More than 20 kaumātua from a group based at Poihakena Marae went on a 10-day trip to Rarotonga, after much fundraising and organisation, to attend the celebrations and support a country holding special significance for Māori.In Rarotonga there lies a circle of seven stones of great importance to New Zealand. Ngatangiia Harbour is the launching place of the seven waka that would eventually reach Aotearoa with our Māori ancestors 700 or more years ago.
Visiting this sacred site, which commemorates the ‘vaka’ (Cook Islands’ name for ‘waka’), was just one of the many things local kaumātua did when they visited Rarotonga recently for the Cook Islands’ 50th anniversary of self-governance.
More than 20 kaumātua from a group based at Poihakena Marae went on the 10-day trip, after much fundraising and organisation, to attend the celebrations and support a country holding special significance for Māori.
Many Māori and political leaders from New Zealand also attended the celebrations, which coincided with the 25th coronation jubilee of Pā Ariki, the queen of the Tākitimu district in Rarotonga who had a strong link with many Māori.
Sheryl Tukiri Haumaha said visiting the sacred sites on Rarotonga associated with the waka of Tainui, Tākitimu, Aotea, Te Arawa, Tokomaru, Kurahaupō and Mataatua was a major highlight of the trip for her.
“After being there, [I believe] we did originate from there. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t gone there,” Sheryl said.
“All the old people [in Rarotonga] would say ‘welcome home’ when they knew we came from here.”
As well as learning a lot of history, she discovered the islands’ culture and language was similar to Māori.
She also discovered a link with Raglan – a stadium in Rarotonga with the name Te Ara Karioi. “So we got the name from them and brought it to our mountain.”
She loved the music that played every night during the celebrations, the “beautiful” anniversary parade, the hula competitions, the cultural classes the kaumātua took, the 40km/h speed limit on the island, the singing at church, the fact the locals didn’t have to pay rates… and the list goes on.
“It was home away from home. It was just awesome, and so laid back.”
“We’ve made a pact that if anyone wins Lotto they’ve got to shout all of us to go back over,” Sheryl said.
Sean Ellison, the kaiwhakahaere (programme coordinator) of the kaumātua group, said the main aim of the trip was the anniversary celebrations and to give kaumātua the experience of going overseas, as some had never left New Zealand before.
Now they were keen to do it again, and were thinking of going overseas every second year, then going to the kaumātua kapa haka competitions in Wellington every alternate year.
“They’ve lifted their sights a bit now. Before, the furtherest afield we got was Hamilton,” Sean said. “We know now that we can raise the funds. We just need to set a goal and a target and that’s it.”
The visit was personal for Sean, whose grandfather, Edward Ellison, spent many years in Rarotonga as a doctor and chief medical officer. Ellison received the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935 and an OBE in 1938 for his services to the Polynesian people.
Sean was asked to provide a picture of his grandfather for a new museum that was opened at Pā Ariki’s palace.
The kaumātua are having an open day in the Supper Room of the Raglan Town Hall on Saturday, 19 September 10am-2pm to say thank you to the community for its support. Refreshments will be provided and the kaumātua will be sharing information and photos from their trip.