Maukeans Keep Their Traditions Alive

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By Hon. Sir Geoffrey Henry, KBE Prime Minister, Cook Islands

Last weekend, Lady Henry and I were fortunate to be able to attend the investiture of Marae Turaki as the new Te Au Ariki of Mauke. The visit also provided an opportunity for discussions with the Island Council and the rest of the community, especially with regard to the devolution process in the forthcoming 1998/99 fiscal year. It was both a pleasant and a productive trip in that we, also, had the opportunity to witness a community bonded by a strong sense of sharing and cooperation.

Investiture is about placing responsibility and recognizing the leadership of the new Ariki. It is a time when the traditional roles come to the fore. It is when the Tumu Korero or the orators and the Kau Taunga of a Marae and other specialized roles are on display. There is also revelation of traditional knowledge of chants, genealogy and mythology, most of which cannot be found in written history and are only available through oral tradition.

I was impressed by the extent to which the Maukean community keeps their traditions alive. Moreover, the occasion was both richly entertaining and educational. This, of course, is especially important for the younger generations who are not often exposed today to these values. Impressed as I was with the traditional dimension, the word "overwhelming" best describes the mood brought about by the degree of hospitality, humility and unity displayed by the whole of the local community. In Mauke, I witnessed a close-knit community with a strong sense of working together and sharing, seemingly with each person playing his or her part in the smooth running of island affairs.

Without doubt, if Mauke continues in the same healthy state of cooperation, the island can reap major benefits from devolution – the passing on of the decision-making from central government to the local people. Maukeans have already handled the introductory phase of devolution well. Their grasp of this reform allowed my meetings with the Island Council and with the public to proceed well. Among other matters, these helped to define the role of three people; the Government Representative (GR), the Chief Executive (CE) and the Mayor.

The GR, of course, represents the national Government in Mauke, the CE administers and implements the wishes of the Island Council and the Mayor is the head of the Island Council. As the local governing body elected by the people of the island, the Island Council is clearly in the best position to make many of those decisions which affect the island's people but which long have been the pet prerogative of bureaucrats on Rarotonga. And, along side the Island Council and appropriately involved in the "governance" of the island at both the policy formation and implementation levels must be the traditional leaders.

Other discussions were centered on the reform of local Government itself. For example, I posed to them the challenge of having a local Government Act specifically for Mauke, taking into account its traditions and customs while recognizing the democratic system of government under which we operate.

I returned to Rarotonga particularly touched by how Maukeans determine their destinies and by the way they keep their traditions alive. With devolution giving them new freedom of choice and with their own cultural strengths to guide them, I predict that they will thrive even more hereafter.

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