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Reflections from Tongareva Henua

Monday August 10, 2015 Written by Published in Culture
Armstrong Marsters winner of the 50th Celebrations Tongareva Idol contest, sings up a storm. Marsters will represent the island at the next Cook Islands Idol. PHOTO: Vaine Wichman. Armstrong Marsters winner of the 50th Celebrations Tongareva Idol contest, sings up a storm. Marsters will represent the island at the next Cook Islands Idol. PHOTO: Vaine Wichman.

Vaine Wichman has worked extensively throughout the Cook Islands as a development economist. She began writing these columns at the request of women and men asking her to explain the working of their economy. Views in this column are Vaine’s.



On Tuesday this week, Tongareva Henua celebrated our 50th self-government achievements with dignity, unity and laughter, and a splash of nostalgia.

We took the island barge, decorated and filled with Omoka residents, to Te Tautua in the morning to proudly raise the flag and sing our love for our nation through the national anthem ‘te Atua mou e’.

Then after visits to our elderly in the homes and refreshments, we journeyed back to Omoka with our Te Tautua families to raise, sing our anthem again (with more gusto) and visit our homebound elderly. We also celebrated with the help of a string band, song quest, and dancer of the year competition our love of life, of God and the many, many blessings He has bestowed on Tongareva and the people of the Cook Islands. Then we had a feast. Be warned the Tongareva Tere apologies ahead of your return, if you find a pig or two missing from your farm!

Papa Saitu Marsters, being the only councillor on the island, was also our stand-in Government Representative and relayed the messages from our mayor and councillors and Member pf Parliament in Rarotonga.

We all looked back 50 years and stories and memories flowed. Some of us who were celebrating, hadn’t yet been born before the Cook Islands became self-governing. For the older ones, we wondered what is must have been like back then with no electricity and water tanks, and no island barge to make the crossing for a whole village, or even a chance for island-wide feasting and celebrating.

I thought of my grandmother Reremata. She was my age now, back then, an early 50s grandmother, with grown children  working in the local island government or national government system. Working with the values she instilled in them. To work hard and honestly to bring home goodness for family and island.

I imagine her witnessing the first flag-raising on the island and the singing of the anthem (‘God save our Queen’), and I wondered at the level of community hype and activity to get every celebration detail down to island standard and protocol.

I compared her time with our preparations today. The men fishing and hunting to fill our umu. Women preparing atoll delicacies, flowers for ‘sei’ and for decorations, petrol put aside for the return lagoon crossing, prizes dutifully sealed in envelopes for the categories to compete for. And I’m sure that on Tuesday a lot of us prayed with gratitude to our God for the lives of our ancestors who raised that first flag of self-governance. I prayed thanksgiving to my grandmother and grandfather for leaving me behind a house that I can call home while serving here.

Lately we’ve heard a lot of radio noise from Rarotonga and central agencies about the worthlessness of our islands, especially in the Northern Cook Islands.

This sad Raro-centric view, suggesting that tourism is the reason we eat bread slaps of unquestioned arrogance and external text book thinking. Rash pokes that insinuate we should be grateful for what we get, almost equate us with the animals we feed daily out here.

We are 50 years old now, not five. When you are 50 you reflect what you have done, and what remains to be done while you have a few more years of energy to do so. Before you leave everything in the hands of those you have instilled with values to take up, look after and grow. Like my grandparents leaving this almost-100-year-old homestead for me and family to restore and cherish and to house our children before the onslaught of sea level rising claims it sometime in the amazing unpredictable future.

Forgive my strong stand in this column. But the tired rhetoric of neoclassic-schooled economists, who advocate that the market never fails, may need to go back to school. A growing economic movement is rewriting Keynesian economic theory, as the effects of climate change and global poverty establish significance in socio-economic structures of every country on planet Earth.

With respect I relay a note from our national government offices advising Tongareva of the amount of money spent on bringing our tere to Rarotonga to participate in our special Maeva Maire Nui.

With respect I took the underlying message in the text, to be thankful we got a ‘free ride’. Since moving back to the island of my dad’s birth, I must say I’ve come to realise how much interdependence has to be included in the new economic theory coming out of the ecological economics discipline. I get it every day here, when an aunt, cousin or niece rocks up to give me a free drink or ride, or petrol or sei, or meal, because the boat hasn’t arrived yet with mine.

My grandmother always said ‘akono ia te taeake ka tae mai ki to taua kainga pepe, kare koe kite I te ra, kare a’au, ka angai mai te ra tangata iakoe’ (look after the person that comes to your home my child, you don’t know the day, (when) you have nothing, that person will feed you).

E te ra e......HI!

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