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Te Maeva Nui theme inspired by the times

The Cook Islands community is about to celebrate its second Te Meava Nui cultural festival in Auckland next weekend. As John Utanga reports, the theme behind this year’s event is a sign of the times.

The 2019 Te Maeva Nui Festival here in Aotearoa proved to be an explosion of song and dance, a community’s expression of pride in their Polynesian roots.

Fast forward to 2021 and groups taking part know exactly the standards that need to be met to compete in the two-day festival.

“It is a beautiful event. It’s one of the best events for our people,” says Aitutaki Enua dance tutor Mama Taiau Nicholas.

Back in 2019, a New Zealand festival of this kind and scale for the Cook Islands community was a new idea. But this time around groups have no problems attracting keen performers.

“Everyone’s here for the same reason and that’s to represent who we are,” says Vivian Aue, tutor for the Vaka Takitumu group.

“It represents who we are, represents our identity and where we come from and that’s so significant for us.”

The festival also plays an important part in maintaining the Cook Islands language and culture.

“Our language is disappearing, and I’ve always been a strong believer that through culture, through performing, it will maintain our reo,” Nicholas says.

“We don’t need to go to school to learn the reo; culture is the best place to learn, and the rest is up to the younger generation to learn from us.”

Nine groups are taking part this year, and just like in 2019, they will each perform five cultural items over two nights. In keeping with the times, the theme for this year’s festival is ‘resilience’.

“It was quite surprising because usually with an event like this, a Te Maeva Nui event, they usually select themes like legends or things back home,” says Aue.

“But this theme is a real new theme, and it’s a real modern theme.”

For her part, Nicholas admits the theme posed quite a challenge.

“As a composer I like challenges, and this has really made my people really challenge hard in creating the drum dance, which is very powerful because of the theme.”

Covid-19 is likely to feature in some performances and compositions, but there’s scope to address other social issues the community faces in these times.

“The world has just become something different, and it does make you feel for your people, for the land, for the world for that matter,” Nicholas says.

“I believe it’s an amazing opportunity for all the Cook Islanders here who are a part of a group for the competition to come together and just realise and showcase their identity, their bloodline and their heritage.” says Aue.

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