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By Matariki Wilson

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 19) – Traditions turned back in time yesterday for the turou (traditional welcome) at the opening of the Mire Tarai Vaka or traditional canoe building project.

Queen's Representative Sir Frederick Goodwin and prime minister Jim Marurai led the group of traditional carvers into a circle that signified unity for an ancient kava ceremony.

With pareau draped over their shoulders, brown for the master carvers and yellow for the helpers, 20 traditional carvers took part in the ceremony.

Master carver Mike Tavioni took the first coconut shell of kava drawn from a kumete bowl by Rutera Taripo.

Tavioni poured the kava on to the ground in front of him, and told those gathered that the first drink of kava must go to the ancestors and the land, which the trees for the canoes grew from.

"Kava symbolises water, without water you can't survive, and the kava is from the land," Tavioni said.

During the ceremony each carver from the outer islands and their assistants were offered the kava cup to drink from.

Because it has been a long time since a Cook Islands kava ceremony was performed, the ritual seemed almost foreign to some, while others declined to drink the kava.

Tavioni said this was probably because of their belief in Christianity but to sit around in the kava circle was enough.

Some of the carvers spoke of why they were here on Rarotonga to carve canoes, others chanted and some spoke of the importance of keeping the tradition of canoe building alive.

Of all those who took part in the ceremony there was just one woman, Awhitia Mateara Tavioni, wife of master carver and overseer of the project Mike Tavioni.

Tavioni says his wife has been instrumental in the building of up to 40 vaka from 4-foot-long scale canoes to 36-foot-long voyaging canoes.

To launch the project officially, the carvers and up to 20 spectators moved to the grounds of the nearby the Pukapuka hostel where the logs for the canoes are laid out.

Prime minister Jim Marurai used a stone adze to make the first ceremonial cut on one of the logs.

During the ceremony Tavioni urged the carvers to take their time with the building of the canoes as part of the revival of the art is to showcase the building of the canoes to schools across the island over the two weeks leading up to the Maeva Nui.

Tavioni said the significance of the draped pareau worn by the carvers and their helpers was all about respect.

"These are not labourers, they are professional carvers and should be given the same respect as the prime minister," said Tavioni.

The Mire Tarai Vaka is part of the Ministry of Culture's work towards reviving and maintaining Cook Islands cultural traditions.

Secretary of culture Maki Karati told the gathering that the kava ceremony was not a heathen practice but rather an integral part of Cook Islands culture, tradition and identity.

Earlier in the day a workshop was held for the carvers at the museum conference room to go over last minute details of the two-week project.

July 21, 2006

Cook Islands News: http://www.cinews.co.ck/index.htm

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