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Maungaroa Valley one step closer to achieving World Heritage status

Friday 24 March 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Culture, National


Maungaroa Valley one step closer to achieving World Heritage status
World Heritage specialist Dr Anita Smith facilitated a scoping workshop on the status of world heritage in the Cook Islands last month. Pictured are participants at a meeting. MELINA ETCHES/23022106

Government has recognised “Maungaroa Mountains and Valleys” as a historic area and formally supported its inclusion on the Cooks Islands Tentative List for World Heritage status, in January 2019. The dream to achieve a World Heritage status is one step closer following the completion of a scoping study and report.

Last month, a scoping study was undertaken by Dr Anita Smith, advisor to the Australian government on cultural World Heritage matters and Adjunct Associate Professor at La Trobe University, Australia.

Dr Smith has now completed the report which has practical and important recommendations for Cook Islands government ministries, community groups and the Maungaroa landowners.

The specific aims of the scoping study noted in the report are:

  • to provide an introduction to the World Heritage process and requirements for the Tentative List;
  • to ascertain the current capacities of the Cook Islands government and communities in relation the protection and management of heritage places, and
  • to review and provide feedback to landowners and community in relation to Maungaroa.

Three open workshops were conducted with government representatives, traditional leaders, landowners and the community. The workshop for Maungaroa landowners and stakeholders was held at Highland Paradise.

The Maungaroa Valley in Puaikura (Highland Paradise) was a site of archaeological research in the 1970s by Peter Bellwood during which several ancestral village sites were recorded in the valley.

These consisted of stone platforms identified as marae (cultural meeting spaces) and paepae (house platforms) and other features.

The cultural significance of these archaeological sites provided the basis for the draft Tentative List in 2019.

During the scoping study, a brief survey in the southern, lower portion of the Maungaroa Valley was undertaken to relocate and provide updated GIS (geographic information system) data for archaeological sites that were first recorded by Peter Bellwood as the “Lower Maungaroa Cluster” and re-recorded by Gareth Walter in 2015.

However, there was insufficient time to relocate all the clusters of sites previously recorded by Bellwood.

The GIS data for the structures in the Lower Maungaroa Cluster relocated during the survey was recorded and provided to the project team by Infrastructure Cook Islands.

The aim of the Cook Islands World Heritage project is to support and build the capacities of communities and government agencies in the Cook Islands to develop a Tentative List, including finalising a Tentative List submission for the Maungaroa Valley, and, in future, a successful World Heritage nomination.

Recommendations for the Tentative List submission for the Maungaroa Valley include its listing as a “cultural landscape”.

Cultural landscape is one of several cultural site types recognised in the operational guidelines to the World Heritage Convention. These are areas which reflect the interactions of people and the environment at a landscape and over a period of time.

The Maungaroa landowners and community agreed that both cultural and natural values of Maungaroa are important and that protection for the Maungaroa cultural landscape overall is needed.

“It is important that the cultural sites in the areas adjacent to the boundaries of the Maungaroa Valley are protected and the impacts of any development in this buffer area are mitigated,” the report said.

“A comparison is needed with other similar valleys/cultural landscape in the Cook Islands and East Polynesia in general to explain what is distinctive about Maungaroa and why it is an outstanding representative example.

“This should also include further comparison with the Pacific World Heritage sites of Taputapuatea in French Polynesia.”

The proposed timeframe for finalising the Maungaroa Valley to the World Heritage is August-September, 2023.

The Cook Islands World Heritage project is a collaboration between Australian Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water and the Cook Islands Ministry of Cultural Development.

Dr Smith was accompanied by Sumeyra Zeydek, Honours student in Archaeology from La Trobe University.