From the booming pulse of the pa’u mango drums to the grunting pace of the imene-tuki, the pace and passion that sums up Cook Islands cultural performance made for an excitement opening start to the week of cultural events ahead.
It was Vaka Puaikura providing the opening vibe in the reo tupuna section, formerly called the pe’e or chants but now given a more inclusive name to cover the Pa Enua Tokerau.
Master composer Ka-ti Unuia selected the Arapo Tangaroa phase of the moon, which for key crops needs planting to be timed for low or high tides to ensure a more abundant harvest.
Tuning and choreography linked back to the creative influence of Epheraima Taokia and the earthy hues in costumes designed by Oki Teokoitu were symbolic of the natural elements of land and sea.
And of course the Arapo Tangaroa story would not be complete without a focus on the central character – Tangaroa, the supreme god in the Polynesian deity tree. His depiction was almost like a scene from the movie Avatar, and a fitting hint at the standard of performance to follow.
Costumed in ‘Tongareva blue’, Penrhyn’s ute performance featured the iconic singing talents of its people focussed on the harvesting of lagoon resources aligned to the arapo theme, as composed and tuned by Willie John, whose moko Tautaitini Andrew supported the design of the stunning and simple costumes which highlighted mother ocean and the prized pipi oyster pearl shells.
Mangaia’s kapa rima, or action song, featured a rare and special opening vivo nose flute solo led by a young performer and took the audience on a special journey into the island’s history.
Composer Papatua Papatua dedicated this work to the late Mrs Inangaro Papatua, who had contributed towards but passed away before the debut public performance of the ‘momoke’, an albino woman whose extraordinary beauty, strength and love took her from the underworld – known as Vari, another phase of the moon calendar – to life amongst humans, resulting in the beauty of her descendants today.
Atiu’s pona vaito style of colours and comic delivery won hearts and screams of laughter from the audience as the abundance of the Arapo Vari phase of the moon was put to song in an original ute composition by Mama Pati Kaiaruna.
Following that Rakahanga’s creative heavyweights, all from the Samson clan, literally brought stars to the stage in orange and black, designed by Tautape and Rosa Samson.
There was no escaping the distinctive beats of Tapuahua, layered by ura pau composers Tuteru, Tautape and Jacob Samson with some delicious riffs that had many mental hips swinging into gear.
The reo tupuna from Mitiaro took its cue from the Arapo o Angararo, around the growth and development of the moon. Composer Makara Murare linked it to the creation and sharing of human knowledge, with a focus on Mitiaro rituals and language.
The intricate shell work and detail of Mauke’s kapa rima performance had the audience enthralled, with composer Uriaau George taking inspiration from the Arapo Marangi, when food crops planted at this time will reach their best harvest.
Titikaveka MP Selina Napa was a standout star in Takitumu’s red and green shout-out to the Arapo Turu in their ute rendition of the well-known Taakura legend. Composed by Mauri Toa, the appearance of ‘Taakura’ herself, weaving through the dancers as the item ended, revived the popular urban myth for locals.
Nikao’s kapa rima focus on te Arapo o te Ika Mu, a local delicacy, was composed by Teata Moeara and served up a colourful treat for the eyes before Tupapa oire brought the house down in the host village to Te Maeva Nui with an unforgettable ura pau drum dance performance.
All that, and only on the first night!
- Lisa Williams-Lahari