Tuesday, August 31

Rarotonga tattoo

Tattooing in the Cook Islands was one of the many things almost stamped out by the missionaries who regarded it as a pagan custom. It was discouraged from their arrival in the 1820s and eventually they persuaded chiefs to prohibit the practice in 1879.
The art of tattooing survived – just – until the 1990s when it suddenly became not only acceptable but desirable.
The South Pacific Festival of the Arts held in Rarotonga in 1992 certainly had a lot to do with this when tattooists from other islands demonstrated new designs and techniques.
Tattoos are now common for young men and women who want to show they are proud of their culture and traditions.
In the video Kroc Coulter is continuing a chest tattoo on Ian George. He’s assisted by Numa McKenzie as a ‘stretcher’ (stretching the skin to make sure the ink goes where it should).
Kroc’s tools are all hand-made of natural materials. The comb (of needles) on the tattoo adze is made from boars’ teeth, carved and flattened. A spatula is used to tap the adze to get the ink into the skin.
Actually the rat-a-tat-tat sound this makes is possibly where the word tattoo comes from. The local name for the art is ‘tatau’ which means to tap or drum.
You can hear this in the video.
The other tapping sound in the background is from women making tapa cloth. Apparently this is another practice discouraged by the missionaries who didn’t like the noise it made. They encouraged local women to take up patchwork instead and so tivaivai was born!

Wednesday, August 25

Marumaru Atua meets the Picton Castle

Marumaru Atua is one of five double-hulled outrigger sailing canoes (vaka) built in New Zealand and funded by the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea. The canoes are made from modern materials but the design is traditional, in fact it is modelled on Te Au O Tonga, the wooden Cook Islands voyaging canoe which has made many Pacific journeys since its maiden voyage in 1995.
In April this year the fleet of canoes left Auckland and sailed first to Raivavae in French Polynesia and then to Rarotonga. (For more information check the Cook Islands Voyaging Society website.)
The Picton Castle is a three-masted sailing barque, based in Novia Scotia but registered in the Cook Islands. It’s on the fifth trip around the world – each one takes about 14 months – and sailed here from French Polynesia. From Rarotonga the Picton Castle will head first to Palmerston and Pukapuka and then west to Tonga.
She’s a true working tall ship with a professional crew of 12 plus 40 trainees who learn things like handling sails, scrubbing the deck, taking a turn at the wheel, raising anchor, hauling on lines, helping in the galley, going aloft (optional), and keeping lookout. (For more information check the Picton Castle website.)
Marumaru Atua sailed out to meet the Picton Castle and escorted her to Avatiu Harbour. Some of the crew will be trying sailing in a rather smaller vessel over the next few days.
The Voyaging Society is planning to run trips for tourists and locals as a fund-raising exercise. The Okeanos Foundation currently owns the vaka which is worth about $1 million, but it will sell it to the nation for $200,000 provided the money can be raised by the end of 2012.
The vaka is also being used to train current crew members for their captains’ certificates and to recruit youngsters to become future vaka sailors.

Friday, August 20

Te Maeva Nui – Arorangi Kapa Rima

The kapa rima is a story-telling dance and is usually very graceful with lots of hand and arm movements.
The young Arorangi dancers put on a fine performance in their kapa rima (action song) at Te Maeva Nui. Although there was no overall competition, this dance was judged to be category 1 and earned Arorangi $1000.
A huge amount of work goes into preparing all the dances and it usually involves a large proportion of the village. The costumes are made from scratch, the mamas help out here but the young dancers also do their share, and it takes hours of practice to get everyone moving in unison, but in the end it’s all worth it. Everyone on stage and in the audience enjoyed it.
It’s a sobering thought though that it’s a one-off performance.

Tuesday, August 17

Rarotonga whale watching

We were heading home from shopping last Saturday when we saw parked cars and motorbikes near the sea wall at the end of the airport runway. People were standing, staring out past the reef and since no planes were due in at that time it looked like a whale sighting.
We carried on to Nikao beach where more people had gathered and sure enough there was a pod of whales heading slowly along the reef towards Arorangi. They were spouting, breaching and thrashing their tales about. In fact they seemed to be having a great time playing, just like kids in the waves.
We rushed back home, grabbed cameras and binoculars and went down to Black Rock at the Arorangi end of Nikao beach.
The whales were getting close to the rock, still leaping about. A couple of small boats kept pace with the pod, probably Nan Hauser of the Whale Research Centre on Rarotonga. During the whale season here, she and a group of volunteers keep tabs on all these magnificent visitors to our waters. Apparently whales come up to this part of the world from the Antarctic to calve between about July and October.
The pod put on quite a show for a very appreciative audience of both locals and tourists, then started heading back the way they had come.
I’ve seen quite a few whales this year, far more than I have in previous years. I don’t know if that’s because there are more of them around or just that I’ve been getting out more but either way it’s a fabulous sight.
(For more information on Nan and the research check out http://www.whaleresearch.org/.)

Thursday, August 12

Te Maeva Nui – Atiu Pe’e

The competition side of Te Maeva Nui was different from other years because there was no big cash prize for the overall winner – last year it was $15,000.
The five teams who joined in (Nikao, Arorangi, and Rarotonga-based Mangaia, Atiu and Pukapuka) did it for love of their culture and to give their youngsters a chance to shine. The audience loved it, everyone on stage seemed to be having a wonderful time and they all deserve congratulations. And nobody went home empty-handed because what sponsorship money the ministry of culture had was spread around all teams.
Judges put teams into three categories for each item. In the choir and imene tuki sections category 1 earned $500, category 2 $400 and category 3 $300. In the ute, pe’e, kapa rima and ura pau sections category 2 earned $800 and category 1 $1000.
This Atiu pe’e was awarded a category 1 ranking.
The story was about a warrior who killed another. The dead man’s tribe had to avenge his death before the night was over.
The pe’e is a chant. In the olden days it commemorated a particular event or brave deed but very few traditional pe’e have survived.
The pe’e performed at Te Maeva Nui are specially written. The main players act out a story which very often involves murder, treachery and revenge. The rest of the team dance and chant an accompaniment. The costumes are natural materials, leaves and such, for the chorus but often tapa, headdresses and ornaments for the stars.
As with all Cook Islands performances, everyone has a marvellous time!

Sunday, August 8

Te Maeva Nui Choir Competition

The first competition events of Te Maeva Nui cultural festival are the choir and imene tuku sections on Sunday evening.
The choirs may sing traditional hymns or something specially composed for the occasion.
Imene tuki are traditional Cook Islands hymns, unaccompanied and including grunts as well as words.
This video is from the choirs of the five teams in this year’s competition; Nikao and Arorangi villages and groups representing Mangaia, Pukapuka and Atiu made up from people living on Rarotonga but with outer island roots.
(The Ministry of Culture DVD of Te Maeva Nui will have full performances of choir and imene tuki. It should be available in about a month from the ministry website.)

Thursday, August 5

Pacific Princess steals the show

The Kiribati community put on an impressive performance at International Night on the first day of Te Maaeva Nui, but the star of the show was a tiny tot who did her own thing and delighted the audience.
A dance champion in the making!

Te Maeva Nui International Night

August 4 is Constitution Day in the Cook Islands, celebrating the day the country achieved self-governance 45 years ago.
Te Maeva Nui takes place during this week and is a festival of the performing arts.
In some years outer islands dance teams come to Rarotonga but this year there’s no money available to fund their travel, no doubt due to the Toagate affair, a saga of serial stupidity which cost us millions of dollars and will continue to do so for years to come. (If you don’t know what ‘Toagate’ is – and really want to - you can Google it to find out more. Here in the Cook Islands we just wish it would go away).
Te Maeva Nui always begins with International Night, a variety show with performances by local expatriate communities, champion dancers and overseas cultural dance teams.
This video features extracts from the first half of the show and includes singer Tara Kauvai, the Kiribati community, our male and female dancers of the year, Miss Cook Islands, the Philippines and Slovenia. Yes, you read that right! The Academic Folk Dance Group from Maribor in Slovenia has been coming here for several years and is very popular.
Saturday’s International Night is followed by the choir competition on Sunday while the cultural dance contest continues for the rest of the week.
The Ministry of Cultural Development is filming all the shows and will be issuing a DVD of this year's festival in a month or so. The DVD from the Dancer of the Year competition earlier this year has now been released. You can check out prices, including overseas postage, on the ministry website.

Sunday, August 1

The Aranui Experience: Ua Pou

Our second stop in the Marquesas (third on the journey) was Ua Pou, about 40km south of Nuku Hiva. It’s home to about two thousand people about half of whom live in Hakahau, a small town with the best anchorage on the island. There’s a concrete dock that the Aranui 3 tied up against; no waiting for whaleboats, passengers were able to walk ashore at will although once down the gangplank you had to dodge between forklift trucks, four wheel drive pickups, containers, crates and barrels as well as a large number of local inhabitants coming to collect cargo.
The arrival of the Aranui every three weeks or so is a big occasion.
On a hill overlooking Hakahau bay there is a large white cross. That’s not unusual – there are large white crosses scattered all over hillsides in the Marquesas. However this one is quite accessible, a thirty or forty minute walk first along a concrete road then a good track. Very nice view from the top over Hakahau and also the next door bay Anahoa, an uninhabited valley with a very nice beach but lots of nono (sandflies).
July is heiva (festival) time in Tahiti and many dance teams head to Papeete for the annual cultural competitions but some of the more remote islands hold their own mini-heiva, Ua Pou amongst them. A marquee set up at the Hakahau Community Centre housed stalls with wood and stone carvings (the island has a reputation for good carving), jewellery and straw weaving. The stalls surrounded an open space where children were performing dances and relay races involving food (coconut grating and breadfruit peeling). The older dancers would be performing later but we had to leave by mid-afternoon so didn’t get to see them.
But quite a few statues, masks and other souvenirs accompanied us back on board. It’s good to know that we tourists were contributing to the local economy as well as having fun!