A group from the Cook Islands has returned to perform and showcase their culture for the third consecutive year at the Polynesian Culture Center. A former member and student at BYU–Hawaii said the group’s performances inspire Cook Islands students and the community members as they unite.
Daniel Mataroa, team leader of the group and originally from Aitutaki of the Cook Islands, said, “We are displaying our beautiful culture to people through our performances. We want people to feel the mana [power] of the Cook Islands culture when they visit. That’s what we are showcasing.”
The group will remain at the PCC for six weeks and will feature four cultural performances daily and various activities and displays. “We’re here for the purpose of cementing our relationship with the Polynesian Cultural Center. The Cook Islands government and the PCC, through the Ministry of Culture of the Cook Islands,” Mataroa explained.
Connecting with the community
Eden Brown, a sophomore majoring in political science and exercise and sport science from Manihiki and Aitutaki of the Cook Islands, said of the group’s visit, “There’s a greater feeling of love and unity among the Cook Islands community. Every 4 p.m. show, more of the community tend to come and show their support and watch. It’s good to be able to speak our own language and be together in this setting. It definitely brings the Cook Island community together.”
As a previous member of the group that visited the PCC last year, Brown remarked, “I was in their shoes a year ago. I came and performed here with the group last year and that trip really helped me in deciding to come here to study.
“I feel really proud to be a Cook Island student here at BYUH because there aren’t many of us. I hope their trip here inspires them and other Cook Island students back home to come and study.”
The group consists of 22 members who are staying in various locations in the community of Laie. The group consists of five boy and five female dancers and five band members. The other members of the group are responsible for costumes, supervising and other responsibilities.
Mataroa said Laie is a beautiful place and that it is similar to the Cook Islands. “The people here are so friendly and warm-spirited which makes it feel like home. There are also about 200 Cook Islanders living in the community so it’s nice to connect with them.”
A showcase of culture
Mataroa remarked, “We are here to showcase our culture and our heritage. We have nice beaches and beautiful sights in the Cook Islands, but we have so much more. We want people to come as a result of this because of our culture, activities and amazing people.”
Mataroa said the long-term goal of the group coming to the PCC is to eventually have a Cook Islands village at the PCC. “That’s going to take some time and commitment. The Cook Islands government has to be involved with that and a project like that. It’s going to take some time.”
The Cook Islands group has four shows per day and different activities for guests to do in between the shows. The activities and displays include traditional Maori herbal medicine making, traditional games, costume making, artifacts on display, drumming lessons and investment opportunities as well as an information booth about the Cook Islands.
Brown said the opportunity to showcase the Cook Island culture is a big privilege and opportunity. “We love to sing and dance back home. We learn this from a young age, and it is so much a part of our lives. We love to share it with people and let them know that we are there in the Pacific.”
A rewarding opportunity
According to Mataroa, “Being selected to come here is a big deal for anyone in the Cook Islands. It is such a great opportunity and experience to represent our country and culture here in this environment. For us, it’s like being an astronaut.
“When we pick the members for the team, we pick the best that we have to offer. We select people who are not only great dancers but have a great attitude in representing the Cook Islands for the thousands of people we will perform for during our six-week stay.”
Brown agreed, saying dancing in the Cook Islands group is a big privilege. “The performers are like the national team, not many people get selected.”
Tony Turaki, a performer for the group from Mauke and Aitutaki of the Cook Islands, said of the opportunity to perform at the PCC, “I’m used to this because I perform a lot back home. This is definitely a different crowd here; the people here really love it and the feedback we get is quite touching. We have many people coming up to us telling us how much they enjoyed our performances and culture.
“The lifestyle is pretty similar to back home, just a little more busy here. The PCC... reminds me of my home and my village in some ways too. We all love our culture and are happy to be sharing it here.”