Monday, March 30

Tumeke Dance Group – a family affair

Cook Islands culture, dancing in particular, is alive and well on Rarotonga and there’s a new dance group to prove it.
The Tumeke Dance Group was formed in August 2008 when members of the Tauira family decided to celebrate the 21st birthday of Andrew Rauraa, partner of Tangi.
The show proved so popular that they were asked to do other performances, Christmas in the Park for Rotaract was one of them, and they are regulars at the Avatiu club house where this video was filmed at an Avatiu Eels rugby league club fundraiser.
The group has expanded and now has its own drummers. Friends as well as family make up Tumeke and there are plenty of young ones to learn and continue the tradition of Cook Islands dancing.
They choreograph all their own dances – lots of innovative new moves with the emphasis on having fun!
Tumeke is holding working bees as well as dance shows as they raise money for a trip to Australia. They want to travel in April 2010, school holiday time, so that the whole group including all the youngsters can go along.
The dancers are Brianna Tauira,Tangi Tauira, Teheikura Tauira, Puni Tauira and Tutemaeva Poaru with young warriors Teaui Rairoa, Tamanui Nicholas, Petero Teio and Tuira Thompson.

COMING SOON: More video from the Avatiu Eels fundraiser show.

Wednesday, March 25

The Polynesian Chestnut

I’i is the local name for the Polynesian chestnut tree.
On Rarotonga you can see them in the bush on hillsides and they also grow on other southern group islands and, as the name suggests, on other islands of Polynesia. I’ve seen them in Hawaii, too.
They’re tall and impressive, growing to 30 metres (CI Biodiversity database) but the most striking thing about them is the fluted trunk. When the trees are eight or nine years old projections start to grow out of the main trunk old to form wings like flying buttresses.
The fruit are kidney-shaped and have a very tough skin. The chestnut season runs for about three months from late February or March.
On Rarotonga they are usually boiled – for a very long time according to the ladies outside the Empire theatre who sell them! But in other parts of the Pacific they may be roasted; apparently this is a favourite way of cooking them in Tahiti.
The Air Tahiti website says that mape (the Tahitian name for the fruit) can be used to cure stonefish stings.
“To make the concoction, the juice of green mape is mixed with the juice from atea (erythrina indica) bark by chewing it. The resulting paste is slathered onto the sting and the inflammation subsides soon after.”
I’ve never heard of this Maori medicine cure for stonefish stings but the atea (also called the coral tree or tiger’s claw) is rare in the Cook Islands.
The chestnuts have a nutty flavour and if you eat a large number at one time they are reputed to have the same effect on the digestive system as too many baked beans. Flatulence!

Polynesian Chestnut  on FoodistaPolynesian Chestnut
Check recipes for the chestnut on Foodista

Sunday, March 22

Tereora Touch Tournament

There are several secondary schools on Rarotonga but Tereora College is sometimes called the ‘national college’ and is the largest with the most senior classes.
The students follow New Zealand’s curricula and take NZ exams but life’s not all about work. Last week one of the inter-house sports competitions was held – the touch tournament.
Tereora has four houses. They used to be called after mountains – Ikurangi was one – but nowadays the kids seem to refer to them, somewhat uninspiringly, as House 1, House 2, House 3 and House 4 with colours red, blue, green and yellow, not necessarily in that order.
We’ve had some wet weather recently but it was sunny for the tournament which was held on the Nikao sports field, probably because the stadium is being tarted up ready for the Pacific Mini Games in September.
I’m not sure who won the tournament but the guys in yellow were most visible and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Back to the books this week.

Sunday, March 15

Marching to a different beat?

Rarotonga’s traditionally had two float parades each year; the Constitution parade at the end of July or beginning of August, starting the celebrations marking the Cook Islands’ version of independence day, now called Te Maeva Nui; and the Tiare (flower) parade in late November or early December.
In the 1980s and 90s the Constitution parade was a grand affair with up to thirty floats representing businesses, government departments, schools, clubs and of course the outer islanders who were here for the cultural competition. There were often a couple of brass bands. The Tiare parade didn’t have the outer island groups but it still made a pretty impressive show. Some of the floats were a mass of flowers and individuals would often dress up and take part. The Miss Tiare (junior beauty) pageant was a later addition and the contestants joined in the parade with a float each. Parades used to start at Avatiu harbour and head along the main road to Avarua harbour where the judging took place. Spectators packed the street and there was a real party atmosphere.
Well, times have changed.
The parades now start at Avarua harbour and head towards Avatiu harbour ending at Punanga Nui market and sadly both are shadows of their former selves.
Large numbers of people headed overseas after the economic meltdown in the mid 1990s, and some of the competitive spirit seems to have gone with them.
The big businesses don’t take part any more, the bands have fallen silent and if it weren’t for the outer island groups the Constitution parade would be a pretty dismal affair.
The video shows the 2008 Constitution parade and the Tiare parade in 2000. By 2000 the really awesome floats had disappeared but at least there were a few businesses and a lot of work went into Telecom’s Miss Tiare chariot. Compare this with the 2008 Miss Tiare parade. It’s now dwindled to a handful of cars or trucks just for the contestants.

Sunday, March 8

Gone fishing

Walking along Nikao beach one day in February we saw a large number of dead fish along the high waterline. They were small, up to about four centimetres, transparent or silver-coloured and flat (although this could have been the result of being dead and dried out). More washed up over the next few days.
They were probably maito (surgeonfish) juveniles. The fish develops from little more than an egg with a tail to a miniature adult during the larval stage out in the ocean. When they become juveniles they move onto the reef and lagoon. Transparency helps save them from being eaten by predators and the adult can look very different.
A few days later the lagoon was swarming with tiny black fish. There were shoals all along the shoreline but particularly around rocks and coral outcrops where they seemed to be grazing, sucking up food like a vacuum cleaner.
The Cook Islands Biodiversity Database lists 18 different sorts of maito. These ones looked like the dusky surgeonfish, however I have since been told they are striped bristletooth (at the moment there's no picture of them in the database).
If the numbers are similar all around Rarotonga, there must be several million of them in the lagoons and there are even more on the outer surfaces of the reef. That’s what the birds, probably brown noddys, are fishing for.
Apparently this mass swarming occurs every five or six years, for reasons unknown, although some of the video of the last time it happened was taken in 2006 and there were larger flocks of fishing noddys that time.
The surviving maito are now growing larger, and there are still plenty around so it’s surprising that there aren’t more birds after them. The birds wouldn’t even have to walk along the beach, just stand in the water and wait for dinner to come to them.
Maybe the noddys actually like the thrill of the chase. It could be fun dive-bombing the surf.
Anyone for avian extreme sports?

Sunday, March 1

Flying high - microlight flight over Rarotonga

This video is a compilation of two microlight flights.
The first, around Nikao, took place in October 2001 and the other, to Muri, in August 2003. Some still photos taken on the Muri flight are included.
In the years since these flights things have changed.
For a start, Avatiu Harbour redevelopment has continued and the western end looks pretty flash now. Mama’s CafĂ© has been demolished and the old police station has been replaced by a new Chinese-built building that, by all accounts, is less rainproof than the old one. The island was hit by five cyclones in 2005; Trader Jacks at Avarua Harbour was trashed and rebuilt – yet again; the T-Shirt Factory building has gone; and the former Marine Resources office was gutted and is now a canoe shed.
And there are a lot more buildings along the main road.
Another change is that you can no longer take a microlight flight to look at it all. Sad to say, that business went pear-shaped.
Air-related companies often seem to come to a sad end here, particularly those closely tourism-related.
Once upon a time we had tandem skydiving. I remember once an eighty-year-old lady made a jump. A birthday treat I think it was. Some birthday present; personally I’d rather have a bottle of champagne. Anyway, obviously not enough other people made the leap so the business folded.
They’re not alone.
Over the years since the airport opened (in the 1970s and a large proportion of the population promptly left for New Zealand, never to return), we’ve had South Pacific Island Airways, Kiwi International, Hawaiian Air, Aloha, Air Nauru, Polynesian Airlines, Air Pacific and Canada 3000. We even had our own airline in 1985, Cook Islands International. It was a partnership with Ansett of Australia, and the plane used for the once-weekly flight had Ansett livery on one side and CI International on the other. It lost huge sums of money and quietly faded away like most of the others. Some airlines went broke, others just cut us out of their routes.
At the moment Pacific Blue (a Virgin company) links Rarotonga with New Zealand and Air Tahiti flies Raro/Papeete.
Air New Zealand used to fly from Rarotonga to Hawaii, Fiji, Papeete and Los Angeles as well as Auckland. Now our government pays AirNZ $5 million a year to keep the LA flight operating. Apart from that it’s Auckland or nothing.
About eight years ago Air NZ’s standard full fare economy return fare from Raro to Auckland was $2200. At the moment the equivalent fare now is $1280.
Internet special fares start at around $600 return.
Competition when we’ve had it has been good for the flying public.