500 Cook Island soldiers remembered in exhibition

By Numia Ponika-Rangi

Five hundred Cook Islands soldiers will be honoured through an exhibition showing their contribution and sacrifices as they fought alongside Māori of the Pioneer Battalion in the WWI campaign.

The exhibition presents untold stories and painful memories for the Rarotongan Community of Auckland who have come together to remember and honour their ancestors.

Not an idle hand in sight as the Cook Islands Creative Mamas prepare for this very auspicious event.

Organiser, Florence Syme-Buchanan says, “The kaupapa of the exhibition is to honour our tīpuna who went to war. Five hundred of them went to WWI all of them were from the Cook Islands.”

Although the exhibition is to honour their ancestors, painful stories were uncovered about all 500 of them being afflicted with illness, disease and being hospitalised.

Syme-Buchanan says, “Malaria, tuberculosis, pneumonia, measles.  Just a whole list of illnesses because they were unprepared.”

It's hoped that this exhibition will open the eyes of the Cook Island and Māori youth, to encourage them to learn the connection between two cultures since WWI.

“Our soldiers served in the New Zealand Māori Pioneer Battalion, so tonight at our exhibition we want to acknowledge that,” says Syme-Buchanan.

The exhibition opens tonight at the Māngere Arts Centre, Ngā Tohu o Uenuku.