A tour party of 14 primary school pupils and seven adults from Tokomaru Bay on the East coast of New Zealand’s North Island are coming to Rarotonga this month on a kind of pilgrimage to trace their roots and whakapapa to the Cook Islands.
The group from Hatea-A Rangi-School has timed the visit to coincide with the Te Maeva Nui 2019 Festival and Constitution Celebreations and will be staying at the Aotearoa Society Marae in Tupapa from July 25 to August 3.
The party of students, parents and teachers will perform kapa haka during Te Maeva Nui and at the Punanga Nui Markets.
School principal Karla Kohatu, a former pupil of Hatea-A-Rangi herself, visited Rarotonga as a teenager and says this year’s tour party “are all very excited about our trip to Rarotonga”.
“Many of our tamariki and whanau are not aware of our deep and meaningful connection to Rarotonga, Mauke and the wider Moananui a Kiwa,” she says.
“Many people think you travel to a Polynesian island and it’s holiday time, but in order to give our tamariki and whanau an insight into island life and their connections to this beautiful group of islands and the whakapapa, reo and navigational traditions which bond us, we will be very busy. We plan to perform at one of the markets during the Maeva Nui, so this is another dimension to our group.
“We also hope Pa Ariki can fit us in to her busy schedule as we intend to visit her palace and museum in Ngatangiia.
“While local schools will be on holiday, I want to take our tamariki to Takitimu School so our tamariki can deliver their koha to the school. Our tamariki do not know how lucky they are.
Karla Kohatu says she is personally very passionate about this kaupapa and I could hula before I could haka thanks to all the exchanges we experienced as young children here in Tokomaru Bay and in the Cook Islands. I still have a tivaevae gifted to my grandmother many moons ago.”
She says the whole idea of bringing current pupils to the Cook Islands “is that we are reconnecting to our whakapapa, history and Polynesian highways which were regularly navigated by our ancestors.
“Our wharenui at Pakirikiri Marae in Tokomaru Bay is called Te Hono ki Rarotonga and so it is essential our tamariki and whanau touch, breathe and feel the land of our tipuna. Our wharenui also has a section called Ruatepupuke and another section is called Te Au ki Tonga.”
Recently a local sponsor in New Zealand asked her why this is significant for the children.
She replied: “We are Maori, and our Cook Islands whanaunga are Maori. When I grew up in Tokomaru Bay, this was normal practice. We would travel to Rarotonga or whanau from the Cook Islands would visit Tokomaru Bay.
“This is about strengthening relationships, whakapapa, reo and tikanga. The navigational stories and history are also driving this trip ... We want to make sure our tamariki, staff and whanau gain a better understanding of where we come from and how our tipuna got to Aotearoa. We want to dismiss the myth of drift theory or landing here by accident.
“The Horouta waka stopped in Tokomaru Bay and the hull Te Ariuru ensured their journey could continue. Takitimu also stopped at our bay, so we are very excited about learning more about voyaging.
“There have been a few waka hourua visit our shores in more recent times ... A few of these kaumoana have links to various Polynesian islands and so once again connections are strengthened and reinforced with aroha. Our tipuna had scientific and navigational knowledge
because they were very in tune with all the elements and their environment. We want to regenerate that knowledge and learn those skills. We are looking forward to visiting Marumaru Atua, learning about the recent restoration work and meeting the crew.”
So what are they hoping to get out of it? “We are hoping this visit will reignite more exchanges for future generations. We want to strengthen the passion for our reo, history and tikanga. We look forward to the sharing of knowledge and skills for the cultivation of food in our Polynesian garden at school, but also into our wider community.
“We would also like to believe voyaging using traditional vessels, waka building, navigation, skipper to be viable career pathways for some of our tamariki.
“Who knows, next time we have a celebration at Te Hono ki Rarotonga whanau might travel to us on waka hourua from Rarotonga like the ariki did at the opening, about 85 years ago.”
-Publisher CI news John Woods previously lived in Tokomaru Bay.