Sunday, August 9

Oire Nikao prepares for Te Maeva Nui

Constitution Day in the Cook Islands is 4 August. It celebrates internal self government, a scheme in which we have our own political system (based on the Westminster model) but New Zealand looks after things like defence and Cook Islanders are NZ citizens and have NZ passports.
Most years we have a cultural dance competition, Te Maeva Nui, during the week or so before Constitution Day but this year it’s been delayed until September because the Cooks are hosting two big international sporting events, the World Youth Netball Championships from 10 – 20 August and the Pacific Mini Games from 21 September – 2 October (more about those later).
The theme for this year’s competition is ‘Welcomes and farewells’ to take into account all the people who will be here for the events.
Various village teams have been getting ready for Te Maeva Nui for some time. The people of Nikao village have been busy practicing the dances and preparing their costumes. This video is about getting the materials for the so-called grass skirts.
They aren’t made from grass at all but from the inner bark of the beach hibiscus (or au) tree.
Last month the boys cut hibiscus branches and saplings – long straight ones are best. Au is very fast-growing – grows like a weed in fact.
The women, young and old, strip off the outer bark. The usual Rarotonga method is for thinner branches then to be bundled and put into the lagoon, weighed down with rocks. With thick branches the inner bark is also removed, tied up in bundles and put into the lagoon.
Now, some of the outer islands in the Southern Group have lagoons that are shallow and not suitable for the bundles-of-sticks method so they strip the bark from everything, thick or thin. Either way, things are left in the lagoon for two to three weeks to soften the fibres ready for the next stage in the costume making process.
As you can see, lots of people are involved and everyone has a lot of fun.