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Cook Island Language Week: Connect me to the soil of my ancestors

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This year’s theme for ‘Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani – Cook Islands Language Week is ‘Ātuitui’ia au ki te Oneone o tōku ‘Ui Tupuna which means, connect me to the soil of my ancestors.

The theme reflects on the journey of Cook Islands peoples in New Zealand, as well as the longing of young Cook Islanders to connect with their language, culture, and identity. Acknowledging that while community elders are fundamental to the teaching and sharing of Cook Islands language, the leadership of young people as the next wave of cultural and language experts is also critical in keeping the connection to their homelands alive.

This year’s theme also reflects the overarching 2021 Pacific Language Week theme of Wellbeing, by linking the importance of language to overall wellbeing.


Interesting facts about the Cook Islands

1. IT ONLY TAKES 20 MINUTES TO GET TO ANYWHERE IN RAROTONGA:

The main island of Rarotonga, home to the Cook Islands’ capital Avarua, is only 32 kilometres around – so nothing is ever very far away! The main road circumnavigates the whole island which means you can get almost anywhere in a maximum of 20 minutes. Say goodbye to traffic jams, google maps and spending hours in the car!
 

2. IT’S ONE OF THE ONLY COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD WHERE THEY ENCOURAGE YOU TO SMILE IN YOUR DRIVER’S LICENCE PHOTO!

The Cook Islands are known for their friendly, welcoming people – so it’s probably no surprise that it is one of the only places in the world that actually encourages you to smile when you get your driver’s licence photo! A happy Cook Islands’ licence is a nice little souvenir to take home, and let’s be honest, it’s hard not to smile when you are in paradise.
 

3. NO BUILDING IS ALLOWED TO BE TALLER THAN A COCONUT TREE:

Plenty of other island nations have been influenced by the western world and large concrete buildings are not uncommon next to beautiful crystal clear lagoons or amongst lush tropical forests. The fact that there is a law restricting the height of buildings is one of the amazing things that makes the Cook Islands so unique. There is no such thing as a ‘high rise’ in this island nation and the locals like it that way!
 

4. THERE ARE NO POISONOUS SNAKES OR SPIDERS:

Tourists coming into Australia are often told horror stories of gigantic venomous spiders and killer snakes – the Cook Islands are bliss for those who aren’t a fan of these creepy crawly creatures! You will be relieved to know you won’t find a single venomous snake or spider anywhere. Leave your phobias at home and walk comfortably through the rainforest, explore waterfalls and take grass tracks down to the lagoon without a fear in the world!

5. THE MAXIMUM SPEED IS 50KM PER HOUR:

Due to the small size of these island and the relaxed nature of island life, there is no need to drive anywhere in a hurry. The speed limit in built up areas is 30km per hour, while you can go up to 50km on less populated stretches of road. Turn up the Bob Marley and feel the breeze in your hair as you coast around at a leisurely pace.

6. THERE ARE NO FAST FOOD CHAINS:

Another way this nation has remained authentic is by staying away from fast food chains like McDonalds and KFC! Don’t worry, you won’t go hungry - Local cuisine is truly delightful & Rarotonga is a foodie’s paradise. Fresh fruit, local vegetables and seafood are readily available and if you do still feel like a burger, Palace Burger offers the Rarotongan alternative to a drive through. Still not satisfied? Head down to Vili’s Burgers near the night market in Muri Beach to bust your burger cravings!
 

7. THERE ARE NO DOGS ON AITUTAKI ISLAND:

Encountering furry friends on your beach walk in many South Pacific destinations is common place, so it’s interesting that the island of Aitutaki has no dogs! While no one knows exactly why - local legend has it that the Chief’s daughter was bitten by a dog, so he prohibited them.
 

8. COOK ISLANDERS ARE AMAZING DANCERS:

While the Hula was made famous by Hawaii, the Cook Islands are home to the fast and sensual Ura. Dancing is a very prominent part of local culture and dance competitions and events are held regularly. Locals proudly claim to have the second fastest hula in the South Pacific, only beaten by the Tahitian Hura.

9. COOK ISLANDERS HAVE NEW ZEALAND PASSPORTS:

Most people know that the Cook Islands have a close relationship with New Zealand and use NZ Dollars as currency. However a lot of people don’t know that they also have New Zealand passports! There is a way to check if someone is a true local, as they are issued with a “Cook Islander” status stamp inside their passport!

10. SECOND LARGEST PRODUCER OF BLACK PEARLS IN THE WORLD:

The Cook Islands have been commercially cultivating black pearls since the 1970’s and are the second largest producer globally, after Tahiti. The majority of production comes from farms in the remote island of Manihiki, which is about 1,299 kilometres north of Rarotonga.

11. THE ISLAND OF PUKAPUKA HAS ITS OWN LANGUAGE:

While most Cook Islanders speak English and/or Cook Island Maori (Te reo maori o Kuki Airani), the small island of Pukapuka has its very own language. Pukapukan is spoken by the local community and only approximately 2,000 people globally are able to speak this Polynesian language.

12. YOU CAN WALK THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF THE MAIN ISLAND:

Rarotonga is somewhat mountainous in the centre, with the highest peak (Te Manga) reaching 653m above sea level – so it is no surprise that a lot of people don’t realise you can actually walk through the middle! The “Cross Island Trek” is a breathtaking 3 hour walk which takes you from one side of the island to the other, ending at a nice cool waterfall. The views are truly spectacular from the top, this is definitely one not to be missed!



Common Cook Island Phrases

1. “KIA ORANA” = HELLO (KEY-AH-O-RAAH-NAH)

We start with the basics and the first thing you’ll probably hear when you land in Rarotonga. “Kia Orana” is the greeting used to say “hello” in the Cook Islands and is probably the one you’ll use most often without a doubt. The literal translation is actually “May you live a long and fulfilling life” which is a wonderful sentiment that typifies the Cook Island culture.

2. “AERE RA” = GOODBYE (EYE-RAY-RAAH)

The next most frequent phrase you’ll probably hear is “Aere Ra” which means goodbye to someone who is leaving. You may use this yourself if you are the person who is staying and the other is leaving. If you’re the person leaving, however, you’ll say “E no’o ra”.

3. “KA KITE” = SEE YOU LATER (KAH-KEE-TEH)

Another nice way of saying farewell to a friend or host in the Cook Islands is to say “Ka kite”. Readers from New Zealand will be familiar with this phrase where “Ka Kite Ano” is often used to say the same thing in Maori. Kiwis, therefore, won’t even need to memorise this as it’ll already be in the memory bank, ready for use!

4. “MEITAKI” = THANK YOU (MAY-TAH-KEY)

Cook Islanders are a very gracious, kind and polite people whose warmth you’ll undoubtedly feel as soon as you arrive. As a generous human being yourself, you’ll want to return such pleasantries which is where “Meitaki” or “Meitaki ma’ata” (which means “Thank you very much”) will come in handy.

5. “AE” = YES (EYE), “KARE” = NO (KAH – RAY)

These two are so simple we thought we’d put them together as one. “Ae” and “Kare” are the ways of saying “Yes” and “No” in the Cook Islands. You’ve probably never thought about it but you do get asked a surprising number of yes/no questions when on holiday, especially when there is a language barrier and the locals want to keep things simple. With “Ae” and “Kare” you’ll be able to oblige them with answers.

6. “KO __ TÒKU INGOA.” = MY NAME IS  __ (KOH-TOE-KOO-EEH-NOA)

Stepping up a bit in difficulty, you may get asked by a local the question “Ko‘ai tò‘ou ingoa?”. This is the Cook Island way of saying “What is your name?”. The way to respond is to say “Ko John tòku ingoa.” which translates to “My name is John” (using your own name of course). It’s not that difficult really and a nice way to connect with the people you meet.

7. “’E A’A TE MONI I TEIA/TE RA?” = HOW MUCH DOES THIS/THAT COST? (EH-AH-AH-TEH-MON-EEH-EEH-TEH-EEH-AH/ TEH – RAH)

When visiting the Cook Islands there’s a good chance you’ll do a bit of shopping while you’re there, especially if you’re checking out the local markets. If you’re at one of the local stalls and interested in their goods you can inquire about the price by saying “E a’a te moi i teia ra?”. If you’re pointing to something out of reach you can substitute “teia” for “te” (like “this” for “that” in English).

8. “TA’I, RUA, TORU, ‘?, RIMA” = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (TAH-EE, ROO-AH, TOH-RUU, AH, REE-MAH)

Again while you’re out and about shopping or ordering food/drinks, you might find yourself wanting more of one thing. This is where knowing a few numbers can help. To stop you getting too carried away with your spending we kept it to 1-5 to start with which are “Ta’i, Rua, Toru, ‘?, Rima”. Again the Kiwis out there will recognise as being the same or very similar to Maori numbers which will again make things a bit easier.

9. “TEI ‘EA TE PI‘A PÀ‘Ì?” = WHERE IS THE BATHROOM? (TEH-EEH-EH-AH-TEH-PEE-AH-PAH-EEH)

Another useful phrase to have handy is “Tei ‘ea te pi‘a pà‘ì?” with respect to bathrooms. There’s no real need to explain why this is helpful as it really is one of the essentials when travelling. It’s one of the more challenging phrases but once you get the hang of it you’ll be sorted for the whole trip.

10. “KIA MANUIA” = GOOD LUCK (KEY-AH-MAH-NUI-AH)

Last but not least we have “Kia Manuia”, the Cook Island way of saying “Good luck”. You’ll probably hear this a bit from the locals especially if you’re doing the more adventurous activities there (of which there are many). For you, it’ll be a good one to use on your friends and family you’re there with which might even get a bit of a laugh.



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