Being the last of her siblings at age 80, Maraea Vaitoti Tupa Mata was overwhelmed to meet nieces and nephews for the first time at the family’s first Tupa Vaitoti and Ranginui family reunion.
She was happy and surprised to see 200 relatives who attend, many making connections for the first time as most had never been to the Cook Islands.
Maraea’s nephew Henry Tupa said his aunt was the only surviving sibling of his father’s line, and so in 2017, she pushed for the reunion to go ahead. She wanted to meet all her sibling’s children before she passes on.
“It was fitting then that the gathering was timed to also celebrate her 80th birthday.”
Spritely, slim and cheerful, Maraea looks much younger than her 80 years.
The youngest of 15 children, she is the only surviving child.
Her siblings were brothers Rouru Vaike, Tuaine, Teiki, Poko, Pai, Nga, Teura, Tangata, Tupa, Mauauri and sisters Turi, Tui, Tuainekore, Ngametua and Maraea herself.
She keeps a clean bill of health, keeping busy in her wonderful garden presently blooming with lilies, eat in small portions, commits to a glass of freshly squeezed juice every day and continues with her regular medical check-ups.
Maraea was born and raised in Kiikii, Tupapa to parents Ranginui Tekura Ravenga and Tupa Vaitoti.
They were a planting family growing crops like tarua, taro, maniota, kumara to feed the family and earn a living. “all of us kids would help out in the plantations after school.”
She attended Avarua school and remembers some of the teachers: Mene Strickland and Maeva Karati and Mr Kapi.
In those days local fruits were the only foods available for lunch; there was nothing packaged or unhealthy to eat.
She has fond memories of her mother making preparations at night, cooking chestnuts in the umu so they would ready and hot in the morning to take to school.
“Whatever fruits were in season such as coconuts, mangoes and bananas, was our lunch, the best and healthiest.”
Sadly, her father passed away suddenly in 1948 when she was only 10 years old.
A former soldier in World War II, her father had a glory box that held his medals.
As a young child she was intrigued when she first saw them, not understanding what they were. Thinking they were shillings (the currency then) she buried a few under the under the house – and they have remained buried since then.
Leaving primary school, she worked at the UIT store in town, looking after her mother with the help of three brothers.
Her mum passed away in 1961. And aged 23, Maraea left Rarotonga for New Zealand where she met her husband Tereapii Mata and had six children.
In 1975 they returned to Rarotonga and settled in Arorangi. In another tragedy, her husband passed away aged 51 years, in a hit and run accident.
Maraea stayed strong: she played netball and took part in the Golden Oldies team to Singapore, Fiji and Samoa.
She enjoys being at home with her family, and doesn’t venture out much except for special functions.
And she still resides in Arorangi, loving the peace and quiet. Occasionally, she’ll travel overseas to visit some of her children, her 22 grandchildren and her 25 great grandchildren.