However, it soon relaxed into festive mode for Te Maeva Nui awards, ending with an enormous feast outside the National Auditorium for all who attended.
Distinguished guests, including members of the Religious Advisory Council, House of Ariki president Tou Travel, MPs and Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters and his wife Tuaine were welcomed into the auditorium under a guard of honour formed by uniformed organisations, and a traditional welcome by George Ngapare.
A special turou (welcome) was set aside for deputy prime minister Teariki Heather by the Vaka Puaikura Te Maeva Nui team, who lifted him aloft on their shoulders on a paata (ceremonial chair). After opening prayers, a Biblical message, the national anthem, and flag raising by Boys Brigade members, the audience showed their pride in the country with a joyful rendition of 15 Stars of the Cook Islands.
Marsters and wife Tuaine happily showed off their heritage dancing for Palmerston island, while everyone else in attendance got their turn to dance through each of the Cook Islands, in a powerful micro-nationalist show of individual island pride.
Deputy prime minister Heather praised God for establishing the nation, and acknowledged the wisdom of past leaders. He also reminded the audience not to forget those who served the nation, heeding the call to service in World War One, carrying the Cook Islands flag with them.
Heather joked that the previous night had been the first evening he had worn red to Te Maeva Nui performances, because it was the colour of his home village, Arorangi.
“Don’t get us wrong, we were not trying to influence the judges, but (we’re wearing red) because we love where we come from”, he said to a loud applause from Vaka Puaikura residents in the audience.
His speech later took a political turn when he mentioned, “the many great works that have been carried out, and the many accomplishments that have been achieved over the last few years of this government tenure.”
Heather thanked traditional leaders for providing the conventions and unity of Cook Islands communities that were crucial to the fabric of the country’s society.
He praised the president of the House of Ariki and their members for their assistance in helping people support and understand the Marae Moana vision, which had since been passed into law.
“This is an important foundation milestone for this country that will keep providing food to our people for all ages.”
Moving to infrastructure projects, Heather said the solar energy project was on track to provide 24 hour electricity to the outer islands.
“The northern group is now complete and I ask the southern group to wait just a little bit longer for yours. And for the tar sealing of the roads in the outer islands so that you don’t have to keep eating dust every day.”
He paid respect “to the non-government organisations that had toiled hard in their chosen field to better the lives of our people.”
“In recognising their hard work the government has allocated $800,000 to assist their work in the areas of gender development of women and men, children and youth, mental health, domestic violence in homes and families, and the elderly and disabled for their hardship.”
The government was continuing in its efforts to make it easier and rewarding to do business in this country, he added.
“The government actioned the tax amnesty as an initiative to assist those businesses who have fallen on hard times, to recover and continue to provide their employees and their families, jobs for their livelihoods.”.
Heather said the recent boost minimum wage had provided “that little bit extra” to make life easier for every worker.
“And for our families, the government has assumed the role of the parent in taking care of his family, which is the people of the Cook Islands”, he said.
Heather continued to laud the efforts of government for each of the country’s citizens.
“May these good deeds show you what government has done, is doing, and intends to do for you in the future.
“Let this also prove that you are always in the thoughts of your government. Those of us living in the Cook Islands, those living overseas, and those in the far-flung corners of the world.
“Wherever you may be in this world, let this parable from the island of Mangaia be something for all of us to ponder upon.
Referring to the food laid on for those attending the day’s celebrations, Heather said: “As you feast, cast your thoughts to those back home, or to those who are less fortunate.”