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A leader, mentor and respected man with many talents: leaving a lasting legacy

Saturday 21 January 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Memory Lane


A leader, mentor and respected man with many talents: leaving a lasting legacy
Uirangi Mataiapo Rei Jack Enoka (OBE) (September 3, 1939 - January 4, 2023). 23012015

Uirangi Mataiapo Rei Jack Enoka (OBE) was a respectable leader – a traditional leader, a former politician and Leader of the House, and a man with many skills including a grower, a businessman, a Boys Brigade brass band master and a boxing representative.

Moeroa o Rei Ki Kaikaveka Jack Enoka, was widely known as Rei Jack. He was born on September 3, 1939 in the small quiet village of Ruatonga – a village he was devoted to and lived in until he died on January 4, 2023, aged 83.

Enoka’s parents were Tuainekore Enoka, also known as Jack Enoka, and Uirangi Mataiapo Toka Manarangi.

His father Tuainekore was one of the coast watchers based on Tuakata during World War II from 1942-1945.

Enoka loved reminiscing about his days growing up, say his children. A childhood memory he would remind them of was, at the age of five, his mother would send him to carry a container of water from their family house, which still stands today, to his father working way up in the hills.

He attended Avarua School alongside the likes of the late Nito Kairau, one of his friends who he would walk to school with.

The late Maeva Karati was one of his teachers, Enoka would often deliver fresh fruits to his (Karati’s) residence in Takuvaine before he passed.

Church was a huge part of his life and he served for many years in the CICC Boys Brigade which presented an opportunity for him to learn music from his uncle Ringiao.

Eventually he became the band master – a role he took seriously.

Enoka recruited many of the youth in the village to join the band and participate in training camps which were held at Takamoa to learn music, and those who did well in the music exams received a certificate and badge.

In 1968, he took the Boys Brigade band across to Tahiti. This trip encouraged more young people from around Rarotonga to join in the brass band.

The likes of Iotia Nooroa, Anau Manarangi, Iona Taiki, Phillip Strickland, John Strickland and many more as well as his sons Lefou and Rei are among those who were taught by Enoka.

Being a member of the Boys Brigade brass band did not only involve playing music. The group also learnt life-saving skills and were often called on for search and rescue operations which would lead them deep into the mountains of Rarotonga.

A former member of the brass band, Iona Taiki says, the sound of the bugle would be used as a signal to the lost person that help was on its way.

Enoka would also faithfully play the “last post” at every ANZAC dawn parade ceremony for many years up until his retirement in the early 2000s.

Sport was another of his passions, in the 1960s he became a talented boxer representative for Avatiu Ruatonga alongside King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters, Peter Marsters, Iobu and Matamaru Tongia.

During this period, he would also recruit youth in the village to train and take part in boxing competitions along with his sons Lefou and Marcus who also represented the Cook Islands.

He played rugby for a short time and had played alongside the late Motu Kora – the two would often reminisce over their “earlier days” before Papa Motu passed away.

In the 1960s, Enoka married Urarii Lifou Ora in New Zealand (September 29, 1935 - January 14, 1995) and they have three children - Rei Jnr, Tinito and Lefou. The boys continue to reside on Rarotonga and their sister overseas.

In 1977, he was invested with the title of Uirangi Mataiapo of Arai Te Tonga - one of the seven mataiapo under Makea Nui.

This title was bestowed on him following the death of his mother Toka Manarangi – the previous title holder.

Enoka become a storeman at the Government Printing office alongside Tangi Kapi.

He was also a businessman – he and his wife Urarii owned and operated Ura’s Store in the front of their home in Ruatonga. He grew a variety of crops including taro, bananas and pawpaw.

Today his sons Lefou and Rei carry on the family

“Papa would tell us, he was only a man from the taro patch,” say his family.

One particular day in the late 70s the prime minister of the Cook Islands at the time Albert Henry sent his driver to find Enoka to attend a meeting, the driver found him – in the taro patch.

With no time to change into clean clothes he followed the driver to meet Albert Henry, also present were Tiakana Numanga and Sir Apenera Short.

This meeting was the very beginning of his journey into politics.

Two elections were held in 1983. In the first election on March 30, 1983, Enoka claimed the Avatiu-Ruatonga constituency seat and became a cabinet member for the Cook Islands Party.

However, in the second election held the same year on November 2, he lost his seat to Sir Thomas Davis of the Democratic Party who became cabinet member and later prime minister.

In 1989 Enoka became the Leader of the House and Member of Parliament for Avatiu-Ruatonga-Palmerston up until 1999.

During this period, he was considered a “Pa Metua” for the people of Palmerston Island who would visit Rarotonga.

Enoka started the fishing and growers associations for the people in his village, and was a part of the community building projects including the Uritaua House, the construction of the Vaka during the Maire Nui Festival and the establishment of the Punanga Nui Market.

During his political career he visited many countries namely Hawaii (1989) to visit Cook Islands BYU students, Tahiti, Barbados, Australia and many islands of Cook Islands

In 2016, Enoka was announced a recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) which he received in 2017.

His recreational playground involved shooting moakirikiri (bats) in the hills behind his family home. He taught the boys brigadiers how to shoot and collect the bats.

He has been described by some as “a John Wayne, where he only needed 30 minutes to fill a sack”.

After his wife passed away in 1995, Enoka met his second life partner Ani Taria Kora (she passed away in 2016), and together they planted watermelon, pineapples and exotic flowers which include orchids, anthuriums, heliconia and ginger.

They supplied their plants and produce to hotels, resorts and churches. This business is carried on by their daughters Catherine, Moya and Purotu and son Marcus, alongside their poultry chicken farm.

Even at the age of 80, Enoka’s business life extended to establishing a holiday home – Tiarepuku Pool Villa – that he named after his granddaughter. He enjoyed meeting and greeting guests and sharing a bit of history about Rarotonga.

A man of many talents, he was buried on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 on family land at the bottom of the hill at Auautangata, Ruatonga backroad.

“He will be remembered as the man who taught and wasn’t afraid to share knowledge, and he mentored many young men and women,” say his family.

“One of his many favourite pieces of wisdom was, ‘A man with no history is no man’.”

And his story has certainly left behind a rich legacy.