’Avaiki or Kuki Airani? Debate ‘very much alive’

Saturday July 20, 2019 Written by Published in Culture

Cook Islanders have nominated some of their favourite Maori names for this country.


The Ui Ariki has said it will consider a new name to replace the synthetic name, Kuki Airani. Any new name would sit alongside the English name, Cook Islands.

The Cook Islands News conducted an (entirely unscientific) Facebook poll, inviting people to indicate which names they thought best represented the nation.

The frontrunner yesterday, when the poll ended, was ‘Avaiki Roa. With 60 votes, it was ahead of ‘Avaiki on 25. Nuku Tere and Ara Enua received fewer votes.

But outweighing any of those individual alternatives was a strong voice from those who said we should stick with Kuki Airani.

Culture Minister Georgie Angene had hoped to meet with the Ui Ariki yesterday, but no meeting has yet been scheduled to discuss the proposed name change.

Fe’ena Buchanan is one person who supports the name ‘Avaiki.

“Not only is it a beautiful name, it’s how we are as a nation, it shows our roots and where we come from. Avaiki is a legendary land where Pacific people come from, it speaks well for us as a pacific nation, not a colonial one; it represents us as indigenous people and connects pacific island nations.”

Of those who preferred to keep the existing synthetic name, some said there were bigger issues that the country faces. Some were unimpressed by the alternatives and said although Kuki Airani was a coined Maori word, just to leave it be.

The meeting that was tentatively scheduled yesterday with Minister George Angene and Clerk of the House of Ariki  Tupuna Rakanui did not go ahead, and Rakanui said the name change was not discussed yesterday.

“Although it is a matter that’s very much alive,” he added.

The water chlorination project and the Muri waste treatment project were discussed at yesterday’s meeting.

Paul Napa said it would be almost impossible to find a new name Maori name that represented all 15 islands. “My question is how we can now change it to anything correctly ‘Maori’ for our nation of separate Islands, only joined together by some cultural similarities but also for colonial administration convenience in the late 19th century.

“So I am a ‘leave it’ person as I don’t like any of the new names offered.”

The nation was named after British explorer James Cook who arrived to the islands in the 1700s.

A former British protectorate, the Cook Islands came under New Zealand's jurisdiction until becoming a self-governing nation in 1965; it remains in free association with New Zealand.

The name was enacted in the Cook Islands Act 1915 and the Constitution, a referendum to change the country’s name, flag and national anthem in 1994 was defeated.

Another defender of the existing name was Tere Carr, who called for ‘no change’.

“The House of Ariki role is to protect our people language and traditional customs, that is, focus on legislation of ancient Native customs to protect us from white man interpretations, ensuring real consultation with tangata enua before government poisons us with chemicals,” Carr said. “These are more important than a name change that destroys over 100 years of history, songs and identity ... for what? No improvement to life.”

Another person wrote: “Avaiki is a common historical for all of Polynesia, in the past, our spiritual homeland; so how can one Polynesian nation claim it for itself? But we have no other collective name as it was a colonial creation of boundary making without regard for our ‘discovered’ people's living here for centuries.”

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