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Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani celebrations in full swing

Wednesday 3 August 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in New Zealand, Regional

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Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani celebrations in full swing
A picture is worth a thousand words...the mood and festivity of the Cook Islands language celebrations in the Hutt Valley this week. August 2022 Photo: Tupu Araiti

Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani or Cook Islands language week in Aotearoa is in full swing.

Events have been taking place across the country, igniting a love of language in the next generation.

Pa metua, Cook Island elders are being celebrated for their invaluable knowledge.

Ake Mitchell was born and raised in the Cook Islands. She migrated to New Zealand with her family in 1973.

"She's 73 years young and she is a blessing for our family and our community," Tere Piua said.

Rotorua Cook Islands community secretary, Tere Piua is one of Mitchell's daughters. She spent time this week with her community, learning from pa metua, Ake Mitchell.

"Once they have passed there is no knowledge to share," Mrs Piua said.

Mrs Piua said language and art including tīvaevae are intertwined in her 'vibrant and colourful' culture, passed down from her mum.

"For me watching my mum, she didn't want to have a restaurant birthday, she wanted to continue her skills, her expertise with our youth, her mother taught her," she said.

Listen to the interview with Ake Mitchell on Pacific Waves

Cherished Cook Islands elder, Ake Mitchell, chose to celebrate her birthday sharing her language and culture with her family. August 2022.
Cherished Cook Islands elder, Ake Mitchell, chose to celebrate her birthday sharing her language and culture with her family. August 2022. Photo: Supplied-Cook Islands Rotorua Community

This week, Ake Mitchell has celebrated 73 years her way, teaching the art of tīvaevae making.

"I just loves doing that. I love to do pillow slip embroideries, or whatever. I just loves doing it. It's [an] ongoing thing, I just loves doing it," Mitchell said.

In Tamaki Makaurau Auckland 11-year-old Jared Upoko from Manurewa Intermediate, is participating in a speech competition as part of Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani.

"It's actually hard because this is actually my first time speaking my own language," he said.

Jared is the only grandchild out of 36 or 37, he isn't quite sure, to learn Te Reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani so far.

His uncle Jay Upoko knows what it is like to take that first step into enriching your own cultural understanding.

"When we were at high school, we were just trying to find our own identity. So, with the help of elders, community and aunties and uncles we started to learn about Cook Island culture and our language. So, for fun we thought, let's start a band and then 20 years later we've been around the world promoting Cook Island culture," Upoko said.

"The song is called Toku Tupuanga, it's performed by myself and a couple of others. It just talks about us being Cook Islanders and just trying to figure out if we are Kiwi or a Kūki. At the end of the song it talks about us being proud to be Kiwi and Cook Islanders," he said.

Jared Upoko from Manurewa Intermediate, participated in a speech competition as part of Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani. August 2022
Jared Upoko from Manurewa Intermediate, participated in a speech competition as part of Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani. August 2022 Photo: Supplied

Right across Aotearoa, music has been pulsing through the community, bringing joy, rekindling memories and giving hope for the future of a language that is classed as endangered by UNESCO.

"To see that in your grandchildren, it's almost a piece of you is being rekindled of ignited in the child, it's fulfilling. I speak to my girls, to my children mainly on the greeting side of things, Kia Orana, just sort of simple terms and they respond appropriately. Meitaki e Papa," Tupu Araiti said.

From the village of Tupapa in Rarotonga, Tupu Araiti, who runs a Cook Islands community radio station in Lower Hutt says this week's language events have been wonderful.

He said seeing young people's faces light up from listening to the rhythm of the music and the sound of the language that is so dear to his heart brings great joy.

"The resurgence of the Māori language has been tremendous, in terms of filling a void."

Ake Mitchell hopes the celebrations will continue every week.

"I am so proud that I am here to celebrate our Cook Island language, to tell everybody to love Cook Island language, because that is where our roots come from, from the Cook Islands, from Rarotonga."

A journey just kicking off for young Jared, who has a dream that may just fulfil the wishes of community elders...

"To create my own band like my uncle," he said.

Events are being held across Aotearoa for the remainder of the week and into the weekend.

The Cook Islands Community in Rotorua enjoying Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani. August 2022
The Cook Islands Community in Rotorua enjoying Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani. August 2022 Photo: Supplied - Cook Islands Community Rotorua

You can keep up to date with the latest on the Ministry for Pacific Peoples website.