More Top Stories

Rugby league

Moana target 2025 World Cup

11 November 2022

Preserving Cook Islands culture

Monday 6 February 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Culture, National


Preserving Cook Islands culture
Te Manava Ora o te Ivi Maori (Manava Ora) cultural arts performing group leader and tutor, Jackie Tuara leads the dance rehearsals for the opening ceremony of the 2020 Cook Islands Games. Tokerau Jim Images. 20090316

Cook Islands performing arts classes are starting next week to give children the opportunity to identify with their heritage in a nurtured, cultural environment.

After a four-year break including the disruptive couple of years of Covid-19, the tutors of Te Manava Ora o te Ivi Maori (Manava Ora) cultural arts performing group are ready to lead the sessions.

Te Manava Ora’s mission is to immerse children into their Cook Islands culture and to teach them Maori values using the tools of performing arts.

“Our children need to be nurtured in an authentic environment to understand the importance of knowing ‘who they are’, to ensure they feel the ‘essence’ of what it means to be Maori Kuki Airani,” said leader of the group and cultural performing arts expert, Jackie Tuara, who is passionate about giving kids the opportunity to know their culture.

Tuara has been performing in cultural arts since she was a child and has been involved in events such as Te Maeva Nui festival for decades.

Over the years she has noted the gradual increase of young people on Rarotonga “who don’t really understand what Cook Islands culture actually is”.

“The decline of Reo Maori has been a real concern, too many of our kids cannot speak or understand Maori and this in turn is reflected in their performances,” said Tuara.

“Some kids don’t perform from the heart; they don’t perform with feeling and don’t have a complete understanding of their performances.

“Proper dancing technique is being lost, becoming less important, giving way to superficial performances based almost solely on the ‘wow’ factor of the show.

 “Through performing arts our cultural heritage and history is passed down ... through songs, chants, actions songs and drum dances. It is the medium by which we remember historical events, how we remember legends, how we remember moments in our lives, and how we express ourselves.”

Tuara is also concerned about the influence of other cultures which are merging or being incorporated into Cook Islands items, and that the kids don’t know the difference between authentic Cook Islands and contemporary Cook Islands performing arts.

“It seems that no one is educating them to know the difference because once again it’s just all about the show. This is the difference they need to know, to be taught that there is a difference. 

“If they aren’t taught correctly, if children cannot understand Reo Maori, how then can we ensure our culture and performing arts is authentic and unique?

“Knowing Reo Maori ensures they understand what they are dancing about, singing about, drumming about etc. That they understand it, they feel it, they know it.”

And to address all these issues, Te Manava Ora was born – “to ensure our children have a space to learn about their culture, the authenticity of their culture”.

“And how do we ensure our culture survives and is recognised worldwide as Cook Islands culture and performing arts and not mistaken for Tahitian, Hawaiian or another Pacific country’s culture?”

Te Manava Ora has brought together a vibrant team of passionate people who are giving their time willingly to teach the invaluable knowledge and skills they have. However more people are needed to assist the tutors.

Classes begin on February 6, and will be held at TJ’s Studio in town and at the Punanga Nui Market.

The following classes are on offer: Ura for Girls – led by tutor Jackie Tuara, co-tutor Uirangi Bishop, assisted by Tiana Haxton and Reeana Bernadette Aviu; Ura for Boys - lead tutor Utavarau Araitia; Tangi Ka'ara - lead tutor Makea Pauka, co-tutor Simiona Teiotu assisted by Travis Estall-Makirere and Teaukura Makirere; Ukarere - lead tutor Sareni Pekepo-Poila; Vivo (nose flute) - lead tutor Rudi Aquino; Reo Maori - lead tutor Renall Vogel assisted by Marama Denny.

A new Raranga Rakei (weaving and costume making) is also being introduced this year.

Children must be of Cook Islands descent and from the ages of six to 16 years to register as a student of Manava Ora. For registration email or to

“We want to ensure that our unique culture will continue to survive for generations to come in this ever-changing world,” said Tuara.