Ngaire Utanga (third from left) with her Ura fitness group.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
The Cook Islands community in Tauranga are nurturing their culture through music and dance.
This year’s theme for the Cook Islands Language Week is ‘Ātuitui’ia au ki te au peu o tōku kāinga Ipukarea, which means to “connect me to the traditions and culture of my homeland”.
Cook Islands Language Week runs from July 30 to August 5.
Ngaire Utanga runs a weekly ura, or traditional Cook Islands dance fitness class, where people can learn the fundamentals and also keep active.
Utanga grew up in Rarotonga and started ura in kindergarten and is now a dancer.
She began her classes last year and numbers have been growing, with participants from the ages of 4 to 65.
“Because of these classes, we were able to do our first performance at the Oceania Cultural Festival and will be performing at the upcoming Cook Islands Language Week celebration.”
The classes are supported by Te Moananui Society, a collective made up of Cook Islanders living in Tauranga.
Secretary and treasurer of the collective, Bevan Rakoia, said the classes helped Cook Islands youth engage with their heritage and develop an appreciation of their culture through dance.
The society offers a range of activities for the Tauranga community during the language week, from weaving to traditional Cook Islands drumming workshops.
Pomani Teao volunteers his time to run the drumming workshops.
Growing up in the Cook Islands, Teao started playing the drums in primary school and now has more than 50 years of experience.
The classes run every week, with 12 committed participants who’ve recently done their first drumming performance at the Solomon Islands Language Week celebration.
For most of the group, it was their first time performing in front of a crowd.
Group member Riini Pihama said they had only played together for a short time.
“It feels quite organic and natural despite performing in front of a lot of people. I think that’s part of the cultural welcoming.”
The group was offered an opportunity to perform in China but felt they weren’t ready.
Teao planned to return to Rarotonga permanently at the end of the year, so the group was learning as much as they could before he left.
Another group member, Kris Inamata, said it would be an amazing experience to go to somewhere like China one day and be able to say they had travelled the world with their culture and to show they were a proud Cook Islander.
“We’re going to try and keep this group growing and not just for us but for our tamariki, the future generation.”
The Te Moananui Society Incorporated will be running events throughout Cook Islands Language Week.
Sunday, July 30 – Hīkoi around Mount Maunganui at 8am followed by breakfast
Monday, July 31 – Weaving Workshop, 5.30pm-7.30pm at 26B 12th Ave
Tuesday, August 1- Tauranga Intermediate drumming workshop
Wednesday, August 2- Te Puke High School drumming workshop
Thursday, August 3 – Community Ura Dance class, 5.30pm-6.30pm at Elizabeth Street Community Hall
Friday, August 4 – Selwyn Ridge School drumming workshop
Saturday, August 5 – Community Celebration, 3.30pm-7.30pm at Pāpāmoa Sports and Recreation Community Hall
For more information on events, visit the Ministry for Pacific Peoples website