Miss Cook Islands NZ helps contestants embrace culture away from the islands

By Jessica Tyson

The new winners of Miss Cook Islands New Zealand 2019 say the competition has provided them a way to celebrate their culture despite being so far from the islands. Now they’re urging other Cook Islanders living in New Zealand to embrace the culture.

The overall winner at the competition held over the weekend was 19-year-old Terito-o-Ngakura Story of Akatokamanava (Mauke). First-runner-up was Rebecca Enuake, 18, of Mangaia and second-runner-up was Esther Pekepo of Takitimu.

Story was born in the Cook Islands before moving to Aotearoa. She is now studying a degree in marine science at the University of Auckland.

“I was hoping to come here for a better education, to return in order to benefit my people, she says.

“By pursuing a degree in marine science, an aspiration of mine [is] to be able to help assist, protect and rehabilitate the majority of marine species as well as our other natural resources.”

Enuake was born in Aotearoa and is studying early childhood education at Auckland University of Technology.

“My reasoning in studying this particular field is because I have a passion for young children’s development and the impact of growing up in a Cook Island-based early childcare centre, Kia Orana Punanga Reo.”

As a teacher, she hopes to teach children about the Cook Island cultures.

“When they transition from pre-school to primary and intermediate, that’s when our culture kind of lacks and I hope I could encourage to put in place Cook Island language and our dancing.”

Rebecca Enuake, Pa Marie Upokotini Ariki (Patron), Terito-o-Ngakura Story, Abigail Temu Haurua (president) and Esther Pekepo. Source: File

Pepeko was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2011 and as a cancer survivor, she hopes to use her story to inspire others.

”I knocked on the door of death in the Chirstmas of 2014 when I had my bone marrow transplant. My experience shaped my outlook on life and I have had to dig deeper than I ever thought possible to survive, she says.

“I'd like to be a beacon of someone who [has] been through that experience and to utilise that experience as a form of encouragement.”

The latest research by Stats NZ show just over 60,000 Cook Island Māori live in New Zealand compared to around 17,000 living in the Cook Islands.

The girls say more support is needed to help Cook Islanders living in Aotearoa to embrace the culture.

“At the university, they do have Cook Island classes where you can go and learn about Cook Island, and I see a lot of groups where they learn Cook Island dancing. So it is out there, but it needs to be more advertised and highlighted,” says Story.

Pepeko says there are other ways of embracing the culture by getting involved in the annual Te Maeva Nui festival and dance classes.

The contestants of the pageant were judged in pareu tie, talent, evening mu’umu’u gown and stage interview.

Miss Cook Islands New Zealand 2019 Results:

Maine Kuki Airani Niu Tireni 2019: Te-Rito Story

Maine Tapairu: Rebecca Enuakea

Maine Purotu: Esther Pekepo

Main Categories:

Miss Stage Interview
Esther Pekepo (Vaka Takitumu)

Miss Evening Muu'muu
Rebecca Enuake (Enua Mangaia)

Miss Talent
Te-Rito Story (Mauke)

Miss Pareu Tie
Te-Rito Story (Mauke)

Special Awards:

Miss Photogenic: Rebecca Enuake (Mangaia)

Miss Personality: Esther Pekepo (Vaka Takitumu)

Miss Deportment: Vogue Ponini Pilisi (Enuamanu/Atiu)


Miss President Award - Leadership:
Vogue Ponini Pilisi (Enuamanu)

Miss Patrons Award Compassion:
Esther Pekepo (Vaka Takitumu)

Committee Award - Community Services
Kimberly Taoro (Vaka Puaikura)

Heritage Awards:

Miss Heritage: Te Rito Story (Mauke)

Miss Tiare: Kimberly Taoro (Puaikura)

Miss Maire Award: Vogue Pilisi (Atiu)