Earlier this month Melina Etches wrote an article for the Cook Islands News about author Clinton Hewett from the island of Aitutaki who has written and illustrated his first bilingual story book “Tapuaetai” (One Foot island).
The book is about how a parent saved the life of his child by concealing his footprints with his own, expressing a parent’s unconditional love for their child and giving the name Tapuaetai, or One Foot Island, to this famous motu of the island of Aitutaki.
Hewett is an artist, woodcarver and author currently residing in New Zealand. Tapuaetai is his first book and was independently published on December 22, 2021. “My passion is to visually remind us of our ancestors’ great achievements and inspire our future generations to be proud of our history, to be brave and to follow in our ancestor’s footsteps,” Hewett said.
“I created the bilingual illustrated book to support the sustainability and transmission of our oral history and stories which has been challenged by the migration of knowledge bearers and the global economy influencing the value and importance of cultural practices.”
This is the first of an intended series of books that focuses on retelling traditional stories that were once told and passed on through the declining practice of oral storytelling, he added.
In 2018, Hewett started creating the digitally painted images for Tapuaetai based on the stories he had been taught in Aitutaki and on research he had conducted in the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Australia, “where some of the knowledge bearers had relocated over the past few decades”.
He wrote the text for the book in 2021, coordinated the translation and successfully received funding support to complete his project that also includes a collection of oil and digital paintings of many other Aitutaki stories based on historic events.
Hewett began painting images from historic Aitutaki stories “to inspire others to rekindle their memories of the stories we used to hear of when we were in our youth”.
His passion to share these stories in a “modern way” was to reach Cook Islands people living everywhere, which led him to paint digital images of Cook Islands stories on social media.
Hewett wrote the book on the suggestion of an uncle from the Ngati Tepaki line. “He told me more about my ancestry connecting me to the girl who helped the young man in the story of Tapuaetai, it didn’t take much to convince me and I knew that this would be the first story of a series.”
One of the highlights of his writing experiences was the amazing support he received from Cook Islanders. “I’m so thankful for the help from Mike Tepaki and Anna Elia who translated this book into as pure Aitutaki dialect as possible.”
“There is a desperate need to protect our culture and revive our language and unique dialects outside of our homelands amongst our descendants and I am just thankful for the courage and perseverance that it has taken to complete this story for our people to learn about their ancestors and be proud to be a Cook Islander.”
Hewett is mindful that when he retells stories, and although he is a descendant, he says, “I don’t own this story personally, it belongs to the whole island from where it came.” His father Samuel Robert Hewett is from the Ngati Putekati and Paku line in Aitutaki and the Tuatarangi/Upoko family of Matavera and his mother Lesley is papa’a from New Zealand of English/Irish/Scottish ancestry.
In 2009, Hewett left Aitutaki and moved to New Zealand where he worked as a woodcarver and pursued his art career with a degree in Creative Arts. His biggest challenge was always “if” he could complete the book, and now that it’s done, he has completed several other stories and has started on the illustrations.
Funds from the sale of these books will go back into the production of the series with a portion being donated to schools in the Cook Islands, said Hewett.
Visit his website www.clintonhewettartist.com for more information on the books.