It is the Cook Islands’ most iconic cultural event.
But this week, it brought Pacific people in their thousands to a little-known sports stadium in East Auckland.
Te Maeva Nui expanded it reach to New Zealand, and all were caught up in the magic that is Te Maeva Nui.
This week, Cook Islands is being represented internationally from the l Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards in Wellington, to Te Maeva Nui and it’s opening black-tie Vaine Rangatira awards in Auckland, to the massive Edinburgh Tattoo in Sydney, to the rugby league World Cup Nines across town.
Performers from the Cook Islands National Arts Theatre flew into Sydney on an Australian Air Force Globemaster cargo plane this week, for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo’s Australia return at the ANZ Stadium.
For the Sydney showcase, the group of 25 performed a traditional set including Ura, the ritual performed by women dancers who move their bodies to tell a story, accompanied by intense rhythms from the drums. Amongst them were Teuira Napa, who was Miss South Pacific 2013, Reihana Wiki Koteka, who is reigning Miss Cook Islands.
Half an hour across Sydney, the Cook Islands Rugby League Nines team triumphed over Tonga, sending Cook Islands supporters through the roof with pride.
In New Zealand, the Aotearoa New Zealand Te Maeva Nui chair says it was important to open with an uplifting black tie event, the Vaine Rangatira awards celebrating women leaders.
Those admitted to the Hall of Fame included Mama Tuki Wright, Tupou Manapori, Rosie Blake, Caren Rangi, Fanaura Kingstone, Mabel Burt, and Ngamau Munokoa.
Among the guests were Prime Minister Henry Puna, Culture Minister George Maggie, and Queen’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters.
Noo Vaevae Pare, longtime music producer and events manager, says the intent of the Vaine Rangatira awards, a night of homage to 150 women whittled down from a list of more than 500 nominations, was to honour those who are normally the invisible backbone to anything that happens in the Cook Islands communities.
"Having the awards before Te Maeva Nui was to give a 'lift' to the usual festivities, and acknowledge our mamas, our grandmothers, those who've been there for us for many, many years," he says.
It hasn’t been easy, especially finding funds, says Pare. With the cost estimated at around $150,000 for the three nights, he and other organisers are welcoming sponsorship partners and supporters.
He is confident that boost will come as Te Maeva Nui captures the imagination of those missing the sights and sounds of the Cook Islands event. They can now enjoy the show every two years in New Zealand – and soon, Australia.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time for something like this to happen. For my part, it's all about the music, but for all of us on the board as well, it’s about our young children, and keeping them inspired by our culture.
From Te Tauranga Vananga in Rarotonga, head of Ministry Antony Turua says he's pleased to see the positive response and turnout for the Auckland event.
“The value added from cultural tourism when you look at how our people strengthen their identity as Cook Islanders, no matter where they are, is amazing to see,” says Turua.
Exporting Te Maeva Nui concept to Australia and New Zealand’s Cook Islands communities has been a three-year work-in-progress, and the ministry has seconded three staff to Auckland to provide technical support and logistics.
Next month Melbourne will host Te Maeva Nui Australia festival, while the national CINAT group wraps up this weekend in Sydney at the Edinburgh Tattoo Festival.
“It's a lot of work for the parents and the children,” says Pare, “not just the volunteers who have all got other jobs and work to do.”
"These kids and their parents invest a lot of their time and belief into this. We're investing in the platform of Te Maeva Nui, but they are putting in all the practice after school, after jobs – making time and resources available to make it all come together.”