The light rain that began to fall as Cook Islands players and staff got off their team buses told them they were in the village of their ancestors, but Toru Arakua and Crystal Tamarua didn’t realise how closely connected their families were to Hanuabada, a coastal village in Papua New Guinea. NRL.com senior reporter Brad Walter reports.
The village, in which houses sit above the
sea on stilts, was founded by Cook Islands missionaries 150 years ago and
members of the Aitu and Moana contingent were visibly moved to hear children
singing traditional songs in their language.
which has an estimated population of 15,000, is near downtown Port Moresby but
the hundreds of children who ran to greet the men’s and women’s teams excitedly
chanted: “Cook Islands, Cook Islands”.
was one of the most humbling experiences I have had in my life,” Aitu captain
Brad Takairangi said.
see a village embrace our culture, people singing our songs and dancing was an
experience I know we will be talking about for years to come.”
players were still buzzing on Thursday (Cook Islands time) at a school’s rugby
league gala day as they took time off from training for Saturday’s double
header at Santos National Football Stadium against the PNG Orchids and Fiji
Cook Islanders we pretty much felt at home as soon as we went into that
village,” said Arakua, the former Kiwi Ferns prop who will co-captain the Moana
against the Orchids with Western Australian-born Anneka Stephens.
Crystal Tamarua and Toru Arakua are descendants of the missionaries who founded Hanuabada village. Williamson Wie/Pilai Piksa/23102010
of the kids were so welcoming, they greeted us with open arms and were like
‘it’s good to meet you’.”
Arakua and Tamarua, it was likely they met distant relatives as the pair
discovered that they are direct descendants of missionaries, led by Ruatoka,
who travelled from the Cook Islands to Papua New Guinea in 1872.
was real surprised, I didn’t know that my family had come here and settled
here,” Arakua said. “I was pretty much told that my great grandparents were the
ones that had come here. I didn’t even know that.”
was emotional when she learned about her family connection.
mentioned my last name and I was like ‘oh’, and they explained it more,” she
said. “It’s an honour to be in the same place that they came to 150 years ago.
was just so humbled to see the kids singing the songs. They know more Cook
Islander (song) than I do. You compare what they have, and they can find so
much joy and happiness from nothing.”
the players climbed the stairs to Ruatoka Memorial Hall on Metoreai Hill, the
frenzied children ran after them like a scene from the Pied Piper.
Cook Islands players danced in appreciation of the reception they received in Hanuabada. Williamson Wie/Pilai Piksa/23102011
prop Davvy Moale is the only regular NRL player in the Aitu team, but every
player was a star in Hanuabada, and the boys and girls called, “Stevie,
Stevie”, as they surrounded winger Steve Marsters, who plays for Thirroul
boys love that kind of stuff because we are playing footy for our islands and
our heritage,” Marsters said.
see the kids running around, it was kind of like a block party, there was no
curfew or going home and to see the young kids singing the songs, it was
still can’t stop talking about it because we want to go back there and see them
again. It’s something we will never forget.”
According to Moana coach Rusty Matua, the
fine rain that greeted the arrival of the teams had significant meaning and he
said the experience would inspire the Cook Islands players.
us, we call that tōmairangi, and that gentle rain is our tupuna – our ancestors
– and our belief that they’re blessing us, so that also was an acknowledgment,”
chairman (Charles Carlson) spoke about the missionaries that came from Cook
Islands 150 years ago and settled in that village.
came after the missionaries had just been killed and eaten a year prior, so
they were pretty brave to go in there, but because they were Cook Islanders,
they were able to connect with the local people and they stayed.
could see it in their looks that the Cook Islander blood is still in that
village, and it’s very strong, as well.
keeping our traditions alive and the language alive, along with their
connection to the missionaries that settled in that village 150 years ago.
see how happy they were to see us was really uplifting and inspiring for us,
and it just gives us that extra drive to go out on Sunday (Saturday) and play
for them and to represent them, because they were so connected to us and so
thankful that we were there.”
serving Aitu team manager Charlie Hoff was in tears for most of the evening as
the villagers interacted with the Cook Islands players, who responded to their
welcome by performing traditional male and female dances.
been on every trip with this team – to two World Cups and to America – and this
has been the best one ever,” Hoff said.
not all about rugby league, it’s about our culture too, and my sister texted me
from the Cook Islands and she said I was lucky to be here.
Moana players danced in Hanuabada. Williamson Wie/Pilai Piksa/23102012
couldn’t believe that those kids could sing the song. That is one of the
hardest songs to sing. These boys can’t sing it and they are Cook Islanders.”
the Cook Islands teams prepared to depart, women from the village emerged
carrying large trays of fruit that they presented to the Moana players for the
trip back to their hotel.
centre Kiana Takairangi said the players felt like they should have been the
ones offering gifts as they took so much from the experience.
whole ride home I just really felt like my heart was full,” she said. “It meant
a lot to see our culture and our songs and our music being played in Papua New
Guinea in that little village.”
think a bunch of us didn’t even know the song that they were singing, which was
pretty embarrassing, but just hearing them singing their hearts out was really heartwarming.
is hard to put into words, but I know that a lot of us just walked away feeling
really grateful and really inspired by them, and really proud to be Cook
The Moana will take on the Orchids at 4.45pm followed by the Aitu versus Bati clash at 7pm tonight.