Punanga Reo fostering Cook Islands reo in NZ

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

It's Cook Islands Language Week and NZ-based Cook Island educators are working hard to keep their language alive in New Zealand homes.

Maarametua Teariki says pre-schoolers are the future of the Cook Island language and culture.

“We started the early childhood centres to teach our language and culture to our children because the language is not really being spoken in the home,” says the spokesperson of Te Punanga Reo o Te Tuareka o Manurewa.

The co-ordinator of the Cook Islands Educators Group agrees.  Tupou Manapori says the language is being passed on by young teachers with the support of elderly women and grandparents.

“The reason why the language is hardly spoken in the home is because many families choose to come to Aotearoa to learn the English way of life, and not hold on to their own language and traditions,” says Manapori.

The Cook Island language is currently taught at early childhood, high school and also tertiary level.  Manapori says they have been pushing to have the language taught in primary schools for decades.

“The language needs to be taught in early childhood centres, in primary schools, high schools, and tertiary institutions,” she says, “Because when our children leave the punanga reo they can't continue to learn the language as it isn't being taught at primary level.”

“Another issue we are experiencing is that our New Zealand-born pre-school teachers in Auckland who are coming into our early childhood centres do not know our language,” says Teariki, “So at our school we try to encourage New Zealand-born teachers to speak their mother tongue daily.”

Manapori says the people of the Cook Islands need to unite and follow the Māori model of total immersion to ensure the language lives on in generations to come.