Culture is such a topic that is common worldwide. Each ethnic group is built on culture, of their own beliefs, ideas, customs and social behaviours. What is your culture about? Do you know of your culture? How significant is it to you? Over the past 20 years I have met people who’s great grandparents have migrated to another country and they have absolutely no idea of their culture of origin. I know that may seem absurd, but I find it so sad that, that is the reality for some. A friend of ours is 5th generation Scottish but was born and raised in Australia. But seriously he strongly has the traits of a Scotsman, red hair, freckles etc. I encouraged him to visit Scotland and hopefully to find a sense of belonging.

Who has watched the U.S TV series “Who do you think you are?”. For those who haven’t, it is a genealogy documentary tv series, show casing celebrities tracing their family tree. The series that astounded me was Brooke Shields, even she herself was shocked to discover her lineage. All her life she thought she was American, but then to find that she descended from French Nobles, gobsmacked this beautiful woman. That is culture for you, it is believed, practiced and evolved through the ancestors, which in turn becomes embedded in the descendants. Even when you don’t know it, it is part of you.

I myself come from a family that is very strong in our cultural upbringing. I was born and raised in New Zealand, first generation Kiwi. My grandfather migrated to New Zealand in the late 1960’s and my father later in the early 1970’s. Many Cook Islanders migrated around that era, as the New Zealand government was promoting secured jobs for labourers. My father however migrated for education on a scholarship, he met my mother and had me instead. Gave up the tertiary education and worked full time to support us. He later attended University and received his Bachelors degree, better late than never I say. But with all the transition of migrating from Manihiki, Cook Islands to New Zealand I was blessed to have my grandfather, my father and other family members bring with them, our culture. I was taught and told stories of my parents homeland, my homeland, my ancestral beliefs, customs and way of life, like it was from a land of mystery.

I was told the story of where my name originated from, like it was a fairytale. I grew up listening to all of these ancestral histories that have been passed down for generations and what amazes me is how great my ancestors were during their time. They were Warriors of the great Pacific Ocean, great sea farers of their time, adventuring into the unknown and beyond. Discoverers of other lands, venturing distances miles away from the comforts and loved ones back home. To mention, a well known ancestor amongst the Cook Island Māori and New Zealand Māori is my ancestor Kupe, who discovered New Zealand hundreds of years before Captain James Cook. Kupe was from the Island, Te Whoturangaranga known today as Manihiki, from the village Te Matawhorua known today as Tukao. After discovering New Zealand in which he named Aotearoa meaning “Land of the long white cloud” he returned to Te Whoturangaranga (Manihiki) and renamed our family Marae (Land/Homestead) from Toi Tu Rahui Tepapa Te Rautea, to it’s new name Te Marae Te Hono O Te Aotea, connecting his new founded land to his birth home. To mention, his double hulled canoe (vaka) was also named after our village Te Matawhorua (Tukao), specifically connecting him to our village. If you visit the Auckland Museum there is a replica of a waka (canoe) with a plaque of history about Kupe and his discovery of Aotearoa. I am glad to have visited my home of origin Manihiki, first in 1989 and then again in 2006 and hope to visit again soon.

Culture is also your language, your mother tongue. My parents always spoke Manihikian to me but I always responded with the English language. I grew up understanding the Manihikian language but never spoke it, not until I started  relations with my now husband, who is half Manihikian/Atiuan but was born and raised in Manihiki and so then he speaks the language fluently. However I must admit my writing Manihikian is alot fluent than my spoken, but I’m getting there, Better late than never. It’s NEVER too late to learn your Reo (Language).

My families are also very involved with our customary dance culture, which plays a significant part in who we are. It expresses history in our legends and song, which has been handed down from generation to generation. This is not only for my Island Manihiki but also for all the other 14 Islands that make up the Cook Islands. Every year each Island gathers together to perform in several categories, sharing and competing to see which Island has the best story telling skills, in dance and song. It’s such an eventful time, exciting and appreciating of the love for our Cook Islands culture.

As much as I love and am proud to be of Cook Island heritage, I also descend from a few of the other Islands in the Cook Islands and other ethnic backgrounds. I also descend from Pukapuka (3rd generation), Rakahanga (3rd generation), Aitutaki & Rarotonga (4th generation), Samoa (6th generation), Tonga (10th generation), English (5th generation), French (9th generation) and Jewish (10th generation). I was never really interested in the genealogy aspect of my culture but because of the influence of my father, I was swept up into it like a whirlwind and it’s been great connecting families with each other, through the knowledge shared by my father.

Love and hold on tight to your culture, your heritage and be proud of who and where you are from. And be kind and appreciating of other ethnic cultures, for you never know, you just may be part of them too.

God Bless xox


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