Cook Island Māori living abroad work hard to keep their culture alive

By Wepiha Te Kanawa

With more Cook Island Māori living overseas rather than in the islands, many Rarotonga locals are concerned about the survival of their culture. However Cook Islanders living abroad have found a way to keep it alive.

The culture here might look like it's thriving, but this group from Perth says it's hard to keep their cultural connections strong.

Atinata Tautu says, “In Australia it's a little harder, because here the culture is around you all the time it's a given, you do it, you live it, you breath it. Where as in Australia if you want to learn the culture, you have to go out and find it, you have to commit to a group you have to commit to a community.”

That's exactly what they've done and Tutai Pakitoa-Upu says, “It's very important for us, especially my husband to teach our kids overseas our culture to keep it alive, and to keep it going hopefully forever in Western Australia.”

Atinata Tautu says, “A lot of them don't speak the language, don't understand the language, but like myself we can sing the language.”

A few minutes down the road, Rakahanga is also experiencing the same challenges.

Rakahanga says, “I truly believe the children especially in Aotearoa are losing their culture, and it's one of the reasons why I joined Te Maeva Nui or the Rakahanga dance group, to encourage my daughter to get more involved in culture.”

Another member of the group, Hogan Oltaches says, “I think it's because our parents are taking back to New Zealand for a better upbringing, but I think the thing that's helping us hold onto that culture, is through culture, is through singing and songs, it's through going to church and its being surrounded by all our elders and stuff like that.”

One Ngāpuhi descendent is taking full advantage of the Cook Island culture.

Renee Winter says, “I feel though I'm Māori, I feel that our roots and connections still come back to the Cook Islands, and I really acknowledge our pacific people because we did come through the pacific and for me it is about reconnecting back and back further, I'm able to understand the connections with the canoes coming into Aotearoa with Takitimu, Tainui and Kupe so that's where I descend from. So I'm able to have broader knowledge and to be here and also understand the reo as well, but they talk really fast so I'm like huh? Almost like rapping Te Reo, so it's been a cool experience and I just love embracing this culture but I love embracing all cultures but this is my favourite.”

It's not just dancing that's bringing the community together.

Tiavare Cuturs says, “Actually its pretty good seeing everybody coming back for the 50 years because the 50 years this year is a pretty big year for use Cook Islanders and from outer islands coming in.”

With the culture being preserved by dance and sport, many locals believe it will last.