It was in the rare quiet moments of a life spent commuting and working long hours in the bustling city of Brisbane, that Sam Ataera started to learn how the wider world really worked.
Sam had moved to Queensland because he felt fed up with the low wages and the cost of living in Rarotonga.
In Brisbane, he spent his time chasing the money, the flash car, the big TV and the fancy house.
A prolonged period of research taught him how much control the world’s richest people have over media, medicine, diets, minds, and the environment, how TV spreads misinformation, how corporations pay for influence over governments and how industrial living makes people sick and sad.
“I realised I’d been wasting my maro’iro’i (energy) on lies.”
Sam had a change of heart in that moment, and suddenly he was longing for the freedom of the Cook Islands he had once taken for granted.
He thought about his family and home that was tucked away in the Pacific paradise and the pocket of peace it had to offer started to look more and more significant.
Sam is just one of a number of Cook Islanders who have realised the way of life in Rarotonga is something to be treasured.
For all of the 18 years he was away, he missed everything about Rarotonga and if you asked him what he missed most, he would say being connected to land that he owned and could pass down to his three sons one day.
In 2013, Sam came back to the island for his sister Moeroa’s funeral.
His parents returned, too, and not long after, they all moved back to Rarotonga where community was embraced.
On instinct, he knew Rarotonga would be a good home for his sons Simiona, 14, Soul, 10, and Elijah, 7.
“This time, I didn’t focus on the cost of bread," he says.
“Now I don’t have a big-screen TV or a big pay cheque, but I have my own piece of land, food that doesn’t cost money, and time to enjoy my life. Now I can do things I really want to do.”
He moved home with a different and deeper appreciation for the Cook Islands, the resources, food, sunshine, rain, community, and freedom.
Finally out of the rat race, Sam, who had worked as a graphic designer overseas, found himself designing a book called Matini: The Story of Cyclone Martin.
It was on this project that he met the writer of the book, Rachel Reeves, and the editor, Mark McDermott.
From the Matini project collaboration, the idea for Lokal Magazine sprouted, inspired by the traditional knowledge that emerged from so many of Rachel’s interviews with Manihikians who lived through Cyclone Martin and Sam’s own feelings about his island’s resources and culture.
In 2016, Sam and Rachel decided to produce a magazine about why living local matters, without any idea where the funding was going to come from. For months they worked for no pay and ate from the garden.
“There were days we doubted the project would come to life and on those days we prayed and every time, we got a sign, a phone call, a visitor, a donation, and even a double rainbow,” they wrote in the first magazine.
Sam and Rachel are now the creators of Lokal, a publicly-funded ad-free publication dedicated to preserving and celebrating traditional knowledge and starting conversations about using what works in the past and present to find solutions to modern ills.
“This magazine is about using local resources and values to make constructive changes in the way we live,” says Sam.
In 2018, the first issue of Lokal was published.
Cook Islanders often pursue what they imagine will be a better life overseas.
They are told to study abroad, join the armed forces or seek out the glamorous city life, but sometimes on that journey we come to realise the beauty and liberty of living in a small Pacific nation.
Sam says: “Another reason why we started the magazine is because we were afraid that we were losing this wisdom. Our kids were not interested in it anymore. I think part of the magazine is to save all of this knowledge and keep passing it on.”
Rachel, a writer with Cook Islands roots who grew up in the US, says she has been blown away by the traditional knowledge of local people she has interviewed and the wisdom that emerges from connection to the natural world.
“It’s so important for us to understand how instructive traditional knowledge and local wisdom is," she says. “In a very short time we humans have managed to become very disconnected and to do some very destructive things to the world and ourselves. Understanding the past is critical to building a better future."
She laughs when she recalls that the ideas were “just buzzing” and decided they wanted to combine both their journeys to tell the stories in Lokal.
With the new magazine, they want people to recognise that although people are taught to have faith in science, medicine, education and money, there is also a lot to learn from the world and especially from those people who know how to use natural resources to survive.
Sam says: “Scientists are just starting to catch up with what our people have known for thousands of years. That’s how our people have survived, they knew how to read the stars, they knew when to plant, when to fish, it’s been in our lives for a long time.”
The problem with having a conversation with the pair is that we they are always ready to put on their metaphorical scuba diving gear and go deep.
“The reason Lokal is different and spelt with a k, is because it represents difference, we support that local way of living and being but we also acknowledge that today we have the internet and technologies that connect us to ideas and innovation from all over the world,” says Rachel.
They are almost amused that they got funded for a second magazine. “I mean we had a story that mentioned marijuana in the first issue,” she laughs.
The magazine talks about sensitive topics like what people are eating, the medicine they are taking, suicide, domestic violence, and other relevant conversations for people of all ages. “The young people are growing up in a different world and the young people are the future," Rachel says.
One of her favourite books is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It highlights the forms of resistance faced by artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, and others who are trying to break through barriers, both creatively and in society.
Rachel says they felt that resistance but they were also encouraged by so many people.
“Every time it seemed like everything was going wrong and wasn’t going to happen or we weren't going to have enough money, we kind of just stepped back to let the process play out and it always managed to rescue itself.”