Elderly Cook Islands Fabric Artists Left On Their Own During Trip To Europe

Group forced to pay bills they weren't expecting, had to leave their artwork behind

By Florence Syme-Buchanan 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 25, 2017) – A group of elderly Cook Islands fabric artists are reeling after a long-awaited commemorative trip to London and France left them virtually penniless, distraught over having to forfeit their works of art because of unpaid accommodation and a litany of broken promises they claim were made by the trip organiser, artist Nia-Val Tali.

The women, most from the Auckland based Cook Islands fabric art group Tiare Taina had been fundraising for many months to raise their $2500 [US$1,750] individual return airfares to London to feature works in exhibitions and workshops.

The highlight of the trip was the World War One Anzac commemorations in Arras, France including a visit to the famous Arras Tunnel. All the women were descendants of Cook Islands men who had volunteered to serve in World War One.

Because of this, says Cook Islands paramount chief and Tiare Taina member Pa Ariki, the trip was hugely important to all the Mamas who had worked for months preparing prized tivaivai and other artworks for commemorative and tivaivai specific exhibitions.

While all the Mamas love and promote Cook Islands traditional artwork, none is a professional artist, she says.

Blame for apparently being misled, broken promises and trying to cover up the “horrible” experience the Mama’s had has been placed squarely with New Zealand-based Cook Islands artist Nia-Val Tali, sister of New Zealand Pacific Peoples Minister Alfred Ngaro who was the trip organiser, says Pa Ariki. Tali has denied all the claims made by the Mamas.

According to the Mamas they were forced to leave behind tivaivai and other artworks because of an unpaid hotel bill that Tali had promised would be settled before the group left for Auckland. Tali acknowledged she had offered to pay for two weeks’ accommodation for the group.

All the women who were part of the Mamas group or were present for the London segment and Arras commemorative events who contacted this journalist tell the same story. They believe they were let down by Nia-Val Tali who they said made promises to obtain funding to cover the cost of accommodation, meals and transport for the group of five women whose ages range from 58 to 77.

Tali was expected to arrange all travel, accommodation and commemorative events for the Mamas to attend and each of the five women paid their $2,500 to her in the expectation that funding would cover the rest of their travel. Except for one, all the women are pensioners and don’t have a lot of money and they worked hard to raise the funds.

Tiare Taina president Ngamata Uriaro, a respected community leader in Auckland, says it wasn’t until the group had arrived in Dubai they were shocked to be told by Tali that there was no money available to cover the cost of their accommodation, meals and transportation. Hugely upset by Tali’s revelation, all the Mama’s wished to return to Auckland but couldn’t as none could afford the cost of changing tickets. Also in Dubai Uriaro says they were told for the first time by Tali that no hotel had been booked and they would need to get a taxi to go to a hotel.

“It took hours to organise ourselves before we were finally sorted.”

At this point, Tali also broke the news that she had not completed the Mama’s travel itinerary.

Uriaro says had they known before departing Auckland that Tali had not obtained funding or sponsors, the trip hadn’t been properly organised, the Mamas would never have left Auckland.

Cook Islands News
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