Wednesday, October 29

Gospel Day 2008

Christianity arrived in the Cook Islands, Aitutaki in fact, on 26 October 1821 and the country has a public holiday to celebrate the event. This year it fell on a Sunday so the Gospel Day holiday was observed on Monday 27 October. Avarua Ekalesia (church) was host for the Gospel Day dramas known as nuku which took place in the Takamoa theological college grounds. The video shows excerpts from the first three nuku, Avarua, Nikao and Arorangi. There were no explosions or fires this year but Nikao’s Adam and Eve drama was a lot of fun in spite of the pouring rain with Eve out for a night on the town, dancing with the mapu and being tempted by Malibu – coconut rather than apple but the end result was the same.
On the subject of drama, there’s a New Zealand film crew on Rarotonga at the moment shooting a new children’s television show called Paradise Café. The thirteen-part comedy mystery series is due to be shown on the BBC in January next year. The café of the title is at Betela beach and other locations include Highland Paradise, Black Rock, Crown Beach Resort and snorkelling scenes at The Fruits of Rarotonga beach in Titikaveka. We spotted some filming going on at Black Rock yesterday at dog-walking time. Well, the first thing we noticed was a Portaloo, and then a large number of cars parked nearby. Haven’t seen so much activity there since one of the cargo ships ran aground on the reef and was towed off by four or five tugs and fishing boats a few years ago.
Rarotonga isn’t actually named but the show will include some local cast members, extras and the use of a few Maori phrases so let’s hope we eventually get to see it all.

Sunday, October 26

Paddling and politics

There was frantic activity at the vaka site on Saturday morning as carvers added the finishing touches to their canoes in readiness for launching in the afternoon.
In fact only eight of the ten or twelve vaka were in a suitable state for the water but the launch had to take place so that the Treks in a Wild World film crew could get their footage. TIAWW is a British TV series ‘full of adventure as … intrepid trekkers travel to far flung regions to embark on journeys combining ecology and history with action sports and outdoor pursuits’ or so the publicity blurb assures as. The team’s had good weather and has been to Mitiaro and Aitutaki as well as Rarotonga so the final programme should be a good advert for the country. I hope we get to see it some time.
The carving will now continue until the other canoes are finished and the decorations have been completed.
The launch took place at Avarua harbour, alongside Trader Jacks. It was a lot of fun with some mercifully short speeches followed by a traditional blessing. Then the canoes were carried down the slipway, closely followed by the film crew. The canoes paddled out a couple of hundred metres while the film crew hopped aboard a boat and motored after them to film the race back. It wasn’t really a race because the vaka were different sizes and had different numbers of paddlers but that didn’t matter. It all helps take people’s minds off politics.
Recent events on the political front include the Demo party (the guys in power) announcing that they were abolishing one electorate on Mangaia and claiming that they were therefore champions of political reform. Mangaia has a population of about 600 (and dropping) and three electorates. Common sense would suggest that one seat is more than enough. A similar situation exists for Atiu with two seats. The 1998 report of the political review commission suggested major changes to the entire political system in the Cook Islands. Politicians at that time had a vote of no-confidence in the commissioners and have since ignored the report except at election time when both parties say they will reform the system if elected. Needless to say, neither makes any attempt to do so. The vice-president of the (opposition) Cook Islands Party reckons that it was just a ploy to distract attention from the Demos’ internal problems. There are certainly plenty of these with the PM Jim Marurai saying he’s having trouble holding the party together, followed by the PM and deputy PM, Sir Terepai Maoate issuing an unconvincing statement saying everything is sweetness and light and cabinet minister Wilkie Rasmussen saying both of them should go before the next election. Read all about it in Cook Islands News .

Saturday, October 25

Canoe carving continued

The grassy patch in front of the Banana Court remained a hive of activity as the vaka carvers continued their work. After the initial rough shaping with chainsaws there comes the long drawn out job of hollowing out the canoes with chainsaws, crowbars and adzes, followed by planing smooth both inside and outside.

Sunday, October 19

Ocean-going canoe sails for Atiu

The Cook Islands Voyaging Society’s vaka Te Au O Tonga left Avarua harbour at about 5.30pm on Saturday evening, headed for Atiu with a crew of nine on board. Captain Tua Pittman is joined by experienced crewmen Ian Karika, Nick Henry, Harry Goodwin, Peia Patai, Brown Apera-Makea and John Engu. Sarah Moreland and Patrick Arona are students of the society’s voyaging programme. The vaka should reach Atiu on Sunday. The plan is that on Monday it will transfer a National Geographic film crew to Mitiaro then head for Aitutaki where the Manea Games (sports competitions for the southern group islands excluding Rarotonga) are in progress. Te Au O Tonga should reach Aitutaki on Wednesday afternoon. To follow the voyage online go to The vaka’s last trip was to American Samoa for the South Pacific Arts Festival in August this year.

Saturday, October 18

Vaka video

Rarotonga's traditional canoe carving project, ‘akateni i te vaka’, is proceeding well. For the past week the grassy area opposite the Banana Court has echoed to the sound of chainsaws, planes and a variety of hand tools as large albesia logs are shaped into sea-going vaka. Most of the carvers are men but there are a couple of women who are clearly experts and plenty of kids making themselves useful - it's school holiday time here. This video shows some of the early stages, sawing the logs into rough canoe shapes and then hollowing out the inside.
At the end of next week (23 October) a National Geographic adventure travel show ‘Treks in a Wild World’ team, will be on Rarotonga filming the carvers and their canoes.

Friday, October 17

Long haul visitors

Tourist fly into Rarotonga all year round, mostly travelling via New Zealand (and from next February they’ll ALL have to come via NZ) but every September we get a number of long-distance travellers who wing it here all the way from Alaska.
Most of the Pacific plovers (local name torea) travel the 9000 kilometres to Rarotonga non-stop, apparently taking about 5 days.
They are thin and scrawny-looking when they arrive here and spend the summer fattening up on insects before heading back to Alaska at the end of April to breed.
The airport is the residence of choice but you see the birds, widely separated, on large areas of short grass. You have to wonder how they coped in the days before lawn mowers.

We spotted a couple of much rarer avian visitors last week when taking the dog for a walk at Nikao beach. They were larger than the usual beach birds with speckled plumage and long curved beaks. A check on the
Cook Islands Biodiversity Database showed they were bristle-thighed curlews (teue) which also breed in Alaska and are a globally endangered species.

Tuesday, October 14

Canoes and court cases

The big court story here is the corruption case, Operation Slush, involving MP Norman George and two others. It involves alleged kickbacks and dodgy accounting when buying heavy machinery on behalf of government. (Details are on the Cook Islands News website).
Norman’s been in and out of just about every political party in the Cook Islands. As a matter of fact he’s formed most of them after being thrown out of the big two, the Democratic Party and the Cook Islands Party. He then coalesces with one or other after a general election in a bid to get a cabinet position. A lot of people breathed a sigh of relief when he lost his seat to Nandi Glassie at the last election; it was one of two on Atiu, an outer island with a population of about 600. You might wonder why Atiu requires two MPs and so do a lot of other people but that’s another story.
Well, Norman is a great survivor. The second Atiu MP resigned due to ill-health and Norman changed constituencies, won the by-election and now treats Glassie as a cross between a mouthpiece and a lapdog.
It remains to be seen whether he can survive what is thought to be the biggest trial in the history of the Cook Islands High Court.
The trial started on Monday and is expected to last about three weeks.

This albesia log will be turned into a canoe over thenext two weeks

Mike Tavioni (right) starting work

Also starting on Monday was ‘Akateni i te vaka’ a vaka (canoe) carving project organised by artist Mike Tavioni. Groups of carvers from Mauke, Atiu and Mitiaro as well as Rarotonga are turning albesia logs into beautifully decorated dugout canoes (although since modern tools are used perhaps they should be called chainsawed canoes). It’s fascinating watching the canoes take shape and the launch last year was a big occasion made even more memorable when one of the boats overturned dumping the prime minister and others into the harbour!

Sunday, October 12

Global finance and Gospel Day

The current world financial crisis is having a – so far – small effect on life in the Cook Islands although the offshore banking fraternity might not agree.
According to a story in Saturday’s Cook Islands News our two major trading banks, ANZ and Westpac, both Australian entities, are robust, well-capitalised and well regulated. There will probably be a change in interest rates down the line, they say, and if people overseas have to think twice about travelling it will cut the number of tourists. Bad news for hotels, motels, restaurants and many others in the hospitality industry.

It seems strange that US companies lent money to people who couldn't pay it back, causing a global money meltdown but resulting in the US dollar becoming stronger against other currencies (such as the kiwi dollar which is the one that concerns me!) If any Americans have some cash stashed away, under the matress or buried in the back garden perhaps, they should consider a holiday here. With the exchange rate the way it is they'll get a bargain, assuming they can get here since Air New Zealand is axing LA/Rarotonga direct flights.
And one of Cook Islanders’ favourite pastimes is travelling overseas so the sliding kiwi dollar is going to drag holidays down with it, at least for those of us who pay for them ourselves. Politicians and other government employees will no doubt continue to take wing at taxpayers’ expense regardless of exchange rates.

We had our mortgage sales and business meltdowns, some quite spectacular (think PDL and Tepaki), but they're home-grown failures. Can't blame the global situation or acts of God.
Now when it comes to acts of God, the six ekalesia (churches) on Rarotonga have started organising their Gospel Day nuku.

(For a run-down of Gospel Day check this video).

Twenty or so years ago the competition to win the trophy for the best nuku (biblical drama) was cut-throat but nowadays it’s theoretically a more laid back occasion with lots of singing, dancing and dressing up but no trophy at stake. Tell that to Arorangi and Avarua who in recent years have presented full scale Hollywood productions complete with special effects. Great fun.