Learning Traditional Ways of the Past in Cook Islands

A couple of months ago The Cook Islands News ran an article written by Katrina Tanirau that I have been meaning to share. It was about how there was no better place for future generations of Cook Islanders to learn about traditional cultural practices than at the Highland Paradise Cultural Center- the 600 year-old village site that was home to the Tinomana tribe.

Nearly 3000 children have had the joy of competing in the Highland Paradise Cultural Competition since its inception nine years ago. Tutu Pirangi said they were proud to host the ninth annual school cultural competition at Highland Paradise – Maungaroa. “When we initiated this competition, our aim was to create a passion for our culture, a way of engaging our children in cultural practices in the most authentic and traditional way,” Pirangi said. “This competition is an integral part of our overall vision to preserve and showcase our culture to ensure it is never forgotten.”

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The different categories of the competition were: Tau Umu, Rutu Pau, Rangaranga, Taki Tua, Ko Akari, Ute and Akatangi Ukarere. For some of the students, Pirangi said, “It’s probably the only opportunity that they will have to prepare an umu on their own. It’s a fun interactive way for them to learn.”

Grandfather and mataiapo Danny Mataroa said when children participate in the competition, they get to know each other and learn about traditional ways, while treasuring the experience. “Hopefully later when they go overseas they will return because of their love for Cook Islands culture,” Mataroa said. “Sometimes we get so churchy, that we become so strict on our kids and limit them from mixing with other kids that they just want to leave the island when they’re older.”

Principal of Papaaroa School June Hosea said it is events like this that encourage the students to learn and make use of traditional skills. “If it wasn’t for this event, I don’t think we would be motivated to do this,” Hosea said.“The kids love it, learning how to weave and husk a coconut – some have never husked one.”

Hosea also added, “Because of Covid it’s helped us realize we need to get back to our knowledge and it is events like this that encourage our children to do just that. I’m very happy the kids are participating in this.”

Tutu Pirangi expressed gratitude to their sponsors for their continued support – Primefoods, Rangi and Mataamua Taru, Cook Islands Tourism, Ministry of Cultural Development, Solomon and Tuakana Pirangi, Eddie and E Matike Dance team, Danny Mataroa and their judges.

Most of all they are grateful for the long partnership with the schools, because without them there would be no competition. “We thank them for their foresight and commitment and for including the competition in their programmes each year,” Pirangi said. “We understand this can be a challenge for the schools and we therefore seek that Cook Islands culture be incorporated into our Cook Islands schools’ curriculum – so that Cook Islands culture isn’t just extracurricular but a core part of learning.”

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