Cook Islands Tivaivai Exhibition

A few weeks ago journalist, Melina Etches, wrote an article for the Cook Islands News about how an “exceptional” and large exhibition of stunning and unique Cook Islands styled tivaivai, drew many visitors through the doors of the Ruatoka Hall.

Tivaivai is a form of artistic quilting traditionally done by Polynesian women. The word literally means ‘patches’. They are valuable in ritual exchanges which mark family ‘life’ events, and other gifting events which draw people together through family and social networks.  Tivaivai mark and recall these events through their patterns and convey ideas about place, culture and history.  Tivaivai are steeped with social and cultural importance.

People who attended the show were dazzled by the vibrant colours of patterns and detailed unique designs, exclamations of “amazing, beautiful, breath taking…” were heard throughout the hall. There were some who were simply speechless.

“If I could stay the night in here with all this tivaivai, I’d feel like a queen,” said one of the Arorangi Ekalesia vainetini.


Vibrant displays of the Rarotonga CICC vainetini tivaivai. Photo by Radio New Zealand.

The Rarotonga Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) vainetini (women) exhibition had been planned to coincide with the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity to the island of Aitutaki, which takes place next month.

There was a mix of distinctive hand sewn tivaivai taorei (patchwork), tivaivai tataura (embroidery and crochet) and tivaivai manu (applique) that revealed the creativity and techniques of the talented vainetini and the time they have committed to a craft that they love.

A member of the CICC vainetini executive board, Poko Tuariki from the Arorangi Ekalesia said, “I’m proud and privileged to be part of this truly amazing art work by our vainetini. It’s good to see that the tuitui of the vainetini is still popular among the Mama’s. It’s alive and well and there are also new designs coming in.”

The art of making a tivaivai is a journey – a journey that reflect personal connections and relationships, the sharing of good and challenging times and for some, an art that offers comfort and relief.

In 2018, Myra Tatakura returned to Rarotonga after intensive mitral valve replacement (heart) surgery in New Zealand, that had pretty much knocked her about. Tatakura’s mother had taught her the three basic stiches, and a friend Trishia Downie invited her to join the Mama’s at the market as a way to “face the world” again.

That gave her the courage to get out there again.

“I had locked myself away from the world after I came home; I found solace in my sewing, it all started with a pair of cushion covers…”

The progress and improvement of her sewing skills are revealed in the stiches of her pieces. “I finally got the hang of it,” she says, and has completed 12 pairs of cushion covers in a year.

“This awesome show is also like my tivaivai graduation,” she laughs, “after these cushions, I’ll be graduating to sew a big tivaivai, I love it. Thank you to my Mum, to all the women in my life for the support given to me throughout my tivaevae journey.”

Mamatira Patia from the Avarua Ekalesia featured an exquisite “tarona” crown patterned tivaivai taorei (patchwork) that she had completed with Mama Vaine Eliaba some years ago.

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