Cook Islands language disappearing
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.
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.