Hawaii Polynesian Cultural Center Showcases Cook Islands Culture

In addition to the performances and crafts group members will also talk about Cook Islands traditional medicine

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 18, 2017) – The Polynesian Cultural Center has been working with the Cook Islands government and Church of Latter-day Saints leaders for the past year to showcase a group of 17 Cook Island Maori performers and cultural leaders during a six-week run from July 17 to August 24.

PCC senior manager William Mahoni, who has been coordinating logistics for the group’s appearance said they will perform each afternoon in a temporary mini-village near the canoe landing between the Hawaiian and Tahitian Villages, and several evenings each week in the gazebo at the PCC’s Hukilau Marketplace.

“We have had a few small groups and special visitors from the Cook Islands over the years, but this will be the first time we will have a group stay for six weeks. We’re excited,” Mahoni said.

He said a limited number of Cook Island students had also attended neighbouring Brigham Young University–Hawaii and had worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center over the past 50 years or more.

Mahoni, a New Zealand Maori, said the Cook Island Maori were particularly well known for their “symphony of drumming”.

“The beats are very different from Tahitian, for example. When I spoke with the Tahitians recently, they were very excited to learn that the Cook Islanders are coming.”

In addition to the performances and crafts, Mahoni said group members will also talk about Cook Islands traditional medicine.

“The group consists of five drummers, four female dancers, four male dancers, and two weavers, plus the group leaders,” he said

The leaders of the Cook Island contingent, who are all recognised for their cultural performance skills, include Piltz Napa, an alumnus of BYU–Hawaii, who has two children currently attending the university and Danny Mataroa, team leader and elder’s quorum counselor in the Avarua Branch, Rarotonga, who also holds a chieftain title called Uri Mataiapo.

David Akanoa is a Young Men’s organisation president in the Arorangi Branch of the Church of Latter-day Saints. The former Rarotonga district president also has several children living in the Laie area where the PCC is located. Also in the group is choreographer Ina Tapurau.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, so it’s really great to be here,” said Akanoa.

Napa, a BYUH alumnus, said Cook Islands deputy prime minister and Culture minister Teariki Heather was driving the appearance of the Cook Islands group at the center.

Napa said Heather had held follow-up discussions with the presidents of PCC and BYU–Hawaii.

“They drew up a memorandum of understanding that the government would be a part of our coming here to showcase the Cook Islands culture.

“The minister is very passionate about education and culture; and in partnership with BYUH and PCC, we hope to get opportunities for member and non-member students to come here on study-work scholarships.”

“We’re part of history in the making,” added Mataroa.

The Church of Latter Day Saints first sent missionaries to the Cook Islands in 1899, and established a mission there in 1960, which was later merged with the New Zealand Mission. This month J Alan Walker, a senior PCC manager on an extended leave of absence, started as president of the New Zealand Auckland Mission, which includes the Cook Islands and Niue.

“With the Cook Islanders, we will see a culture that is similar, for example, to the Tahitians, but also unique in many ways,” Mahoni continued. “In another example, take a Cook Islander speaking Cook Island Maori and a Hawaiian from the privately-owned island of Niihau, and they’ll be able to understand each other.”

The Niihau dialect of Hawaiian is considerably different from standard Hawaiian.

Heather planned to come to Laie in August to discuss the possibility of getting more students from the Cook Islands to enroll at BYU–Hawaii and work at the PCC, said Mahoni

Mahoni said wife, Tania Sadaraka Mahoni, a Cook Islander who grew up there, had been helping with logistics for the group, “as has William Numanga, another Cook Islander who now lives in our community.”

As with all Polynesian Cultural Center employees, the visiting Cook Islands group has agreed to abide by the PCC’s dress, grooming and behaviour standards, and have participated in an abbreviated orientation programme.

Cook Islands News
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