Tauraki Rongo Raea (pictured, right) has made it his mission in life to entice Cook Island youth to take pride in their cultural identity, and advocate for their land if and when they need to stand up for it.
“My aim is to ensure young Cook Islanders know who they are and how they connect to the land,” Tauraki says.
Born and raised in Rarotonga, Tauraki’s father Ngatoko Rongo has ancestral ties to the islands of Mauke, Atiu, Manihiki and Rakahanga, while his mother has links to Mauke, Rarotonga and Tahiti.
“I was lucky enough to grow up planting taro and fishing in the lagoon of Rarotonga, mainly Nikao – I loved it,” he adds.
Tauraki got his first taste of Aotearoa when he studied in Dunedin from 1983-86 before heading back to the Cook Islands to teach Mathematics and Science at Tereora College.
Then 35 years ago, fate intervened and Tauraki entered the world of Broadcasting due to his love of music.
“From there, I went on to be a News Reader on National Broadcasting Radio and Television Cook islands, without any broadcasting qualifications.
“But then I was offered a job to be an Environment Education Officer with the Cook Islands National Environment Service and this was the part of my journey which brought me closer to the land and understanding its importance.”
Tauraki made the move to New Zealand a decade ago, where he has worked in various roles including doing translation work, interpretation, and teaching Māori Kūki 'Āirani to adults.
He also joined the Cook Islands Development Agency of New Zealand (CIDANZ) and is the organisation’s Language Lead.
His time in Aotearoa has provided a new perspective on how the Cook Islands language was faring abroad.
“I have seen inconsistencies in translations, weaknesses in interpretations and the teaching of the language, so four years ago, we (CIDANZ) proposed the establishment of a body to oversee all work to do with language in New Zealand.”
The organisation formed a team which has had regular discussions with the Ministry for Pacific People (MPP) and the Cook Islands Government.
In his Language Lead role at CIDANZ, Tauraki has been able to bring this structure – and Cook Islands Language Week to life, he says.
Tauraki’s upbringing, heritage and vision for his descendants – framed by the economic development taking place in the Pacific - drives him to promote the survival of the Cook Islands language and culture.
“If we can entice our children to learn about their culture, and take pride in their heritage, they will stand up for it – they will know who they are and feel connected to the land.”
Tauraki adds the work he is doing in New Zealand is connected to the mahi of Dr Teina Rongo in Rarotonga.
Dr Rongo is facilitating Atuianga ki te Tango (Reconnecting to the roots), a programme which shows children the abundance of food in our lagoons and oceans, as well as the importance of working on the land again and the importance of the natural environment.
Tauraki says he hopes everyone in New Zealand – particularly Cook Island Māori living here embraces all that ‘Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani – Cook Islands Language Week 2021 offers.
The language week starts on August 1 and concludes on August 7.