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Te Maeva Nui connects Cook Islands youth to their roots

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 24/07/2021 Jogai Bhatt
a group of people posing for the camera © RNZ/ Jogai Bhatt


Te Maeva Nui 2021 kicked off in Tāmaki Makaurau last night, celebrating the best of Cook Islands dance, language, culture and food.

The largest Cook Islands cultural festival continued today with nine Enua and Vaka groups performing over two days of competition.

Ina Maropai was excited to be back at Te Maeva Nui after last year's event was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

She ran a food stall at the festival, selling mainese (Cook Island beetroot and potato salad), banana poke, steam pudding, donuts, and plates of chop suey and rice.

"I'm excited, it's good. It's financial support with families, and I get to dance. And the kids get to learn more about their culture."

a group of people preparing food on a table: Ina (left) in her stall of Cook Island treats © Provided by Radio New Zealand Ina (left) in her stall of Cook Island treats


Her neighbour Maria Tairea agreed. She said Te Maeva Nui gives the younger generation a chance to connect with their roots and showcase Cook Island traditions to the rest of the world.

"It promotes our culture, our food, and our language. And I'm hoping they keep up with it because it's very hard to find Cook Island children after leaving primary school who - unless they're involved in the community - still retain their language.

"I love promoting our language. I go out to the Māngere Town Centre library, and I take all our artefacts, all our crafts, that my mum has done, that my grandmother has done, so other Pacific Islanders can see what we do besides dancing."

a couple of people that are standing in front of a flower: Maria (right), amongst bags of chestnuts straight from Rarotonga © Provided by Radio New Zealand Maria (right), amongst bags of chestnuts straight from Rarotonga


For Marcia, Zoe and Jaylyn, the feeling of performing on stage for their community is indescribable.

"It's hard to explain. It just means a lot, finally performing, giving it all for family. We've been practising since February," Marcia said.

The girls don't speak their language fluently, but say participating in Te Maeva Nui really helps to learn.

"It's good to keep it alive, a lot of us kids don't know our Cook Islands culture or language so it's nice to kind of learn it again, and learn our history," Zoe said.

a couple of people posing for the camera: L-R Marcia, Zoe and Jaylyn from St Dominic's College © Provided by Radio New Zealand L-R Marcia, Zoe and Jaylyn from St Dominic's College


Fellow performer Benji Timu said dancing at the festival had been an opportunity to connect with a side of him that he had previously neglected.

"This is my first Te Maeva Nui. Over the years I've been sort of caught up in my Samoan side for most of my life, so this really is a step into reclaiming part of my identity, dancing as a Cook Islander.

"I only learnt how to dance in 2020 - the steps to get here have been quite substantial. Te Maeva Nui is the pinnacle of Cook Island dance."

a person holding a christmas tree: The Te Maeva Nui festival was held in Auckland on 23 and 24 July © Provided by Radio New Zealand The Te Maeva Nui festival was held in Auckland on 23 and 24 July


The festival is a vehicle for people like himself, born and brought up in a Pākehā world, to "feel our identity in ways that transcend the five senses".

"Just being on stage ... it was overwhelming. Overwhelming is an understatement of what it really felt, because it wasn't just about what I felt, but what I'm feeling with my Takitimu family.

"During that time I'm just thinking about, this is part of our culture that has survived colonisation. Here we are, in New Zealand, in a Pākehā world, doing Te Maeva Nui. It's just insane, it's mind-blowing when you think about it in the past 100 years."

Fittingly, the theme for this year's festival is 'resilience'.

a person wearing a hat talking on a cell phone: Benji Timu says dancing helped him reclaim his Cook Island identity © Provided by Radio New Zealand Benji Timu says dancing helped him reclaim his Cook Island identity


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