A special Bank of Cook Islands Trade Day has been held in Rarotonga with the aim of getting Cook Islands products back on to the international market.
It was about supporting and uplifting businesses throughout the Islands as revenue collapsed during the difficult times of Covid-19 and the closure of international flights, which stopped the flow of tourists to the Cook Islands, an essential part of the economy.
Trade and Investment Port organiser Repeta Puna said the event featured “our friends and families from the pae noa or our outer island families of Rarotonga travelling here and bringing their products to sell".
Te Wharekura o Rakaumanga from Waikato members also displayed their haka talents to the 300-plus crowd.
It was also an opportunity for these young haka performers to learn about the concepts of haka and business or as kaiako and business entrepreneur Ora Kihi said, “providing for one’s family”. Kihi and his wife Leilani are teachers and haka exponents at Rakaumanga and also have a business associated with the Chiefs rugby team and other International cultural Innovations around the world to do with Māori culture.
The Trade day was an opportunity for both to teach their students how the business world and the world of Māori can work together and pay dividends.
Business and culture
“Business is an avenue for our students also and they may be successful in the business world, business ideas and structures such as what we do with the Chiefs and other business innovations. It shows off the world of Māori to a world that hungers for haka, that’s us. And so adding to that is business, which I like to call, ‘creating wealth for your family’”, Kihi said.
Due to continuing Covid restrictions, there were only three outer island businesses at the Trade Day. The other approximate 80 traders at the event were locals on the Island of Rarotonga selling hats, ukelele, taonga, and kai to name a few.
Matareaa Mita Soatini from the remote Penrhyn/Tongareva was selling hats and said: “When Covid hit us the government gave the subsidy and in our household, they did welfare packs from Internal Affairs,” Soatini said.
“When times got tough I was blessed to have the mamas here in Rarotonga buy my hats to keep me in business."
Grateful for help
Enua Totini, who lives in Rarotonga but is from Aitutak says he was thankful for the support shown by the government to sole traders like himself. He makes ukeleles by hand, each having its own unique shape and sound.
“We were glad to be part of the government help. It’s not a big business. Without the help we would not have survived - a lot of my friends and families had to stop their business,” Totini said.
In 2019,170,000 thousand people visited the Cook Islands but in March 2020, that source of revenue was cut off completely due to Covid-19.
But Kihi believes Rarotonga will take care of their own and bounce back, “I have seen it before. Just like us back home when things happened we mobilised as a people and sorted things out for the betterment of all in our areas.” Kihi said.
However, small businesses did suffer because they were the most vulnerable. “Some closed, some just closed shop but didn’t stop trading, some actually diversified and some survived,” Puna said.