The Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna officially opened Te Maeva Nui 2018 late last week calling it a time to “reignite national pride by celebrating our oneness and our achievements”. Te Maeva Nui is the biggest annual cultural festival that takes place on Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Te Maeva Nui means “The Big Celebration,” and unites all the islands in one huge celebration of self-government and independence.
The Cook Islands gained full independence on August 4, 1965, becoming a state in free association with New Zealand. To honor the occasion, the government launched a week-long ‘Constitution Celebration.’ In the 1970s and 1980s the event took on a more political tone with songs and dances composed for the political party in power. In the 1990s the Ministry of Cultural Development created themes for the event.
During this week-long festival, locals exhibit their food, music, and dance. The preparation starts in June and till August thousands of people create gorgeous decorations and amazing costumes. Float parades, choir competitions, and lots of local food are all part of this event.
According to Shaun Bamber, who writes for the Cook Islands News, the festival opened on Friday at Avarua’s Constitution Park in front of a large crowd of special guests and dignitaries, including Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters and new cabinet ministers Robert Tapaitau, Rose Brown and George Maggie.
Puna addressed the crowd stating, “Having just come through the June general elections, let us please put aside our political differences and admit that we share this fantastic country of ours, our place, even though it may only be considered by some as a little dot on the world map. Nevertheless, it is our.”
He added, “Let us therefore celebrate our history, the wisdom in determining our traditions, including the acceptance of Christianity, and in reflecting on our past, let us join together to build a vibrant future. Yes, let’s make it happen.”
Earlier, Puna began his official Te Maeva Nui opening speech by congratulating the Cook Islands cultural team that traveled to Hawaii in June to represent the country at the Polynesian Cultural Center there. “The team represented our country with pride and distinction,” he said.
And with so many from the pa enua (foreign lands) having journeyed to Rarotonga for Te Maeva Nui this year, Puna also acknowledged that “we are especially blessed this year to have our brothers and sisters from our pa enua, who have joined us in Rarotonga for this celebration”. “I have to say, that your being here makes this celebration even more special and complete, and we can call this a truly national celebration,” he said.
For 2018, the theme ‘Te au Arapo o Toku Matakeinanga‘ means ‘The Traditional Calendars of My Ancestors’ promises to ignite the imagination. The theme is about arapo which translates as the path of the night or moon. The traditional Polynesian calendar relies on the moon rather than the sun to mark time.
The theme will challenge all Cook Islanders to do some research. They will need to talk to their elders of the community and find out the traditional calendars of their island. The process of researching the theme creates the cultural connection and each island will have their own way of representing this in their performances.
The festival will run until August 4. Click here to visit the Ministry of Cultural Developments’ Website for photos and information regarding this year’s events.