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Tuesday, 21 May 2019 06:32 pm

Cook Islands language disappearing

Jan 28th, 2009 | By | Category: Latest News, News


LANGUAGE NEST: Bridget Kauraka (seated with basket), head teacher at Te Punanga O Te Reo Kuki Airani, leads children in song while assistant Anne Tereora plays guitar.

RECENT acknowledgement of the need to save Pacific Island languages is no surprise to Wellington Cook Islanders, who have been struggling to keep their language alive for 30 years.

The 2006 census showed the number of New Zealand-born Cook Islanders able to speak their language has fallen to 5% from 6% in 2001, notes former Pacific Island Affairs Minister Winnie Laban.

She was speaking at a function in the Beehive to launch a Labour-led government funded website, Mind Your Language, aimed at rejuvenating the Niuean, Cook Islands, and Tokelauan languages.

After the 2001 census, the Ministry of Education worked with community leaders to create guidelines for teaching Cook Islands Maori in the New Zealand curriculum.

Wellington’s Te Punanga O Te Reo Kuki Airani childcare centre in Berhampore, where 60% of the children are of Cook Islands origin, has a regular programme of formal language sessions for the children.

Head teacher Bridget Kauraka says group sessions work on Cook Islands language skills, numbers, days of the week, and singing, in accordance with the guidelines.

“The best way to teach children is to learn a song,” she says.

Books in Cook Islands Maori have been provided by the ministry.

But Tepaeru Tereora, who founded the childcare centre 30 years ago, says the children are still in danger of losing the language they have learned if they can not carry it on at primary school.

She has worked in the past with local primary and intermediate school principals, setting up ways to continue the language programme. But since those principals have moved on, “we lost that connection of keeping the language alive”.

Mrs Tereora says no funding has come from the Government, in contrast to support for the Maori language.

Both Mrs Tereora and Porirua health worker Rima Andrews say the dominance of the English language is as strong for Cook Islanders living in Rarotonga as those living in New Zealand.

Mrs Andrews says at this year’s Te Maeve Nui (Independence Day) festivities in Porirua, the high commissioner “spoke in English the whole time”.

“When I was at school we were not allowed to speak Cook Islands Maori, as soon as we hit the school grounds we were punished for speaking it.

“Our parents believed the best way for us was to speak English. They thought it was the only way we could get jobs, even in the 1970s.”

She says although the culture is being kept alive it is mainly through dance and song, and there are people crying out for classes for preschoolers.

“Children who can speak Te Reo are very grounded.”

In September of this year the Cook Island community launched a website called Tuatua Mai, to teach the language online.

There are 10 populated islands in the Cooks, and each has its own dialect. The language being taught in New Zealand, Cook Islands Maori, is based on the Rarotongan dialect.

The 2006 census identified a population of 19,569 resident in the Cook Islands, and 58,008 in New Zealand.

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  1. I am a half Cook Island and I think Cook Island should be taught in schools for those who would like to be taught the language.

  2. Kia orana,
    I was born in Aitutaki and raised in New Zealand, then migrated to Sydney Australia 22yrs ago.
    My concern like the people above is our language and culture slowly dying and our future generation missing out on their heritage.
    We in Sydney are slowly trying to bring back our language & culture by teaching our children from pre-school to school leaving age.
    I have grandchildren from mixed cultures, aboriginal, Chilean and also New Zealand Maori who are attending this weekend school and it not only gives them a sense of belonging but they enjoy the lessons and are keen to learn more. I would like to see our Cook Island Language incorporated in the Mainstream School System as I feel that our children will benefit both in their everyday community life but also the Mainstream school.

  3. Hi Anne.
    Just thought you may like to know the following. Since my wife and i came here in 1997, we were adamant that our children (which we planned to have) speak our mother tongue, reo Kuki airani.We realised that if this was our goal, we had to do something totally different to what was happening here in Aoteoroa. If we sent them to schools surrounded by english speaking people, we could only expect them to know english and not cook islands maori. Simple logic.So we decided to homeschool them.Long story short, all 12 of our children have been taught to speak the language and converse quite comfortably in both english and maori. They also learn Spanish and French online, which gave us ideas of putting our reo on the web.This year, we have gone online and shared our teachings with others who are interested.Our site is
    The loss of the language is going back maybe 3-4 generations here in NZ. There are many NZ-borns who are offspring of the first wave of Cook islanders who settled in NZ (as far back as the 1940’s, after the second world war) who dont possess the language.They may be 50 years plus, and have children who may be in their 30’s plus, who have had children yet again…who have missed out on the language again.The language will survive if it is arrested by the parents first. Without the parents wanting it so bad….the children have little hope. No matter how many kindies pop up….the parents must buy into it wholeheartedly. They must want it for themselves first, before the kids pick up. The old story, we must role-model to our kids what we wish for them to do. Cant expect them to learn the language at a punanga…then return home and talk english to mum, dad and the brothers and sisters. Waste of time. Its got to be a full on speak -the- language- at- home policy. No other way around it. Thats exactly how everyone who learnt to speak english as their first language did it….no books, no computer.Just speak.

    Hopefully, you read this, and others too, and put the resources in the right areas.With the internet, every child & adult should now have access regardless what mainstream school they go to, or what country they reside in.We must take a lead from the NZ Maori’s and turn this around by adopting some of the strategies they have used to get their language as a mainstay in NZ. Wow-awesome stuff.Maori TV.Maori Party. Kapa Haka. Wow.Mean Maori Mean!!!

    Firstly though, we must be proud of who we are.Proud to be Cook Islanders. Proud to be Nesian.Proud to be Mitiaro, Rarotongan, Aitutaki, etcetc. As soon as we stop trying to be something which we really arent…ie Kiwis or NZ Maori’s…..we will make big progress. For ourselves as individuals. And mostly for our children and our childrens children. Hope these insights contribute to the debate.

    Kiaorana and kia manuia. Tairi Maoate, Muriwai Beach,New Zealand

  4. Kia orana
    Thank you Tairi for your informative comments. I am so proud of what you and your partner did for your 12 children!! That is commitment and dedication. You also have a website for learning the language!

    I’m in Porirua and at the moment working with a small group of dedicated members on growing our language at home, in schools and in our community. So we are quietly working to find out what are people doing? and what help do they need to do the job better. For example the punanga reo group is wanting a resource for the parents to learn the language of their babies so they can continue the learning into the homes.

    The ministry of Education and Ministry of Pacific Islands Affairs are working closely with us at the moment. We are keeping a record of what we are doing so other regions can learn from it. I have also written the tivaevae framework for our plan that we will be developing with the support of the two ministries. I have been in to the first two lessons of your website – meitaki maata no to korua maroiroi

  5. Some writers tend to come and go, but I think you’ll be around a long time. As long as you keep pumping out this kind of content you’ll be popular. Thanks for the great information.

  6. I can tell you aren’t an average person by the way you write content. Your content is way too engaging and intelligent to come from an average thinker. Thank you.

  7. A formidable share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing somewhat similar analysis on this. He in fact purchased me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile.

  8. To ensure the survival of our culture , language and so forth our children must be committed into learning the Culture.Parents NEED to sit down with their children and teach them the language and children NEED to go online to learn words in Cook Island Maori and then they need to speak it to their family members.What we get tought by our parents is what we need to teach our children so we can ensure the survival of our culture.We need people out there of Cook Island Descent to be leaders and ensure that the primary countries of Kuki population (NZ , AUS and COOK ISLANDS) have programmes which can ensure the teaching of our language and traditions and dance etc. I mean we have many young Cook Islanders who drum for their school KUKI GROUP but they probably don’t even know the name of the drum in Kuki Airani.We must ensure that parents teachs their kids the language. Like Samoans and Tongans , they have influenced their youth so much with their languages and traditions . Instead of just havin the annual Pasifica festival , we should make our own festival .. (yes i know funding will be an issue) which will particulary showcase the languages of our culture . Better yet we could have an organisation of people , who are Cooks and who will have a conference annualy and then divide up in to groups to go into different citites to have a 6 month teaching course of our language, The experience for these people can be great , visiting different citites but at least this way people will be learning the language.We need ways to influence and teach our languages to other Cook Islanders , and they are many fun ways of doing this , but i do hope that there will be a leader in our language who will stand up for our culture and ensure the teaching of it .

    I am just a 12 year old boy , who resides in West Auckland NZ , but i do not know much of the language besides how to count 1-10 and some other basic words in Reo Kuki Airani .Like many other young Cook Islands , I am commited to learning our culture and commited to teaching it to youth for when i am a Parent.

    Meitaki Maata , Kia Orana and Kia Manuia !

  9. Many Cook Islanders will tell you how there are more Cook Islanders living in New Zealand and Australia than in the Cook Islands.

  10. Have just come back to NZ from Aitutaki, know a little NZ Reo but really want to learn Aitutaki. So glad I found this sight. Mavis

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