Cook Island Reo on a comeback from being endangered

By Herewini Waikato

It's Cook Islands Language Week and Te Meava Nui, a Cook Islands cultural festival is seen as a way of helping young people celebrate and retain Cook Island Māori.

The language is endangered both in the islands and also in New Zealand where less than 20 per cent of Cook Island youth speak their native tongue.

Te Maeva Nui 2022 has just started in Rarotonga and runs for a whole week.

International Day, the first concert, is about the different cultures that live on the island from Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and others who perform their language, culture, and traditions.

However, other than the beautiful performances, Te Maeva Nui is a platform for the retention of the endangered Cook Island language.

The loss of language is a concern," national identity director Ngatuaine Maui says. And Social Development Ministry secretary Anthony Turua says, "All of us are way behind in our language".

Losing traditional words

Tonight is the International Night of the Te Maeva Nui Festival where different ethnic groups in Rarotonga perform. This is also a platform to help to grow foster and protect the Cook Island language.

 "My concern is the loss of the originality of translation to our generation - that’s the gap," Turua says.

And Maui is concerned the reo may lose richness because the old words their tupuna once used are not being used today.

Te Maeva Nui is also a week-long annual national culture and dance event held each year to celebrate the August 4 birthday of the Cook Islands as an independent nation.
Turua says work is underway on a Cook Islands reo app.

“The hope is it will be able to translate words from English to Cook Island Māori and back and to share both traditional and contemporary words.

"It's just a balance to sustain our language. Our next project is not to reinvent the wheel but to be a strategy that is innovative and effective and reaches our youth."

Teach te reo to the young

He is also encouraging the older generation in the Cook Islands and in New Zealand and Australia to continue teaching the language to their younger generations.

Te Pā o Rakaihautu, Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao and Te Wharekura o Rakaumanga represent Aotearoa at Te Maeva Nui 2022


Three groups from New Zealand are at support Te Maeva Nui this year: Tūhourangi Ngāti Wahiao from Rotorua, Te Wharekura o Rakaumanga from Rāhui Pōkekai and Te Pā o Rakaihautu from Christchurch.

"There are many treasures connecting our ancestors and our stories to these islands, Te Mauri Kingi from the Kapa of Tūhourangi Ngāti Wahiao says. “Our connections and coming together as one are the beauty of being here and to help in the retention of the language we are more than ready to support.”

National identity director Ngatuaine Maui says she loved the kapahaka groups this year and every year invited groups wow the crowds.

Brighter future

"They came out very strong tonight - all Māori cultural dancers - and there were so many beautiful songs and the signing was amazing, and the haka was very powerful," she says.
This Cook Island language week has sustainability as its theme, which is sorely needed as Unesco has deemed the language endangered.  

But Maui says It’s not a lost cause.

“There is a lot of hope and I believe if you as an individual, like me, teach our children how to speak Māori - if everyone did that, then we have a brighter future for our te reo,” she says.