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Pride and joy for Cook Islands Māori culture

Saturday 15 April 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Art, Features

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Pride and joy for Cook Islands Māori culture
This cute little ECE boy from Apii Arorangi is wrapped in passion for Cook Islands culture. MELINA ETCHES/23041330

The successful Rarotonga Schools Cultural Festival held earlier this week demonstrated the joy and pride children of the Cook Islands have for Maori culture.

Costumes, dances and chants performed by the respective schools at the National Auditorium on Wednesday and Thursday nights reflected the 2023 Tauranga Vananga (Ministry of Culture Development) theme “Te Au Manu Puapinga a Toku Matakei'nanga/ Enua – The important animals and birds of my tribe/islands”.  

Teachers, school committees, parents and families put in a lot of time and effort towards the compositions of the chants and dance performances, materials for the costumes and keeping their little ones cheerful before stepping onto the National Auditorium stage.

On Wednesday evening the schools of Apii Takitumu, Apii Te Uki Ou, Apii Arorangi, Apii Avarua and Nukutere College performed on stage.


Nukutere College male dancers perform well on stage. MELINA ETCHES/23041366

The following night on Thursday the Opening Hymn was sung by Apii Imanuela Akatemia, followed by performances from Apii Rutaki, Apii St Joseph’s Iotepa Peata, Apii Nikao, Titikaveka College and Tereora College.

The stars of both nights were undoubtedly the innocent little ECE (Early Childhood Education) kids – some of whom were happy, cheeky and bewildered – putting on performances that brought smile and laughter from the audience.

Apii Avarua’s cultural performance comprised of three stanzas which started off with a pe’e (chant) followed by a ura pa’u (drum dance) and a kapa rima (action song) which were based on the 2023 school theme of “Healthy Holistic Lifestyles”.


Apii Avarua junior students show how its done. MELINA ETCHES/23041336

The chant covered the essence of the ironwood tree (Casuarina) which represented the younger generation “sprouting from the land on which we stand on today, known as Matakura”.

The Apii Nikao script for their performance noted that their school, “strives to instil in the young generation core values such as Kindness, Love, Humility, Perseverance, and Respect so they may mature and become virtuous individuals spiritually, physically and socially”.

“As we make connections to these values, we also hold firm to our foundations for our Cook Islands people, we are certain that our next generation will stride with dignity.”

Apii Nikao acknowledges the three pillars of the nation – traditional leaders, church leaders and the government leaders who are the solid foundation of the nation, “that shelters and develops us into future leaders”.

The Apii Nikao performance was composed by Nga Tangimataiti, Tuaine Unuia, Mii Simiona and Steven Hiro and choreographed by teachers, parents and the students. Legendary drummer George Williams and cultural expert Vainiu were also part of the schools drumming team.


Apii Nikao students juniors thrilled the audience. MELINA ETCHES/23041432

The St Joseph’s Primary School cultural presentation was in two parts.

The chants and drum dance were performed by the Junior Syndicate students from ECE 1 and 2, Grade 1, 2 and 3, dressed in their best and colourful pareu wear, adorned with head ei and neck garland.

The chant was about children’s everyday life learning environment at school, at home or within the community. The mynah bird was noted as a reminder of the liveliness and bountiful energy of children as they go about their every day school activities.


St Joseph’s students on stage. MELINA ETCHES/23041407

The drum dance was composed by Tea Ravarua and supported by the teachers and teacher aides. The drummers were Makea Pauka and his boys.

The second part of St Joseph’s Primary School’s performance was the action song and drum dance which was performed by the Senior Syndicate students from Grades 4, 5 and 6.

The action song was an original composition by the late Papa Upokoina Teiotu taught to the school children by Dorothy Paniani. The song was about the legend of Inutoto – the story of how the Kopeka bird led the husband to the wife’s hiding place.

Girls in their red and black costume represented the colour of Atiu and the kopeka birds, and the boys costume of brown and rauti represented the caves and natural environment of where the Kopeka bird lives.

The costume was created by Susan Tauira, supported by the teachers, teacher aides and parents.

Minister for Education Vaine “Mac” Mokoroa delivered the closing speech for the cultural event praising the performances from the students.