School holidays Pukapuka-style

Saturday May 05, 2018 Written by Published in Education
Anna, Emma, Penia and Tangitane drinking nu. 18050401 Anna, Emma, Penia and Tangitane drinking nu. 18050401

Kids all around the Cook Islands were back at school this week after term break, but for most of them, memories of the school holidays will still be fresh in their minds.

The children of Pukapuka spent their school holidays camping on the motu, which they thoroughly enjoyed.

They spent two weeks gathering kaipea (small land crabs), fishing, swinging from the leaves of coconut trees, and weeding around the thatched homes.

The motu function as ecological food reserves and are closed for six months of the year. When they open, the fish are plentiful, the uto sweet, and the crabs abundant.

The motu have no solar electricity and no concrete homes, just thatched wale pola. Everyone, especially the kids, loves camping on the motu.

Motu Kotawa (Frigatebird Island) is collectively owned by the people of Tawa Lalo. It takes 20 minutes by motorboat or an hour walk and short swim along the fringed reef to get there.

Motu Kotawa has rich soil from guano, years of accumulated bird poop. Here, puka trees and pulaka (a dry-land taro) grow. The seabirds fill the islet with their cries.

“I love Motu Kotawa,” says five-year-old Tangitane. “But I like school too.”

Motu Ko is owned collectively by the people of Tawa Ngake, and the children boast about which motu is better.

“Motu Ko is better,” says 11-year-old Kalowia. “Because it is my motu.”

Motu Ko’s part of the lagoon is filled with a variety of fatty fish left to restock during six-month cycles.

Arm-long coconut crabs also scuttle around, but for the next three years Tawa Ngake has put a lahui (prohibition) on the gathering of coconut crabs, so the children enjoyed the small, scuttling kaipea instead.

Motu Ko also has the island’s only airport, a sandy runway completed in 1991. Over the school holidays most of the children did their morning chores and then spent the afternoons running around the airport and swimming in the lagoon.

By the time the holidays had finished, all the children had their baskets filled with stories from their camping adventures on the motu.

            - Amelia Borofsky

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