Forty years ago sitting in a school hall, I heard the word Cook Islanders announced and made my way to the Headmasters Office.
There I got the forms and signed up for a trip run by the then Ministry of Maori and Pacific Affairs.
That weekend mum and dad dropped me off at the bus depot in town and I boarded a bus full of strangers – though we were all Cook Islanders from all over Auckland.
That next week would be life changing as I better understood our connection with New Zealand Maori staying at Pakirikiri Marae Te Hono ki Rarotonga in Whangara, the story of Paikea, and learning that Paikea actually left from Ma‘uke to New Zealand and then to Whangara and then home.
What birthed in that week was not only a deeper sense of my own identity and connection with New Zealand Maori and our ability to flourish as Cook Islanders living in Aotearoa, but more that our Metua, our Vouvou, were the carriers and creators of knowledge and pathways.
Papa Jim Puia was one of those people, a lovely papa who lived in Anglesea St, just over from where we lived in Arthur St in Ponsonby.
And as I think of the taonga he left with me I still recall and draw upon his words when times are tough and I can still hear his voice from time to time. Papa Crummer who was working at the Ministry at the time, led the team, as did his young apprentice Adrian Manarangi.
These names have stuck with me though it has been 40 years because that’s what legacy and truth does. It stays, it sits in our bones and we remember when there is so much we forget.
We remember the words that resonate and that continue to mould and shape us.
We remember words of those that built us up and made us who we are today and none more than the words of our parents; I spoke with mine yesterday and as we spoke I couldn’t help but notice their eyes a little more tired and lines deepened, though love filled the room as we spoke of keeping safe and keeping Covid out of our beautiful paradise – though ironically it is Covid that now keeps us apart.
Their voice matters too, I thought, the voice of our iti tangata. The voice of those who don’t own airlines, or propose to open one, or the voice of those who don’t own resorts or won’t get on the New Zealand news and ask for the borders to be opened.
The voice of those who can’t get on Facebook or social media, and sit there hoping that their silent voice is being heard and captures their hopes and aspirations too.
They are the voice of those most at risk, most vulnerable and most likely to die should this terrible pandemic arrive on our shores.
I don’t envy those at the decision-making table trying with each challenge to strike the balance between health and economy, knowing that you have no economy if you have a health crisis.
Scripture says where your treasure is their heart is also. If there is one thing this pandemic has done is it has exposed where our heart sits and where actually our treasure is.
What our lives were built upon now that the storm has washed at our lives foundations. Attitudes, kind and unkind, the good the bad and ugly brought to the surface.
I have been exposed by this, and had to really look again at my heart and the things in it and lean into my faith to be a better human being, better father, husband and friend.
Leaning also on the words of those that have shaped my life, the words that have shaped our lives, Metua and Vouvou, our Parents, our Grandparents and friends that have gifted us words of wisdom that still resonate today.
In this time of crisis, can we also consider, what are they saying to us today, what wisdom do they still impart to us today, as we search for wisdom and grapple with this global epidemic together.
And today, our hearts reach out in prayer to our Papa Joe Williams and his wife and family a Rangatira, Metua Tane and Vouvou that has given our country so much.