, he also had tough challenges with ocean powers since he first obtained shipping license on ‘Acadia’. September 2005 saw his vessel ‘Te Manu Nui’ drifted without fuel while travelling from Pukapuka to Rarotonga but later rescued. ‘MV Maungaroa’, the very boat I had the privilege to take my wife and family of five in January 2000. When the whole world was hit with a Y2K computer virus scare mongering propaganda, I paid $500 for a full round-trip fare for the whole seven of us and took an eighteen-day tour of all islands of the Northern Group. Sadly, the vessel later ran aground in Avatiu during a storm in January 2008. In October 2010 ‘MV Te Kou Maru II’ got stranded on the reef in Mauke. In January 2017, the newly purchased ‘MV Moana Nui was wrecked on a reef in Nassau. All of the company’s ships were detained by the Cook Islands Ministry of Transport after a child was lost overboard from the ‘MV Lady Moana’ while travelling from Rakahanga to Rarotonga in September 2019. A subsequent safety assessment by Maritime New Zealand saw ‘MV Maungaroa II and MV Lady Moana’ passenger licenses withdrawn, but another purchased boat ‘MV Grinna II’ came to the rescue and approved to carry but only 12 restricted cabin and no more on deck passengers. All northern islands had desperate shortage of imported food and petrol throughout several months during the duration of detainment of Tapi Taio’s ships. In 2020 the ‘MV Maungaroa II’ was taken out of service and eventually replaced by another purchased larger vessel ‘MV Maungaroa III’. On March 21, 2022 the ‘MV Grinna II’ ran aground on the reef at Manihiki and deemed unsalvageable.

This locally owned shipping company, with total and absolute faith, trust and commitment over and beyond our human imaginations, continues to survive all odds and still keeping in operation over 31 years since it started. Another Tumu Toa Kuki Airani – Cook Islands warrior, one giant of a man from the ‘Vaka of Giants’ Puaikura, where the sun sets, yet he kept rising after each crisis. Tapi Taio, Mr Unstoppable I must call him, with monetary losses, costs and expenditures which must have run into millions of dollars – I salute you my good friend, Mr Tapi and Mama Mere, and Josh (his son) now at the helm as current director of the company.

Thirdly and lastly, Pa Upokotini Tepaeru Marie Ariki, who has been paramount chief over her people of Vaka Takitumu, who like Jack Cooper and Tapi Taio all exceeded over 30 years of influence and empowerment upon our people of the Cook Islands. She is one tough Vaine Toa Kuki Airani, unrelenting, vigilant and still resilient at keeping alive her vision and goal to one day silence once and for all her critics, mockers and cursers over the several failed attempts at rescuing the incomplete and derelict Sheraton or Vaimaanga Hotel. The resort planning which started in 1987 after the Cook Islands government signed a NZ$52 million deal with an Italian bank who were to fund the project, which shortly after the construction began, was placed in receivership, and its workforce returned to Italy. The Italian bank chose a second Italian company to complete the project, which restarted in July 1991 reaching an almost complete stage, when the Italian government withdrew its guarantee for the loan amid rumours of mafia involvement, to only come to a complete stop in May, 1993. In 2000 New Zealand-based developer Tim Tepaki proposed to finish the resort and managed by the Hilton chain. In 2010 the site was purchased by New Zealand based Mirage Group, who eventually failed to deliver and put the site up for sale in 2016, then surrendered the lease. Tim Tepaki once more attempted to redevelop the land a second time, with backing from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank but only to abandon the project in 2018. Despite the multiple interests and attempts to complete the resort, it remained derelict to this day.

The success story seems to remain with those of the families who continue to believe that the ‘mana’ curse laid upon the land forbidding any business to ever succeed or prosper. I, as Church Reverend, during that time was asked to not only bless the Year 2000 restart of another redevelopment under Tepaki, but also requested to revoke and remove the curse which I had always believed that our God in Jesus Christ alone, combining our faith in Him is able to do so. Consequently, it wasn’t so much the land that needed deliverance, after all, but the greed, mismanagement, misappropriation of funds, corruption and undelivered justice amongst the developers and contractors is where the real failure lay

Curse is no curse nor has any mana at all unless our belief in it exceeds that of our faith in Jesus Christ. As God’s Word in Galatians 3: 13 declares, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree”. Jesus Christ alone hung on a tree (cross crucifixion) by His shed blood remits us of all our sins and redeems us from all the curses of the law. A lesson that my beloved Pa Ariki need to instil quick and fast before any and hopefully, a last and successful attempt is made, to ensure that honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability amongst the next developers be followed through very diligently to the very end. Once more, not wanting to make any public announcements or advertisements, together with her own son ‘Prince’ Samuela Napa in charge, this time, quietly worked in the backyard, in the background, with low profile, patiently awaiting until her bread is cooked before they can blow their horn – if it wasn’t for the complaint made by a certain individual that eventually hit the news headlines and everything else brought out to the open and made public.  With our government cooperating and re-collaborating, I see another glimmer of hope and a flickering light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to another Vaine Toa Kuki Airani looking to use her influence to ensure that her Ariki legacy lives on. She has also highlighted her interest in inviting youth and community to learn and interact together. She is well known for extending, promoting and consolidating relations between her people of Takitumu and Tangata Whenua of Ao-Te-Aroa New Zealand – with a landmark deeply imbedded in the pito enua (life source) of Avananui Ngati Tangiia where the ancient great migration of seven canoes left in around 1350 for Ao-Te-Aroa, New Zealand. Pa Ariki has worked on issues such as health (in operation at her residence in Turangi), a strong voice and advocate for a change of a the colonial name Cook Islands to a local indigenous one, the like of the New Hebrides to the present day Vanuatu, New Caledonia to Noumea, Tonga, Samoa, Niue and so forth. Lastly, she wants and anticipates to establish a rest home in Rarotonga to ensure our Cook Islands ageing population is well looked after.

Pa Ariki visualises the importance, utmost and greatest need to establish a rest home for our future ageing population - who knows, the redevelopment and completion of this ‘Big White Elephant’, ghost haunted houses or cursed land as many people would call it, will not only be a thing of the past but a new community project and Health Centre for the care of our Cook Islands aged population.  

The complaint about heavy mudflows running into the Vaimaanga lagoon, is in fact, and absolutely nothing new at all as we see it happen all around Rarotonga after almost all heavy monsoon type downpour – we see our sea and ocean surrounding Rarotonga all turn brown and black. Whatever is happening, if it is another positive attempt that someone or some people are trying to do in order to make some use out of a dilapidating and derelict resort, I raise my hat and say congratulations to whoever those people are, because there has been no news nor information about the resort getting rebuilt. Quite a smart and wise way of going about it, not blowing one’s trumpet before the bread is cooked, unlike the many predecessors who made big plans and promises but failed to deliver and accomplish. As of late of course, we see Pa Ariki’s son ‘Prince’ Samuela Napa directly involved with the new redevelopment programme and of course, where the son is, without doubt, his mother as landowner must stand in support to bring this development to fruition and completion.  

Mr Jack Cooper, Tapi Taio and Pa Upokotini Tepaeru Marie Ariki are three tough Kukis, Nga Tane Toa and Vaine Toa Kuki Airani – vigilant, resilient, and never gave up. Amidst all odds of weather challenges, losses and failures, they kept rising up, kept moving forward and kept compiling many success stories to leave behind a legacy for the many future generations to capture and learn from.

Kia Toa, Kia Autu!

Bishop Tutai Pere

Editor’s note – Jack Cooper passed away on Wednesday last week after a prolonged illness. He will be laid to rest tomorrow.