‘No Fakes’ Cooks Coordinator Tells Sellers At Pasifika Festival

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

‘No Fakes’ Cooks Coordinator Tells Sellers At Pasifika Festival Authentic products only are welcome at major Auckland festival

By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Feb. 22, 2016) – "Just the real things please," is the request being made to local businesses selling products at the Cook Islands village in this year’s Pasifika Festival in Auckland, New Zealand.

Cook Islands village coordinator Bernard Tairea says it has been disappointing in the past to have a number of stalls selling goods not made in the Cook Islands. Tairea says this is particularly obvious with pearls and a lot of the handcrafts being sold at the stalls operated by businesses from here.

"The authenticity of our products is quite questionable. What concerns me is that it’s Cook Islanders that’s doing this to ourselves and our reputation, especially the ones that come from home."

Adds Tairea: "In our quest to promote the Cook Islands experience to visitors to Pasifika Festival, we look for things that promote our ipukarea to the international stage. Of course at times we will use overseas ingredients and some basic overseas things to make up our products, but the ideal is to give our visitors a "Cook Islands" experience."

Bernard says it’s worrying this is happening after so much effort and investment has gone into marketing Cook Islands black pearls internationally over the years.

"Then we have the stalls that are selling pearls that aren’t genuinely Cook Islands black pearls. We have seen dyed pearls from China, freshwater pearls and pearls from Tahiti all being passed off by operators as the real thing.

"We are so renowned for our Cook Islands black pearls. These, along with our traditional handicrafts, portray the uniqueness of our islands. However, this has not always been the case as at past Pasifika Festivals."

Tairea says the tens of thousands of people who pass through the Cook Islands village come expecting to see authentic goods. "Instead they see something else and our people trying to sell them as the genuine thing.

"I would expect the Cook Islands Pearl Authority to issue authenticated certificates to our pearl sellers to avoid the cheap imports and I would encourage the buyers in our village to insist on seeing proof of authenticity from the pearl sellers. That will ensure we are not being haggled by counterfeits."

Tairea says there should be a vetting process of all the products being taken to Pasifika to make sure they are all Cook Islands. This responsibility should probably fall under the Business Trade and Investment Corporation, he says.

"Let’s raise the standard of our products. We are trying our best to keep everything that’s to be sold as close to home as possible and we would appreciate the support of participating businesses to achieve these things."

Tairea suggests pearl traders should have certification of authenticity for their products and all handcrafts with a "Made in the Cook Islands’ guarantee issued by BTIB. The high profile Auckland personality says it’s discouraging and embarrassing to see handicraft produced in Indonesia being passed off as Cook Islands made.

Nineteen of the 29 spaces available for food sellers have been snapped up and just one space remains of the 22 handcraft stalls.

With applications closing on February 26, Tairea is encouraging interested vendors to get cracking. He says the idea of selling at Pacifika is not just to make a killing, but to promote what’s produced in the Cook Islands.

"If people put their minds to it and do all their preparation properly, they can really make the two days work for them, I know one food stall made $16,000 during a previous Pasifika."

The biggest Polynesian festival in the hemisphere returns to its original venue of Western Springs this year.

Over 100,000 people are expected to walk through on March 12 and 13. Tairea who is coordinating the Cook Islands village on a voluntary basis, says he’s being helped out by the Heimana Studios crew.

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