Several weeks ago, this blog reported on the arrival of 17 performers from the Cook Islands National Arts Theatre for a six-week run from July 17 to August 24, 2017. Everyone was excited — the performers, the Cook Island community around Laie, and the Polynesian Cultural Center; but before they actually took the stage, most of us just didn’t realize how thrilling they are.
They’re fantastic, and if you’re in Hawaii or coming during this period, you’ve got to see them in person.
First extended Cook Islands appearance at PCC
The Cook Islands group “consists of five drummers, four female dancers, four male dancers, and two weavers plus the group leaders,” said PCC senior manager William Mahoni, who has been coordinating logistics for them. He added they perform every afternoon in a special mini-village located between the PCC’s Hawaiian and Tahitian Villages, and also several evenings each week in the Center’s Hukilau Marketplace. (The PCC is closed on Sundays.)
“This will be the first time we will have a Cook Islands group stay for six weeks,” Mahoni said.
The group’s leaders include senior manager Piltz Napa, representing the government tourism board and a BYUH/PCC alumnus from the mid-1980s who has two children currently attending the university; Danny Mataroa, the lead emcee, a hereditary Cook Islands chieftain, a well-known entertainer in Rarotonga and a farmer; and David Akanoa, a field officer in the Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister’s office, who also has several children living in the Laie area.
The Honorable Teariki Heather, Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister and also Minister of Culture, negotiated the extended appearance with PCC President Alfred Grace and BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner over the past year. “He is driving a majority of what’s happening with our coming,” Napa said. He added negotiations will continue, in the hopes of arranging for more Cook Islands students to attend BYUH and work at the PCC in the future.
PCC villagers welcome Cook Islanders
Before their first public appearance on July 17, “chiefs” and representatives from each of the Polynesian Cultural Center villages officially welcomed the Cook Islanders and presented them with practical gifts of food.
Delsa Atoa Moe, PCC vice president of cultural presentations, which oversees the villages, next explained that PCC president Grace was on the mainland attending a board of directors meeting and unable to join them. She then said, “Today is a historical day, being this is the first time we are going to have an extended showcase of the Cook Islands here at the Polynesian Cultural Center — but it is not the first time that the Cook Islands have been represented here.”
“The Cook Islands have been represented at the PCC ever since the beginning by pioneers such as Patoa Benioni. Wherever he worked, he represented the Cook Islands. Mary Cummings, who was here when I came to school [in the 1980s], whether she was a tour guide, dancing in the night show, or working in the Tahitian Village, she represented the Cook Islands. And there were others: Each of them represented the Cook Islands wherever they worked at the PCC, and they did so very well. You have every reason to be proud of them and the way they represented your culture.”
“As you work here for the next six weeks, yes you are representing the Cook Islands, and along with us here you are representing Polynesians,” she said.
‘Welcome to our PCC ‘ohana’
“Welcome to our PCC ‘ohana [family],” Moe continued. “We look forward to getting to know you better, and hope you get to know us better. We are not looking forward to the end of the next six weeks.”
Responding first in Rarotongan, Mataroa then said, “On behalf of the people of the Cook Islands, from our prime minister to the very youngest child, we’d like to say thank you very much for your symbolic and practical welcome. We will treasure these [pointing to the gifts of food], and probably in the next two days it will all be gone.”
The Cook Islanders, in turn, then presented Moe and Steve Laulu, PCC Islands Manager, with gifts woven from rito — young coconut leaves, from which they weave prized Cook Island crafts. “Thank you very much for your hospitality.”
The group sang and danced for the PCC delegation, with Teuira Napa —
a former PCC student performer, Miss Cook Islands and Miss South Pacific
— in the foreground at the end of the video clip.
‘History in the making’
Moe then invited the Cook Islanders to raise their island nation’s flag and sing their national anthem for the very first time at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
“We’re part of history in the making,” said Mataroa.
Story and images by Mike Foley, who has worked off-and-on at the Polynesian Cultural Center since 1968. He has been a full-time freelance writer and digital media specialist since 2002, and had a long career in marketing communications and PR before that. He learned to speak fluent Samoan as a Mormon missionary before moving to Laie in 1967 — and still does. He has traveled extensively over the years throughout Polynesia and other Pacific islands. Foley is mostly retired now, but continues to contribute to various PCC and other media.