Queen’s honour for tireless service to their communities

Saturday October 17, 2020 Written by Published in Weekend
Papatua Papatua, Member of the most excellent order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to public service and the community. Photo: RASHNEEL KUMAR. 20101645 Papatua Papatua, Member of the most excellent order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to public service and the community. Photo: RASHNEEL KUMAR. 20101645

One of the highest honours to be bestowed on any person from a Commonwealth nation is a Queen’s Service Medal. This year, four well-known Cook Islanders were recognised for their tireless service to their communities, their professions, churches and their country. 

Papatua Papatua, MBE Member of the most excellent order of the British Empire for services to public service and the community.

Papatua Papatua, MBE was born on December 30 1956 on the historical island of Mangaia, which is widely regarded as the oldest island of Polynesia.

His upbringing was enriched with strong family and cultural values which led to his passion for culture and performing arts. 

The cultivation of Papatua’s professionalism was centred on his education.

While excelling in his early years at primary school, Papatua moved to Rarotonga to attend Tereora College at the age of 12.

In 1979, Papatua graduated as a qualified teacher from the Cook Islands Teachers College.

He taught for a period of 10 years and took on many leadership roles within the Education sector; Cook Islands Teachers College Student Association president and the cultural manager of the Cook Islands Teachers College Cultural Dance Team.

Papatua’s passion for education is still evident in his work in media. He is a strong advocate for the preservation of the Cook Islands Maori language (reo Maori) and has done work as a translator and interpreter in the Cook Islands Parliament.

Papatua is a cultural icon in the Cook Islands and is a skilled songwriter, producer, Cook Islands traditional costume designer, choreographer and a musician. He has won the Dancer of the Year competition for seven consecutive years, making him the longest title holder in Cook Islands history.

Through the Cook Islands National Art Theatre Cultural team, he continues to be engaged in cultural activities.

Papatua is one of the most prominent Master of Ceremonies in the Cook Islands and abroad among Cook Islands communities.

He has been the MC for many cultural events in the Cook Islands and his voice has been associated with various Cook Islands drumming and traditional chants. He has taken Cook Islands culture to the world and is known by many international tourism partners and visitors.

Papatua’s employment history spanned over 37 years in three key areas; teaching, culture and tourism.

Following his first career as a teacher, Papatua spent three years with the Ministry of Cultural Development.

During this time, Papatua was the Deputy Performing Arts Director for the 1992 Festival of Pacific Arts that was staged in Cook Islands.

For a total of 24 years, Papatua was the longest serving staff member of the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation.

He is a Cook Islands icon due to his symbolic work in representing and developing the Cook Islands in tourism, culture, community and performing arts.

During Papatua’s tenure with the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, he successfully led many international dance troupes to promote the Cook Islands in the key source markets of Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

These promotional tours are multi-partnered and requires a deep understanding of logistics, tourism partnerships as well as culture and heritage.

Papatua had all these complex skills that delivered a significant impact on Cook Islands’ reputation as not only a renowned South Pacific holiday destination, but also for the warmth and hospitality of Cook Islands people. 

His competency and skill set also expanded to other areas that contributed to the work conducted by the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation.

This included his ability to be innovative, creative, lead event management and strong follow up on processes and plans. He was an all-rounder and did the best of his ability in all the roles and responsibilities given to him.

Flawless talent in performing arts supported his ability to provide effective leadership in cultural development.

Finally, Papatua is a man of his people and has been a prominent figure in the development and mobilisation of the Mangaian community in Cook Islands and abroad.

His tireless efforts are recognised by many Cook Islanders as he contributes unconditionally to his people. His community work extends to other areas he is passionate about such as religion (Cook Islands Christian Church) and the bowling club association.  

Through his commitment to education, culture, tourism and the community, Papatua has earned the respect of many Cook Islanders.

With a genuine and humble nature, he is widely known as a Cook Islands treasure that has meaningful impact on people because of the way he has preserved and cultivated culture, history and traditions. 

Dr Teariki Matairangi Purea (PhD), Office of the Order of the British Empire for services to the public services, community and the Pacific Region.

Affectionately known as Doctor Mat, Dr Teariki Matairangi Purea, OBE was born on the island of Mauke in 1948.

Dr Teariki Matairangi Purea (PhD), Office of the Order of the British Empire for services to the public services, community and the Pacific Region.20101626

He is a dedicated father to four boys, husband to a Samoa Queen Theresa Hunt-Pereira Purea, the second Cook Islander to graduate with a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Sydney and considered one of the leading agronomists “soil scientists” in the Pacific region.

Hard work and study in his early years earned him a Cook Islands government scholarship to attend Avele College of Samoa from 1965-1968. 

After completing senior studies, he attended the School of Agriculture of Alafua in 1969 to 1971, and gained a Diploma in Tropical Agriculture from the University of the South Pacific. 

During this period, he met his greatest companion Theresa. 

On returning home, Dr Mat was employed with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and became one of the agriculture industry’s progressive experts in quarantine and horticulture at the quarantine division from 1971-1972.

He led efforts to strengthen Cook Islands’ bio-security borders and promote new crop varieties while establishing best husbandry management practices.

The support was essential to farmers engaged in producing fresh vegetables that were exported to New Zealand at the time. Dr Mat also played a critical role when the Brontispa coconut leaf beetle was intercepted and eradicated on Rarotonga.  

Dr Mat was promoted to Plant Protection Officer at Takuvaine agriculture nursery and Aitutaki in 1973–1975. 

He was instrumental in developing pest and disease control regimes and the pre and post-harvest treatment programme to facilitate the export of oranges and bananas to New Zealand. 

In 1976, Dr Mat earned another government scholarship to Gatton University of Queensland where he graduated with a Diploma in Applied Science in Horticulture and a Bachelor in Applied Science in Horticulture and Plant Projection in 1979.

He became well recognised by the New Zealand Department for Scientific Industrial Research (DSIR) during government reforms in the 1980s, which led to a separation of fisheries and agriculture into different agencies and merged the agriculture research division with the DSIR Totokoitu Station in Titikaveka.

Immediately after his return from studies, he advanced to the position as Director of the Totokoitu Research Station and progressed the papaya export sector to New Zealand and other exportable fresh produce. 

During this time, he also introduced other new fruit and crop varieties.

In 1987, Dr Mat was awarded a government scholarship to undertake PhD studies at the University of Sydney, Australia where he graduated with a doctorate in agronomy agriculture in 1991. 

His thesis focused on mapping the spread of propyzamide and its metabolites in soils under drip irrigation systems.

The study was of great value to the Pacific region where heavy use of pesticides contaminants was occurring. 

It enabled countries including Cook Islands to have science based rules and policies to control and minimise pesticide contaminants in agriculture food.

Dr Mat’s work was well received by many agriculture industries in the Pacific and abroad. 

As a result, the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was introduced to the Cook Islands as one of the most comprehensive farmers programmes.

As Totokoitu Research Station director, Dr Mat assisted in developing of the Heat Treatment Force Air (HTFA) technology for the export of papaya to New Zealand. 

At the same time, Dr Mat’s research on fruit fly had expanded into other Pacific countries. 

In 1995, Dr Mat was recommended by government as an officer for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

At the FAO his work covered a total of 24 countries in the Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia regions, mainly in the areas of plant production, plant protection and capacity development. 

His support enabled national agricultural institutions to deliver on their five year priorities.

Dr Mat was instrumental in re-establishing the floriculture industry in the Pacific region and oversaw the growth of maire production in the Cook Islands from 1997–2008. 

He also led important efforts for agriculture production on atoll islands with limited soils. 

In 2011 he ended his tenure at FAO to take on the role of Head of the Ministry of Agriculture Cook Islands.

Dr Mat’s efforts were inspiring to the young agriculture enthusiasts in the Cook Islands and the Pacific region.

Many of his protégés became highly qualified specialists, successful commercial farmers, or practitioners in specific fields.

Considered a “living encyclopaedia”, Dr Mat is well known for his friendly demeanour and is an open and invaluable source of information to the nation. 

After serving as the Head of Ministry for eight years he retired but remained as a contractor, committed to continuing agriculture services and implementing projects on bee keeping and orchid management.

Vainepoto Michael Akava, British Empire Medal for services to the public service and the community.

Vainepoto Michael Akava, BEM was born in 1970 in Atiu. He is married with five children and four grandchildren.  

Akava’s early education was on the island of Atiu where he attended Atiu Primary School and St Joseph school. He completed his secondary school education at Atiu College. 

Vainepoto Michael Akava, British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to the public service and the community.20101604

He was a police officer on Rarotonga from 1992 to 2008 overseeing operations at the Police Station at Rarotonga International Airport. 

Shortly thereafter, Akava was deployed to the Solomon Islands as part of the Cook Islands police contingent under the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

During his tours he was well known among his RAMSI peers, police counterparts and Solomon Islanders for his cultural sensitivity, courage and negotiating skills, often defusing tense situations.

For his valued contributions he was awarded the Royal Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands Medal.  

While deployed to the Solomon Islands, Akava was promoted to the rank of Police Inspector.

Akava is also an active church member.

Born into the Roman Catholic Church he was chairman of the Nikao, Takuvaine and Enua Manu Catholic youth groups.

In 2009 he became a member of the Cook Islands Christian Church. He is currently the Church Pastor (Orometua) for Mauke Church (Ekalesia) having also served as the Orometua for Atiu Ekalesia Church (2015–2019) and Titikaveka Ekalesia Church (2014-2015). 

An accomplished dancer, Akava won Cook Islands National Dancer of the Year award five times in a row.

He served as team leader for the Mauke cultural group that competed in the national Te Maeva Nui dance festival. His talents also include composing, choreography and costume design. 

With a deep passion for sport, his sporting achievements include gaining a black belt tip for the Okinawa Karate club in Atiu.

He won the Round Rarotonga Road Race in 1989. He was also a member of the Mauke Sevens rugby team that competed in the Mitiaro Manea Games. 

Tekura-ite-ata Upoko, British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to the public service and the community.

Born in April 1940 on the island of Atiu, Tekura-ite-ata Upoko BEM, affectionately called Mama Tekura is a stalwart as both a public servant and a community leader.

Tekura-ite-ata Upoko, British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to the public service and the community. 20101603

Mama Tekura’s public service career began after completing her training at the Teachers Training College from 1957 to 1959 and taught at Atiu Primary School until her retirement in 1999.

During her retirement, she was placed on teaching relieving duties for 10 years.

Her involvement with the Cook Islands Christian Church on Atiu started in her childhood.

At the same time that she began her primary school teaching career, she became a Sunday School teacher.

Later Mama Tekura was promoted to be the Atiu Sunday School principal from 1998 to 2011.

She and her husband became deacons in the church in 1964 until their retirement in 2010 due to medical reasons.

Mama Tekura was also involved with the Woman’s Organisation both on the island and within the church. 

In 1960, she was introduced into the Atiu Boys’ Brigade as a warrant officer for the Team Section boys aged from five years to 11 years.

Mama Tekura faithfully served the company for a number of years before being promoted as Lieutenant In-Charge of the Team Section in 1990. She continued her service in the Atiu Boys’ Brigade until her retirement in 2010.


  • Comment Link The Gatermanns Tuesday, 20 October 2020 03:51 posted by The Gatermanns

    Kia orana Papatua Papatua, MBE
    congratulations to this special honor. But you have deserved it. You are the perfect representative of your Islands. We are very proud and happy to have known you over so many years.
    Hope to see you again next year,
    kia manuia,
    Reiner, Elisabeth & Silke Gatermann, Stockholm, Sweden

  • Comment Link Bruno TouAriki Monday, 19 October 2020 14:11 posted by Bruno TouAriki

    Congratgulations to all for your awesome work

  • Comment Link June Webb Sunday, 18 October 2020 17:25 posted by June Webb

    Congrats to Papatua Papatua n Matairangi Purea deserve this highest honour... God bless u both always... ❤️❤️

  • Comment Link Tapaeru Tautu Sunday, 18 October 2020 16:53 posted by Tapaeru Tautu

    Congratulations to the above people. Angaanga meitaki, tutaki meitaki. Praise the Lord! A special one kia koe e Aunty Tekura. Godbles

  • Comment Link Joysslyn Iorangi Sunday, 18 October 2020 15:04 posted by Joysslyn Iorangi

    Congratulations to my brother Papatua Put our lord first With out him everything is possible.Just remember all your family’s friends around the world they are so happy for you brother. Te rekareka nei matou ite akarongo e kua nou mai koe iteia taonga.
    Kia aka meitaki mai te Atua ia koe.I wish our parents was still alive.God Bless You today. All the way form
    New Zealand

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