Revitalized Cook Islands Voyaging Tradition To Be Passed On To Next Generation


By Amelia Borofsky

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Jan.24, 2017) – Cook Islanders had lost the art of voyaging until the 1990s with the building of Te Au o Tonga under the leadership of Sir Thomas Davis.

Inspired by the coming of the vaka Hokule’a to Rarotonga for the 6th Pacific Arts Festival, Cook Islanders committed to learning the lost art of non-instrument navigation and traditional voyaging.

Now older generation of crew members is ready to train the younger generation. Are they ready?

At the age of 10, Angelina Mitchell of Nukutere College first sailed on the traditional vaka of the Cook Islands, Marumaru Atua. The name literally means under the umbrella, or the protection, of God.

Mitchell says her Uncle Alex wanted her to experience the power of the sea and: “I loved it because I love the ocean.” At 10, she couldn’t do much to help the crew then, but she watched and now at 15 she’s back to learn to crew herself.

At school, she never learned about the vaka, but in Girl Guides she learned a little about the star compass and some basic knots.

Training on Marumaru Atua allowed her to put this knowledge into action.

“What I love about the vaka,” said Mitchell, “is learning new skills and protecting the environment to keep the ocean clean. I also love the family bond that develops with the crew. Of course, I hope to visit our sister islands one day.”

Despite getting seasick, she plans to keep coming back.

“I want to learn to be a voyager like my uncle,” said Mitchell, “and he told me I have to just keep coming and coming until I get used to it.”

Five of Mitchell’s friends from Nukutere College have joined her in crew training.

“The boys learned a lot in Scouts about the knots and voyaging, so they are so keen to keep learning,” she said.

All five Nukutere College students have been coming to Saturday training sails to learn traditional voyaging, a part of their ancestral lineage and birthright.

Young Cook Islanders Anika Hunter and Alex Herman, both in their 20s, made it their New Year’s resolutions to do the vaka crew training every Saturday.

“I’ve wanted to do it since forever,” said Anika Hunter, “I love the ocean, but I haven’t made the time for myself. This year, I made it a priority.”

While both have only participated in two-day sails, both have completed their Boat Masters, helped with the dry dock, and look forward to learning more.

“You don’t only learn about navigation,” said Hunter, “you learn about yourself.”

The Cook Islands Voyaging Society (CIVS) emphasises that no experience is necessary to learn, all are welcome. 

Senior crew member Alex Olah who sailed on the Te Mana o Te Moana voyage from 2012-2014 said he is back with his main purpose to train the youth.

“I am putting out a personal request,” said Olah, “I am on the vaka because I want to train youth between the ages of 14-29. Honestly, I’d like to have a go at the youth for not taking advantage.”

Marumaru Atua sailed to Sydney in 2014. All across Australia, Cook Islanders came out to welcome them, feed them, and sing and dance with them.

“When we sailed back to Avarua,” said senior crew member Sam Timoko, “we had maybe two or three people welcoming us.”

Some members of the Cook Islands Voyaging Society wonder why the Ministry of Education does not include voyaging as part of its regular curriculum.

CIVS contributed to the UNESCO Canoe Is The People curriculum. Freely available, it offers an invaluable resource for sparking interest and knowledge about our voyaging past.

Many Cook Islanders have seen the movie Moana, but have never even been out in the open sea.

Sometimes, it seems that Cook Islanders have no time for the vaka.  Asked why more Cook Islanders do not come to learn voyaging aboard Marumaru Atua, Olah said: “Two things, one they may not know about it and two they take it for granted.”

His niece, Angelina Mitchell said: “Maybe it’s because they all have sports on Saturdays, but this is harder than any other sport, and it has much deeper roots.”

The Cook Islands Voyaging Society hopes that with the release of Moana and captains dedicated to training youth, 2017 will be the year that the Cook Islands reclaims the vaka again as its own.

 If Cook Islanders continue to take Marumaru Atua for granted, she may go to a Pacific people more worthy of looking after her.

Any age is welcome. Five-year old Derek Doherty went on his first day sail and said: “It was so cool. I saw two stingrays. I saw the movie Moana four times. This was way better.”

Olah has personally committed to driving youth from town to Avana Harbour on Saturdays.

“Anyone is welcome to meet me at our Subs & Treats market stall at 12.30 and try it out. If it is for you, great, keep coming back. If not, at least you gave it a go.”

Brave young ocean warriors can reach Alex Olah on 71473.

Youth, and all public, are also welcome to come to the Cook Islands Voyaging Society annual general meeting on January 27 at 4.30 pm Ministry of Culture board room.

The Cook Islands Voyaging Society counts on 2017 being a great year.

It is the year of the next generation of voyagers.

Cook Islands News
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