Celebrating Cook Islands Māori Language Week and 50 years of Self-Government

06 August 2015

To tatou reo Tupuna e korona ia no to tatou matakeianga.

Our language is a crowning glory of our community.


This week marks 50 years of self-governance for the Cook Islands, as well as the celebration of Cook Islands Māori Language week. The University wishes to celebrate this occasion by highlighting a handful of the many Cook Islands staff and students making waves on campus.

Universities are often looked upon as a litmus test of society – challenging, but also reflective of their environments. New Zealand's special relationship with the Cook Islands can be found reflected at the University of Auckland, from the architecture to our student clubs.

The University started off this special week with a special function to honour and celebrate the Cook Islands and their language.  With invited guests from throughout the University and the Cook Islands community, we marked the arrival of this special occasion.

At the core of the Centre of Pacific Studies is the preservation of our unique Pacific languages. Languages are a year round focus for our Pacific Studies department, who are proud to be a part of the only University in the world that offers Cook Islands Māori at the undergraduate level. Sally Nicholas, who teaches the language, is also a PhD student and linguist. She is currently studying the grammar and southern dialects of Cook Islands Māori. She has collaborated in the writing of the book Ei of Mauke, the first book ever published in the endangered Maukean dialect – described by the Cook Islands News as 'a beautiful little book'.

A piece of the Cook Islands can also be found in the Malae surrounding the Fale Pasifika – the spiritual home for our Pacific students at the University. The late Jim Viviearae, renowned Rarotongan artist, created the frigate bird and surrounding beacons that welcome students and visitors to the Fale Pasifika complex. The frigate bird acts as a symbol of independence and carriers of knowledge. In an interview about his work Jim said that “…birds from Polynesian myth [are] also carriers of the human soul. A single bird symbolises independence”. Jim's work offers a particularly fitting symbol for this week's celebrations of self-governance.

Viviearae's frigate birds watch over not only the Fale Pasifika, but also our Pacific Studies staff and students who are based in the adjacent building. One of our Cook Islands students, Eliza Puna, PhD candidate and recipient of the Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarship, is currently conducting research in the Cook Islands on youth views towards positive mental wellbeing and suicide prevention. Eliza Puna also tutors in Pacific Studies and is a tuakana for many of our aspiring Cook Islands post-graduate students.

The University is proud to count among its staff a number of Cook Islands academic and administrative leaders.  Amongst them are Associate Professor Yvonne Te Ruki-Rangi-O-Tangaroa Underhill-Sem in Development Studies, Manutai Leaupepe in Education, Dr. Josephine Aumea Herman in Population Health and Jeff Nikoia, with the wholly owned University company, Uniservices.  The University has been very active in research and community engagement with the Cook Islands.  The University led a project (under Jacquie Bay) to develop mathematical thinking in Cook Islands high schools, undertook cutting edge research on transnational health in the Cooks, and leads a ‘Science for Health Literacy Project’ which is focused on the Cooks and involves over 10 Cook Islands staff. Associate Professor Underhill-Sem will also be part of the official New Zealand delegation travelling to Rarotonga this week.

An important part to keeping the Cook Islands culture alive on campus is the Auckland University Cook Islands Student Association. Mati Ngari is this year's Co-President of the club. She notes that “this year our nation not only celebrates its political status, but also what it means to be a Cook Islander. It means 50 years of our language's survival and 50 years of it flourishing through changing times”. Mati says that “students, past and present, are climbing on board to make this year a special one”.

Students and staff can celebrate Cook Islands Māori Language Week by 'saying it in Kūki 'Āirani'. Follow the ''Cook Islands Māori Language Week'' Facebook page for updates on events during the week, or check out the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs website for a full calendar.