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The driving force behind the revitalisation of te reo Maori

Saturday 10 June 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Weekend


The driving force behind the revitalisation of te reo Maori
New Zealand’s Governor-General Her Excellency Dame Cindy Kiro, Dr Richard Davies, Narelle Huata and Minister Vaine (Mac) Mokoroa. MELINA ETCHES/23060953

Pa Ariki and Kainuku Ariki of Takitumu had the dream and foresight to see the establishment of a school to educate and strengthen the cultural knowledge of peu Maori. Her dream had come to fruition when the first batch of students graduated with their Diploma in Nga Toi (Peu Maori - Level 5) this week.

In 2022, Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu – Cook Islands Takitumu Performing Arts School started the delivery of their first tertiary level programmes.

On Thursday, the first cohort of seven students – Piritau -O-Rau E Miriama Nga, Rangiteina Rangatira Iriti Maoate, Tupe Ariki Rangatira Tamuera Peyroux-Napa, Sareni Pekepo-Poila, Teipotemarama Teariki Denny, Kauono o Rautea Rangatira Amanda Pauka and Renall Vogel – graduated with a NZQA (New Zealand Qualifications Authority) accredited diploma at Takitumu Palace.

Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu graduation day was special to the graduates and their families alike. It was about strengthening connections of the people and reinforcing the genealogical connections of Takitimu in Aotearoa New Zealand and Takitumu of the Cook Islands.

In his keynote address at the graduation ceremony, Maui Mataiapo Tuingariki (Tui) Short, a board member for Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu, said: “Our language is disappearing, you have a job to do and that job is to revive Reo Rarotonga o Takitumu.”

Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu board of trustees - Sholan Ivaiti, Tui and Cecilia Short. MELINA ETCHES/23060922

“Pa Ariki and Kainuku Ariki they believed on this day and the people in Hastings - that belief has made today possible.

“Your dream, your forward foresight the fruits you now see today from the tapere performing arts school of Takitumu.

“Two groups of people with that heart grounded in a common ancestral belief in the Vaka of Takitumu, that’s what brought us here today.”

Short reminded the graduates that it is not the piece of paper that counts.

“The piece of paper will tell you that you have reached a certain level but it’s what you do with that piece of paper and with the knowledge that counts.”

Short encouraged the students to keep studying and continue with Level 6 studies which starts in August and to keep working towards a Bachelor of Arts in Maori Performing Arts.

“So that you can be a leader in our reo, in our culture, in our performing arts, not only here in the Cook Islands but overseas,” Short, a former secretary of Education Ministry, said.

The graduation ceremony was also attended by the visiting Governor General of New Zealand Dame Cindy Kiro and her team.

Short said: “Who would have thought at this first graduation that it would be graced by the governor-general of New Zealand. Your presence here is a blessing, more than a blessing, you have brought in a special mana to this graduation and for that we thank you.”

Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu graduates - Amanda Pauka, Iriti Maoate and Marama Denny. MELINA ETCHES/23060950

Behind every successful institution there is a driving force.

Short said: “The driving force behind this school is no other than Narelle Huata.”

Huata, the Wānanga Whare Tapere o Takitimu – Aotearoa chief executive officer, is one of the first graduates of the programme that was founded in 1983 in Aotearoa New Zealand by her late father, Tama Turanga Huata, a musician and composer whose life’s work was to ensure all descendants of Te Waka Takitimu knew who they were and where they came from.

Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu is a joint initiative with Te Wānanga Whare Tapere o Takitimu – Aotearoa.

“It is amazing what she has done, there were challenges, there were some rough waves, but the commitment to the purpose and the commitment of the school never took her attention away.

“That is a kind of person that keeps it going and her helper Mama Taime and their staff, they made these things happen.”

One of the graduates, Amanda Pauka had signed up for the course rather reluctantly.

As each class progressed, she participated in sharing ideas, knowledge and experiences with the fellow students.

“I then started to realise, learn and appreciate more of our Cook Islands culture and language at a higher level,” said Pauka.

“Vaka Takitumu has a wealth of cultural and traditional history. Talented and amazing people that reign from Vaka Takitumu in the likes of the late Papa Turepu Turepu, Vaine Clarke, Georgina Williams, Vaitoti Tupa, Papa Kiriau Turepu, etc.”

Pauka said she had faced many challenges along the way, trying hard to tussle between other commitments and attending the classes and is thankful for the push and support she received.

New Zealand’s Governor-General Her Excellency Dame Cindy Kiro, Dr Richard Davies, Pa Marie Ariki and students at graduation day. MELINA ETCHES/23060951

“I am so proud that I was part of the first ever cohort of students.

“Graduation Day was totally amazing, and to have the distinguished guests that graced us with their presence and our whanau from Aotearoa make the special trip – like wow, how amazing and special was that.”

She said graduating with a Diploma in Nga Toi (Peu Maori – Level 5) was quite emotional.

“I was just so very proud of how the students were being honoured.

“I was proud of our Pa Ariki and Kainuku Ariki for the school, Narelle for her continuous commitment to ensuring the success of the school.

“I was proud representing my dear mother Roseline Blake who holds the traditional title of Rautea Rangatira under Pa Ariki – today I am her Kouono and carry out the duties and responsibilities for Rautea Rangatira for my family while Mum is overseas. Mum would’ve loved to be here to witness such a momentous occasion, however due to some minor health issues she had to remain in NZ.”

Pauka would like to thank her family for attending the ceremony, saying their presence was extra special.

Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu graduate, Renall Vogel. MELINA ETCHES/23060920

Another student Renall Vogel said: “I am always passionate about our language and peu Maori.”

A trainee teacher at Apii Takitumu, Vogel says at school Maori is taught as a second language.

“This course was a bit different, we were encouraged to speak Maori and to write the assignments in Maori, and it takes a lot more words writing in Maori.

“It has been amazing to have the Governor General Dame Cindy here with us and the New Zealand and Australian high commissioners.”

For many years Piritau Nga has been involved deeply in Cook Islands culture. He is a cultural tutor, performer and a judge of cultural arts events.

“I was encouraged to take up the course,” said Nga. “I felt a bit lost going back to school but I wanted to seek out more knowledge about our peu Maori.”

He also acknowledged tumu korero, the late Turepu Turepu, Ota Joseph and others who had shared their cultural knowledge with him.

Nga said he was proud of their achievements and proud of his wife (Tuakore) and his kids who have always been supportive.

He would like to encourage others to join.

“Don’t wait until it’s too late.”

New Zealand’s Governor General Dame Cindy Kiro in her address acknowledged and thanked family and friends of the students who went along their journey of learning.

“And warmest congratulations to the graduates, today is a very special and significant day and represents the culmination of your own hard work and commitment.

“As someone who fell in love with learning at a young age and who has built a career advocating to young people and to our tamariki the value of an education, I could not be happier to be with you for this wonderful occasion.”

Dame Kiro said she felt honoured to visit Takitumu making note of the seven waka that departed for Aotearoa New Zealand in search for new beginnings and opportunities for the next generations.

“My own waka Matatua left from that same sacred site. It feels fitting that this wananga be here in this special place symbolising a homecoming … a sense of circularity and continuation, as well as the strength of the bonds between Takitimu and Aotearoa and Takitumu here in Rarotonga.”

Dame Kiro acknowledged Tama Turanga Huata whose vision was to create this school in partnership with Wānanga Whare Tapere o Takitimu – Aotearoa.

“Tama’s life work was to ensure that all descendants of Te Waka Takitimu knew who they were and where they came from.

“This wananga is a culmination of his vision brought to life by his daughter Narelle, Pa Ariki, Kainuku Ariki. We acknowledge the work that Narelle continued, growing her father’s generous vision.”

Dame Kiro said Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu as the country’s first such school plays an important role in promoting and supporting the retention of Cook Islands language and culture.

“I know that for Cook Islanders living in New Zealand and around the world language is a fundamental means of maintaining a sense of connection with these islands and a sense of self.

“My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul.”

In offering her sincere congratulations to the students and the teachers, Dame Kiro said: “I hope you take time over the coming days to reflect on the significance of this inaugural graduation, I urge to never stop your journey of learning and of self-discovery you began here.”

The first Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu - Cook Islands (Takitumu Performing Arts School) graduates. From left: Piritau -O-Rau E Miriama Nga, Rangiteina Rangatira Iriti Maoate, Tupe Ariki Rangatira Tamuera Peyroux-Napa, Sareni Pekepo-Poila, Teipotemarama Teariki Denny, Kauono o Rautea Rangatira Amanda Pauka and Renall Vogel. MELINA ETCHES/23060830

Minister of Education Vaine (Mac) Mokoroa was privileged to witness the “excitement” of the graduates in having their hard work acknowledged.

“I continue to be humbled to be the Minister associated with life long learning and higher education,” Mokoroa said.

“Today is the first of many firsts, today we have come together as a community to celebrate the Takitumu Performing Arts School for our newest privately registered tertiary provider.”

Mokoroa highlighted Tui Short and Cecilia Short who had pushed to start the processes in getting the permit to allow the school to be established here.

“Having been directly involved in the registration process and seeing first-hand the scope of delivery to support more Cook Islands to gain higher education qualifications, I am delighted to see this partnership take flight in the success of our graduates.

“The maintenance of our unique Cook Islands culture, language and our many dialects is central to everything we do.”

Mokoroa also thanked Dame Cindy Kiro for making it possible to promote Te Reo Kuki Airani in Aotearoa.

“The arts and creative industries offer a stage and platform like no other to honour and showcase our strong cultural identities, having the opportunity to recognise this at a tertiary level is an honour for every Cook Islander.”

Narelle Huata said: “This is the beginning of the waka sailing, thank you Pa Ariki and Kainuku Ariki for their vision and aspirations and the seven students, it’s always hard to be the first because you’re piloting something for the next ones to come through.”

Graduate Iriti Maoate, speaking on behalf of the students, said: “We are humbled and honoured, we are truly blessed and we thank family and friends for your tireless support.”

“To Narelle, Taime, James, Courtney, Papa Tui and Cecilia, thank you all - you kept us on the straight and narrow and pushed us to continue and to believe in the greater good of pursuing the truth in who we are as a people and our reo and culture.”

Maoate said she grew up in a time when speaking reo Maori at school was a punishable offence.

“Today, I am indeed proud and humbled to learn from the tutors and from the rest of the cohort.”

She was also proud that the class had helped with the arrangement for the school song with the lyrics written by fellow graduate Renall Vogel.

“The song talks about our reo that has been sitting and waiting for us to revive it, and we are,” said Maoate.

Pa Marie Ariki was overwhelmed to see the first cohort graduate after all the hard work that has gone into it, including the tireless efforts from the board of trustees – Sholan Ivaiti, Tui and Cecilia Short.

“I am so proud, this is for our people.”

She said the school offered an opportunity on island for people to learn more about the Cook Islands language, history and culture and to strengthen connections between Takitimu in New Zealand and Takitumu of Rarotonga.

Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu is focused on Cook Islands Maori, based at the Pa Ariki Museum in Ngatangiia.

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Te Vānanga Are Tapere o Takitumu (Takitumu Performing Arts School) was established to help revitalise language, arts, culture and heritage of the Cook Islands.

O 30th November 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between Te Wānanga Whare Tapere o Takitimu (Aotearoa) and Te Vaka o Takitumu at Te Wānanga Whare Tapere o Takitimu site, Hastings, Aotearoa New Zealand paving the path for the Cook Islands Maori tertiary learning branch.

On 1st August 2021 at Rarotonga, Pa Marie Ariki signed the MOU between Te Vaka o Takitumu and Te Wānanga Whare Tapere o Takitimu Aotearoa representatives who came to Rarotonga for the launch.