Report – By Matiu Workman on Rarotonga
Food, friendship and acknowledging the links between Niue, Tonga and Samoa with the Cook Islands was the focus of two special celebrations from local communities when leaders arrived on Rarotonga.
A kaikai was held for various Polynesian leaders, including Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru at the residence of the late Sir Terepai Maoate on Friday night.
The celebration was all in the name of entertaining the guests and ensuring there was time to mix and mingle with local expatriate communities ahead of the Forum proper.
After attending Sunday mass at the St Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral, the scene was set for a hearty traditional feast for Malielegaoi and his delegation alongside American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono, Singapore’s Pacific Leaders Forum representative Verghese Mathews, Vanuatu president Iolu Abil and their respective delegations at the church’s hall.
Message of fraternity
But the focus was on Tuilaepa, who after the lunch delivered a speech full of good humour with an underlying message of fraternity and friendship between the two islands.
“I would like to raise my own gratitude to the very big Samoan community here,” Tuilaepa said.
“It’s interesting to see that all the different roles in the mass are performed by the ladies – not the men. In Samoa we always try to tell everyone the power of Samoa is with the ladies.”
Tuilaepa thanked Bishop Paul Donoghue for what he described as “a very enlightening message” before making mention of the large Samoan population in the Cooks.
Samoan community leader Navy Epati led the presentation of various gifts to Tuilaepa and Tulafono. One offering to the Samoan prime minister – a full roasted pig – was donated to the local police force for their Sunday lunch.
Eddie Ene, who had earlier begun proceedings with a pure, followed up with the closing prayer to end the formalities as people ate dessert while the rain poured down outside.
The Tongan community ensured Prime Minister Siale’ataonga Tu’ivakano was given a grand reception when they hosted a lunch for him and his delegation at the Red Cross hall.
The ceremony was rid of formalities and allowed for more of the prime minister’s time to field questions from curious members of the community, which totalled more than 40.
“Just about the whole of the Tongan community was there. It was one of the first times we’ve seen the whole community together,” community leader Sue Fletcher-Vea said.
The informal gathering also meant many of the members of the local group were able to meet Tu’ivakano and ask questions.
Proceedings were brought forward half an hour in Arorangi to allow Niuean Premier Toke Talagi to attend a later meeting.
The change of time certainly didn’t affect the number of Niuean Cook Islanders who came to showcase their support for Talagi and his delegation.
Arorangi CICC pastor Iro Rangi and his wife Nooroa hosted the gathering.
Talagi made a speech before community leader Pastor John Tangi thanked the premier for his presence.
“There are so many others present here who are inter-related with Niue, either through mixed blood, inter-mingling, joining the same military force or going to the same school,” Tangi said.
“Thank you very much for joining our gathering together with members of your delegation.”
Talagi thanked the group for “the spirit which you have given freely to us”.
“I know they have been very impressed with the number of Niueans, because you are all Niueans to us tonight,” Talagi said before he was whisked away to another meeting.
Matiu Workman is a reporter with the Cook Islands News and an AUT University journalism graduate.