Lokal Magazine Issue 1 | 2018

Page 1

Te ‘aka’ora’anga MAGAZINE

te a ka’o ra’a nga


CHRISTINA MAOATE Land, family, church.


MAHEA CAFFERY Friendliness.

VIKKI HENDERSON That our kids can be with all their cousins, that we can all be together.

CLIVE NICHOLAS Our culture. TERE ALBERT Land and sea.




TEKURA COWAN Our culture. Growing.

TORU MOETAUA Aro’a. Being kind.

MATA PARTRIDGE Culture, language, land. Natural medication. The sea.

MAKAI SAVAGE Tradition. VAITOTI TUPA Us. The people of the Cook Islands. MAARA ALBERT Taking care of everybody, people, plants, the earth.


VARA HUNTER Friendliness.

GRACE DANIEL Knowing your genealogy, who you are and where you’re from.

NGA KARAPONGA Language. Without your language you don’t have your korero. How you gonna speak to your elders and learn about your culture?



DAVID AKANOA The land. Nature.

REGAN ABEL Raking rubbish and looking after your neighbours.


LUDUINA WILLIAMS Respect for the older generation.


TAKAU MOEKA’A Life, children, environment. JAMES KIRIAU Homeland.

CHANTAL NAPA To matou reo.

We asked people around Rarotonga to name a local value. Here’s what they said. BOAZA RAELA Love, hospitality, friendliness.

MATA MAROROA Land. People.


SUNIELIA TOM Local people.

NGARIMA GEORGE Language. Identity.

TUTAI ATAERA Owning a piece of the earth.



‘Akara ki te mato i pao ‘ia mai ei koe. Tuatua Tupuna




Our team digs into the soil of this place, seeking its wisdom. We harvest stories, pictures, songs, and art that celebrate living local — making use of what’s available, practising aro’a, acknowledging a God who sends rain and provides even for the manu kavamani. We believe the knowledge of our tupuna can lead us, and the world, into healthier and more sustainable living. Together with today’s tools, it can help us to build a better tomorrow. Lokal is about why living local matters.

Photo by Kirby Morejohn

Kia orana. I spent a lot of my life overseas, chasing the money. In 2011 I tried moving home from Auckland but complained so much about the wages and cost of living that my cousin said to me, “Well, fuck off then!” So I did. I went to Brisbane in search of a better life — more money, bigger TV, flasher car, million-dollar home. While I was there, I learnt some things that changed my life. I learnt how much control the world’s richest people have over our media, medicine, food, minds, and environment. I learnt about how TV spreads misinformation and how corporations pay for influence over governments. I realised I’d been wasting my maroiroi on lies. The experience opened my eyes, and for the first time I could really see and appreciate both God and my island. I moved back to Kavera. This time, I didn’t focus on the cost of bread. Instead I saw the blessings — free food, sun, sea, natural medicine, community, freedom. I don’t have a big-screen TV or a big paycheque anymore, but I have my own piece of land, food that doesn’t cost money, and time to enjoy my life. I’m a graphic designer and after I moved home, I was fortunate to get a job designing a book called Mātini. The writer, Rachel Reeves, and I talked about making a magazine in celebration of these islands, our resources, and the wisdom of the Cook Islands people. Publishing costs money and we didn’t have any, but toward the end of 2016, Rachel and I decided we would start producing the magazine and trust that the funding would come. For months, we worked for no pay and ate from the garden. There were days we doubted the project would come to life and on those days we prayed. Every time, we got a sign — a phone call, a visitor, a donation, even a double rainbow. Through making this magazine we’ve learnt that when you follow your heart, doors open. I’m sharing this story because I hope it inspires you to pursue your own dreams. This magazine is about using local resources and values to make constructive changes in the way we live. We know habits are tough to break. Like everyone else, we don’t always make the right choices, but if we waited until we were perfect like Jesus, there would never be a Lokal Magazine. The Lokal team and I hope this magazine gives you some of the tools you need to build a solid foundation. We hope on that foundation you’ll build beautiful things — relationships, families, movements, and knowledge — that make our world a better place. Sam Ataera




Sam Ataera Rachel Reeves Founders/Creative Directors

Sam Ataera Rachel Reeves Mark McDermott Editors

Rachel Reeves Mark McDermott Dr. Takiora Ingram Thomas Tarurongo Wynne Alanna Matamaru Smith Valentino Wichman Kate Ngatokorua Dr. Amelia Borofsky Rachel Smith Matt Scowcroft Rod Dixon Teina Mackenzie Angelie Tiare Robinson Writers

Lokal Made Design & Layout

Tōrama Photography Nior Photography Kirby Morejohn Matariki Wilson The Homecoming Doc Harvie Allison Ronnie Si’ulepa Tokerau Jim Photographers

Miriama Arnold Luther Berg Tim Buchanan Illustrations

8 Lee Cederblom Photo by Jessie

Eat mostly plants People in Blue Zones eat meat on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are about the size of a deck of cards. All eat a plant-based diet centred on the natural bounty specific to their land. Studies have found that people who eat cooked greens and fruit every day are more than half as likely to live another four years than people who don’t. Don’t overeat People in the Blue Zones eat until they’re satisfied, not until they feel sick and tired. In Okinawa, there’s a saying — “hara hachi bu” — that acts as a reminder to stop eating before you’re too full. Exercise naturally The world’s longest-living people don’t pump iron, run marathons, or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. They move in natural ways, such as walking, raking, or bicycling. Manage stress Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress, which has been linked to every major age-related disease, but they have routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray and honour the Sabbath, and Ikarians take a nap. Have an occasional drink People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol responsibly and regularly, a glass or two each day. And no, they don’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday. Have a faith Research shows that belonging to a faith-based community can add up to 14 years to your life. Have a sense of purpose The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida”; for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning”. Knowing your sense of purpose can add up to seven years to your life. Put family first This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home. It means committing to a life partner (which can add up to three years) and investing in children with time and love. Live in community This means belonging to a community of positive people. Research shows that smoking, obesity, and even happiness are contagious. The world’s longest-living people are surrounded by positive influences. Once, the Cook Islands would have easily qualified as a Blue Zone. On the outer islands, farther away from the influence of money and modern life, people continue to live out these nine principles. For this issue of Lokal Magazine we weren’t able to gather as many stories from the pa enua as we would have liked. Until we can find the funding to get there, we’re focussing mostly on Rarotonga. Still, we believe the native wisdom we highlight and the problems it must address are relevant throughout the country, and beyond it. Drawings by Miriama Arnold


Both the Bible and science confirm the value of traditional, or local, knowledge. In the Book esteemed by this Christian nation, in modern studies, and in oral records of our past, we can find the same instructions for living well. We’ve used old proverbs from Jon Jonassen’s book, Kama’atu: Verses of Wisdom. We have also relied on data collected as part of the Blue Zones project. Funded by National Geographic Magazine, the project involved researchers studying the world’s longest-living people. They identified five places where it’s common for people to be active and healthy past the age of 100, and called the places Blue Zones. Three are islands — Okinawa, off the coast of Japan; Sardinia, off the coast of Italy; and Ikaria, a Greek island. The other Blue Zones are the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, a Seventh-day Adventist community near Los Angeles, in the United States. Blue Zones are not the wealthiest areas in the world and people who live there do not have access to the world’s best medical care. They just live by the following nine principles.


a brief history of food


the ncd crisis


vanos go vegan


you are what you eat


disease of kings


the health benefits of coconut oil


raurau akamātūtū


growing organic


healing from chemo


the māoro

28 30

learning the hard way


that’ll be free of charge: the story of the ta’unga


what the experts are saying about māori medicine


a dose of pumpkin


pa’s drugstore


people of faith

42 44

me time


suicide: let’s talk about it


digital distraction


no “i” in sex


family violence: the secret problem everyone knows about


aro’a is unconditional


honouring our tupuna


the story of stuff

56 58

what is climate change?


managing waste in paradise


organic matter: composting toilets


protecting the lagoon


natural balance: honouring the ra’ui


mining the seabed: what are the consequences?


an interview with noddy


the tree of life

10 Photography Photo by Tūrama


74 76

voyaging into the future


cook islands music: ‘the most beautiful in the world’


louder and prouder


living local


not for sale


the boonga boys





(n) food, food crops (v) to eat


In the 1930s, a Canadian dentist named Weston Price visited Rarotonga. He was conducting research all over the world to figure out whether diet had any connection to the dental problems and chronic illnesses he saw in his patients. Dr. Price and his wife had been traveling around Europe, Canada, South America, Africa, Australia, the Arctic, and Polynesia, studying diets, teeth, and physical health. He wanted to know if his theory — that “natives” were probably healthier — was true.


On Rarotonga, Dr. Price noted that less than one per cent of the people who lived outside Avarua had dental problems. In town, nearer to the port and the cargo ships, 30 per cent of the teeth Dr. Price observed were rotting. Dr. Price would ultimately conclude that people who ate from the land and sea had no rotten teeth, even though they didn’t own toothbrushes. They also didn’t have chronic, long-term diseases. His theory had been correct. Four generations later, our diets are causing problems beyond bad teeth. All over the world, diet-related diseases — cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and kidney failure, for example — have become the greatest threat to human health. Today we think of these diseases as normal, as part of life. We manage the pain with modern medicine, then carry on feeding the sickness. We don’t consider the source of the problem. Bodies are like vehicles; they only work when you use the right fuel. Today we’re eating meats injected with drugs that cause cancer, vegetables sprayed with chemicals that also cause cancer, and oils that also cause cancer. The good news is we can undo the damage our diets have done. In the early 1970s, an area in Finland called North Karelia had the world’s highest rate of heart disease. Scientists and organisers launched a campaign to change the way people ate and moved. The result was an 80 per cent decline in heart disease and a 60 per cent decline in cancer. In the Cook Islands, we have easy access to healing. Unlike people who live in crowded cities, we can grow the foods our bodies need to repair themselves. These days the cheapest foods in supermarkets are generally the least nutritious, but in the Cook Islands the healthiest foods are free. The choice is ours. We can carry on feeding fruit to the pigs and toxins to the kids, or we can rediscover what it means to eat local.

Tuatua Tupuna

E ‘ara te kaikai ma’ata.

Blue Zones

Eat mostly plants. Don’t overeat.


Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” — Genesis 1:29

Photo by The Homecoming Documentary

A SHORT HISTOR Food companies spend billions of dollars annually on making sure we buy what they’re selling. They advertise so we buy their brands and influence policy so we think their products are okay to consume. There’s evidence food producers have even sponsored fake research in order to falsely market their products as safe. As executives get richer, people get sicker. Here in the Cook Islands, where healthy food grows easily, diet-related diseases are responsible for 80 per cent of deaths. Just a few generations ago, this was not the case. A Royal Navy surgeon named Andrews visits Rarotonga o​ n the HMS Ringdove​and w​rites about the absence of heart disease, kidney disease, gout, pneumonia, bronchitis, tapeworms, dysentery, or malaria in the locals. As for cancer, he writes, “it could be well that the diet and general lifestyle did not permit a high incidence.” No obesity.

Dr. Weston Price visits Rarotonga— you can read more about him on the previous page—and takes these photos. This is the way he described the above photos: “These Polynesians live on the island of Rarotonga. [At left is a man with a] typically fine face and teeth. [In the centre is a] child with the dental arch so small that the permanent laterals are developing inside the arch. His parents used imported food. [At right you’ll see] normal spacing of the temporary teeth before the permanent set appears. Parents used native foods”. Growers in the Cook Islands begin using paraquat on vegetable crops, a weed-killer that's since been linked to cancer. Te Marae Ora study shows 60 per cent of local diet is from imported foods like tinned meat, bread, margarine, vegetable oil, and fizzy drink. Television arrives in the Cook Islands. Studies show we are more likely to buy products we’ve seen on TV, and kids are more likely to ask for them. Survey shows 88.5 per cent of Cook Islands population is overweight and 61.4 per cent is obese. CNN, a major American news s​ tation, calls the Cook Islands the most obese country in the world, a​ ccording to World Health Organization data. Ministry of Health reports that 80 per cent of local deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases, many of which are diet-related.


Drawings by Miriama Arnold



:1960s :1987 :1989 :2004 :2014 :2015

1957: 1958: 1960s: 1967: 1980s: 1990s: 1997: ​ 004: 2 2008: 2009: 2010: 2015:

U.S. government lowers tax on margarine, and producers begin marketing heavily. Margarine has since been linked to heart disease.

Food companies begin shipping high-fructose corn syrup, which is cheaper to produce than​s​ ugar​. Has since been linked to cancer. Food companies begin producing artificial sweeteners, also cheaper to produce than sugar​;​s​ ​ome ​now b​ anned for causing cancer.

As fast food becomes more popular globally, factory farming takes off in the U.S. and places like New Zealand. Farms begin injecting their animals with drugs because they're dying from diseases that spread easily in crammed conditions. Sugar companies pay scientists a lot of money to blame fat, not sugar, for heart disease. A diet high in sugar has been linked to heart disease.

Companies selling vegetable oils launch campaigns against tropical oils​like coconut​oil. D ​ emand for vegetable oils i​ ncreases w ​ orldwide. Science now suggests a link between c​ onsuming v​ egetable oil​s (eg canola, soyabean​) and heart ​​ disease.

Scientists confirm trans fats — found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (and most fried foods, biscuits, donuts, etc) — greatly increase risk of obesity and heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. American Heart Association confirms link between obesity and heart disease.

World Health Organization calls obesity a “global epidemic”.​ Corn industry spends millions on advertising “the natural goodness of high-fructose corn syrup”. University of Wollongong study report draws attention to the fact that companies can market their foods as 'natural' even if they really aren't. Researchers at Harvard University find a link between pesticide exposure and behavioural disorders in children. New England Journal of Medicine links o​ besity to 1​ 3 types of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer reports that red meat, at least the industrially farmed kind, probably causes cancer.

























“Unless this trend is reversed, NCDs will continue to be a major public health challenge which will undermine the social and economic development of the Cook Islands.” — National Strategy and Action Plan, Ministry of Health, 2015-2019

Selected sources: Public Health Nutrition Journal; 'Why hasn't Māori medicine died out since​​international medicine came to Rarotonga?': A dissertation by Margaret Mackenzie, University of Chicago 1973;​​ Nutrition and​​Physical​D ​ egeneration​​by Weston A. Price; Te Marae Ora; World Health Organization; Akono’anga Māori: Cook Islands Culture;​​Food Processing Magazine;​​Oxfam;​​Union of Concerned Scientists;​​ Science-Based Medicine;​​Journal of Clinical Investigation;​“​ Fooducate”;​I​n Defense of Food​b ​ y Michael Pollan;​​New York Times;​​Sustainable Table. Full list of sources at lokalmag.org.



Meanwhile, in the rest of the world…





A plant-based diet saved Puna Vano’s life. Now he’s raising a tribe of vegans.

Eight years ago, the doctor told Puna Vano to write his own eulogy. The 33-year-old builder was at the hospital for a routine check-up; he needed a medical report to update his life insurance policy, which at the time cost five times more than his wife’s. Puna, who had once played rugby for Titikaveka and basketball for the national team, weighed in at 203 kilos. He was diabetic and his blood glucose reading was way outside the healthy range. Twice a month, he was bedridden by a gout attack. He had taken Voltaren for the gout pain, which caused a side effect listed on the label: a peptic ulcer, or an open wound in his stomach. Puna’s blood pressure reading was 180/160, so he was in what doctors call hypertensive crisis. His body had entered a state of emergency. It couldn’t bear the weight it carried, and it was preparing to shut down. The same had happened to two of Puna’s brothers. Bazz died of an ulcer in 2006, when he was 265 kilos and 31 years old. Norm, who died of a heart attack two years later, was 235 kilos. He was 24 years old.

Photo by Jessie Lee Cederblom


Puna didn’t bother with the eulogy. A few weeks after the check-up, he and his wife flew to New Zealand for three family reunions. In Auckland, an aunty pleaded with him to see a Rarotongan woman named Alice who was working to promote weight loss and health recovery through juicing. “Please, boy,” his aunty said to him, with tears in her eyes. “Learn from what happened to your siblings.” Alice gave him some books; Puna said he’d read them later. He hated reading and he was not going to give up McDonald’s and KFC. He’d been waiting a long time for Big Macs and fried chicken. After returning to Rarotonga, Puna flew to Aitutaki to help his dad out with the family business. For some reason he can’t figure out, he brought Alice’s books. On his third day there, he had a gout attack and couldn’t work or walk. Stuck in bed, he began to read. He read a whole page, and then another, and then a whole book. The book was about food and how

later in their lives, fine, but they would grow up vegans. In the six years Puna Vano has been eating vegan, he has not taken a pill or gotten an injection. Neither have his kids. When they get the flu, Puna makes a natural antibiotic and uses hydrotherapy — a practice his mum used as a kid, even though she didn’t call it hydrotherapy then — to trick the body into healing itself. Heat causes the white blood cells, the body’s soldiers, to attack an infection that doesn’t belong. It’s why we get a fever when we have a virus. By placing the feet in hot water and a cold towel on the head, heat travels through the body and activates the soldiers. “People reckon it’s mean of me to force this onto my children,” Puna says now. “And my answer to that is always this: you know, we believe prevention is better than cure. If they are being taught to learn to prevent sickness they will always have that mindset, for the rest of their lives. But you allow them to have this and that, one day it will catch up with them and they start looking for how to cure.” Puna grows coriander, spring onion, parsley, spinach, lettuce, bok choy, cabbage, kale. The family has fruit smoothies for breakfast, veggie-loaded salads, beans, soups, nuts, rukau. They eat rice, taro, potatoes, kuru. The kids eat coconut every day, whether moina tai, nū, kiko, ‘akari, or uto. The youngest can finish the nū and kiko of four coconuts a day. Their meals don’t lack flavour; after seven years of being a vegan, Puna has found ways to make plant-based meals taste good. The kids eat “burgers” – fried eggplant patties topped with onions, beetroot, pineapple, and tomatoes. Every once in awhile, they get Manihiki pancakes, fried in coconut oil. When they go out, they order pizza without cheese, stir-fry with cashews or tofu instead of meat. They make natural desserts – cakes and cheesecakes sweetened with honey or dates instead of sugar, ice cream made from frozen bananas. When people criticise his lifestyle, Puna lets it slide. “You have to taste the pain to knock some sense into your head,” he says. “I really tasted the pain. I don’t want to go back down that road.” More than once, a person who has spoken unkindly about him has later gotten sick and approached him for dietary advice. Rachel Reeves

What is vegan? Vegans don’t eat any animal products for​​health or environmental reasons, or ​because they believe in the rights of animals. While we’re not advocating a vegan lifestyle as the only path to good health, we acknowledge that the world is eating a lot of meat — six times what it was in 1950​. These days we’re not just eating meat and fish we catch and kill; we’re buying it in bulk.​​A lot of the meat we get c​ omes from factory farms​and​isn’t good for our health​; in fact,​​t​he World Cancer Research Fund recommends we “choose mostly plant foods, limit red meat and avoid processed meat.” ​A lot of modern meat also isn’t produced in an environmentally responsible manner. According to the United Nations, today livestock production contributes more to climate change than all the world’s cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships combined. It uses a lot of energy and a lot of water, too; it takes more than 7500 litres of water to produce a single steak. Small changes, like cutting meat out of your diet one day a week, add up. But if you are considering going vegan, remember these tips: ​- ​Don’t ​replace meat and dairy with starches like pasta and rice. Make sure you’re getting a lot of vegetables, fruits, ​ nuts, and beans. ​- ​​Get protein from māniota , kūmara, spinach, beans, tofu, nuts (including peanut butter), brown (whole wheat) bread, and brown rice. Contrary to popular belief, animals are not the only sources of protein available to us. ​- ​Don’t stop eating fat. Make sure you get important healthy fats from sources like avocado​and coconut. ​- ​Don’t deprive your body of the nutrients you’d normally get from eating animal products. Your body doesn’t naturally produce iron and calcium, so eat dark leafy veggies. It also doesn’t naturally produce iodine, so eat remu and use healthy salt, like sea salt.


it interacts with the body. It was about the healing properties of vegetables and the damage processed meat can cause. Puna began to understand what he’d put his body through. He wasn’t ready to die, and as he read and thought about the doctor’s warning, he knew he would soon. He had a wife, two young daughters, and a business to run. Puna called his wife, Eitiare, on Rarotonga. “I want you to pack everything that’s in our pantry and freezer,” he told her. “Give away all the meat and fish we have to the relatives. Nothing left behind.” She filled three large baskets with food — everything except a box of Weetbix, a carton of milk, and some packets of noodles for the girls — and on Jan. 27, 2010, she joined her husband on a 10-day juice program. The shift was strange. The Vanos were used to spending $400 a week on food — a carton of Tegel chicken (size 12), lamb shanks, four kilos of beef mince, a few kilos of chops and steak, rice, vermicelli noodles, cooking oil, litres of L&P or Sparkling Duet. At all times they had cartons of corned beef and tinned fish in the cupboard, in case of visitors. Three or four nights a week, they ate takeaways. Puna could finish two Palace burgers in one sitting. For 10 days, he and his wife drank only the juice of local fruits and vegetables, prepared according to the recipes in Alice’s book. Neither of them cheated. When they could smell the neighbour’s cooking, they shut the window and moved to the other side of the house. In 10 days, Puna lost 18 kilos. When he reintroduced whole foods, he left out red meat. Two months later, Puna did another juice cleanse, this time for 14 days, and lost another 20 kilos. When he began to eat again, he cut out chicken. By May, the gout had vanished. For the first time in years, he could sit on the couch without falling asleep. In June, Puna did his third and final cleanse; for 30 days he drank juice. He hit 95 kilos. Slowly he re-introduced fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy grains, but he ate no meat, not even fish. If he felt weak, he ate more carbohydrates – tarotaruā, taro, māniota . Puna was noticing changes in his energy and outlook; he felt better, happier. It struck him one day that as he was getting control of his health, he was still feeding ice cream, lollies, and fatty meats to his daughters, leading them down the same path he’d travelled. He decided he wanted his girls to get healthy; at home they would eat from the ground. The oldest daughter cried when he told her. When the boys were born, in 2011 and 2013, Puna and his wife chose to raise them on plant-based diets. If they chose to eat meat


Sugar —

Proven to be as addictive as cocaine. Contributes to the development of diabetes. Corned beef —

“Carcinogenic to humans,” according to the World Health Organization, meaning it increases your chances of getting cancer. Tinned fish —

A chemical from tins called BPA (Bisphenol A) can negatively affect behaviour and brain development in young children, High sodium levels increase blood pressure and risk of developing heart disease. Margarine —

Contains trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers. Cereal/white bread —

Contain sugar, which has been linked to cancer and diabetes. Makes your energy peak, then crash. Has been linked to depression. Fruits and vegetables grown with pesticides —

Exposure linked to increased risk of cancer, depression, respiratory problems, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that 28 out of the 40 most commonly used pesticides have been linked to cancer, while 79 have been linked to other serious or life-threatening diseases or disorders. Fried chicken —

Contains trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Donuts —

Contain trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Oils in which most donuts are fried have been linked to some cancers. Mayonnaise —

Increases your risk of developing heart diseases, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis, as well as inflammatory and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. Fat-reduced mayonnaise has the disadvantage of containing a lot more added sugar, with over four grams per tablespoon. “Fat free” foods —

Usually contain high-fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. If a product is making health claims it’s probably not healthy. A banana doesn’t have to claim to be healthy. Sausages —

Studies show that if you eat two ounces of processed meat a day, you are 42% more likely to get heart disease. A study by the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii and the University of Southern California suggests a link between eating processed meats and cancer risk. The study followed 190,000 people, ages 45-75, for seven years and found that people who ate the most processed meats had a 67% higher risk of pancreatic

cancer than those who ate the least amount. Fizzy drinks —

Contain high-fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. A 22-year-long study of 80,000 women found that those who consumed a can a day of sugary drink had a 75% higher risk of gout than women who rarely had such drinks. Researchers found a similarly-elevated risk in men. Diet fizzy drinks —

Contain artificial sweeteners, which have been linked to seizures, cancer, and kidney damage. One study showed that people who drink artificially sweetened fizzy drinks are more likely to gain weight than people who consume non-diet fizzy drinks. Fruit juice —

Contains sugar, which has been linked to cancer. Researchers from the UK, USA and Singapore found that, in large-scale studies involving nurses, people who ate whole fruit were less likely to get Type 2 diabetes, which is obesityrelated, but those who drank fruit juice were at increased risk. People who swapped their fruit juice for whole fruits three times a week cut their risk by 7%. Chocolate cake —

Excess fats, sugars, and sodium contribute to heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Beer & alcohol —

Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems like stroke and high blood pressure. Heavy drinking damages the liver and pancreas. Drinking too much can increase your risk of developing certain cancers and weaken your immune system, making you a much easier target for disease. Pizza —

Increased salt, calorie and trans fat intake can lead to unwanted health consequences such as heart disease and obesity. Meat pie —

People who eat large quantities of processed meat are more likely to die sooner, particularly of heart disease and cancer, research looking at 500,000 people in Europe concluded. Processed meat appeared to be riskier than ordinary red meat. Risks include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, constipation, joint pain. Fish n’ chips —

Eating fish and chips just once a week could increase your risk of heart failure. Hot chips —

Foods high in trans fat and refined carbohydrates are likely to be addictive. Could potentially increase your risk of developing cancer.

you are

what you


so don’t be fast,


fake or foreign. be natural. be fresh. be local.

It’s true—you are what you eat. Your body is always making new cells, and if you’re eating healthy foods you’re building healthy cells that are strong enough to fight damage and disease. When your cells aren’t healthy, they get worn down easily and they can’t put up much of a fight, the way they were intended to.

Sources: The Nutrition Source by Harvard School of Public Health, Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, American Heart Association, Cancer Council New South Wales, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Weston A. Price Foundation, The Livestrong Foundation, U.S. National Library of Medicine, In Defense of Food by journalist Michael Pollan, Natural News, Consumer Reports, Time Magazine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, Harvard Medical School, WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer 18

Avocado / Āpuka — More potassium than a banana. Potassium counteracts the effects of sodium, which helps you maintain a healthy blood pressure. Good fat, the kind you need that helps to develop and maintain your body’s cells. Banana / Meika — Rich in pectin, a natural detoxifier that helps to remove chemicals and toxins from the body. Beetroot — Can improve blood flow and actually lower your blood pressure. The greens are the healthiest part, containing more iron than spinach. Studies show they can have a positive effect on bone strength, mental health, and the immune system. Capsicum — Rich in Vitamin C, which strengthens your body’s defences against sickness. Cinnamon / Kī namo — Helps to transport blood sugar from the bloodstream and into cells. Insulin is a hormone that allows your body to use the food you eat for energy. Many people are resistant to the effects of insulin; this is one of the causes of diabetes. Studies have confirmed that cinnamon helps the body to use insulin properly. Chilli / ‘Oporo — Contains capsaicin, which kills bad bacteria. Cucumber / Kūkuma — Rich in Vitamin K, which can help the heart to pump blood more freely throughout the body and prevent buildup in the arteries, lowering risk of stroke and heart disease. Hydrating. 95% water. Contains an agent called fisetin, which protects neurons in the brain from the effects of aging and has been proven to improve memory. Garlic — Natural antibiotic. Stimulates cells which fight viruses and bacterial infections. Detoxifies the liver. Ginger — Relaxes intestinal tract. Treats nausea. Improves the body’s absorption of essential nutrients. Can clear the microcirculatory channels, which helps with circulation of blood. Can also clear your sinuses. Kale — Natural detoxifier. Combination of protein, iron, folate, and B6 creates more

serotonin and dopamine, chemicals that actually make you feel happier. Grapefruit — The combination of potassium, lycopene, and Vitamin C helps to maintain the health of your heart. Nono — Drinking noni daily can reduce arthritis pain to a minimum. Can reduce uric acid levels, lowering the risk of gout. Natural antiviral. Helps get rid of common cold. Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit — Contain Vitamin C, which helps to strengthen the immune system against infections and viruses. The high acidity of lemon peels may have a beneficial impact on blood glucose, helping to prevent or control diabetes. Pawpaw / Nītā — Contain an enzyme that helps you to digest food. Also high in fibre and water, which prevents constipation and keeps your digestive tract healthy. Pineapple / ‘Ara — Packed with Vitamin C, which is a natural antioxidant and necessary for healthy blood vessels, skin, and bone strength. Studies show cancer cells exposed to bromelain —found in pineapple —grow more slowly, break down, or die. Pumpkin / Mōtini — Protects against certain cancers Starfruit / Raparapa — Contains antioxidants and a compound called epicatechin, also found in green tea, which has been shown to improve heart health. Spinach — Superfood. Contains antioxidants that protect your body from free radicals, molecules that damage cells and contribute to aging and disease. Keeps your heart and blood pressure healthy. Contains Vitamin B, which is essential for brain function and clarity. Soursop / Kātaraāpa — Cleanses the digestive tract and removes toxins from the body. Contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can heal the stomach and colon. Sweet Potato / Kūmara — Contains betacarotenes, which have been shown to fight free radicals. High fibre content. Helps keep things moving. Prevents constipation. Contains iron, which is said to promote fertility. Tomatoes / Tōmāti — Cooked tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that fights damage caused by free radicals. Considerable amounts of calcium

and Vitamin K, which strengthen the bones. Contain Vitamin B and potassium, which lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. Supports heart health. Contains Vitamin A, which improves your vision. Turmeric / Renga — Contains curcumin, a powerful agent which fights free radicals and chronic inflammation, which plays a major role in almost every western disease. Shown in both clinical and population studies to boost brain activity Arrowroot / Māniota — Treats digestive disorders Treats diarrhoea Basil / Miri — Restricts the growth of bacteria. Contains Vitamin K, which regulates bloodflow. Contains compounds that allow the plant to protect itself from bacteria in the soil, which have the same protective effect on our bodies. Bok Choy — Combination of iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and Vitamin K strengthens bones. Contains selenium, a mineral that helps to detoxify some cancercausing compounds in the body. Breadfruit / Kuru — Rich in fibre, which makes you feel full and helps you digest your food. Contains potassium, which helps your heart to work properly. Broccoli — Contains twice the Vitamin C content of an orange and nearly as much calcium as milk. Contains phytochemicals that help your body detoxify after exposure to cancer-causing compounds. Carrots / Kāroti — Improves vision and keeps eyes healthy. Protects skin from sun damage. Cauliflower — Regulates blood cholesterol levels Corn / Kaoni — Loaded with phytochemicals that promote healthy vision. Contains fibre, which helps to bulk up bowel movements and make you more regular. Can soothe problems like constipation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Also guards body against constipation and hemorrhoids. Dragonfruit — High in good fats that lower the risk of heart disease. Helps the body get rid of toxic heavy metals. Eggplant — Lessens free radical damage in joints that leads to rheumatoid arthritis Antiviral and antibacterial

Brain food. Contains phytonutrients which improve blood circulation to the brain and boost mental health and activity. Contains bioflavonoids, which relieve stress and control high blood pressure. Figs — High in fibre, which promotes healthy elimination of waste. Good source of calcium, which makes and keeps your bones dense. Green beans — Improve heart health Prevent Type 2 diabetes Guava / Tūava — Helps to protect the colon from chemical buildup; fibre in guava binds to toxins and helps to move them out of the body. Good source of Vitamin A, which boosts vision. Great source of copper, which controls hormone production. Controls thyroid hormone, which regulates metabolism, the process by which your body either uses or gets rid of the food you eat. Honey / Rango — Natural skin treatment for eczema Antibacterial properties that fight infection Treats stomach ulcers Lettuce / Tārāti — Lettuce’s vitamin C and betacarotene work together to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. This prevents the build up of plaque. Mango / Vī — Contains antioxidants which protect the body against cancerous cells High levels of Vitamin C, which strengthens your immune system. Contains phytochemicals that have been shown to suppress fat cells. Helps with digestion and helps to prevent constipation. Pomegranate / Rēmuna — Improves blood flow to the heart and lowers risk of heart attack. Reduces joint pain in people with arthritis. Contains antioxidants, which help fight off viruses and infections. Vanilla / Vānira — Compound called vanillin, found in vanilla extract, has been found to have an anti-cancer effect. Watermelon / Merēni — 92% water. Hydrates the body. Contains Vitamin C, which helps your body make the proteins that keep your skin looking young and your hair strong. Contains Vitamin A, which helps create and repair skin cells.

E ika te kai no te mero. Fish is food for the brain.

Sources: U.S. National Library of Medicine, British Medical Journal, EUFIC, University of Maryland Medical Center, National Institutes of Health, Cancer Research UK, Arthritis Foundation, whfoods.com, International Society for Horticultural Science, Rush University, Alzheimer’s Society, Health Monitor Network, American Diabetes Association


We’ve only listed some of the benefits these fruits and vegetables provide for your body; there are many more. To maintain health, it’s more important to change your overall diet than to eat specific foods. By avoiding unhealthy foods and eating the rainbow—a variety of colourful plant foods—you can protect your body against cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, kidney disease, and many other noncommunicable diseases.


Research & Therapy blames the global increase in gout on “a westernized diet and lifestyle.”

Enuarurutini ‘Geoffrey’ Tama used to lie about why he wasn’t showing up to work. He’d tell colleagues he dropped a block on his foot and couldn’t walk. He’d say he got injured in a rugby game, even in the off-season. He didn’t know how else to explain his monthly absences. Sometimes, they lasted two weeks. The truth was he suffered from gout, an extremely painful form of arthritis, and had for most of his twenties. He suspected that if he admitted it, people would laugh. Gout isn’t a young person’s disease, they would say. Gout is for old people. So he lied to his colleagues and followed the nurses’ instructions: Don’t drink too much alcohol. Don’t eat too much red meat. Avoid shellfish and tomatoes. Still the attacks came, and when they did, he felt knives sawing the tissues in his feet. When a sheet, or even a gust of wind, touched his legs, the pain took his breath away. He’d stay in bed for two weeks at a time, and his mum and sister would bring him every meal.

Gout is caused by a buildup of uric acid, a chemical produced when the body breaks down things like red meat, liquor, and sugar. In a healthy body, the kidneys filter the uric acid and get rid of it through the urine. In an unhealthy body, the kidneys have too much to work with. They get overwhelmed, and the uric acid remains. Gout was once called the “disease of kings” because it affected people who could afford expensive foods. Things have changed. Now processed meats and foods are affordable, and often even cheaper than healthy foods. Medical journal Arthritis

Growing up, Geoff had been allowed to eat whatever he wanted; it was his mother’s way of giving him what she didn’t get as a kid. She bought anything he wrote on the grocery list. He loved donuts and lollies. He put sugar in his Milo and Weetbix. By the time he went to university in New Zealand, he was eating half a loaf of white bread with most meals and drinking two litres of Fanta or Coke daily. He ate takeaways, often from McDonald’s, four times a week. A year later, in 2004, Geoff had his first gout attack. Seven years later, he woke up at 3am in unbearable pain and asked his parents to drive him to the hospital, where the doctor delivered alarming news: Geoff’s kidneys were failing. Soon he would need to go on dialysis. He was facing a lifetime of being hooked up to a machine — basically, a false kidney — for eight hours a day. He was 29 years old. “You’ve got to do something,” Geoff’s father said to him the next morning at the breakfast table. “You’re meant to be looking after us, not the other way around.”

Researchers have understood for a long time that food contributes hugely to gout, but drastic dietary change “as a means of controlling gout… has been and continues to be largely neglected” by doctors, according to Arthritis Research & Therapy. Doctors encourage patients not to eat foods that contain purines, chemicals that increase levels of uric acid; most prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, some of them with harmful side effects. Geoff was on a heavy dose of Allopurinol to manage his uric acid levels and Voltaren to treat the pain. Neither addressed the root of the problem. “The medicine treats the symptom, not the cause,” he says now. “I knew I had to address the cause.” The underlying cause, he would learn, was sugar (and its cousin, high-fructose corn syrup) — a culprit no doctor had warned him about.

His dad’s words echoed. Geoff began doing research online. He read a book about weight loss by bestselling author Tim Ferriss and applied what he learnt: No sugar. No chocolate bars, no fizzy drinks, no cake. Nothing white — bread, pasta, rice — because most of it is processed, stripped of its nutrition and packed with sugar. No milk, after he learnt it’s full of sugar. He took a break from drinking and bought healthy foods with the money he saved. He learnt ways to trick his stomach into being full; beans, lean meats, and large servings of vegetables satisfied his hunger. He fried his eggs in coconut oil and ate salad with every meal. He started going to the gym every morning. “You have to just kind of admit you got yourself in a hole and you have to get out of it,” he says now. “You have to shift from being a slave to your habits.” The weight fell off, and then the gout struck again. The doctor told Geoff to lose weight more slowly; shedding more than 1.5 kilos a week can flood the system and trigger an attack. Geoff joined the CrossFit family and continued to gain control of his health. His head cleared. He started getting compliments on his efficiency at work. Whenever he was tempted to slip into old habits, he thought about two mates living in New Zealand on dialysis, hooked up to a machine for eight hours a day, who can’t come home for visits or funerals. One takes medical marijuana for severe depression. On rare occasions, Geoff still endures a mild gout attack. He’ll take Nurofen to manage the pain, which is much more bearable now. He doesn’t take Voltaren anymore because he’s learnt it damages the kidneys. Geoff wants kids to be taught in school about proper nutrition and how food can either hurt you or heal you. He wants locals to have better access to the right information. He wants people to understand that there’s more to managing gout than avoiding tomatoes and taking pills. Recently a colleague told him about her partner’s gout attacks. Geoff asked what he was eating, and the response took him back to life before 2011 — four cans of Coke a day, cakes, white bread with every meal. “Sugar,” he told her. “Cut the sugar. I promise you his gout will get better.” Rachel Reeves

Would you like some sugar with that? 21












How to read a

FOODLABEL watch out for serving sizes. all the information below relates to 1 serving of the product in this box. servings per pack = 6. this means every number below, you should multiply by 6. the sugar for example is 9.7g, multiply that by 6 servings = 58.2g of sugar. 58.2g divided by 4g (to find out how many teaspoons of sugar) = 14.55 teaspoons of sugar in this pack.


generally a food can claim to be ‘all natural’ or ‘low fat’ even if it’s not. watch out for claims of ‘zero sugar’ and ’low fat’ and ‘diet’ - to compensate for the absence of sugar and fat, there are usually ‘additives’ - chemicals that aren’t good for you. be careful about health claims. a banana doesn’t have to claim to be healthy.


usually when there’s a long list of ingredients whose names you can’t recognise or understand, a product isn’t good for you. a good rule of thumb is to choose products with 5 ingredients or less, but the best idea is to choose only ingredients you can pronounce.

calories/kilojoules: these are a measure of energy. generally you want to be consuming only as many calories as you’ll burn off through movement and exercise because your body will turn excess calories into fat. however, it's important to remember that not all calories are equal. for example, a diet fizzy drink has no calories but it's full of chemicals that aren't good for you. so don't get caught up calculating numbers. there are a lot of wonderful resources on the internet that explain the idea and science behind calories.

vegetable oil. standard cooking oils go rancid when they're heated above a certain temperature and have been linked to the development of cancer. read more about cooking oils on page 24.

sugar. diets high in sugar have been linked to the development of cancer.

sodium. salt used to be a luxury, something you spend a long time harvesting from the sea and use in moderation. real salts like sea salt are good for the body and a wonderful source of minerals, but processed salts are chemical-laden and can contribute to high blood pressure.

A diet high in sugar has been linked to cancer. Do you know how much sugar is in the foods you’re eating?









Photos by Jessie Lee Cederblom

MAKE YOUR OWN COOKING OIL 1. Leave moina tai out overnight. 2. Scrape white scum off the top. 3. Cook in pot for 1-2 hours on low heat. 4. Cool and filter through tatau cloth. 5. Store in jar. 22

In June of 2017, the British Broadcasting Corporation— and most other major news outlets around the world— reported that coconut oil isn’t good for your heart, the way a lot of health enthusiasts have been saying it is.​One headline read: “COCONUT OIL IS NOT HEALTHY. IT’S NEVER BEEN HEALTHY.” ​Th​e ​papers reported that the saturated fats i​ n coconut c​ log your arteries and put you at greater risk for heart disease. Th ​ ​eir source was the American Heart Association (AHA)—an organisation that recommends consuming corn and soyabean oils, both of which have been directly linked to cancer and heart disease. In these islands, coconut oil has long been taken by the spoonful; traditionally it was especially important for maintaining the health of pregnant women and newborns. In these islands, people didn’t generally develop heart disease. “It’s the best medicine we have,” says Papa Ioane Kaitara, a ta’unga from Manihiki who recommends feeding coconut oil to babies so they’ll live long lives. W ​ ​hy, then, is the AHA giving advice that runs counter to centuries of lived experience? ​Th​is isn’t the​first time. In his book Th ​ ​e Coconut Oil Miracle, naturopathic doctor Bruce Fife follows the money spent on studies published in the 1980s that blamed coconut oil for heart disease. Dr. Fife proves that funding for the false research came from the American Soybean Association, a group representing companies selling soyabean oil and other vegetable oils. In response to the media coverage, people began associating coconut oil with heart attacks. Restaurants stopped buying coconut oil and movie theatres stopped cooking popcorn w ​ ith it. By the 9​ 0s, the global price of tropical oils had fallen dramatically. Around this time the Cook Islands stopped exporting copra—dried coconut used to make oil—which for decades had been a signi​ficant source of revenue for the country. ​Th​ere h ​ ave been thousands of studies con​fi​rming what the Polynesian people knew all along—that coconut oil​​is not harmful but healing. Science shows us coconut oil remains stable when it’s heated, unlike soyabean and vegetable oils, which become toxic. We also know that it strengthens the immune system and fi ​ ghts germs, viruses, and bacteria that cause stomach ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, and other conditions. We know it’s a natural antibiotic. ​Th​ere’s also a lot of anecdotal evidence that coconut oil is powerful enough to a​ff​ect the way our brains work, though the Alzheimer’s Society says its trials have been discontinued “due to di​ffi​culties recruiting enough people to take part”. Robert and Susan Wylie, who sell infused coconut oil for cooking​out of their Titikaveka home​, follow closely the back-and-forth about coconut oil within the scienti​fi​c community. “A lot of science that says coconut oil isn’t good for you has been debunked by now,” Robert says. “ There are studies that show grain oils are one of the contributing factors toward Alzheimer’s and dementia and things like that. Th ​ ​at science has been challenged too, of course. But you know, we’ve seen the bene​fi​ts of using coconut oil ourselves, and a lot of other people have, too.​We’re going to keep using it.​” Rachel Reeves, with reporting by Scarlett Curtis

KINAKI HASHBROWNS Grate leftover māniota or kūmara or taro or potato Add onions, garlic, herbs Fold together with one egg Flatten like burgers or small balls Crumb, fry in coconut oil VENEVENE MARINADE Blend garlic, onion, venevene for marinade

COOKING WITH RANGI MITAERAJOHNSON In 2016, Rangi Mitaera-Johnson approached the Cook Islands Climate Change office with a proposal. She was living on Manihiki, feeding her family from the garden, realising how easy and cheap it was to produce her own food and cook creative dishes with full flavour. She wanted to teach people about fun, healthy eating and she was looking for funding to do it. She had been researching climate change on the internet and learnt that corporate food production was the largest contributor to climate change. She thought the Climate Change office might be interested. She was also tired of watching her friends and family members die of diet-related diseases. She knew local food was the solution to more than a few problems. “Food is medicine,” she says. “If we can just go past that stage of thinking it’s for the stomach, we’ll understand that it can protect us from a lot of things. If we’re eating right, we have no use for medicine and imported foods. We need to take a good look at what we’re actually putting in our bodies.” Rangi designed a course to teach people about home gardening, healthy flavourings and recipe substitutions, and spiced-up local meals. She wanted to show people that local cooking could be cheap, creative, and delicious. “I really wish people would get out of the roast chicken

PAWPAW SEED DRESSING Blend pawpaw seeds, pawpaw, lime juice and coconut oil into a dressing for salads - Pawpaw seeds taste like pepper and treat constipation. SUBSTITUTE FOR BREAD Slice kūmara thin and stick it in the toaster!

Photo by Ronnie Si’ulepa

and mayonnaise and chop suey kind of thinking,” she says. “It’s just too dangerous. I see people glorifying the corned beef and fried chicken. I see it a lot on Facebook. We all love those foods but they should be seen as a treat. What we should be glorifying is our pawpaw, our rukau, our taro, our kuru, our tomatoes, what’s growing in our garden and on our trees. That’s what we should be proud of eating.” The Cook Islands Climate Change office, together with the United Nations Development Program’s SRIC-CC fund, sponsored a tour through the pa enua, where Rangi taught courses about eating local and sprucing up local dishes. Now she’s assisting the Ministry of Health with recipe advice and cooking demonstrations. She’s been featured in Robert Oliver’s award-winning cookbook, Me’a Kai, and on his TV series and has appeared on Māori Television programme Cam’s Kai. She is on a mission to spread her message; her ultimate goal is to see it ripple through the Pacific. “I feel very sad that a lot of our people these days don’t know how to cook simple local dishes,” she says. “They have to buy it at the markets. Obviously we’ve moved away from what’s important and adopted something else.” Rachel Reeves

EGGPLANT SPREAD Roast eggplant until skin blisters Dump in a bowl of water to cool down and peel skin Chuck in blender with lime or lemon juice, garlic, peanut butter, salt Use as dip or spread on sourdough toast EGGPLANT LASAGNE Slice thin and use instead of pasta in lasagne Brush with coconut oil, lime juice Add capsicum HOMEMADE MAYONNAISE Cook coconut cream until it’s thick Optional: add garlic, salt, herbs Use in potato salad or kūmara salad or sandwiches KŌRORI CEVICHE Dress kōrori with lemon juice, local honey, ti varāni, ginger Toss with capsicum, spring onions JUICE SUBSTITUTE Add passion fruit or lime to your water Refrigerate. Drink all day long!


GREEN PAWPAW SALAD Grated green pawpaw Fresh broccoli Tomatoes Basil Mint leaves To make dressing, pound garlic, ginger, and chili; fold in maple syrup and fresh lime


The Titikaveka Growers Association fosters organic farming practices, such as a community composting center to help replace toxic fertilisers

On a piece of land, back off the beach in Papaaroa, long piles of dark soil lie beneath the coconut trees. A digger and excavator are parked nearby while tender bean and lettuce seedlings grow in the shelter of a glass house. The smell wafting from a stack of blue drums gives a hint as to what they contain – a stinky nutrient rich soup of offcuts from local fish shop Ocean Fresh. This is the base for Titikaveka Growers Association (TGA), a group of farmers led by Teava Iro Jnr – both names that have become synonymous with organics in the Cook Islands. But organics is just one part of what TGA does. Established back in the 1960s, TGA was not an active group when Iro first joined some 20 years ago. He soon found himself taking on the role of chairman. His drive to make positive changes in local farming practices remains just as strong today. “I had a vision… my concern was environmental. What triggered it for me was when we started having lagoon issues about 20 years ago,” says Iro, noting that some of the lagoon’s problems have been linked to pollution from land runoff. “I support organics because in principle it looks after the biology of the soil. I am a biological agriculturalist; everything you do is about looking after the soil.” 24

The TGA is not a strictly organic group and is not opposed to the use of some chemicals as a tool to assist with plant growth. They assess overall plant health using what is known as Brix levels; Brix is a measurement of the glucose levels of a plant using a tool called a refractometer. An optimal Brix level means the plant is immune to disease and insects and contains a high level of nutrients. “By using chemical fertilisers we destroy a lot of micro-organisms in the soil,” says Iro. If the soil is deficient in nitrogen, the TGA will apply their fish brew, mixing it into the soil. Pesticides are still used, but organic varieties — a technique supported by the Ministry of Agriculture. “We are trying to encourage farmers to use less toxic pesticides,” says William Wigmore, Director of Research and Development at the Ministry of Agriculture. “We recognise organics as something that is becoming more and more important. At a global level, people are becoming very conscious of what they eat.” “We offer education on reducing rates and the size of areas sprayed,” says Brian Tairea, Extension Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture. This means encouraging the use of grass cutting as an alternative to spraying, sourcing organic pesticides for local farmers, and helping community groups and individuals to set up their own

composting system. Both the Ministry of Agriculture and TGA acknowledge that change is never an easy thing to bring about, particularly in the current scenario in which 80 per cent of farmers are part-time. Providing courses and education does not necessarily translate into changing long-held views and methods, but at the very least it does raise the question of the impact of current agricultural practices. It was at one of TGA’s courses in 2016 that Teariki Unuka realised he needed to make changes to his farming practice. Unuka is now a member of TGA and also of Te Mou Enua, an Arorangi based farming group. “I’m thinking about the future – for our children,” says Unuka, who has begun to use chicken manure as a natural fertiliser and trial organic pesticides in his taro patch. “I’m not there yet but I’m changing slowly.” A Community Compost Centre (CCC) is one of the initiatives TGA has instigated over the past decade — a sustainable substitute to fertilisers which also has economic benefits. Iro is a firm believer in seeking the knowledge you need to make things happen; when TGA first looked into setting up commercial composting, he went to New Zealand and Australia to see how it was

Photos by Rachel Smith

done there. “I thought, ‘I can mimic that,’” he says. This is exactly what TGA did, with funding provided through the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme and NZAID. “Things grow faster here and break down faster, and you also lose a lot of nutrients through oxidation,” Iro says. “It’s been trial and error.” Lessons have been learnt along the way about what works best here. Some machinery which works well overseas, for example, is not ideal for the Cook Islands environment — such as the chipper, a tool which suffers a lot of wear and tear and can be expensive to maintain. TGA is composting on a commercial scale. Heavy machinery is used to pile green waste into mounds, truckloads of the stuff arriving from Pacific Resort each day. They use an aerobic system, which means the piles are turned to add oxygen and to make sure the correct temperature is maintained. After three months the compost is dried and run through a perforated drum to remove any large pieces that haven’t yet broken down. “The goal is to build TGA up to a point where it is sustainable,” Iro says, noting that expanding Composting Center would enable it to take green waste from the general public, which in turn

would require larger machinery. Iro’s work at TGA is all voluntary and fitted around his role as part owner of Cook Islands Noni Marketing Ltd., exporting organic noni juice. His knowledge and skills have seen him play a part in the organic movement across the Pacific, as a founding member of POETCom (Pacific Organic & Ethical Trade Community) through the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), who put together a Pacific Organics Standard under the brand name of Organic Pasifika. Natura Kuki Airani (NKA) is a newly established group formed to help organic certification in the Cook Islands. It is a gathering of knowledge, with Iro working alongside the Ministry of Agriculture and other local agricultural groups, including Te Mou Enua, to get NKA off the ground. Assessments of local farms are already underway with the goal that Organic Pasifika produce will soon be available for purchase. And it will not end there. Iro has a talent for seeing resources where others see waste, and using all the tools available to enhance the wellbeing of the land and its people. “It’s only waste,” Iro says, “if we don’t know how to use it.” Rachel Smith

Photo by Jessie Lee Cederblom


Brian Tairea, Extension Officer at Ministry of Agriculture, says the key to making compost is to keep it simple. Start with making a compost bin from what you have lying around at home – it can be old tyres stacked one on top of the other, offcuts of corrugated iron pegged in the corners, a big heap covered with tarpaulin, or even inside an old washing machine. Having a couple of compost heaps on the go at once works best. Instead of burning, try composting garden waste, hedge trimmings and leaves. Break it into small pieces by hand or better yet put it through a chipper. Add damp paper, newspaper or cardboard. All of this supplies carbon to your compost. Vegetable food scraps, grass clippings and weeds add nitrogen. Boost this with your own fish mix or use animal manure from goats, pigs or chickens. Egg shells add phosphorous and calcium. You can layer brown matter, green matter and soil in tyres or a tub and leave it somewhere to do its thing. Or just pile it in a big heap, mix it around every few weeks, and it should be ready to use in a few months. Any matter that hasn’t broken down can simply be added back into the next heap.


Danny Ioane went to Aitutaki to die. He says local food saved his life.


“It's a plant,”

says Danny, a businessman who doesn’t smoke cannabis for fear it will damage his lungs. “And it’s been put there for a reason.” He isn’t alone in his stance toward cannabis oil. Around the world, an increasing number of medical professionals are endorsing its healing properties. Still governments continue to deny the proof. Many claim it’s because the plant might render certain medicines unnecessary. Here are a few milestones in cannabis’ journey. 1970: U.S. government classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, a substance with no accepted medical purpose. Heroin and LSD are examples of other Schedule 1 drugs. 1988: Francis Young, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s own administrative law judge, rules that cannabis “in its natural form is one of the safest

harmful chemotherapy and radiation can be to the body. He talked to people who had pursued natural medicine successfully. He read obsessively about how and why natural cures for cancer aren’t funded. (“I think it’s an industry,” he says now. “I had to inject myself every day in the stomach with this 5 mL of stuff in a syringe. Two thousand dollars each for this little syringe. Then you got your chemo — they’re making three or four hundred grand from someone who’s got cancer. No subsidies for anything natural. Governments won’t fund anything that’s natural.”) He began buying bottles of noni from his uncle in Titikaveka and handing them out, free, to cancer patients at the Rotorua Hospital. He also began taking large amounts of Vitamin C and making his own colloidal silver. Five years ago, he was declared cancer-free. Today Danny splits his time between Rotorua, Hamilton, and Tauranga. He thinks often about the cancer, wonders how he got it. Was it the illness he suffered as a baby? Years spent working in the aluminium industry? The prayer he said when his son got sick? The food he ate before he knew better? He doesn’t know. He also thinks about what made him healthy again. Was it the conventional therapy? Faith? Food? Natural remedies? Was it the time he spent in the islands? “I think it was a combination of things,” he says now. “I think a lot of the healing was the spiritual people around me over in Aitutaki. I think it was being around that and spending time with the kids without the stress of work and eating local, natural stuff straight out of the ground.” While he’s grateful for the conventional treatment, he believes he wouldn’t be alive today had he not taken steps to cure his body of its damaging effects. He also believes the treatment resulted in addictions to the painkillers and antidepressants prescribed to him. Danny dismisses “all the haters” who deride his beliefs; as far as he’s concerned, they can “comment all they like but probably haven’t been through it themselves”. He cautions everyone who’s healthy to pay attention to what they’re putting into their bodies, and to focus on preventing cancer instead of curing it. “I think once you get sick, you want to try to live so you start hitting this natural stuff,” he says. “But if you start doing it now, get your body on the right track now, you can avoid all that right from the start.”

therapeutically active substances known to man.” Government denies petition to reschedule cannabis. 1995: Harvard professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon publishes a book that concludes: “The largely undeserved reputation of cannabis as a harmful recreational drug and the resulting legal restrictions have made medical use and research difficult. As a result, the medical community has become ignorant about cannabis and has been both an agent and a victim in the spread of misinformation and frightening myths.” 1999: U.S. government files for a patent on cannabis because of its proven medicinal properties. Cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug. 2003: Virginia Commonwealth University study reveals “that [cannabis] may offer unique advantages in treating seizures compared with currently prescribed anticonvulsants.” 2006: Scripps Research Institute endorses research that proves cannabis can prevent Alzheimer’s

Rachel Reeves

disease. New Zealand Drug Foundation releases a paper that finds “strong scientific consensus that medical cannabis and cannabis products have some value in particular cases.” 2011: Rakahanga MP Toka Toka suggests turning outer islands into pot farms; other MPs laugh. 2016: U.S. National Cancer Institute endorses research that proves cannabis kills certain cancer cells. Cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug. 2017: At press time six countries and eight U.S. states have legalised marijuana for medical or recreational use. New Zealand’s prime minister has said she wants a national discussion on legalising cannabis.

Lokal does not condone illegal activity. We do, however, encourage you to do your own research and push your policymakers to do the same.


In 2009, Danny Ioane was ready to give up. He’d done eight months of chemotherapy at Waikato Hospital. During sessions as long as a workday, a nurse had pumped chemicals into his bloodstream to kill the cancer in his stomach. He’d also done three months of weekly radiation therapy, lying still while his body received waves of energy so powerful the nurses had to leave the room. When the radiation entered one side of Danny’s body, hair on the other side fell out. The drugs had turned his urine red and made him sick. He’d lost 25 kilos; after eight months he was down to 70. He thought about how he’d asked for it. When the doctors at Starship Hospital found a growth in his three-year-old son’s stomach, Danny begged God to give the sickness to him instead. The boy’s tumour turned out to be harmless and two years later, Danny had been diagnosed with lymphoma. Throughout treatment he’d tried to be positive, even light-hearted, about his situation. He even arranged a Cook Islands-style haircutting ceremony when his hair fell out. But chemotherapy and radiation hadn’t killed all the cancer cells in his body, and Danny was tired. He was 44 and facing terminal illness. He wanted urgently to return to Aitutaki so he could get his land transferred into his four kids’ names. He suspected he would be going there to die. For eight weeks, Danny’s aunty on Aitutaki made him a drink using the leaves of the tipani tree. For eight weeks, he didn’t buy any foods that had been processed or packaged. He stopped eating sugar, dairy, and red meat. Instead he ate from the land. Produce grown organically. Eggs from local chickens raised on natural foods. Pawpaw seeds. The juice of local oranges. Thirty millilitres of noni a day. Every day, he stewed tomatoes in cannabis oil, which has been clinically proven to reduce cancer-related side effects. (The American National Cancer Institute has also admitted that cannabis “has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory,” though little funding has been made available for research on human subjects.) While he was on Aitutaki he put on 20 kilos and began to feel like himself again. When he felt healthy enough, Danny returned to his home and business in Rotorua. Friends and relatives were surprised; they had assumed his wife would be returning alone. At home, Danny began researching cancer. He read about how


(v) to make alive, rescue, revive, stimulate, make aware, to save, to deliver, to restore to health

Local healing considers all the elements of health—body, mind, spirit, environment—and recognises that when one is out of balance, the system gets sick. This knowledge reflects a deep understanding of the way the body and the world work. For thousands of years, the people of these islands relied on healing practices fine-tuned over centuries of trial and error. Today many of us dismiss traditional medicine as backward and old fashioned. We trust in pharmaceuticals, even when their labels warn of damaging side effects or even risk of death, but we doubt the power of plants. We believe the early Māori were experts in matters of health. This section celebrates Māori healing and the principles on which it’s based — harmony, balance, spirituality, community, aro’a. We acknowledge the selflessness of medical professionals who dedicate their lives to helping others and the usefulness of western medicine in managing crises, but we also believe in values-based medicine that considers not just the body but all elements of human health. * To protect ourselves from lawsuits, we have to remind you that we are not medical professionals and that you should consult your doctor before undertaking any kind of treatment plan. We also encourage you to do your own research.

Tuatua Tupuna

‘I no’o ana teta’i au tangata ki teia nga’i tikai ta tatou e no’o nei.

Blue Zones

Eat mostly plants.


“And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” — Revelation 22:2b




Photo by Nior Photography

the Māoro Walking to Hut 38 at Punanga Nui Market I can smell the coconut oil. Teuvira Upokotea, his long curly black hair slicked into a ponytail, greets me with a boyish smile. A few grey streaks curl into his elastic band yet his face looks strangely smooth and youthful. I expected a master of māoro to have the wisdom of wrinkles. “You look young,” I say, surprised. “Coconut oil,” he says, smiling. Beauty magazines in the U.S. recently declared coconut oil “the miracle cure” for everything from hair to skin. Polynesians have long known this ancient wisdom that western science now confirms. Teuvira has practiced massage in one form or another for over 25 years. He also makes his own line of therapy oils, Matariki Māoro, with coconut oil and pure plant extracts, hence the pungent, slightly burnt, sweet smell radiating from Hut 38.

Photo by Jessie Lee Cederblom

“Let me show you what I do,” he tells me. Respectfully, he asks me to wrap myself in a pāreu behind a curtain and lie down on his massage table. He begins our māoro session with a prayer.


“My ancestors and your ancestors work together to heal you,” he explains. I can feel the warmth and power in his hands. He massages me the way a baker kneads bread. He uses fingers, forearms, palms, and elbows. He kneads me down into a thinner, more airy version of my former self. At the end of the session my eyes sparkle and I’m ready to go for a run. We go outside and sit down in front of his hut underneath the native yellow hibiscus tree. He unpacks the mystery of his gift for me, although most of what he does belongs to the realm beyond speech. “I received massages throughout my childhood,” he says. “I grew up in Arorangi and my grandmother massaged me everyday with coconut oil. Sometimes she would take me to the different ta’unga in the village. Back then, we had a lot more ta’unga, not like today. “Massage occurred in most people’s homes,” he adds. “The kids walked on the oldies’ backs and most knew the pressure points for a headache. If someone had a more serious ailment they would go to a ta’unga who used massage and plant extracts as their primary method of healing.” Teuvira stands up to show me his legs and feet. “Look,” he says, “I grew up bowlegged. My grandmother’s daily massages and the visits to the ta’unga healed me.” The bow legs have all but disappeared. Through his ailment, he became close to his grandmother, learnt her māoro secrets, and became acquainted with the world of the ta’unga. Nonetheless, Teuvira abandoned the gift. He learnt English, studied hard at school, and lived for a while in New Zealand. He left behind the world of his grandmother in Arorangi. “In my thirties,” he tells me with a deep sigh, “I

had a crisis.” A sadness passes over his eyelids. “I didn’t like myself,” he says and stops there. One morning, in Cook Islands News, he saw an advertisement for scholarships to study in New Zealand. With laughter he tells me how he called the number and told them he wanted to study massage. “No one had asked to study massage before,” he says. “People went for accounting, nursing, or teaching.” Teuvira became the first Cook Islander to receive an educational scholarship to study massage in New Zealand. “The practical came easily,” he says. “But the anatomy and theory killed me.” He found a mentor who believed in him and felt he had a special gift that could not be taught. With determination, grit, and a cheering squad, Teuvira graduated and became a New Zealandqualified massage practitioner. He went on to become certified in Atua massage as well, which seeks to combine the best of western and Polynesian practices maintaining the inherent spirituality of healing. “Arorangi gave me the gift, but the theory helped refine that gift,” he says. “It’s important to know the anatomy and the western science behind what we do.” We talk for a while more under the native yellow hibiscus tree, itself a medicinal resource, about the loss of ta’unga, and why the younger generation does not seem interested in the rich ancestral practice of massage. Like Teuvira, Steve Purea in Kavera grew up with sickness on Atiu. He had childhood asthma. As his primary treatment, his grandparents massaged him daily. Even as a child, he started massaging others. He must have learnt intuitively from those who massaged him. “I have been massaging people since 10 years old,” Steve tells me, “but what I do is different. I don’t use oil and you keep your clothes on. I do pressure points, deep pressure points to release

lomi and often in public places communally. Lomi lomi remedied common illnesses such as headaches, colds, fevers, low back pain, swelling, paralysis, rheumatic joints, and more. Throughout Polynesia families practised māoro or lomi lomi, with differing techniques from island to island. As with Teuvira and Steve, techniques stayed within families and passed down from generation to generation. Training included prayer, cleansing, and diet. Reflecting on the past, I wonder how much has been lost? In Pukapuka today, children do still walk on their parents’ backs and in the evenings you can see kids massaging the legs of the oldies while sitting in a plastic chair on the veranda. Two ta’unga reside on the island and do everything from massage and plant medicine to the setting of bones. They work alongside western trained nurses. Sitting on his concrete veranda taking in the breeze, Bene tells me that the gift of massage came to him in a dream. He faced the choice to embrace the gift or walk away. Sitting on the floor of a crowded village meeting, he once reset my knee and alleviated all the pain. At a church feast, our hands still greasy from the fresh fried red malau, he gave me a back massage that left me in tears. “You needed to release,” he tells me calmly, and then carries on eating and talking. I ask if he passed any of this knowledge onto his children. He shakes his head, saying they had little interest. Knowing the dangers of losing this knowledge, he offers to share a sliver with our mapu education program. Many of the youth laugh and make jokes, but some come to learn. He teaches us how to alleviate headaches and why it’s important to always massage the stomach where digestion and emotion sit. For

treatment and teaching, Bene never asks for any payment, just for the newest movies off my hard drive. Recently I went to visit Moko, the younger ta’unga on Pukapuka. I ask if he has passed his


the muscles and put them back in place. They say I have magic fingers.” When I go to see Steve at a simple whitewashed room attached to his family home, he has his colourful oil paintings on the wall: scenes of women collecting shellfish on the reef and a portrait of Tangaroa. I lay on his massage table and his fingers press into my back. When he finishes, I feel lightheaded and released. The lumps in my shoulder blades have smoothed and everything has a new elasticity. I ask him if his fingers get sore and he shakes his head. “I breathe,” he says “and it’s my gift. I don’t know where it came from. No one taught me. This is what I do.” I ask him if he is passing on his gift. “I can’t teach this,” he says pointing to his fingers, “they just know where to go.” Steve’s style is similar to what I found in Hawai’i and Pukapuka — massage not as relaxation with oil but as a deep tissue pressure that realigns muscles, organs, and bones. In Hawai’i, I studied lomi a’e. Using wooden sticks and floor mats we learnt to touch the body with our feet in a deep and intuitive way. We learnt prayers of healing and chanted to Hamoea, the goddess of massage. We carved our own mortar and pestle and collected medicine from the bush. We dyed our massage sheets golden yellow with turmeric, and washed them by hand. “Massage isn’t meant to be relaxing,” my teacher Keola Chan told me. After a session with him where I laid on the floor and all 90 kilos of him walked on my back, I felt released and bruised. He massaged as long as needed, not by the hour. Sometimes sessions lasted 10 minutes, sometimes three hours. He talked about the old days during Queen Liliuokalani’s reign, when Hawaiian families massaged one another as a matter of daily practice. From him, I learnt the long ancient tradition of massage practised throughout Polynesia. According to historical accounts by visitors to Hawai’i — just as Teuvira described growing up in Arorangi — every family performed lomi


Photo by The Homecoming Documentary

knowledge on. “I’ve taught my son all my knowledge. He is down in Raro now. He knows,” he says, a smile passing across his face. I don’t know if his son’s gift will get acknowledged at Tereora College in Rarotonga or if his son will choose to accept this gift. I watch Moko treat a visitor with muscle and nerve pain. She can barely walk. We are at Papa Charlie’s 87th birthday party. The stereo pumps mostly bass and boxed red wine from the boat fills the plastic cups. Without a word, Moko motions the visitor to a back room. She lies on a deep green flowered mattress atop a bed frame made of palettes and an old fish net. He leans his head sideways and listens with his ears to her body. I look at him, my face full of questions. He simply points a finger upwards, toward the heavens. Dr. Amelia Borofsky



WAY It doesn’t bother Papa Teina Ataera that people say he’s crazy. They say he’s wasting his time, call his ideas bullshit. They call him a fool for refusing medication. A doctor threatened to sue him once, for defamation. Papa Teina knows this is the right word because he wrote it in his diary the day he looked it up. He’d been caught warning other patients against pills. He knows the people who call him crazy don’t understand. He learnt the hard way, perhaps the hardest way possible, that health is not something you leave to the professionals. After his daughter died, after he decided he had neither the money nor the English to sue the drug company, he made a promise to himself. He’d begin trusting more in God’s medicine than in man’s. God’s medicines are the fruits, vegetables, and herbs he spends his days planting and tending. (Every day except Saturday, a Seventh-day Adventist’s Sabbath, when Papa Teina puts on his black shoes and his cheesecutter and drives in his little white truck to church.) Each morning, he rises before the sun. Through glasses on the end of his nose he reads his Bible, the Cook Islands Māori version, then he puts on his gumboots and an Indiana Jones hat and shuffles into his garden. With the limp of an old man he moves through the soft earth, up and down rows of kale, spinach, tomato, cucumber, courgette, corn, beans, lettuce, bok choy, beetroot. When 32

the arthritis in his knees bothers him, he crawls. Sometimes he stops to sit beneath the kuru tree and survey his work—a half-acre fenced by chicken wire. “Papa!” people call to him when they drive past. “Auē te mānea ta’au garden. Your garden is beautiful.” “Not my garden,” he always tells them. “This is God’s garden.” Decades ago, when he decided to move his family to New Zealand where he could find more opportunities and better pay, his wife Rangi’s mum warned him not to leave the natural health of his land. “Eaa tu rai teia pātireia ta kotou e kimi ana. Mē tū koe te pē, te tuāpara, te mātipi mingi, toou pātireia rai tēnā. Aere ra, oki mai ki runga te akau.” It was a lifetime before he understood what she meant. Papa Teina grew up eating mostly from the land — taro, kūmara, māniota , wild pīnapi, tiopu-everything. A can of corned beef was a luxury; the whole family would share it over the course of a week. His feeding father was a planter who made a dollar for every box of tomatoes he sent to New Zealand. Every day after school, young Teina helped on the plantation, watering the plants one by one with a corned beef tin that he’d dipped into a drum transported by horse from the creek. When Rangi gave birth to their first three children, Teina moved the family

It’s taken Papa Teina Ataera a lifetime to understand that leaving the food of the land was a mistake. We can avoid a lot of sickness and struggle by doing our own research and paying attention to stories like his.

to Auckland, where he worked nights in a bakery and made four times what he’d made driving a government truck around Rarotonga. He wanted to give his kids more than he’d had growing up. Money became the driving force of Papa Teina’s life. Money consumed his mind; he needed money for the mortgage, money for the horse races and money for buffet meals where he could eat three plates’ worth of food. He remembers those Auckland years through his diaries, weathered black books with yellowing pages. He wrote about the nosebleeds he began getting three times a day, probably stress-related. He wrote about how his blood pressure shot up, causing a valve in his heart to leak, and how the doctor cut him open and replaced the valve with part of a pig’s heart. He wrote he wasn’t happy about the surgery because Deuteronomy 14:8 says the pig is unclean. He wrote about his arthritis and his gout. He also wrote about the sermon that changed his life, delivered by Dr. Raubane Kirimaua, a board-certified naturopath who travels around the Pacific promoting Bible-based eating and living.

Born in Kiribati and educated in Fiji and the United States, Dr. Raubane spent his career in the American health system, first earning a doctorate in public health and then working in disease prevention at state health departments in California, Michigan, and Hawai’i. When he was employed by the Hawai’i State Department of Public Health, he heard a coworker say Pacific Islanders were costing the government too much because they had nothing between their ears. The comment made him angry, and then it changed his life. Dr. Raubane wrote a curriculum called Pasifika Health Reform, which uses science and the Bible to prove that “the true Pacific diet” prevents and heals disease. He began inviting sick Pacific people into his home, seven nights a week, and teaching them about the healing power of eating naturally. Soon his home practice was so overwhelmed he had to quit his job. Today, more than 10 years later, Dr. Raubane and his wife Tima operate a registered non-profit organisation through which community groups and businesses worldwide request training sessions. Dr. Raubane is a quiet man who doesn’t claim to heal people — “only God has the power to do that,” he says — but he has watched a lot of people heal. The SDA Church has been criticised for its position on modern medicine, but its philosophy bears results. In America, Seventh-day Adventists have the nation’s lowest rates of heart disease and diabetes. They also live a decade longer than everyone else. After hearing Dr. Raubane’s speech Papa Teina wrote in his books that he would stop taking the medications the doctors put him on after his heart surgery. He was called in for a meeting at the hospital. The doctor said he wouldn’t live longer than a year if he didn’t go back on his pills. In 2013, several years after Teina’s heart surgery, his second-born child and oldest daughter got sick. Moeroa was 46, a mother of two and grandmother of one who who taught

Moeroa was already on life support when they got to the hospital. She died on their 50th anniversary. Several weeks later, Teina and Rangi Ataera packed up their belongings in Otara and moved back to Kavera, back to the house Teina built out of plywood and roofing iron after he and Rangi were married, the one with yellow walls and pāreu doors. It was time to go home, to eat from their trees, to work the land they’d already divided amongst their kids. For Papa Teina, who was 73, returning to the yellow house meant finally acknowledging that Rangi’s grandmother had been right all along. Papa Teina believes God gives him what he needs, when he needs it. Money beyond his pension. Rain and sunshine to make the plants grow. Seaweed and marigolds to keep the bugs away. A scripture when he needs

it most. Harvests. Joy. Song. He likes singing; sometimes he wakes the house up at 5am with a hymn. But planting is his greatest act of worship. In his garden, Papa Teina is at peace. He thanks his plants and pays attention to them because, like children, they respond to love. He wants to buy a stereo so he can play island music for them. He knows they’re listening; once, he threatened to cut down a peach tree that never bore fruit. The next season, it produced so many peaches the family couldn’t keep up. Most Saturdays after church, Papa Teina goes visiting in his little white truck. He stops off at the homes of people he knows are sick and talks to them about how the foods they’re eating can cure them or kill them. He talks about pills and the dangers of depending on them. He used to talk about suing the drug company for $46 million dollars because that’s how old Moeroa was when she died. Now,

instead, he goes visiting. Papa Teina is an old man now, with pain in his prostate, crippling arthritis in his knees, a struggling digestive system, and a chronic cough. He wants other people to learn about the connection between health and diet while they still have long lives ahead of them. He wants them to learn, through his story, to be grateful for the blessings of land and food and health and community, and to be careful about money and medicine and nightly steak meals. “What making us sick is eating all this papa‘ā food,” he says, laughing when he admits that he eats it sometimes, too. “We used to go in the bush, eat the mango and the uto, and we think we are poor because we don’t have a corned beef. Then I learn that’s the food that make us sick. It is our food that make us better.” Rachel Reeves

Eaa tu rai teia pātireia ta kotou e kimi ana. Mē tū koe te pē, te tuāpara, te mātipi mingi, toou pātireia rai tēnā. Aere ra, oki mai ki runga te akau.

Photo by Jessie Lee Cederblom


delinquent kids at South Auckland schools and brought food to class because she knew most of them didn’t always get fed. Moeroa had a mechanical valve in her heart; she had surgery after a spell of rheumatic fever gave her a murmur. Moeroa took 13 pills a day, including a heavy dose of a popular bloodthinning medication that has been linked to severe bleeding on the brain, according to medical journal Neurology; the U.S. National Library of Medicine also confirms that one of the drug’s side effects is “severe bleeding that can be life-threatening and even cause death”. A bleed on Moeroa’s brain sent her to the hospital, where she spent five weeks talking to other patients about Jesus and texting scriptures to her family. The nurses told Papa Teina she seemed like she was at peace. One morning, Teina and Rangi were eating Weetbix when the doctor called.


that’ll be FREE of

CHARGE For three days and nights, I itched. The itch was coming from inside, crawling out of my bones. There was no rash. My teeth hurt and so did any kind of contact with water. Touching anything cold made my hands feel like they were on fire. The doctor at the Rarotonga Hospital knew straight away what was wrong. “Fish poisoning,” he said, when I told him it hurt to shower. “Ciguatera.” He told me mine was a mild case, wrote me a prescription, tore it out of his book and wrote another. Anti-itch creams, antihistamines, anti-inflammatories. Before I filled my prescriptions, I went to interview Mama Ngapoko Marsters, a warm woman with a wide smile. While I was there I told her about the diagnosis. She disappeared into her house, then reappeared carrying a bottle filled with liquid the colour of a river after heavy rain. A half hour after I drank it, the itch was gone.

Photo by Nior34 Photography



I had questions. My questions led me on a journey into the kind of wisdom science is just beginning to acknowledge, into the story of the local healer. It’s a story about why we in the modern world doubt traditional medicine. It’s also a story that’s played out all over the world, in places where colonisers outlawed native knowledge they couldn’t understand. Recently a journalist named Thandekile Moyo wrote in an African newspaper about how his people are embarrassed to use their local medicine, even though they know it often works. “The only time we go to our traditional healers, named ‘witch doctors’ by our colonisers, is when all else has failed and we are on our death beds,” he wrote. “This is when we finally say, okay, why not try that route. Sometimes we are saved. Unfortunately, most of the time it is too late.” Google traditional medicine and most of the headlines that pop up refer to the dangers of, and deaths caused by, natural remedies. When Chinese actress Xu Ting died of cancer in 2016, the newspapers slammed the traditional medicine she chose to use instead of chemotherapy. A reporter at Beijing News later asked the question: When someone does chemo and dies anyway, do we assume modern medicine is a sham? I brought up natural medicines with a friend who has a PhD in biology. “Waste of time,” he said. “Show me the science.” The words of Papa Ioane Kaitara, a ta’unga from Manihiki, rang in my ears. Papa Ioane, who wears untied Air Jordans and cataract glasses, learnt from his great-grandfather how to set bones with casts of coconut husks, massage arthritis away, and detoxify a breastfeeding woman’s body. “The silly one in the family, the one they call puaka, always the one to listen,” he told me once. “The man who go to school and got the paper, he the one don’t believe until he need the medicine and he come right.”

The ta‘unga was the expert in all things health-related before Europeans showed up. Some books translate ta‘unga as priest because they were people who dealt with spiritual matters, but they were more than that. They were life coaches, psychologists, and doctors, all rolled into one. They were the PhDs of their time, more well-rounded than the PhDs of ours because they did not specialise; they were therapists, psychiatrists, spiritual advisers, masseurs, bonesetters, midwives, and pharmacists, chosen because they were smart but


also because they were kind. A Kiwi researcher named Margaret Mackenzie wrote in a 1973 paper that ta‘unga were treated with a different respect than doctors. “People may like [doctors], feel grateful to them and their achievements, but they aren’t heroes just because they are doctors,” she wrote. “Those whom everyone respects are respected because they are good men: leaders in the community, kind—especially to the sick—responsible fathers to their children, and good to their wives.” Ta‘unga were “morally impeccable,” she wrote. They had to be; it was their duty to treat patients at all hours, for as long as was necessary, and to do it for free. The community supported and fed its healers, but no one paid them. Every ta‘unga knew, and still knows, that accepting payment removes the mana of the treatment. They healed for healing’s sake, not for profit and not because they were particularly fond of the patients they chose to see. As Papa Ioane put it: “Your enemy sick and he come to you, you do it. The problem between you and him, you forget it. You heal him.” The ta‘unga tested first for maki tūpāpaku – spiritual illness. He or she talked to a patient, her wife, parents, children, and relatives to discover the root of the problem. A doctor from New Zealand wrote in 1945 that he watched a ta‘unga gather a group of 10 family members to ask questions, “working right back to the patient’s childhood and digging, digging, until at last he brought the aggravation to the surface.” The doctor was shocked at how well the method worked. To treat a spiritual illness, the ta‘unga prescribed family meetings, confessions, and forgiveness. He or she explained where the sickness came from and advised a patient to apologise for, or let go, whatever offence had caused it. “[Ta’unga] spend a good deal of time in consultation with the sick person and his family,” Mackenzie wrote. “These consultations are not affected by considerations of time and payment. People are encouraged to air any grievances which might be causing tension and stress within the family.” The ta‘unga were ahead of the curve; today we have science that proves stress, guilt, and anxiety can cause physical or mental illness. They also understood that for a treatment to work, you had to believe it would. Today our system treats the mind and body as separate – the workspaces of different specialists trained differently. In her book, Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body, science writer Jo Marchant explores how the brain experiences pain. When the brain senses stress, it sends a warning signal to the body that feels uncomfortable. “But if we feel supported and cared for, the brain kind of feels like the crisis is over, and there isn’t much need, then, for the warning signals,” she writes. “And so it eases off on our symptoms.” According to the science, you really can think yourself better. “It’s not,” Marchant writes, “all in your imagination.”

If an illness was purely physical, a ta‘unga prescribed massage or vairākau Māori – literally, water-plant of the Māori. Recipes came in dreams or from parents and grandparents. There were treatments for detoxing the body, for Photos of plants by Nior Photography. Photo of healer by The Homecoming Documentary.

treating wounds and boils and fever and anaemia, for healing UTIs and septic wounds and migraines and earaches and hemorrhoids. While the Europeans were still bloodletting, the ta‘unga were consulting an enormous body of healing knowledge collected over centuries. To the missionaries, who considered themselves more educated and more sophisticated than the natives they arrived to convert, all of this ta‘unga business was primitive hocus-pocus. Today’s ta‘unga cite verses like Ezekiel 47:12 (“And the fruit of trees will be for food, and the leaves for healing”) and Revelation 22:2 (“The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”) to support their work, but in the 1800s, the missionaries believed their practice was anti-Bible. In 1879 came the Blue Laws, which fined ta‘unga $10 for doing “magic.” Anyone who got caught visiting them paid $5, the same amount as a convicted thief. Twenty years later there was the Medical Officer’s Inquiry Act, which declared that “unscientific treatment of disease” (and not the introduced disease itself) was responsible for increased death rates in the Cook Islands. Colonel Walter Gudgeon, a guy with a bad temper and a handlebar mustache, signed a law requiring anyone who practised healing to be listed in the New Zealand government’s medical register. The ta‘unga were quacks, he wrote, and “dangerous to the well-being of the Cook Islands.” Fifteen years later, a new law subjected the ta‘unga to six months of imprisonment if they were caught. Doctors did not discuss Māori medicine or allow it in their hospitals. Still, locals had too much faith in their healers to turn their backs on what they knew worked. In 1983, the director of the Rockefeller Foundation visited Rarotonga and was astonished to see that people still used what he called “witch-doctor remedies.”

As far as the U.S. National Library of Medicine is concerned, there is “limited scientific evidence to establish the safety and efficacy of most herbal products.” If healthcare is the world’s most profitable industry, why is the evidence so limited? Is there really no funding for research and development of natural remedies? The golden rule of journalism – follow the money – leads to a simple answer. Most natural medicines aren’t scientifically proven because it’s not worth a company’s salt to make sure they are. A patent is a licence to own a synthetic — chemical — medicine and to sell it. To get one, companies spend millions of dollars on convincing governments its drugs are safe. The results of the research they end up submitting are not made available to the public. You can’t get a patent for something that grows in the ground, so why would you spend millions of dollars on science that proves it works? There’s not much money in natural products, so they don’t get approved, and we have been taught to suspect anything not approved. And if safety is the issue, what about all the approved drugs whose labels list side effects like blindness, paralysis, and death? We don’t think it’s strange that

drugs sometimes have fatal consequences or that they are backed by enormous marketing budgets. We just think it’s strange to treat our ailments with plants, the way people always have. Times have changed and so has illness, but there is still plenty of scientific evidence that supports the theory that plants possess healing properties. When people call Papa Ngarima George crazy or old-fashioned for making natural medicines, he smiles and prays for them. “Ti vare vare, they say to me,” he says. “Means I just make up. I say okay, alright, thank you. One day you will come and see me for the vairākau, and it will be free of charge.”

Mama Ngapoko’s medicine was not a long-term solution, probably because I left the Cook Islands and did not have access to it. For about eight months after I got ciguatera, I could not eat fish without experiencing symptoms. What the mouku taatai did for my physical symptoms was short-term, but what it prompted was a revelation. Through reading books, talking to medical practitioners, and interviewing dozens of people who have been treated with Māori medicine, I learnt sometimes the official line isn’t the only one. The New Zealand Medical Journal Digest has called natural remedies “a waste of time and money” and an Australian government study found “no clear evidence” of the effectiveness of plant-based medicines. But Dr. Tingika Tere, who spent 50 years working as a general practitioner in the Cook Islands, disagrees. In 2009, he retired from an industry that would have shamed him for speaking to a reporter about “alternative” remedies. “I think Māori medicine got a place,” he says. “I think those who are western-trained won’t accept that. I guess they just look down upon it, say no scientific proof behind it. But the thing is, people get cured.” Rachel Reeves

After giving it much thought we’ve chosen not to print all the medicinal recipes we’ve collected. Many ta’unga we spoke to were concerned that people would make their medicines, carry on engaging in unhealthy habits, and then blame traditional medicine for continued poor health. We encourage you to visit your local ta’unga. Support healers by taking the time to listen to and learn from them.

what the


Dr. Teariki Noovao Surgeon



On Māori medicine: “Some of our own papa’ā medicin e comes from seeds, leaves, and roots – like aspirin. We can’t really rule out Māori medicine.”

On papa’ā medicine: “Although it’s enhancing and healing, it can also be slowly damaging… You take tablets to control the primary effect of a disease or illness and then find the side effect of this medicine has to be controlled. Before you know it, you have to add another one to stop the dizziness, for example, and instead of two you end up with six tablets. You see people at hospital with a whole bundle of pharmaceuticals, a plastic bag full… [The answer] is to sharpen our living habits so we live longer and increase our quality of life.” DATE:



Dr. Tingika Tere General practitioner


“Although we have been trained to look down upon it, when I was a kid my mum used to make Māori medicine. I’ve seen a lot of people come right after that.”

On Māori medicine:

““My personal view is no, not healthy to be on tablets your whole life. I was taught it maintains the health but there are some people who take 10 different tablets and there must be some negative interaction between those, although the doctors would deny it… Maybe we just need the papa’ā medicine for the papa’ā diet.”

On papa’ā medicine:




lassie Hon. Nandi G Health of r Ministe OCCUPATION: support 00 per cent e people 1 in m I’ “ : ine ere ar On Māori medic medicine. Th were of traditional from it because they ght up u who shy away ed, but as someone bro to, you in ra tu pi western-t if you got a aka one at th ow n k I ap the pak in Atiu, t the e Māori — pick five tiar adfruit leaf and you ge t oil re u n b en add coco — and the pound and th nd your stomach 10 d an te e m u k and roll arou hat’s and tie it up e, 10 anti-clockwise. T s e is times clockw ne — the list of exampl tion as si ci po di e y m M . ri on āo d M eve in fe goes on an from real li of Health is I truly beli r te is the Min edicine.” traditional m





Shannon Saunders CITC Pharmacist


On Māori medicine: “Not all evidence and results are recorded in a lab. Medicines have existed in many shapes and forms well before science came into the picture. My concern is that often these practices are not tried until western treatment has failed. By then the condition has advanced, the patient’s immunity has decreased, and treatment is ineffective. There is potential for Māori medicine and western medicine to co-exist, to complement each other and to increase the chance of improvement. It’s best not to wait for one to fail before trying the other. Healers also need an understanding of the conditions that they are treating, co-morbidities and how this may affect treatment, what part of the plants are the most potent and potential interaction between different ingredients and other (western) medications. Traditionally ta’unga underwent extensive training in order to be healers. Not just anyone could do the job. Make sure your healer knows the bigger picture.”



Teei Kaiaruna is a New Zealand-qualified pharmacist. She

became interested in health working at her mum’s pharmacy, Phab Pharmacy in Nikao, and completed her Bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in 2014. She spent two years working in mental health and palliative care and is now working at Middlemore Hospital as a clinical pharmacist, whilst doing postgraduate study in pharmacy. We asked her some questions about her perspective on Māori medicine; she emailed us these responses.

a local healer who would provide natural concoctions for me to use; I specifically remember being given mashed potato mixed with some kind of natural leaf that I had to place in glad wrap and wear for three days around my throat — I don’t remember why I had to do it, but I know that it worked. My brother also hurt his knee really bad in a motorbike accident, he was taken to a local healer who put some kind of paste made with local plants and herbs — it not only took the pain away and accelerated the healing process, there was no lasting damage and looking back now, it was like it never happened. The number of times that I was given something to ‘aka eke’ always worked, I always felt lighter afterward, and that heavy sick feeling that I now know is excessive bloating always went away after drinking that particular cocktail. There may not have been any official studies done on local medicine and its effects, but our ancestors wouldn’t pass down that knowledge over thousands of years if it didn’t work. I believed in it not only because it was our culture or our custom, I believed in it because I saw it work with my own eyes.

Q: Did your lecturers ever address Māori and traditional medicines? What, if anything, do you learn about natural remedies at pharmacy school? A: The extent of traditional medicine addressed at university is next

to none. What is addressed is classed as ‘complementary’ or ‘natural health’ medicines and has nothing to do with Māori and traditional medicines. Usually it is individual ingredients that have papa’ā scientific names that aren’t even available as natural flora/fauna in the islands.

Q: Why, from your perspective, has there been so little scientific research into the efficacy and safety of Māori and other traditional medicines? A: Universities provide opportunities for students to gain tertiary education but their main purpose is research and all the funding is put into research that will provide results in pushing the country forward, gaining worldwide advancement in medicine, technology, engineering etc. Māori and traditional medicines are poorly researched hence the lack of inclusion in the curriculum and there is no funding out there specifically for this type of research as yet. Research is expensive! The funding that goes into developing new western medicines is in the billions.

Q: What are your thoughts on blending Māori and papa’ā medicines? A: I am all for blending Māori and papa’ā treatment regimes — provided

they don’t interact. There are basic interactions that I have learnt to be aware of. For example, plants high in Vitamin K (spinach, rūkau, pīnapi) are likely to thin the blood, so people who are on western blood thinner medications (Aspirin, Warfarin, Dabigatrin) should consume smaller amounts of these in moderation. When I come across patients who are on a blended treatment regimen, I research the natural components as thoroughly as possible. If the information is lacking then I recommend a ‘trial and error’ approach, meaning, they should start small and monitor for any untoward effects.


Q: Did you use Māori medicine growing up? Do you believe in it? A: I can recall numerous occasions where my father would take me to


a dose of


When her dad passed a kidney stone in 2010, Jeannine Daniel took him to Rarotonga Hospital for a check-up and bloodwork. The tests revealed he was at high risk for prostate cancer. Not long after, Jeannine travelled to Mauke on business. She stayed at the same hall as Teava Iro Jnr, a planter and head of the Titikaveka Growers Association. She told him one morning about her father’s health. “Ring home when we get back to Raro,” he said to her. “Come and get some pumpkin juice.” Teava’s father, Teava Iro Snr, had healed a prostate problem with pumpkin. He’d become known locally as “the prostate doctor” because so many of the people he’d shared his story with had seen the benefits of pumpkin themselves. “One papa’ā man came to our home,” Papa Teava recalls, laughing. “I said yes, what can I do? He said I was told you the prostate doctor.” When she returned to Rarotonga, Jeannine picked up a large pumpkin and began juicing it. Three times a day she’d give her father a tall glass of pumpkin juice. She also gave him toasted seeds and roasted skin to eat. A week later, she took her dad to the hospital for another blood test. His PSA level — the amount of “prostatespecific antigen” in his blood — had decreased from 4.29 to 0.02. “I stand by it,” Jeannine says of pumpkin juice. “I’ve seen the results and I stand by it.” If you’re a male over 40, or if you’re urinating blood or having trouble urinating, it’s recommended that you get a blood test to check for prostate cancer. Early detection is important. Rachel Reeves Photo by Jessie Lee Cederblom

PA’SDRU It’s Pa Teuruaa’s day off but he’s dressed the way he is every other day, when he’s guiding tourists through the bush and across the island: pāreu, rautī around his neck and each knee, thin blond dreadlocks in a bun. He’s in his seventies with no wrinkles, a spring in his step, and the muscle tone of someone who spends every day climbing mountains. “Welcome to my drugstore!” Pa sings out when I arrive. His arms are stretched out, toward his trees. “In my

drugstore, I’ve got everything!” With the energy of a salesman, he begins talking about his plants. “This one, the kātaraāpa,” he says. “Boil it in one litre of water. Drink it and you got healing! Four tablets for same purpose cost $180.” Pa points to a tree behind the house. “Fig,” he says. “F-I-G. Treat lung cancer.” The nono over there is for joint pain; the pure juice relieves arthritis symptoms, he says. The tuitui tree at the edge of the property has bark that treats burns and nuts that improve vision. The kava, if you mix it with nū and miro nuts — one male and three female (“You can tell by whether it closing it legs,” Pa tells me) — cleanses a system that’s relied for years on drugs. He has maire, too. He used it once to treat an American astronaut, who came to Rarotonga looking for the dreadlocked healer he’d seen on a travel programme on TV. The man had brittle bones, Pa says. The medicine he made, using the roots of the vine, worked so well the man cried. Pa declined payment, the way he always does.

Pa learnt about the healing powers of plants when he was a young boy. Growing up, his job was to pick and prepare plants for his grandmother, a traditional healer who accepted cans of corned beef or bread as payment, but never money. She belonged to the 68th generation in a family of healers. She never taught Pa how to make medicines, but through her he saw for himself that natural healing works. Instead of going to school, he collected


plants for his grandmother or helped his father on the plantation. He spent his free time in the mountains. By age five, he’d climbed every peak on Rarotonga. He says that prayer, silence, and “communion with Father Heaven and Mother Earth” were his first teachers. When Pa was 12, his grandmother explained to him that her knowledge was the product of thousands of years of trial and error. He wasn’t satisfied; her approach ignored the spiritual dimensions of healing. Today, when someone comes to him for healing, Pa asks for the information he needs — age, symptoms, dietary habits, and even level of sexual activity — and then he prays. He says plants come in visions. In 2014, Pa had an experience that reminded him asking leads to answers. Twice in two days, he had to carry a tourist down the mountain. First a man collapsed, and then a woman. When he got home — it was Wednesday, 25 June, he recalls — he lay down and blacked out. When he woke up, the pain in his back was so severe he screamed. On Saturday, Pa’s wife drove him to the hospital. The doctors said it was a bone spur — an outgrowth of his spine — and prescribed painkillers. In a wheelchair, Pa went to the airport and boarded a flight to New Zealand. The doctor there recommended surgery. “I said I don’t want my back operated,” Pa recalls. “Why you want to cut it? They shake their head. I say I’m going home. Doctor said not a good idea.” He flew to Rarotonga, called his family into a room, and prayed with them. He sent his nephew to collect

lichen from a coconut tree, two litres of pure noni juice, and apple cider vinegar. Within an hour, Pa says, he could walk. “I tell everyone the Lord brought me back,” he says.

There are two kinds of ta’unga: the kind that prefer not to share their knowledge, and the kind that do. Pa is the second kind. He knows the knowledge he keeps is sacred, and shares only when he trusts a person’s intentions. A tourist girl has been coming to his house lately, seeking his wisdom. He isn’t sure she wants it for the right reasons, so around her he has remained quiet. But his primary passion is to share what he knows for the good of his people. He wants to educate others about medicine and about food and what both are doing inside their bodies, where they can’t see it happening. He takes note of what people are eating — cakes, sausage rolls, fish fried in “the bad oils.” “Our people have to be informed what to avoid,” he says. “The businesspeople take the money from your pocket. They not helping you. They selling you wrong food. Yes, yes. Wrong food make you sick.” He wants to teach people about what chemicals do to their bodies. (“Kill a man slowly. Burn inside.”) This is a point that hits close to home for Pa; his brother died in the 70s from accidentally sipping Paraquat, a pesticide, because it had been stored in a beer bottle. All the planters he knew that pumped spray for years are dead now. His face darkens with sadness when he thinks of a mate who died with a can of chemicals beside him. Pa wants to educate people about the healing powers of plants, such as garlic, which kills bacteria and lowers cholesterol, or marijuana, which relieves stress and treats serious diseases.

He also wants to educate people about what television and technology can do to their minds. (“Guns, killing, it pollutes the mind. Stay away. I don’t look at television. Everything is guns.”) Sometimes, medical doctors from America and Germany stay at the bungalows on Pa’s property. They ask where he got his qualifications, and he just puts his hand over his heart. Pa never uses the word cure; he thinks it’s arrogant. He just wants to make medicines that “give extra joy in life”. His life’s mission is to share the gift of health. Every month, he gets a phone call from a local healer warning him to keep his knowledge to himself. “You talking to Pa,” he replies, surprised. “You not talking to the coconut tree. I have a loving heart and my loving heart educate me to educate other people.” Rachel Reeves




(n) connection, relationship

Living well goes beyond treating the body well. Living well is about balance and harmony and healthy relationships. People in the Blue Zones have a faith, know their purpose, put their families first, and engage with their communities. The people who settled this place were deeply spiritual. Before planting, fishing, and sailing, they prayed. They tithed part of their harvests. They loved their neighbours as themselves long before the arrival of Christianity. Scholar Kauraka Kauraka defined a Māori as someone “in touch with nature, man and God”. The old people will tell you things have changed. We have religion now, but do we have faith? Love? Respect? Do we live like Jesus did? Statistics show the majority of women in this country, and some men also, have been physically and/or sexually abused, and the unreported reality is probably worse. Young people are taking their own lives. Mamas and papas are being kicked out of their homes for greed. Ancient wisdom, the Bible, and science tell us we’re designed to live for other people. So do natural laws. As the saying goes: “Nothing in nature lives for itself. Rivers don’t drink their own water. Trees don’t eat their own fruit. The sun doesn’t shine for itself. Flowers don’t spread fragrance for themselves. Living for each other is the rule of nature.” There are studies that show people who do service for others are less likely to feel angry, worried, or depressed. We asked local people of all ages to define aro’a and received answers like respect, hospitality, kindness, concern for others, forgiveness, and attention. The answer we received most often was love. The Buse and Taringa dictionary defines it as “kindness, sympathy, sorrow (for somebody in trouble), love (i.e. divine love, or loving kindness, not love between sexes…).” The Bible’s supreme command—love God and others—is a Polynesian one, too. This section is about aro’a and how it can save us from ourselves.

Tuatua Tupuna

Na te aro’a e tāmā i to’ou mamae.


Blue Zones

Know your purpose. Have a faith. Live in community. Put your family first.


“Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.” —Romans 12:10



Photo by The Homecoming Documentary

People of Faith

This is a faith-based place, according to both history and the Constitution. Many travellers to these islands have been struck by the spirituality of the Cook Islands people, both before the Bible arrived and after. In the old days, people worshipped Io, creator of all things, all knowing and all powerful, without beginning or end. They believed he blessed the righteous. They knew his love and also his wrath. Always, they gave thanks. “God is Io to the Māori and Jehovah to the Jews,” Kauraka Kauraka wrote in 1991. Today this nation acknowledges the God of the Bible, which was introduced in the early 1800s by British missionaries and some Tahitians they converted. Some scholars say Polynesians easily accepted the Bible because they already believed in, and lived out, its most important teachings — love, prayer, forgiveness, selflessness, honour. Research shows people of faith worry less, have more meaningful relationships, and live longer. Even science agrees that faith is a pillar of health.

Te Atua tōku tūtau.


God is my anchor

We asked local people what they do to refresh, to feel better. Lagoon swim. — Glenda Tuaine

Gardening, trimming, weeding, potting, planting, watering. It’s so relaxing and joyful to produce beautiful results. — Rosie Blake Going for a swim. — Augustine Kopa Mowing lawns. Smell of fresh-cut grass and physical activity without actually exercising. — Liana Scott Reading 30 minutes or more every day. — Geoffrey Thor

Sailing on vaka Marumaru Atua. — Alex Teariki Olah

Picking flowers, making ‘ei katu, eating fat juicy ‘āvake in the sea. — Teina Tuatai

Paddling. — Vaea Melvin Sitting on the beach or on a paddleboard and just listening to all the magical sounds of the Cook Islands — ocean, wind, laughter, waves crashing on the reef. — Charlotte Piho Early morning walks. Good music. Swimming. Appreciating the gifts of life. Being thankful. — Lania Tuaine Vakamoce

Here are some tried-and-true ways to refresh your body, mind, and spirit: »» Get outside. Soak up the sun and the healing energy of the sea. »» Exercise every day. Move naturally — rake, cut the grass, stop

using power tools, grow a garden, bicycle, play sport, go for walks.

»» Get eight hours of sleep. »» Make time for friends. Spend time with positive people. Laugh. »» Talk or write about what’s on your mind. Communicate with people you trust when things aren’t going well.

»» Pray. »» Learn how to meditate. Realise that you do not have to be controlled by the thoughts in your head.

»» Listen to or make music. »» Engage in cultural activities — dancing, drumming, carving. »» Play a sport. »» Do something creative — draw, paint, sew, build, write, sing. »» Learn something new — an instrument, a language, a craft. »» Write or speak a list of your blessings every morning. »» Help someone else. »» Feed your mind and spirit the right stuff. The story at right says it all.

Climbing the peaks! When I need a moment to myself, the mountains are the only place I can really find solitude and the different perspective gives me such an appreciation of this beautiful place. — Maria Tate Nothing like a good sweat out cleaning the yard then hitting the sea for a swim and a refreshing lemon/ginger/honey drink, feet up in a pāreu , and chill. — Maria Tuoro

We love the old Native American proverb about a papa teaching his grandson a lesson.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he says to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil — he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you — and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thinks about it for a minute and then asks his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”The papa simply replies,

“The one you feed.”


We can’t find balance in our relationships if there’s no balance in us. It’s like the flight attendants tell you when you get on the plane: put on your oxygen mask before you help others with theirs. You can’t fill someone else’s cup if your cup’s empty. Caring for yourself means doing things that make your mind, body, and spirit feel good, every single day. Many of us spend our free time — our “me time” — watching TV or scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Those things keep us busy, but do they refresh us? Do they make us feel better?


LET’S TALK ABOUT IT Since 2006, 23 people have died by suicide in the Cook Islands. Another 30 have attempted suicide. If you talk to the old people, they’ll tell you this never used to happen. So what’s going on? A surgeon who visited Rarotonga in 1893 was struck by the seeming absence of mental illness. He wrote: “Man in his primitive condition suffers from none of the anxieties and worries inseparable from the life of man in a civilised country, where the struggle for existence is carried on not with the hand but with the head.” American researchers have found that over time young people have become more anxious and depressed. Dr. Jean Twenge, a sociologist who has done extensive work on this topic, told New York Magazine that “the research tells us that modern life is not good for mental health”. She also said: “Obviously there’s a lot of good things about societal and technological progress and in a lot of ways our lives are much easier than, say, our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ lives. But there’s a paradox here that we seem to have so much ease and relative economic prosperity compared to previous centuries, yet there’s this dissatisfaction, there’s this unhappiness, there are these mental health issues in terms of depression and anxiety.” She thinks it’s because people aren’t as connected to their communities and also, perhaps, because focus seems to have shifted to “money, fame, and image”,


and there’s “clear evidence that people who focus on money, fame, and image are more likely to be depressed and anxious”.

Research shows that 90 per cent of people who take their lives have some kind of mental illness, most commonly depression. Where there is family violence, trauma, sexual abuse, or bullying, rates of depression and suicide increase. But depression can happen to anyone, even someone raised in a healthy environment. There are causes most of us don’t even think about, among them birth control pills that affect hormonal balance, insomnia, and even an unhealthy diet. Like the flu, depression is a real sickness. It’s okay to have it and it’s okay to tell people you have it. Often, depressed or suicidal people are afraid of being teased for showing “weakness”, which makes them less likely to seek help and support. People who have survived suicide attempts say they didn’t want to die, not really — they just wanted the pain to stop. If you’re feeling depressed, know that it’s okay to ask for help. At Lokal we do not believe medication is the answer for everyone who’s feeling depressed. Studies have shown that the majority of people taking antidepressants have never suffered from major

• There is no shame in getting help. We all need support. There are counselling services available on Rarotonga or, if you feel more • Your pain is real and it does matter. There are comfortable talking to someone over the ways to deal with it. (See our self-care tips on phone, call: page 47.) • This too shall pass. You will feel okay again. 0800HELP Life is about cycles; there is no joy without With support from Bluesky Cook Islands, pain and no rainbow without rain. • Suicide deeply wounds the people left behind. Youthline NZ offers a free counselling service to people in the Cook Islands. If you’re feeling Your family and friends will struggle with depressed, you can call for free 24/7 and feelings of guilt, grief, self-blame, anger, and helplessness. They may become depressed or speak to someone in New Zealand who can help you talk through what you’re feeling. All suicidal themselves.


depressive disorder; in other words, they are taking drugs to treat normal sadness, rather than developing strategies for coping with pain and heartache. Of her experience with antidepressants, reporter Kate Eckman writes: “Has anyone not had his or her heart broken? Has anyone not suffered a professional failure? Has anyone not experienced the loss of a loved one? These things may be painful, but they are not mental illness. As I look back on that day in the doctor’s office, I want to pull my 29-year-old self aside and hug her. I want to tell her, ‘You don’t need an antidepressant; you need to find… a new boss, job, career. You need to sit in meditation 20 minutes a day, twice a day, reconnect with your spirit, and pray. You need to surrender your life to a higher power, eat healthier food, rest, connect with your friends and family in a meaningful way.’ Feeling sad, out of sorts, anxious, or depressed at times is part of what it means to be human.” At Lokal we believe in healthy local solutions, like faith, prayer, eating healthy foods, exercising naturally, showing aro’a to all people, and engaging with the community. We also believe in the healing power of a service like professional counselling. (To learn more about how counselling is not a papa’ā concept, see our ta’unga feature on page 36).

Rachel Reeves

conversations are confidential.


Take it seriously. Honour the courage it took for this person to talk to you. Listen without judging. Don’t pretend to understand. Don’t act like the person’s problems are small; for him or her, the pain is real. Sometimes talking to a suicidal person can feel like talking to a brick wall, but messages of love and support will matter in the end. Tell an adult you trust or call 999.

Photo by Jessie Lee Cederblom

There were lots of signs. I even sat at this table and spoke to him about suicide. If you knew him you wouldn’t think anything was wrong, he just smiled, he masked everything really well. I think people have to understand that underneath all that happy there’s something else going on. Tremayne and I had spoken recently about the 13-year-old boy that took his life – we were talking about it and I don’t know, maybe talking about it pushed him to do it. I have no idea.

People say tell your kids you love them. People say tell yourevery kids you love‘Son, them. II told I told Tremayne day, love Tremayne every day, ‘Son, I love you, darling,’ you, darling,’ and honestly I’m still trying and honestly I’m still trying to figure out why. toPeople figuresay out why. People say he’s from he’s from a good family, so this a good family, so this shouldn’t have to shouldn’t have happened. Mate, got nothing happened. Mate, got nothing to with do with that. There are just no answers,do I guess. that. There are just no answers, I guess.

We need to get the locals talking. Stop bitching 47 We need to get the locals talking. Stop bitching about each other and gossiping about each other about each other and gossiping about each other and eachother other down together. and tearing tearing each down and and workwork together. Be We’ve be around Be positive. positive. We’ve all all gotgot to betoaround peoplepeople who are Life’s tootoo short negative. I’m not whopositive. are positive. Life’s shortto to be be negative. at him, we talked about this, I told him he better a psychologist but I feel there are a lota lot of kids out I’m not a psychologist but I feel there are not. I don’t want to go up and see [his grave]. I’m of kids out there – a lot – that are not getting there – a lot – that are not getting love from their just trying to channel my anger instead of killing love from their are being affected and by verbal parents and areparents being and affected by mental myself or taking drugs or something. I’ve got to mental and verbal and physical abuse. There are focus on helping someone else not to go through and physical abuse. There are counsellors at school counsellors school but the kids tell meabout they’retheir what we’re going through. It is hard if you’re but the kids attell me they’re worried worried about their conversations leaking out. I gonna live in the past. If you’re gonna keep on conversations leaking out. I want to create a little want to create a little haven for kids where they dwelling on what happened, you ain’t gonna get haven for kids where they can feel comfortable to can feel comfortable to come. That’s my vision. nowhere. come. wantup, parents I wantThat’s parentsmy outvision. there toI wake parentsout there to wake up, parents who don’t know what their kids who don’t know what their kids are feeling. I think when we use the word mental to talk are feeling. Sometimes kids justyou wanna vent, Sometimes kids just wanna vent, know? And you about mental illness, it makes people feel like know? Andmaybe as parents maybe we canelse’s helpkid; someone as parents we can help someone they’re mental. No one’s gonna admit they’re else’s kid; sometimes kids don’t listen to their sometimes kids don’t listen to their parents but mental and go get help. Depression is an illness they listen someone parents buttothey listenelse. to someone else. but that thought of going to mental clinic… I wouldn’t go, I’d be like, I’m not going there, I’m not mental. Kids gotta have someone to open up to, someone who’s not gonna twist it and tell them they’re mental.

I found out a week after Tremayne died that It affects the kids, not only in the immediate I found out astudents week after died that some of the heTremayne went to school family but the extended family. I’ve got five sons some of the students he went to school with knew with knew that he’d tried the week before. and one daughter — Tremayne was right in the that he’d tried the week before. I wanted to smack I wanted to smack the kids who knew but middle. My 11-year-old was Tremayne’s shadow. the kids who knew but didn’t tell me. Seeing didn’t tell me. Seeing them all the time is a He told his cousin he wanted to go and be with them all the time is a painful reminder. You need painful reminder. You need to tell somebody. Tremayne, so I sent him to Australia to be with to tell somebody. If your mate’s talking like that If your mate’s talking like that don’t keep it to family and heal. If I’m not careful he will head don’t keep it to yourself. yourself. down that track and I know it. I’m battling with it myself trying to figure out how I’m gonna do it but right now I’m letting God lead me. That’s all I can do. My nephew tried to take his life after Tremayne; he was very close to Tremayne. When he comes around I don’t bring it up. I try to give him hope. We talk about the future, about things to look forward to. As I’m reading the Bible more and more and listening to others around me it just boils down to being positive, I guess – turning everything into a positive instead of dwelling on the negative. I’m still angry, very angry – I’m angry

It matters, the type of music you listen to and what you do on the internet. The worst thing I ever did was let Tremayne on social media. The crap kids put on there these days, it’s unbelievable. And they’re mean. When kids are here at our house they’re only allowed an hour a day on technology and the rest of the day, they’ve gotta go and look for something to do outside. I don’t want alcohol, smoking, maybe just movie nights, ping pong, but in this house no one is to go on their freaking phones. It’s making them depressed. The crap on the internet is so depressing.


Memory Mills lost her 16-year-old son, Tremayne Nga, to suicide in 2016. We talked to her about how she’s coping and how talking about it is the first step toward healing. Here’s what she said:

I know a couple who have been through this and they refuse to even acknowledge their daughter. I’m the total opposite, I’m like come on guys, we gotta get out there. We gotta teach these young people that there are other avenues to take. I know Raros tend to, once it’s done, brush it under the carpet. I have a different attitude: We need to bring it out. Okay, so everyone deals with it in their own way but guys, we got to look out for our future. We got other kids and we don’t want this happening to them.


Following the deaths of several teenagers by suicide, Cook Islands National Youth Council (CINYC) ran a campaign on social media to remind young people that their struggles matter and their voices are important. The council also organised a theatre competition, in which young people performed in plays about their problems at the National Auditorium. CINYC President Sieni Tiraa says that addressing suicide means paying attention to, and empowering, young people. “We’re raised to respect our elders and do as we’re told and sometimes our opinion as a young person doesn’t really matter,” she says. “I’ve lived in many different regions of the world that really encourage independent thinking and create safe avenues to support young Jessie Lee Cederblom ones who Photo wantbyto reach out and speak out, whereas that’s not really the case here, and this was highlighted in a lot of the messages through the performances.”



Brain scientists have compared screens—TV, iPads, smartphones, and Xboxes— to cocaine. Research shows this technology affects the brain the same way addictive drugs do, releasing chemicals that make you crave more. Like heroin addicts, people dread quitting technology because with it come withdrawal symptoms. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, who specialises in addiction, told the New York Post that it’s easier to treat heroin addicts than video gamers or Facebook addicts. Constant exposure to screens limits our ability to focus. Some research even shows that sleeping too close to a smartphone has damaging effects on the brain. In the 21st century, we know how to use electronics but we understand less and less how to communicate with people and connect with ourselves and the world around us. We are slowly forgetting how to think and reflect and grow. A healthy childhood involves creativity, interaction with other people, and time in nature. Instead of drawing, reading, climbing trees and building forts, kids today spend their time blowing up digital enemies, watching violent movies, and keeping tabs on other people’s manufactured lives through social media. For a lot of them, everything off the screen is boring. The world is now full of technology-dependent children, who learn about friendship through Facebook, sex through pornography, and relationships through movies. Scientists have definitively linked screen addiction to depression, anxiety, and obesity. It’s why the people who work in technology design, like Apple’s founder Steve Jobs, send their own kids to schools that don’t use technology. A book about screen addiction called Irresistible quotes rapper Biggie Smalls when referring to technology developers: These guys know not to get high on their own supply. The internet and social media are incredible, powerful technologies—they connect us to people and ideas from all over the world. But like anything else, they’re best used in moderation.

Illustration by Luther Berg


Na te tiki te muna, kāre e na te aronga no'o'ua mei te tiki rai. The [likeness of the statue] has the secret, not those who simply sit like a statue. An idle person has no past to speak about.

simple things i wish someone told me as a teenage boy






2 3

5 6

There are a thousand different ways to be a man. don’t let treating women like shit be one of them. Comic used with permission from


* All names of victims have been changed.

The secret problem everybody knows about The first time her husband hit her, Vaine Toa* put the kids in the car and drove to the police station. He’d come home drunk, convinced she’d been cheating on him, even though she’d been home all night. She drove to the police station and he followed. He greeted the officer on duty and they started chatting. She said nothing. She returned home with her husband. They’d married when she was 21. He was wellmuscled, athletic, always making people laugh. Everyone loved him. She grew up with a father who didn’t pay much attention to her; he was troubled, beat up her mum, numbed his pain with vodka. She mistook her new husband’s possessiveness for love. When she made eye contact with another man he would punch that man in the head. “I took that as woah, I’m really special to him,” she says now, a decade after leaving him. Years later she would tell her mum and aunties she was afraid of him and they would tell her sometimes, men just have to blow off some steam.

“They just had that old-school island mentality,” she recalls. “They thought the whole island would judge the whole family because I had a broken relationship… I felt that deeply. That was supposed to be my support network. If you don’t have a strong support network—man. On a small island, you’re so trapped.”

From ancient times, women in Polynesia have been afforded great respect. In Rarotonga’s creation story, male and female were equal partners. Without Vatea, the Sky Father, there was no light; without Papa, the Earth Mother, no growth. He was the cyclone, wild and creative, sometimes destructive; she was the soil, the source of life and food and healing. He needed her. Vari, the Great Creator of Mangaia’s creation story, was a woman. Women have long been chiefs and queens and doctors and decision-makers in these islands. I asked my friend JeanMarie Williams, a deep-thinking Manihikian who speaks five languages and reads books,

about violence against women. He said he believes that when you aren’t connected to the EARTH, you can’t understand concepts like gratitude, God, or the difference between possession and love. “The higher the education of the importance of land and God, the less,” he says, referring to abuse. “It is mostly anger arising from lack of ways to deal with a problem, lack of spiritual growth and development, lack of understanding what real love is.” For a lesson in love, he looks to the land. “Men cannot give life but tends life, just as he tends Whakahotu. And woman is his only way to life, and woman is controlled by Whakahotu. The moon is Whakahotu child. She has 42 children. Tangaroa is one


One in three women in the Cook Islands has reported being abused, and plenty more just haven’t called the cops. Abuse happens to people of all genders and in all kinds of relationships— women abuse women, women abuse men, men abuse men, adults abuse children—but according to Cook Islands Police records, 97 per cent of domestic cases involve men abusing women. I have talked to men who were wrongly charged for abuse their partners inflicted and laughed at by law enforcement for reporting it. This story will refer mostly to male abusers, but abusive patterns are the same no matter the gender of the person

creating them. Researchers have different theories about why rates of family violence are high in the Pacific Islands. Some blame an aggressive warrior culture. Others point out that Māori historian Te Rangi Hiroa wrote, after spending time on Tongareva in 1932, that in island societies it was “strictly against custom” for men to be physically violent with women. Other scholars say the violence toward women was introduced. Wherever it came from, it’s safe to say colonisation made things worse. Statistics show that rates of family violence are higher among colonised people; for example, among Aboriginal people in Australia, Native Americans in the United States, and Māori in Aotearoa. An accepted theory is that the coloniser robbed men of their dignity and self-worth, and that in order to remain powerful many tried to control what they could: their women and children. Many scholars point out that the colonisers modelled violence and a male-centred worldview in a place that had long respected its women. Others blame today’s media—movies,

of them,” he continues, sidetracking to talk about the other gods, explaining that Jesus is the path to Io. “You see, we Polynesians have always known,” he says, getting back on track. “If you take care of the gift, you will be blessed by it. If you take care of Mother Earth she will feed you and heal your sickness. A woman, same. You get more love from a loved woman than a broken one. God blesses us when we take care of our gifts. But to understand your gifts you have to know God.” Another lesson to learn in the land is this: “Remember the earth is never yours. The woman is never yours. God giveth and God taketh away.”

energy to stop and say yeah, what’s going on? Why am I so angry?”

Talk therapy A counsellor’s job is to help people work through past hurts and understand why they abuse or tolerate abuse. This is not a modern practice. Ta’unga had always asked patients to talk about their lives and childhoods, then listened for the root cause of the spiritual, mental, or physical imbalance they were treating. “I’m merely a substitute for those ancient people,” says Sheldon Ramer, an American therapist who works with victims and offenders referred by Punanga Tauturu on the veranda of his Titikaveka home. He talks to people about God and honour. He won’t work with abusers who haven’t been sentenced yet; too many of them just want him to write a glowing report. Ramer stresses the need for men’s programmes; the danger of focussing only on victims, he says, is forgetting that abusers need healing. Locking them up isn’t teaching them any real, profound lessons; often, it’s just making them angrier. Mark Henderson, a Kiwi therapist who works out of Avarua, agrees. He points out that seeing the male as the bad person can be problematic; often there’s hurt going back and forth. He approaches abusers as people who need healing. He wants to see men holding other men accountable, encouraging one another. “That’s something we see women doing and I think we envy that,” he says. “I think it’s a natural human need, one that’s not being met for men. Because of this I think men often put pressure on women to provide all the emotional support – without knowing it, they’re being demanding. [As men] we need to be able to form intimate relationships with each other, to talk with each other about personal issues, but where do we learn to do that? Ideally we’d be observing it and learning from our fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and older male adults around us. Sadly it’s a missing part of many male developmental experiences globally.” Henderson wants to help his abusive clients understand that they’re not monsters; they’ve just picked up a destructive behaviour, the way alcoholics pick up drinking, and they have the power to change it, if they’re willing to do some

emotional work. Both Ramer and Henderson have seen clients make big changes. They’ve also been struck by the spiritual awareness of the people they work with here. “I’ve found the work with Cook Islanders to be profound,” Henderson says. “Their ability to connect with spirit so naturally, for me, has been inspiring and a privilege to witness. Europeans often get stuck in their heads – we lead with our heads. I find that to be very different with Pacific people generally and that allows for a broader and deeper whole other dimension of understanding, integration, and healing to take effect.” Help for abusive people is available, but funding for support services is spotty and the stream of clients is steady. Staff at Punanga Tauturu have selflessly donated time and resources, but like the police, they can’t solve the problem on their own.

Police progress Sergeant Sharon Kareroa, 29, handles the Domestic Violence Unit pretty much by herself, Photo by Jessie Lee Cederblom

though she has supervisors and mentors and officers to dispatch. She works in a little office at the front of the Avarua station with a bookshelf and a couch; here she makes sure victim statements are done correctly and signed — cases have been dismissed because they weren’t signed — and each week she visits the homes of repeat offenders to remind victims they aren’t alone and abusers that breaking the law has consequences. Domestic violence is one of the most commonly


video games, music, pornography—for making violence normal. Perhaps all of the theories are true to some degree. Tiare Mātūtū*, a Ngatangiia woman whose exhusband abused her for decades, believes violence in the home is a modern problem. “I grew up with my grandparents and a whole lot of old people, and I never saw that kind of thing,” she told me. “They were always happy and if they weren’t happy they weren’t angry the way people are angry today. They talked it over, got together to fix it. I really believe the extended family made a difference, too —you just don’t have that extended family support anymore. In the Cook Islands, especially in Rarotonga, we’ve forgotten what family really is. We’ve become caught up in our own lives, chasing the dollar, and we’ve forgotten how a family used to work. When I was growing up I saw that togetherness, that unity. Everybody plants together, everybody helps themselves to the food on everybody else’s trees.” Wherever the violence came from, it’s here. Sergeant Paraia Vainerere wrote in an unpublished report that “domestic violence is a more or less normalised part of life for many Cook Islanders.” The cycle is in motion. Witnessing violence affects the chemistry of our brains and our behaviour; when we grow up around abuse, we usually end up repeating it. A man in his fifties told me he hated the way his father had abused his mother. Over the years he’s hit his wife, called her ugly, and broken one of her bones. A young mother in an abusive relationship shrugged and said: “Dad did it to Mum. It’s normal.” Abuse, and especially the abuse of women, is a problem all over the world. People who abuse their families come from all classes, races, professions, nations, and religions. Research shows they don’t fit a certain mould; they’re broody and cheerful, poor and rich, religious and atheist, shy and outgoing. They don’t all drink. They have one thing in common: they believe that violently attacking someone, whether with words or with fists, is an acceptable way to deal with stress or anger. They believe it because they’ve learnt it. They’ve learnt it from male authority figures, movies, and songs; they’ve been taught that by attacking someone else you can get what you want, and they may have seen it work. A lot of abusive people have old wounds they never dealt with, such as sexual abuse or neglect by their parents in childhood. Hurt people hurt people. “When you talk to these people, a lot of them feel worthless,” says Rebeka Buchanan, a counsellor at Punanga Tauturu who sometimes works for free and has taken women into her own home. “Some of that came from someone telling them they are useless. Puapinga kore. Their feelings are affecting their relationships. No matter what they do, they’re always angry, and they take it out on the person in front of them. We try to get to the root of those past issues – it takes brainwork and


Senior Sergeant Ngatamariki Pouao,

who’s both a pastor and a policeman, believes change has to come from within the church. While attending to crime scenes, he’s often heard a man quote from the Bible to justify beating his wife. “These men believe that man is superior, that man is the head, the boss,” Pouao says. “They treat their wives like slaves and when you sit down and talk to them about it they say, well, it’s because I’m the man and I’m supposed to be the head of the household. The Bible said.” Pouao’s goal is to put Ephesians 5 back into context. Verse 23, he says, tells wives to submit to their husbands, but the scriptures after it instruct husbands to submit to Jesus, who preached love, and to love and care for their wives as they love and care for themselves. There’s also Colossians 3:19, which tells men to love their wives and to “never be harsh with them,” and Romans 13:10, which says that love “does no harm” to others. Matthew 5 says calling someone an idiot will earn you “hell fire” and Psalms 140:11 warns that disaster will follow men of violence. “A lot of issues in our churches and culture – these are the things that are locking our people down,” he says. “I want to give people freedom. I want the people to know God has a purpose and a reason for each of us. He needs all of us in building this nation. He wants us to encourage and support each other.”


reported crimes in the Cook Islands, behind theft and motor vehicle accidents. Kareroa has a lot of houses to visit. She also has another mission: to change the way people see the police responding to domestic violence. She helped some other officers put together a training manual to educate the police about why it’s important to conduct interviews in a private room, for example, or to avoid asking insensitive questions. Kareroa is aware that most survivors of domestic violence have cop stories – cops turning up and giving an abuser a lift to his mum’s house down the road, cops warning women not to file charges, cops asking victims questions about what they did to deserve it. Women all over the world can tell these kinds of stories. Kareroa is also aware of court stories – lawyers telling the court a victim deserved what she got, JPs issuing only warnings, interrogators making a woman feel like it wasn’t rape because her husband did it. Women all over the world can tell these kinds of stories. There are also the administrative challenges; most cases are adjourned, sometimes five times, so before an offender appears for sentencing, he’s free to punish the woman who reported him. Sometimes the police will enforce the No-Drop Policy, which forbids a woman from withdrawing charges before appearing in court, and then the offender gets left off anyway. Both Kareroa and Police Commissioner Maara Tetava agree that police can’t reduce domestic violence on their own. They need help from leaders, politicians, teachers, and pastors. They need help from parents. “We’re doing what we can,” Kareroa says. “But it’s just not enough.

A community problem Survivors of abuse tell stories about reaching out for support and being denied it. They talk about the family members who blamed them for picking the wrong partner or told them to be better wives. They talk about the church leaders who made them feel sinful for walking away from a violent marriage. They remember the police officers and lawyers who made them feel like they deserved what they got. They remember feeling abandoned. “When you get told you’re stupid and useless all the time you start to believe it,” said Jane Irinaki*, a Matavera woman whose ex-husband once beat her so violently she spent seven weeks in the hospital. “I did at one stage and that’s not a nice feeling. You need people who remind you of the truth. People don’t want to get involved; they think it’s a private domestic problem. They really do need to get involved.” Tiare Mātūtū* thinks often about the meetings at the end of the driveway that saved her life. The first time Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door, her husband told them in Māori to get lost. She had wanted to scream at them to stay, please, but instead she watched them go. They came again, several weeks later. She answered

the door and told them to meet her at the bottom of the driveway. She wanted to tell them everything – that he hit her if he came home from a night at the Fishing Club and dinner wasn’t waiting for him, that he raped her if she wasn’t in the mood to have sex. She wanted to tell them he kept a gun in the office and threatened to kill her with it if she left him. She wanted to tell them the older women in her family and the woman at the police station and a female Justice of the Peace had warned her not to report the abuse, either because they were concerned about her reputation or related to him. She didn’t tell them her story but she began meeting with them to study the Bible; with each session she felt stronger. Mātūtū never became a Witness but she credits those women with giving her the courage to finally leave her husband, to have faith when the child support did not come, to put two daughters through university in New Zealand by working three jobs. “I found that strength through those women,” she says now, 10 years after she left her husband. “I am so blessed to know them. So blessed. And you know, life isn’t perfect now, but we’re free. Me and the girls are free.” Abuse is profoundly confusing for a person who’s being abused. It might be hard for her to talk about it. She might just need someone to listen and empathise and encourage. She might just need to know she has options; there are a lot of good books about abuse and someone from Punanga Tauturu will answer the phone 24/7. She’s probably wrestling with some pretty big questions. She may fear she won’t be able to support her kids if she leaves him. She may learn at church that God doesn’t support broken families. She may be ashamed of where she’s ended up or embarrassed to admit she picked the wrong partner. She may be in denial; she might blame alcohol, not her partner. (While a lot of domestic violence incidents are alcohol-related, alcohol does not cause abuse. This is a common misconception.) She probably loves him and understands how much he hurts inside, and desperately wants to nurture and love him into healing. She might not realise she can’t change him; he has to change himself. Sometimes she is genuinely afraid that he will kill her, himself, or their children, if she leaves.

‘People think it’s okay’ Teina Ora* stayed because she wanted her kids to grow up with their mother and father. She wanted the happy family she pictured as a girl, so for seven years she hung in there, hoping her love would change her partner, who came from an abusive household where no one really talked about anything. He broke her nose and forbade her from going to the hospital. He stopped going to counselling because he thought she was the problem. He demanded she give him any money she earned. She left because of the support of friends, family members, and her female boss, who arranged to transfer her to their company’s New Zealand office. “I am really grateful for them,” she says now. “They saw it. They could tell. I took it day by day and with their support I slowly changed the way I was thinking.” She applied for full custody of the kids and won; now she’s finishing a degree she had to abandon because of emotional stress. She’s working and living five minutes from her kids’ daycare. “I’m happy now,” she says. “I forgot what it was like to be happy.” She has this advice for people thinking about leaving an abusive relationship: “Your biggest weapon is the decision – it’s that simple. I made a decision to stay in an abusive relationship and I got a partner who thought I was nothing. The decision that you make and the people you surround yourself with – those are the two main things that will help you through. There is life after domestic violence. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We are not punching bags. We are humans. You shouldn’t be living in something that is hurting you every single day and thinking it’s because you want your kids to be happy. What the children are seeing is not happiness, it’s sadness. It’s Mum crying every day. I didn’t want my children exposed to that kind of life. I believe that it does carry on into your children; they will do it to their families and it will never stop. I think a lot of women in the Cook Islands are trying to right the wrongs of their men, turn their negatives into positives,

but meanwhile their children are seeing violence as a normal thing, as acceptable. Sons will think I can treat my girlfriend like that in the future, you know? Daughters are thinking Dad did it and it’s okay. I think that’s what’s going on back home. People think it’s okay. They need to know it’s absolutely not okay.” For friends and relatives of people who are being abused, Teina has this advice: “You just have to listen. Listen and let them bring it out and try to sympathise. That’s all I would do. I’ve been through it and I just wanted somebody to sit there without judging me and saying, Look, we told you. If someone you love dies you don’t want money or food – spiritual food, yes, but not the kind you eat. You just want somebody to sit there and have compassion.”


Sometimes, he does. In 2016, a man escaped from the Arorangi prison and killed his ex-partner, her new boyfriend, and himself.


A new lease Jane Irinaki* recalls a time in her life when every morning, she packed her bags. She waited until her husband went to work, convinced herself to leave, and then every afternoon, she changed her mind and unpacked. She’d married when she was 16, kids a year later. Regularly, her husband pushed her and punched her and told her she was fat. Once, he strangled her so hard she was in the hospital for three weeks; another time, he raped her on the kitchen floor in front of their daughter. But for 10 years she listened to her mother and the ladies at church, who told her to stop making him angry and be a good wife. The bishop of her church threatened to excommunicate her if she filed for divorce. (Later, he did excommunicate her.) Jane told her sister, who moved home from New Zealand to help out with the kids. Twenty-nine and newly single, Jane did three things: she took out a loan for a car, got her first-ever bikini wax, and made a promise to herself that she would never again allow a man to hit her. “I’ve remarried and my husband now is a lovely man,” she says. “He would never hit me. He’s lovely and he allows me to be me, you know? It’s great. It got better. It took awhile, but it got better.” If an abusive person is willing to put a lot of time, energy, and emotional investment into unlearning his patterns, he can change. It takes work, but it’s possible. Sometimes it takes years; during this period, it’s best for a couple to live apart, somewhere a victim and her children are safe. If he doesn’t want to change and continues to use abuse to get his way, Jane says this: “It’s not an easy decision, but life does not have to be that sad,” she says. “Life’s too short to just be taken away like that. Life’s pretty good. You don’t want to miss out.” Rachel Reeves

Punanga Tauturu Inc. Run by locals, for locals Behind Dental Clinic, Tupapa 21131 or 21133 24 hr lines 55142 or 55134 office@punangatauturu.org punanga.tauturu.org Free services for survivors include: Counselling/therapy Help getting court orders (separation orders, non-molestation orders, court-ordered occupation of the home) quickly

Legal aid Help applying for child maintenance payments Help finding a new place or new job

Mē tanotano te kainga, mako rāi te vaka. Tūkatau ei te enua. Tanotano kite bāsileia. Teretere ki mua. When the home is in order, the district is well. The island becomes strong bringing order to the nation. The world moves forward. A nation's strength begins in the home.

Aro'a is unconditional In 2016, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presented Valentino Wichman with a Queen’s Young Leaders Award, honouring the young lawyer’s work advocating for the rights of people who identify as LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans-sexual, Intersex). Here are some paraphrased words from Valentino, who is secretary of Te Tiare Association (TTA).


TTA was set up to bring together, educate, and empower LGBTI people in the Cook Islands. We work to create better and safer communities, raise awareness of health issues, and promote equality within our nation and beyond it.

On the decriminalisation campaign:

We are wanting to amend the Cook Islands Crimes Act 1969, Sections 154 and 155, which establish that any “indecent act” between two men is punishable with up to five years’ imprisonment, and consensual sodomy is punishable with up to seven years in prison. The whole conversation around the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Cook Islands is difficult because there are a lot of people, including the government, that do not see it as an issue. The purpose of our campaign is to raise awareness and let them know that we may not

have the same beliefs but we have the same values, like love and respect.

On the community’s response:

I had to talk to my family first. I told them, ‘I’m going to be doing this campaign and I don’t know what the repercussions are going to be’. Luckily, my family were really supportive. I’ve had threats. People ring me up and say stop it, I’m going to kill you, they call me names and they harass me. On the upside, I have also had a lot of support from many people in our community and for that I say meitaki ma’ata.

On the misconceptions:

There are a lot of misconceptions around our campaign. People think that we are trying to create new and special rights for LGBTI people, but we are simply stating that we should enjoy the same rights as everyone else. People also argue that this is a moral issue. They forget that there are a lot of moral issues that aren’t criminalised, like divorce, adultery, etc.

On values:

All of the major religions emphasise the importance of love and acceptance. These are Cook Islands values, too. Valentino Wichman

Kāre i tūke to’ou tupu’anga e ta’au moemoea mei iaku. Your heritage and hopes are not different to mine. We are equal in inheritance and opportunities.


Photo by Tūrama Photography

Finding our true selves Samuel Marsden, an early missionary to Aotearoa, wrote in 1820, “There can be no finer children than those of the New Zealanders in any part of the world. Their parents are very indulgent, and they appear always happy and playful and very active.” Such a beautiful characterisation of pre-colonial contact Māori gives us a small window into life before the social and spiritual reconstruction by missionaries of the time. With the introduction of a Victorian model of family, roles changed greatly for us as Pacific people. Aspects of this had a negative effect on the way we saw ourselves and those in the inner circle of our world. Terms like “spare the rod and damn the child,” wives “submit” to husbands, and “honour your parents” have been misused for centuries and underpinned violence and oppression that was neither God’s intention nor a demonstration of love in any form. What, then, for honouring one’s parents? I have often wondered what was the eternal intention when those immortal words echoed from atop Mt. Sinai, with an obedient Moses unaware of the confusion that would follow centuries later. What is not confusing is that within the Māori world in which these Victorian missionary messages arrived, social constructs already existed with regard to the treatment, honour and love bestowed upon our parents, guardians and caretakers. That our tupuna were venerated should give us some indication of what “honour” meant in the pre-colonial Pasifika mind. Our veneration for those gone before us was captured in our stories, myths, and legends. The old wisdom of our people paints for us vividly how we as Māori approached those given the sacred role of nurture, love, and care for the young and most vulnerable in our society. If only early missionaries could have better understood the strength and honour that existed in a people who already knew a spiritual life and embraced the idea of a Supreme God. Or maybe they well understood this, but such aspects of Māori life were in contrast to the Victorian model they peddled — so to dismantle this caring, nurturing ideal was a necessary part of imposing their own culture upon ours. The western world has since dismantled these Victorian values and has ‘Auraka e kiriti i te au adopted instead kena kainga ta’ito tā tō ‘ui a more humanist tupuna i oti i te akano’o. approach and Remove not the ancient landmarks open-hearted thy fathers have set. Build on the wisdom of your ancestors. spirituality in its place. But this

shows the sacred role of nurture, love, and care for most vulnerable in our society begs a question: why have we, as Māori, held onto these dated values with such vigour? These imposed values are seen as our own, adopted now as part of our culture and our way of dealing with these intimate and special relationships. Thus we forget the values we upheld prior to missionary contact. “They are kind and hospitable to strangers, and are excessively fond of their children,” London artist Augustus Earle wrote of Māori pre-colonial families in 1832. “On a journey, it is more usual to see the father carrying his infant than the mother; and all the little officess of a nurse are performed by him with the tenderest care and good humour.” This snapshot of the care and love bestowed by Māori as parents, and the love of a father pictured so vividly as tender, caring and of good humour — this is the kind of father we are asked to love and honour, and this is a picture closer to our true selves, as opposed to the urban, negative characterisation we see in movies and newspapers. The results of this new picture, of how we so often see ourselves, are tragic for families. As fathers, our true self is this figure that can be honoured because he is worthy of honour and can be loved, because love is love returned. Love is the currency we have built relationships on since we travelled in vaka thousands of years ago and traversed the great Moana Nui A Kiva. And it is love that will help us find our way back again. We are not just Warriors, and Kings and Mataiapo; we are also loving fathers and mothers with the capacity to be tender, caring and engaging. We honour and love our partners and our parents without restraint. Our true selves sit so close to us that if only we truly understood our inheritance as Māori,

this understanding could give us a real sense of the divine intention underlying our lives and relationships. Be it the treatment of our partners, of our wives, of our children or each other — the urban characterisation we have come to know, of abuse, neglect and violence, is actually a disfigured, grotesque mischaracterisation of ourselves as a people. How then do we reconnect with our true selves? We can be like “Jake the Muss” from Once Were Warriors, standing in the car park alone, yelling that his family will be back — but we all know they won’t, because love has given them the strength to walk away. Love may in time save Jake from himself and help him move from this hurt, broken, violent cardboard cutout of himself to the man he was meant to be. Only love can truly rescue his heart. Only the divine can transform him from the inside out. As men we have our carpark moments, yelling at the top of our lungs, knowing that only we can hear the shouting. Anyone we loved has left the room. It is in these moments that we can find redemption and honour, but only if deep in our hearts we experience and discover the God of redemption and honour. We honour our parents not just because it is commanded, and not just because of the promise of long life; we honour our parents because when we do this we honour ourselves, and the God we serve. There is no honour in violence, in hurting people, especially those in our care. There is honour, however, in realising our true selves in the arms of a loving Father, who gave it all so we could have it too. Thomas Tarurongo Wynne


Honouring the dead is about more than putting flowers on a grave; it’s about honouring the wisdom of those who went before. Photo by Jessie Lee Cederblom


Māori wisdom


(n) inherited land, homeland

For thousands of years, the people who settled these islands lived in harmony with the world around them. They studied stars and swells to find their way across oceans. The moon told them when to plant and when to give the land a rest. They knew when and where to rā‘ui the lagoon so fish could breed. Total dependence on the environment meant listening to what the environment communicated. It meant always thinking about the future and having enough for days to come. It meant feeling gratitude for the land and sea that give life. There are people in the Cook Islands, and especially in the outer islands, who still pay attention. Others among us have become so disconnected that we don’t understand how much our impact matters. We know that the pace of so-called progress is destroying the planet. According to a report backed by 1360 scientists from 95 countries, humans have put too much pressure on two-thirds of the world’s resources. Ninety per cent of fish stocks have been exploited beyond sustainable limits. The seas are warming up and fuelling bigger storms. Scientists expect all corals to be dead by 2050. Modern society is not treating its resources the way the people of these islands once did. Nature is balanced and is always trying to be balanced. In nature, systems are circular. Plant and animal waste can break down into useful nutrients for other living things. Water from the oceans becomes vapour, then clouds, then rain, and then it returns to the oceans. Chemicals essential for life such as oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen are circulated through natural systems. Our modern system is not a circle but a line, and it ends when we run out of resources. Today the scientists are telling us what the people of this place have always known: If we don’t look after our environment, it won’t look after us. In this section we’ve combined the wisdom of the past and the technologies of today to show you how you can live in harmony with the world around you.

Tuatua Tupuna

Akama’ara ‘ia ‘āpopo.

Blue Zones

Eat mostly plants. Have a faith. Have a sense of purpose. Live in community.


“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.” — Job 12:7-10

Photo by Tūrama Photography




The Story of Stuff, a documentary by American activist Annie Leonard, tracks how stuff is made and what happens to it when we’re done using it. With permission from The Story of Stuff Project, we’ve quoted Leonard here.



“We’ll start with extraction which is a fancy word for natural resource exploitation which is a fancy word for trashing the planet. What this looks like is we chop down trees, we blow up mountains to get the metals inside, we use up all the water and we wipe out the animals… We are using too much stuff. Now I know this can be hard to hear, but it’s the truth and we’ve gotta deal with it… We are cutting and mining and hauling and trashing the place so fast that we’re undermining the planet’s very ability for people to live here.”




“So, next, the materials move to ‘production’ and what happens there is we use energy to mix toxic chemicals in with the natural resources to make toxic contaminated products. There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in commerce today. Only a handful of these have even been tested for human health impacts and none of them have been tested for synergistic health impacts, that means when they interact with all the other chemicals we’re exposed to every day. So, we don’t know the full impact of these toxins on our health and environment of all these toxic chemicals. But we do know one thing: toxins in, toxins out. As long as we keep putting toxins into our production system, we are going to keep getting toxins in the stuff that we bring into our homes, our workplaces, and schools. And, duh, our bodies… These toxins build up in the food chain and concentrate in our bodies.”



This is an area The Story of Stuff doesn’t really cover, but we’re far away from the places making most of this stuff so this is worth talking about. Some of the stuff on the shelves at our shops in the Cook Islands has travelled over 11,000 kilometres. It’s been on forklifts, in trucks, on airplanes and big cargo ships. All of this transportation uses energy created by the burning of fossil fuels. (For more about what this means, see page 63.) According to a report commissioned by the European Parliament in 2015, international shipping alone is probably responsible for about 17% of carbon emissions.





Now distribution means ‘selling all this toxic contaminated junk as quickly as possible.’ The goal here is to keep the prices down, keep the people buying and keep the inventory moving. How do they keep the prices down? Well, they don’t pay the store workers very much and skimp on health insurance every time they can… What that means is the real costs of making stuff aren’t captured in the price. In other words, we aren’t really paying for the stuff we buy. So, who did pay? Well. These people paid with the loss of their natural resource base. These people paid with the loss of their clean air, with increasing asthma and cancer rates. Kids in the Congo paid with their future—30% of the kids in parts of the Congo now have had to drop out of school to mine coltan, a metal we need for our disposable electronics… All along this system, people pitched in so I could get this radio for $4.99. And none of these contributions are recorded in any accounts book.”



“Our primary identity has become that of consumer, not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers. The primary way that our value is measured and demonstrated is by how much we [consume]… How did they get us to jump on board this program so enthusiastically? Well, two of their most effective strategies are planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is another word for ‘designed for the dump.’ It means they actually make stuff that is designed to be useless as quickly as possible so we will chuck it and go buy a new one. It’s obvious with stuff like plastic bags and coffee cups, but now it’s even big stuff: mops, DVDs, cameras, barbeques even, everything!… Now perceived obsolescence convinces us to throw away stuff that is still perfectly useful… Have you ever wondered why women’s shoe heels go from fat one year to skinny the next to fat to skinny? It is not because there is some debate about which heel structure is the most healthy for women’s feet. It’s to keep buying new shoes.”



“All of this garbage either gets dumped in a landfill, which is just a big hole in the ground, or if you’re really unlucky, first it’s burned in an incinerator and then dumped in a landfill… Burning the garbage releases the toxins up into the air. Even worse, it actually makes new super toxins… Dioxin is the most toxic man made substance known to science. And incinerators are the number one source of dioxin. That means that we could stop the number one source of the most toxic man-made substance known just by stopping burning... Yes, yes, yes, we should all recycle. But recycling is not enough. Recycling will never be enough. For a couple reasons. First, the waste coming out of our houses is just the tip of the iceberg. For every one [rubbish bin] of waste you put out on the [road], 70 [bins] were made upstream just to make the junk in that one... So you see, it is a system in crisis.”

The most important thing is to make sure governments are working toward healthy people and a healthy planet. What we need to chuck out, Leonard says, is the old-school mindset. We need to start thinking about cutting down on waste, using clean energy, supporting local economies. “That old way didn’t just happen,” she says. “People created it and we’re people too, so let’s create something new.” storyofstuff.com

FUTURE The climate is changing and it’s humanity’s fault. Most scientists agree that the world is getting warmer (and drier, and wetter, and colder, and stormier). Most also agree that modern society created, and continues to create, the problem. When we travel, build cities, cut down trees, and produce food, we use energy. For most of modern history the energy has come from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, gas, and diesel, a process which releases greenhouse gases into the air. They’re called greenhouse gases because they behave like a huge greenhouse, trapping heat. In the simplest terms, we now have too much trapped heat. Last year was the hottest year on record. Ice caps are melting. Seas are getting warmer and cyclones are getting more intense. Droughts are getting longer. Global warming isn’t just about warming; it’s about the climate becoming less predictable and extreme weather events becoming more extreme. The consequences are huge, particularly for communities that depend on natural resources. The Cook Islands burns next to no fossil fuels compared to countries like China, the U.S., and India, but our exposure to the elements and our dependence on the natural world means this is an issue that affects us deeply.

60 Photography Photo by Tūrama

How does climate change impact the Cook Islands? With funding provided through Climate Change Cook Islands, Dr. Teina Rongo and Celine Dyer were able to conduct surveys in the pa enua to better understand changes in weather patterns. People they interviewed reported: MAGAZINE

Shorter low tides (which means less time for fishing); Rougher seas and stronger currents (which means less new recruits of fish, and fishing is more expensive because you need a powered boat); Buildup of sediment/sand in lagoons (and shallower lagoons warm up faster); Death of corals (even off Manuae, where no humans live!); New problems with pearl oysters; Saltwater creeping into taro patches; Trees fruiting in the off-season; Shifts in rainfall patterns (some islands experiencing more drought, others more rain); And increasingly intense cyclones.


What’s Climate Change Cook Islands doing about it? Dr. Rongo says that in order to know how to deal with changing weather, we need to pay attention. We need to understand natural rhythms so we can adapt to them. “Our biggest focus is to reconnect our people back to the land because we’ve lost that connection,” he says. “The new generation has lost the connection to the environment and so it’s hard for them to understand some of these issues. Our children today, they’re not as connected to agriculture. We’ve been talking about reintroducing these activities into the schools. We used to do that, we used to have our own gardens so we started to appreciate the environment. Now our kids are less connected and you can imagine what’s going to happen in the future, when they become leaders, in terms of their decisions. They won’t be environmentally friendly because they don’t have that same appreciation.” With the goal of reconnecting younger generations to the land, the team at Climate Change Cook Islands has, among other initiatives: Reintroduced traditional fishing practices in the pa enua; Encouraged fish feeding (using coconut to feed koperu and ature) on Mangaia; Provided fencing for vegetable gardens and training on Nassau; Encouraged piere production on Mitiaro (the dried banana lasts up to 30 years!); Encouraged planting and worm farming on Palmerston; Provided Manihiki and Pukapuka with hydroponics equipment to grow tomatoes and lettuce; Built a nursery on Tongareva; Taught pa enua communities how to bottle fish; Supported Rangi Mitaera-Johnson in her effort to teach every island community in the Cooks about eating local. (For more, see page 25).

What can you do? If you’re disconnected from the land, reconnect. Teach your kids to understand, too. Pay attention to cyclone warnings. Make sure you’re prepared. Tap into sources of energy you don’t have to burn, like energy created by the sun, wind, or waves. Eat less meat and dairy. The cattle industry produces enormous amounts of greenhouse gases and uses more water than any other industry. (For more about the connection between consuming factory-farmed animal products and climate change, see page 17). Buy local! Most industrial farms burn fossil fuels to produce chemical fertilisers; to pump, treat, and move huge amounts of water for animals and irrigating crops; and to process and package their foods. By supporting local food production, you are contributing to the solution.

Sources: The Climate Council in Australia, Climate Change Cook Islands, Stanford Environmental Law Journal. Full list of sources at lokalmag.org.


in Waste is something that is left over, no longer used or wanted, that must be disposed of in some way. Waste can be anything — food, garden rubbish, packaging and containers, clothing, furniture and appliances, anything. Waste also comes from our toilets, washing machines, showers, and sinks. We have become a “throwaway” society and people do not necessarily realise where “away” is. “Away” might be the landfill, where rubbish is piled up and mixed; eventually it leaks toxic gases and liquids, polluting the waterways and the air. Landfills also become full and overflow and then new land is sought in order to dump more rubbish. Rarotonga’s current landfill was designed to be a solution until 2020. The outer islands have no landfills. “Away” might also be waste that is not disposed of properly — left at the beach after a Sunday


picnic, thrown out of the car after a ‘feed’, or driven up a valley and dumped illegally. This can end up polluting land, waterways, and the sea, directly affecting the health of animals, the environment, and us. People also get rid of unwanted waste by burning it, a common practice here in the Cook Islands. Burning waste, especially plastic but even leaves and hedge clippings, releases harmful chemicals into the air, and adds to the greenhouse gas emissions affecting our climate. Burning plastics is also prohibited under Section 38 of the Public Health Act. Waste from leaking septic tanks ends up in waterways, groundwater, and eventually the sea, carrying disease-causing bacteria which make animals and humans sick. Chemicals from household cleaning products or products used for personal hygiene end up in wastewater, which

eventually upsets the natural chemical balance of ecosystems — interacting systems of living and non-living things — ultimately leading to breakdown and sometimes irreversible damage. We need not look far for an example of this; we need only to look at Muri lagoon. Rethinking our current methods of waste disposal is the first step we need to take. Just because the item is no longer wanted, it does not mean that it is waste, that it is no longer useful or that there is not a better way to deal with the item. This is not so much a waste management crisis, but a crisis in individual responsibility. People need to accept responsibility for their own waste. There are three basic principles to waste management, or “The Three R’s”: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The principle underlying them is changing the way we think about waste. Angelie Tiare Robinson

Ipukarea Society makes recyclin g easy

Though our current waste issues may seem daunting, there are practices that can be carried out by everyone and anyone in order to relieve some of our islands’ stresses. A couple of solu tions to help combat our waste issues have been implemented by local environmental organisation Te Ipukarea Society, based on Rarotonga. This has been a busy year for Te Ipuk area Society (TIS) in terms of waste management as we were successful in obtaining funds through the Global Environment Facility to tackle wast e in several ways.

Biodegradable container promotion

With polystyrene (styrofoam) cont ainers being used frequently for fast food and take aways, TIS has begun an awareness raising cam paign to promote the use of biodegradable and reusable containers. The Society has been able to source these containers, and also encourag e local retailers and wholesalers to make the switch.



Worm farm and compost bin training s

In support of the Ministry of Educatio n’s Green Schools Policy, the Society has supp lied a compost bin to all primary and high schools in the Cook Islands. Worm farms are also being provided to most high schools. The Society provides training on how to build and set up a worm farm and compost bin. They also teach the correct way to “feed” the system, including what can and cannot be plac ed in the worm farms and compost bins. The goal of this project is to promote alternative solutions to dealing with organic wast e rather than just burning it or throwing it straight into the bin. Composting and worm farming gene rate useful things which can be used to help vege table gardens grow.

Rent a plate Another solution to container wast e was a hygienic washing centre at popular sites. Te Ipukarea Society

was able to assist a local school, Te Uki Ou Primary, in establishing a washing centre at the Muri Night Markets. With donations collected for every plate hired out, the school has now created a successful fundraising initiative.

No to burning rubbish

A common practice within the Coo k Islands is to burn general rubbish, which common ly includes plastics. In hopes of discouraging this practice, TIS has created short advertising clips for local TV explaining the health hazards invo lved with burning plastics, along with highlight ing the most appropriate ways to deal with and redu ce plastic waste. Waste management practices can be implemented around the globe. Every little bit help s; we can be the change we need! Alanna Matamaru Smith

paradise. If le t t li r ou t on ge. your impac e c u e big chan d e b r l il n w a c lt u ou s y e re ome ways hanges, th c le y Here are s t s e f li akes small everyone m

UCE REyD od. our own fo

SEs when you do your shopping. REU g usable ba nk bottle.

t. Take re the marke Grow you’re ss steel dri or stainle wn plate to f wrappers o o ss t r la n u g u o a y o e se m U Tak ce the a nappies. lk to redu Use cloth Buy in bu tteries. se rags. rgeable ba a g h n c si re a ups. h se r towels, u rc e U p s. pu a p w d tes, and c ra e st g rware, pla of packa g plastic e n d lv a si e si u , st s. p le n In b to o S p rada f pads/tam or biodeg ’ instead o Use real, sp baking p tb u c 5 n + o o il : o n a ‘m nut our ow tbsp coco Ladies, use Make y — Mix 5 e t s a p p Tooth avour) h + 1/4 cu mint to fl cornstarc p u c /4 1 soda (use ix ant — M il bottles s water Deodor coconut o sp tb 2 lt + 4 litre like plastic + sa s g a p d u in c a so th d g /2 1 on the ing so bakin Mix nd 2 — ic bags — ½ cup bak lastics 1 a aner — st r p la u le t p o u c p r p , o n n in p a o a Dr minium, You c soluti ng-wra h glass, alu rs, not cli ar. a stronger e it g r e w o in f or F in o g ta v n e t. n a p o st lo e c u a +h and 1/2 c kup, a em first. F read p ad for pic u clean th rain, then s, then sp o d e ro y c e e p r a e u re th rf th v k f n o su su ic o r w e t p do side for mak p wate — We cans. Just clable and y d leaner , and ¼ cu c e o c lt re th d fo sa s n n n t’ in p fi e a ti u v la o h c O als atu and ut w a, 1/4 ere you’ll ve with sp ation abo aking sod and remo cycling. Th lastic wrap, re inform t e o 3/4 cup b h /r m ig k .c rn v e o v g s, p et sit o visit ici. itchen lime e lightbulb surfaces. L schedule, atteries, k things lik n squeeze b e e , k e th st ta , a lt to w . sa g le tronic mornin out where — Sprink steel, elec mover r 3 hours. up s, phones, c fo ra s. 1 e n le o + m ic Rust re a a re h c d tu g so en ve Leave mix cup bakin es, and ev nd c a /4 n 1 a sh li ix p ru over rust. p M b a — b with leaner t sit. Scru Toilet c ilet and le to to in r ou vinegar, p inegar + 1 of white v p ts 2 ix . rinse er — M w clean to clean. Windo damp Use cloth r. te a soda with w g in rm k a a w b e litr s, wipe Rub in ugher stain to aner — r le o c F r. e te il T h wa d rinse wit ar first. sponge an it of vineg b y n ti a h it w surfaces




? o d u o y n a c t a Wh



New ways of managing waste for a small island The history of the toilet is really a history of how humans have attempted to solve the unavoidable problem of disposing of smelly and dangerous bodily waste. Early on, our ancestors simply walked a good distance away from where they slept and ate. In the subsequent forty thousand years, a number of solutions, both simple and innovative, were developed. Digging a deep pit and then filling it in when it is nearly full is a neat and easy way of putting the waste out of sight and mind, but bacteria and viruses in the waste seep into the ground and then potentially into rivers, seas, and drinking water. That isn’t a problem if you are the only human for miles, but in crowded cities and on tiny islands, we need to find ways of treating the waste so that the pathogens are killed or removed. The ninth President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, is believed to have died after only 30 days in office after contracting enteric fever from the White House water supply which, at the time, was downstream from a public toilet. There are also compounds in human waste that bacteria, algae, and other organisms feed off, which can create imbalances in the environment. You don’t need to look far for an example – one contender for the cause of the recent algae bloom in Muri is seepage from waste treatment installations. Septic tanks are the commonest solution here in the Cook Islands, but they aren’t without their problems. Older septic systems crack and leak; installing a full new system that is compliant with all the Cook Islands’ regulations on human waste disposal is expensive. Believe it or not, human waste is actually useful stuff and it doesn’t take much to turn it from a nuisance into a resource. 64

It is a concentrated nutrient source for plants if properly treated and managed. Urine is usually sterile and can be used immediately on plants by mixing it with plenty of water first. It is possible to buy or build toilets that divert urine to a separate mixer tank that automatically adds water before it is spread via a hose onto the garden. Or, gents, you can simply pee on your banana trees! For obvious reasons, faeces can’t be used on the garden immediately, but if you collect them in a chamber with plenty of ventilation and mix in carbon (usually in the form of sawdust), eventually the mixture will decompose, all the pathogens will die off, and you are left with compost that is as good for the garden as anything you can buy commercially. Despite the yuck factor, human waste-based compost is safe to use on food crops. Just don’t tell auntie how you managed to make those pawpaw you gave her grow so big. Compost toilets are more work than your average flush loo. The compost chamber needs to be managed so that it has the right amount of moisture, and it can get infested with flies or other bugs. It also needs to be changed when it’s full, and the contents should be regularly turned - but these eco-friendly toilets are a great solution for a small island with no overall sewage system.Homes can install them at relatively low cost and even small resorts can use composting toilets if the owners are willing to put in the time and effort to keep them operating well. The resort my wife and I operate, Ikurangi Eco Retreat (www.ikurangi.com), uses four compost toilets and our guests often comment that, whether or not they had reservations at first, they forget it isn’t an ordinary flush toilet within a day. Matt Scowcroft

to make your own composting toilet, fit a toilet seat onto a plywood box on top of a bottomless bucket.

some other tips: - make sure you're using natural ingredients like lime and baking soda to clean the toilet bowl. only natural matter composts. - keep a long stick around and if the system gets clogged, tie a bit of coconut husk onto end using natural fibre. push the waste down and shake the husk off the stick so stick comes out clean. - rainwater collected on the roof and stored in a tank can be used for sink.

best to separate urine by piping it to a pool lined with polythene and glass over top so it evaporates. you can also dilute the urine, water it down, & feed it to the banana trees.

toilet paper is compostable. instead of flushing, just throw dry matter like untreated sawdust or yard rubbish down the chute to speed the composting process.

air pipe for ventilation.

inserting a little solar-powered fan (computer fan works) will help extract smell.

to keep the bugs out, close the lid when toilet not in use.

cut holes in bin to connect vent pipe and toilet chute.

once bin is full, replace with another. throw wet yard matter on top of full bin, seal for 6 months to a year. when the compost is ready, waste will be 20% of original size and will look and smell like dirt. can help your plants to grow bigger and faster. keep a logbook and number your bins so you know when compost ready.

“false bottom” in the bin - oven grate with mesh/cloth over so air can flow and urine gets filtered out. you want to separate urine & faeces to reduce smell.

With only two public toilet facilities on the island of Aitutaki, one of which is currently not operational, the members of the Aitutaki Conservation Trust (ACT) saw an opportunity to provide much needed services for locals and tourists while also making positive environmental changes. They decided to install “Enviro Loos” which reduce pollution of the land and lagoon. An Enviro Loo is a “dry sanitation system,” meaning it uses no chemicals, valuable water resources, or power. Instead waste is treated through a natural process of dehydration and evaporation, using wind and sun rather than electrical power. These toilets require minimal maintenance and servicing. ACT’s first portable Enviro Loo was purchased in 2013 through the Community Initiatives Scheme. Set on a trailer, it became a portable facility that has been used for school sports days and picnics, family and church gatherings, night markets and Christmas celebrations. While the Enviro Loo fulfilled community needs, its galvanised steel meant that it rusted quickly in the island’s high salt environment. The solution was simple – ACT asked the manufacturer if they could provide the same unit constructed from a more suitable material. Two new portable units were recently purchased thanks to funding from Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme and Cook Islands Tourism Corporation. The new loos have been placed at the popular beach areas of Ootu Beach and Base One Beach. Both attract large numbers of visitors ranging from cruise ship tourists and lagoon tour operators to the Aitutaki Sailing Club and paddling associations. They are also a popular location for local community groups to camp overnight or hold picnics and events. Prior to the Enviro Loo, Base One had no toilet facilities. Both units are portable and can be taken to evacuation sites in the event of a cyclone. Future stages of the project will look at installing permanent composting toilets at the site of the current Enviro Loos. ACT also intends to purchase additional toilets to install at areas such as sports fields, wharf areas and if possible on each of the most frequently visited motu. Says ACT’s Katrina Armstrong: “Aitutaki Conservation Trust are very grateful to the GEF Small Grants Programme, Cook Islands Tourism Corporation and especially to our community for their continued support of our projects, which aim to help protect our land, lagoon and culture, and for helping to ‘Keep Aitutaki Clean’”. Rachel Smith


Aitutaki goes waterless


ApingaAro’aTapu Our lagoons are sacred gifts. We must treat them as such.


Photo by Kirby Morejohn

What do we need to do?

Both polluted groundwater and raw or untreated sewage

contribute to pollution of lagoons, so we first have to fix the source of pollution in Muri, then evaluate what further action is required. This also means getting resort owners to take responsibility and invest in effective wastewater treatment for their commercial properties, and getting Cook Islands government to provide the same for local residents. We also need to learn from other Pacific Islands who have the same issues. For instance, Maunalua Bay in Honolulu, Hawai’i, has experienced the same problem, where macro-algal blooms and deterioration of the coral reef has been caused by watershed mud and pollutants being discharged into the bay. At Tiahura in Moorea, increased numbers of tourists put pressure on the lagoon for many years, and the luxury hotels there were discharging sewage at midnight from pipes a few metres from the beach in the lagoon, hoping the water currents would take it away. Then 20 years ago scientists noticed that the reef was smothered with macro-algal blooms, caused by wastewater discharge from hotels. Australian marine biologist Dr. Eric Wolanski discovered that the water currents at sea were bringing the sewage back over the reef and the reef was getting overloaded by the sewage. The luxury hotels took no action, until a Qantas manager was told about the issue and phoned the hotels telling them he would stop sending Qantas customers to their hotels. That motivated the hotels to take action and fix the problem by secondary treating sewage, and then selling the water for golf courses. This has contributed to improved health of the lagoon and reef at Tiahura. In March 2017, the Cook Islands government announced it will spend $70 million over a 10 year period to manage wastewater issues in Rarotonga and Aitutaki, with particular focus on the impact on our lagoons. The Wastewater Project Management Unit in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) is formulating a strategy to improve monitoring and scientists’ understanding of water quality issues in Rarotonga’s lagoon. There will be opportunities for the community to engage and workshops will be held at project milestones to provide opportunities for community input. Let’s all come together and contribute to saving our lagoon before it’s too late. Auē , te akaroa i ta tatou tamariki! Dr. Takiora Ingram


Our Rarotonga tai roto, or lagoon, is a ta’onga tapu, apinga aro’a tapu, a sacred gift given to us by our tupuna to respect and take care of, and to pass on to our tamariki and future generations. How can we honour that commitment and fix the critical problem that now threatens our lagoon? It starts with each and every one one of us doing our part. We must tread lightly on our lagoon in order to protect all the fish, shellfish, corals, seaweed, and other resources in it. We must make sure that spillage from our septic tanks doesn’t end up in the lagoon and runoff from agriculture does not pollute our lagoon with animal faeces and pesticides. How can we responsibly manage our wastewater on Rarotonga? The government and the business community need to step up, especially those who own tourism accommodations. If they want to continue to reap the benefits of their investments, they must also take responsibility for protecting our precious resource. Twenty-five years ago, before the huge influx of tourists to Rarotonga, Muri and the whole Rarotonga lagoon was pristine. Local people would catch fish, collect kai and shellfish, and harvest remu, seaweed, and matu rori to feed their families. Since about 2001, eating seafood from the lagoon has become too risky for people’s health, and the seafood supply has been greatly reduced. Also, black algal (seaweed) blooms have increased significantly, causing bad odours and unpleasant swimming conditions. What happened? Over-development, ineffective waste treatment, lack of research and environmental management, insufficient financial and scientific resources, lack of education and understanding, and ineffective communication between all those involved have all played a role in the degradation of Muri lagoon. The lagoon has been polluted due to lack of responsible and informed resource management. We are now dealing with an environmental disaster. Some claim that the situation is improving, but according to well qualified marine biologists, this is most likely a temporary condition that will further deteriorate in the near future. Addressing the consequence doesn’t work long term, we need to address the cause of the lagoon pollution.


Natural balance Sometimes caring for our resources means letting them care for themselves

At Te Ara Museum in Muri are four large aquarium tanks. One is pristine, noticeably cleaner than the others. Museum founder Stan Wolfgramm calls this the food tank because it contains species eaten locally — kina, rori, ariri. It’s clean because everything in it works together to vacuum and filter algae. The food tank is a window into what’s happening just beyond the shore. “It was just a matter of figuring out what belongs and what doesn’t,” Wolfgramm said of creating a self-cleaning tank. “What we learnt is that the environment, if you leave it long enough, brings itself into balance.” This is the basis of the rā‘ui – a concept that, for centuries, governed the way people interacted with their environment. The early Polynesians understood 68

that taking care of an area or a resource means just letting it take care of itself sometimes. They understood that they had to strike a balance between using their resources and leaving them alone. At regular meetings – uipā’anga rā‘ui – village leaders would plan for the months ahead, taking into account the breeding seasons, during which species needed space; special occasions or visits for which extra food would be required; and the likelihood of cyclones, after which resources would be scarce. Once they reached agreement, a chief would announce either a rā‘ui mutu kore – a permanent ban – or a rā‘ui ta tuatua – a ban that could be lifted when appropriate. People honoured the rā‘ui out of understanding, but also out of fear.



Photo by Tūrama Photography

Breaking the ra’ui could get you sent out to sea in a canoe, beaten, kicked out of your village, or killed, according to Papa Ron Crocombe’s research. Today these punishments seem extreme, but in days before supermarkets, survival depended on a common respect for natural resources.

Rod Dixon wrote in a book called The Rahui that the Mangaians referred to their streams as kauvai toto , or bloodstreams. They saw the waterways as veins extending from the island’s heart — productive taro swamps in its centre. People saw the island as a body, a system in which all parts are

connected. They understood that pressure on one part of the environment invariably affected another. If the bloodstreams weren’t kept clean, for instance, the blood couldn’t flow to the heart. In the modern world, we have moved away from this holistic understanding of how the world works. Many of us don’t consider the interconnections— that chemicals on our plantations cause algal blooms in our lagoons, for example, or that if we kill all the sharks we’re destroying the ecosystems they regulate. Some pa enua communities still strictly observe the rā‘ui, but for most of us, there was a shift somewhere along the way. When the Cook Islands started exporting crops for profit, planters started timing their harvests around

shipping schedules instead of natural cycles. Chiefs were pressured to push for efficiency instead of balance. Chemical fertilisers and pesticides were introduced to encourage bigger, quicker yields. Food resources became profitable first and useful second. On Rarotonga, the rā‘ui was largely forgotten. In the 90s, tourism authorities and traditional leaders who were concerned about the health of the lagoon joined together to re-institute the rā‘ui. They sourced funding to put signs up around Rarotonga and several on outer islands. Still, enforcement is tough. Today, the consequences of overusing our resources aren’t as immediate or as severe as they once were. Now, no matter what’s happening in the oceans, we can still buy fish in a tin. If you ask Tupe Short, a traditional leader and planter from Matavera, convenience is making the world blind. “We are selling the rights to our fish away for money,” he says. “Money can be spent in no time, and then when it’s all gone, what about our fish? We can’t eat money.”

We all know that in the Cook Islands, fishing is a particularly sensitive subject. Over the last few years, concerns about the licensing of foreign boats have inspired four public protests,


a benefit concert, countless letters to the local newspapers, and several documentary videos. In 2015, a petition bearing the signatures of a third of Rarotonga’s population was presented to the Cook Islands Parliament, though ultimately it did not influence the government’s decision to permit a Spanish fishing company with a dubious track record. Things are changing, and local fishermen are suspicious. Foreign boats continue to come, though their catch rates continue to decline. In 2014, marine biologist Dr. Teina Rongo travelled to the northern group to conduct interviews and research about the state of fishing locally. Every one of the people he interviewed reported that between 30 and 50 years ago, the size and volume of their catch was considerably larger. Dr. Rongo’s report acknowledges that while shifts in climate phases may have affected fishing in recent years, the Cook Islands must “consider that other contributing factors are likely, mainly overfishing”. Pupuke Robati, a 43-year-old father of six, used to support his family by catching fish out of Avatiu harbour but had to get a second job with a charter company. He resents that while he has to turn away locals looking to buy fish, foreign fleets are pulling tens of millions of dollars’ worth out of the Cook Islands’ oceans. “They say [the fish] are disappearing because of

climate change,” he says, “but I don’t think so.” Fisheries officers call the suspicion misguided, fuelled by fear of the unknown — an understandable response to a changing climate. Most, if not all, feel for fishermen but say it makes little sense to blame some foreign boats for a complex problem affecting the whole world. Commercial pressure has weighed heavy on fish populations everywhere. For more than a decade, scientific journals have been publishing research that shows many are down to 10 per cent of their original levels. One journal predicted that unless major change occurs, all the world’s fisheries will collapse before 2050. Many marine experts are still hopeful. They believe that if the global community can tighten and enforce fishing laws, ecosystems can recover. But there are big obstacles; small countries can’t afford to properly police their oceans, and large countries are being influenced by lobbyists. The greatest obstacle of all is that when money talks, people listen. Whether we’re talking about diamonds or trees or minerals or fish, money usually has the final say. Maria Henderson, who was a vocal advocate for the environment when she served as president of the Koutu Nui, believes it is an empty voice that lacks wisdom. “At the end of all of this, nature won’t be looking for us,” she says. “But we’ll be looking for nature.”


First four photos by Tūrama Photography. Last two by Kirby Morejohn.


Good things are happening. New legislation bans commercial fishing in a ring around each island. On all these islands there are people living sustainably, in ways that align with the principle underlying the rā‘ui—simply, give the

Photo by Tokerau Jim.

environment a break every once in awhile. Let it recover, the way you would your body after illness. Still the challenges are great. Our bodies send us messages, like pain, when something isn’t right. Our environment does the same. Weird weather, algal blooms, bleached corals—they are signs of a system in distress. In

the modern world, most of us tend to ignore the source of a health problem; we manage the pain with medication so we don’t have to think about what’s really going on. We do the same with the world around us. We can only interpret the signs of the earth, sea, and sky if we’re paying attention. Rachel Reeves

Te Ara Museum, home of the food tank, focusses on educating people about the world around them and their impact on it. The building itself is an example of how to give the environment a break. Rainwater from the roof fills toilets and sinks; water from the septic system goes through a series of filters and ends up in the taro patches. The café uses local produce and nothing plastic. Lights use minimal energy and turn off when you leave the room. Solar power is the next step. Wolfgramm says he hopes the model will inspire other people to be conscious of how their actions impact the world around them. “You have to consider every element, is what we’ve learnt,” he says. “You’ve got to realise there are many factors involved in a balanced environment, everything from the smallest animal right through to the septic system —you’ve got to take it all into account. It may seem complicated. It isn’t.”

The threat of D Our oceans, already under assault, Scientists and civil society organisations worldwide are concerned about the impacts of deep sea mining (DSM) on the Pacific Ocean and the livelihoods of people living on islands. The people of the Cook Islands should be, too. According to the government, within the Cook Islands EEZ the seabed has 10 billion tonnes of manganese nodules, containing manganese, nickel, copper, cobalt, and rare earth minerals. Companies are interested. The Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Act was adopted by Parliament in November 2009, and the Seabed Minerals Authority (SMA) was established by government in June 2012 to regulate deep seabed mining activities and manage licensing processes.

For the people of the Cook Islands, there are two areas of concern: · First, the impact of deep sea mining on our own marine environment; · Second, our liability as a country for implementing deep sea mining exploration licences in international waters of the mineral-rich Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the northern Pacific, a 6km-deep undersea plane covering 4.5 million sq. km about halfway between Hawai’i and Mexico. Many Cook Islanders may not be aware that our government has claimed exploration rights to part of this zone. It is important that some key issues are considered before we exploit our deep sea minerals.

What are the impacts? There is agreement by international experts that deep seabed mining operations are likely to irreparably harm sensitive underwater ecosystems. We don’t yet understand how deep-ocean ecosystems change when impacted by human activities, and the consequences of these changes. High seas ecosystems are rich with life and diversity and deserve a high level of



NODDY, with

a manganese nodule visiting land from 5,000 metres deep

Illustration by Tim Buchanann


protection. We should not rush to exploit deep ocean habitats before they can be documented. Funding mechanisms should be established to fund research and conservation initiatives before we decide to exploit our ocean resources. Currently, there is no regulatory oversight guiding DSM technology, which will likely raze the deep ocean floor and suck up all the minerals.

Who benefits? Based on past experiences with land-based mining in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and other countries, we know that very little financial benefit trickles down to the people. In addition, these mining operations have caused social unrest, violence, and environmental degradation in these island communities. In the Cook Islands, revenue from DSM will be held in the Cook Islands Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) that government has established. As it stands now, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management will make decisions about where the funds will be spent. What we need is an independent board made up of informed, responsible citizens and traditional leaders who can all contribute to these important decisions for management of the SWF. The SPC’s Chief Geoscientist, Dr. Kifle Kahsai, said in 2014: “Historically, mining has negative connotations due to the risks of adverse social and environmental impacts, as well as poor mining revenue management associated with some land-based mining operations.” He also warned the Cook Islands government to make sure that revenues generated by seabed minerals improve the livelihoods of all Cook Islands people.

DSM in the High Seas The Cook Islands government is eager to exploit habitats in the CCZ in the northern Pacific before scientists have a chance to explore and document these ecosystems. Little is known about the deep seabed, and no conclusive

Reporter: Kia orana Noddy. What a great privilege to be able

to meet you and get to know you better. I realise there have been more people that have gone to space than have been to where you are from.

Noddy: Kia orana. Yes, humans need some pretty advanced technology to reach us. We got some

humans in the 70s and we’ve had sporadic visits

since then. Now we hear the humans are interested again. Looks like a good number of us will be entering the oxygen atmosphere.

Reporter: Why do you think people are interested?

Noddy: People are interested because we’re

valuable. We’re nervous this time, though. The first visits were Exploratory — we and our home were

being studied. Soon, the visits will be Exploitative.

Reporter: You sound concerned.

DEEP SEA mining environmental study has yet been completed. What is known is that the life that thrives in this unusual environment is sulfur-based rather than oxygenbased, and we do not know how sulfuric discharge or slurry will impact ocean biodiversity. In July 2014, the government-owned enterprise, Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC), and GSR, a Belgian company, were granted an exploratory licence in the mineral-rich CCZ by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to explore for polymetallic nodules in a reserved area in international waters. This exploratory licence is for an area of 75,000km², about two-thirds the size of New Zealand’s North Island. Our government claims that the Belgian company covered the application costs, and will cover all the exploration costs. However, do we know anything about the Belgian mining company’s record with exploitation of mineral resources elsewhere in the world, and what does the company expect in return? What is the Cook Islands government giving away in exchange for this? Our people have not been fully consulted on the risks and implications of DSM in international waters. What does this mean for local people and communities in terms of rights and responsibilities, especially if there is an environmental disaster in the CCZ, in international waters, or in the high seas? Who will be held liable? How can the Cook Islands plan for and mitigate this? What are the best strategies to communicate these complex issues to local communities?

DSM within the Cook Islands EEZ While the Seabed Minerals Authority (SMA) has done some community consultation, it is not enough. People have been told about the likely billions of dollars of revenues, but not the possible environmental costs and

liabilities. A legal expert from SPC made it clear in 2014 that in the case of any environmental disaster, the Cook Islands government, and therefore the Cook Islands people, will ultimately be responsible for any costs. What is needed is an independent assessment of what local people and communities want, carried out by a team of both international and local experts, not conducted by the SMA. Local people and communities need to be asked whether they want large, foreign, multinational companies exploiting these resources at the risk of our ocean environment and nation. What are the likely social and environmental impacts and challenges? Are we willing to commit our economic, environmental and social future to this risky venture, and should we be committing future generations to it also? Our ancestors treaded softly on our environment and put our people first. Today’s decision-makers should do the same. We have traditional laws and protocols for managing the environment that must be respected by both government and foreign investors. Our government is promoting ocean conservation on the one hand, and on the other exploitation of ocean resources (both fisheries and DSM). It’s important that the Cook Islands people, not the government, make decisions about the management of our ocean resources. We should not allow government to sacrifice our people’s health, livelihoods, culture, and our marine environment for financial gain. Let’s join with others around the world who are saying no to deep seabed mining before more is known about its impacts. In May 2017, many worldwide welcomed Apple’s commitment to no longer mine the deep ocean. Let developed countries explore DSM in their waters, then watch what happens, and learn from their mistakes. Dr. Takiora Ingram

Noddy: Well, there’s a lot going on in the ocean

Reporter: So how do you think the humans should proceed?

human-made pollution. What set of problems will

one of the last frontiers explored, with new species

- it’s being affected by climate change and

be added to those when we are being moved from our environment? I mean, us nodules are a large

part of our ecosystem and there are other species that we support just by existing. So when we are removed, there will be change at home. I still

don’t know if that can be positive in any way. I’m

told that my value has the possibility of improving many of the lives of people on land communities in my area. Of course I want to help improve the

world, but am I the only beacon of help for these communities or are there other ways their lives

can be improved, until the problems in the ocean are not as critical as they are now?

Noddy: Because we are such a unique environment, and being discovered as we speak, I would want research to continue on the deep seabed. I’d want humans to find out more about our area and how all species

impact and interact with each other. I’d want them to

demonstrate that they can make the changes necessary to stop polluting and contributing to the rate of cli-

mate change, so that I’d know they were serious. This shouldn’t be much to ask and expect. The benefits of deep sea nodule extraction should benefit all stakeholders, even the ones formed of minerals. I mean,

everything on this earth was put here for a reason and it should not only be looked upon for human gain only, right?


face another potential danger

Teina Mackenzie

E kite te tangata i tōna turanga ‘aka’aka, kia rauka ‘iaia te no’o au e te tiratiratū i roto i te au natura e te mekameka o teianei ao. Man must realise his rightful humble place on Earth, and learn to live in harmony with the natural world around him. Man must take care of himself as well as his environment.


(n) to enjoy, to have fun

People who know how to relax and make the most of their lives are generally healthier and happier. As proven by the Blue Zones project, they also live longer. Long-term stress can increase your blood pressure and your risk of having a stroke or heart attack. It can interfere with digestion and weight loss and sleep patterns. It can also cause acne and hair loss. The experts say that to beat stress, it’s important to do things you enjoy, things that make you feel blissful. In this section, we’ll introduce you to some people who enjoy their life in distinctly Cook Islands ways. We’ll also introduce you to some distinctly Cook Islands reasons to celebrate.

Tuatua Tupuna

E no’o rekareka ‘ua koe i roto i to’ou piripou.

Blue Zones

Manage your stress.


“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” — Psalm 118:24



Photo by Matariki Wilson


Native Intelligence The deep green palm fronds sway in the breeze. The lichen-covered trunk tells stories of ancient growth. The coconuts, nū or niu, hold a promise of extinguishing thirst, welcoming a visitor, and growing anew. Having grown up in Pukapuka and Hawai’i, I have seen a coconut tree every single day through louvred windows of early morning light. Only recently, however, did I learn the depth of its uses and what really makes it the tree of life. In Hawai’i most of this knowledge has been lost. Shops sell boxes of coconut water from Brazil and Asia. In Hawai’i, coconut trees look barren. The government pays tree trimmers to cut off all the nuts so that they don’t fall on the heads of tourists. Lawyers might come. Tourists might disappear. A coconut becomes a liability. Hence the coconut trees in Hawai’i have no coconuts. “I weep for the coconut trees that have no


children,” says Pukapukan Johnny Frisbie. Not until I travelled back to Pukapuka as an adult did I realise that all coconut trees are meant to have coconuts and that throughout Polynesia, they have sustained populations for thousands of years. Until then, I did not understand. In Pukapuka, people respect, honour, and use all parts of the coconut tree. If you cut off the fronds the wrong way with a machete you get fined by the village leaders. Truckloads of uto get evenly shared out to families within each village. Teenage boys shimmy up the tree to throw down coconuts for visitors, feasts, and daily sustenance. For a day on the motu with Papa Charlie Frisbie, I drank five niu and ate one uto and needed no other food. The coconut tree taught me its many uses through the way Pukapukans used her for everything: • Mama Liata wore the rib of a coconut palm in her ears to keep them open when she

didn’t feel like wearing her Sunday earrings. • Mama Mima wove a fishing basket that hung over Lewu’s shoulder when he went fishing on the reef. • Six-year old Teatua wove a green ball out of the fronds and threw it to her older sister Kani down the sandy road. • Ten-year old Kalowia and her pack of girls wove pinwheels and let them spin in the wakalua wind. • Tere cut up the trunk for seats to sit around the fire. • Annie gathered all the coconut husks to light the fire for her Saturday umu. • All the kids at Niua School wove the palm fronds into pola to re-thatch the homes on the motu. They sold the pola for $1 each and raised thousands for school supplies. • Yokana and her cousins sat atop an aluminum



• • • • • •

boat with a knife, peeling off the green leaves and plaiting together the spines to make the strongest brooms. Marurai carved up parts of the tree trunks as beams for my wale pola. Roboam and some other men made honey, and eventually alcohol, by tapping one of the coconut trees for its sweet sap. Anna made a salad from the heart of palm dressed in lime and coconut cream. Tangitane sucked on the inner cabbage of the sprouted palm and on the husk of the mangaro like a lollipop. Moko put the coconut husks in the mud, dried them out, and plaited sennit with the kids at school. Yetu Yetu sat on the veranda at night with a group of men drinking coconut homebrew out of polished coconut shell bowls.

• Mama Mauwake lit the dried coconut shells as candles that radiated warmth from her veranda. • Temara put the grated coconut out in the sun mixed with gardenia flowers. After a week, she squeezed the oil into an old jar and carefully used a spoonful to massage her father’s leg. • Ani squeezed fresh coconut cream using the fibre from the coconut to strain the cream. • Fancy entered the beauty pageant wearing an outfit made entirely of coconut jewellery, skirt, and hair piece. • The Reverend Casey served perfectly cut cubes of uto and niu to the congregation every Sunday communion. From toy and shelter to food, this list only begins to scratch the surface. In the Pukapukan Dictionary over 77 words are listed under the coconut. There is the coconut midrib thrown as

a challenge to strangers or enemies: kalevamanu. There is the flesh of a young coconut: kiko and the flesh of a mature coconut: ipiipi. The stages of a woman are compared to the stages of a coconut: from the first stage of a young pikiaka, to the fresh young niu, to the nearly matured mukomuko, to the immature fallen koali, to the sprouting uto, to the aged yakali used for coconut cream, to the brown dry maimaya with no milk inside. An overly stubborn person might be compared to an over-matured uto plant: lauka. A particularly sweet person might be called a mangalo, the sweet coconut with an edible husk. The coconut covers it all. It is a wonder that churches have not been built in the coconut tree’s honour. Beyond her beauty and grace, she offers us strength, wisdom, and the whispers of ancestors. Dr. Amelia Borofsky

Photo by Tūrama Photography

Blood it’s in the

Photos by Jessie Lee Cederblom. Photo of vaka by Harvie Allison.


Tetini ‘Ti’ Pekepo is a lot of things — tattooist, artist, carver, builder, husband, father — but he’ll tell you he’s first a voyager. “It’s in the blood,” he says. “We Polynesians have always had it in us.” Years of sailing on traditional vaka have connected Ti to the world around him, to his ancestors, and to himself. He’s been on solo journeys — once he did 34 days alone on the boat he keeps in New Zealand. He’s also been on grand journeys, like the seven-vaka voyage to the mainland United States in 2011 whose message to the world was: Wake up. Start caring about the oceans and people who depend on them. Since the Polynesians crossed oceans without maps or compasses, carrying out the greatest voyages in the history of the world, the Pacific has been the territory of explorers. Polynesians are still a travelling people — everyone has family members living overseas — but the movement to reconnect with a seafaring past began just a few decades ago. Since the Hawaiians built Hōkūle’a in the mid-1970s, kickstarting a renaissance in traditional navigation throughout the Pacific, Cook Islanders have been reconnecting. For Ti, voyaging represents the connection between both sides of his heritage, from New Zealand and Mangaia. He began sailing on traditional canoes since the early nineties, after he was given the manuscript Papa Tom Davis was writing, later published as Vaka: Saga of a Polynesian Canoe. “Hey, Māori boy, isn’t your waka Tākitumu?” Papa Tom’s son, Tere, had said to him at a bar. “I’ve got a book about your waka.” Ti learnt from reading Vaka that in the old days, voyagers were respected people; they were ta’unga, skilled professionals who possessed great mana. They were people of honour and courage. Knowing he was descended from founders of islands made his heart swell with pride. He began studying more about his legacy — navigating, sailing, exploring, seeking adventure and spiritual growth and heightened awareness about the world. Years of sailing on Te Au O Tonga and Marumaru Atua have taught Ti to understand and appreciate the history of the places he comes from and the oceans connecting them. He’s learnt about respect for the ocean, its benevolence and its wrath, and about discipline and faith. He believes the old rules still apply: Voyagers should be respectful people who don’t drink or do drugs on board. They should be spiritually strong. They should be humble, willing to listen both to captain and fellow crewmembers and also to natural rhythms. Above all, they should be eager to learn. “I believe if you’re going to do anything you must understand it, and that comes through time,” he says. “That’s why people do apprenticeships — it takes time, and the more you do it the more you understand your craft, the better you get. I believe within us we’ve got the power to achieve whatever we want if we really put our minds to it. But nine times out of 10, you’ve got to do a lot of study first.” Voyaging has taken Ti to 23 islands in the Pacific. His only regret about his journey on traditional vaka is that it didn’t begin earlier. “I’d encourage our young people to not really think about money too much but to get out there and have fun and do what makes you excited,” he says. “Do it because you can.” Rachel Reeves


Inclusive music 79

Live recordings of five Cook Islands ute and imene tuki, recorded over a century ago, were recently re-discovered. This is the story of the recordings and why a famous composer considered local singing one of the world’s great musical treasures “The most beautiful music I have [ever] heard, either complex or simple, was the singing of the Rarotonga natives in the Cook Islands... I am a great admirer of Bach, Wagner, Delius, Scriabin, and several others responsible for the complex music of the world, and yet I say that the singing of the Rarotonga natives appealed to me, and to several other composers more than anything we had ever heard.” These words were written in 1926 by Percy Grainger, an Australian-born, European-trained, internationally acclaimed pianist and composer with a lifelong interest in world music. His wild mane of golden hair and good looks contributed to his “rock star” status in the music world of the early twentieth century. Grainger toured New Zealand in 1909 and in Wellington met with the Māori leaders Apirana Ngata and Peter Buck. He offered to transcribe recordings of Māori music then being collected in an effort to preserve Māori culture. During his New Zealand tour Grainger also met Alfred J. Knocks, an interpreter and native agent living in Otaki, and discovered Knock’s wax cylinder recordings of a group of Cook Islands singers attending the International Exhibition in Christchurch in 1906. Of that exhibition one admirer, the author and lexicographer Frederick W. Christian who later became head teacher at Mangaia School, wrote: “Only the people of

coral lands can sing as they sang... now like flutes... now like the notes of a guitar... now like a sweet and deep-toned bell”. The recordings had such a profound effect on Grainger that he spent a whole night attempting to transcribe the music. He telegrammed his mother: “never heard

the like, treat equal to Wagner, I am godly lucky.” He returned to Otaki a month later to hear the music again from Knocks’ recordings. To find out more about Cook Islands music, Grainger briefly visited Rarotonga, en route from America to New Zealand in May 1924. In his account of that visit, he wrote: “Our boat had

nearly 24 hours at Avarua (Rarotonga). It was from these islands that the lovely music came... quick ant-like improvised polyphonic... singing of great harmonic charm. You can imagine, therefore, how much it meant to me to see the people and place whose music I had studied and loved so keenly.” Almost 30 years later, his enthusiasm for Cook Islands choir music remained as strong as ever. He wrote in 1938 of “the boundless enthusiasm

(never before or since aroused by any other music) I felt for the Rarotongan improvised part songs [which] has a marked and lasting effect on my pianistic concert career”.

Grainger never returned to Rarotonga, but he remained, to the end of his life, a champion of Cook Islands music, rating it for complexity and beauty, second only in the world to the music of the German composer Richard Wagner. He wrote:

“In my opinion, the choral music as sung by the Polynesians in Rarotonga, Samoa, Tahiti and other islands, constitutes the greatest contribution to this type of music that has occurred in my lifetime. It is more important than anything that has been produced in Europe.” So what did Grainger hear in ute and imene tuki

Photo of group by Matariki Wilson. Grainger photo courtesy of Bergen Public Library Norway.

that fired his enthusiasm? Grainger believed western music had taken a wrong turn when it began to be written down. He argued for a new music, freed from the written form and the domination of harmony or rhythm, a music that provided equality between the parts, and “a chance for all to shine in a starry whole.” He admired unwritten music precisely because it was free to change and evolve during performance. Grainger contrasted this to western European music, where the performers were required to faithfully follow the written score, and thus subjected to “tyranny of the composer.” He found elements of his ideal of “free music” already existing in Cook Islands music. He tried to replicate what he had learnt from Cook Islands music in his own compositions, to ensure

“that a fairly large range of personal choice was allowed to everyone taking part [in the performance]”, he wrote. In Cook Islands music, successful improvising is repeated and becomes part of the choir’s routine. Improvisation that is unsuccessful is never heard again. In this way, a body of work is added to and renewed. This kind of innovation is the work of individual grassroots performers, not gifted individual composers. Grainger’s analysis of Cook Islands ute emphasised the democratic and grassroots nature of Cook Islands music making. Cook Islands music provided the composer with an example of an ideal world in which social cohesion and individual freedom were regarded not as opposites but as inseparable from each other. It is this achievement, of a collectivist society which permits individuals to improvise, experiment and create new possibilities, that Grainger contrasted favourably to the individualism and elitism of western music and society.

Roderick Dixon




As far back as I can remember I loved dancing. It was a passion, a need, and a love. I remember when I was little I used to tie on pāreu and dance for my parents or even their friends. I used to love watching older dancers and wish I could move like they did. I loved their costumes and movements and would try my best to mimic them in the safety of my bedroom. When I look back at how I learnt to dance I feel there was a lot of bits and pieces and traits that I took from other dancers. Mimicking what you saw was a big part of it. At first all my actions were choreographed by older and more experienced dancers. But today my most favourite form of dance is dancing from the heart. When I dance a solo for a function I rarely ever choreograph it. I pick songs I know, love, and can relate to, then on the spot I move to the words, rhythm, and emotions the singer portrays. This form of dance is my most favourite to watch. It’s the moment when you see the dancer literally bare his or her soul to the audience and you can relate so much with every move. I love being on stage. I get this sense of freedom I don’t feel like doing anything else. I have joined a Dancer of the Year both in Mangaia and Rarotonga, Miss Tiare and Miss Cook Islands in Rarotonga, Miss South Pacific in Pago Pago, Te Vara Nui Cultural Village in Rarotonga, Te Maeva Nui both in Mangaia and Rarotonga, and danced at many functions. Every performance was different but every single moment on stage fueled my love and passion for dance. When I first thought of going to university I wanted to do something I loved. I spent years pondering what I would study. Then, it hit me: I had to be passionate about it. I wanted to wake up in the morning excited. After four years of working in graphic design and two years of dancing at Te Vara Nui, I realized I had a huge passion for dance and thought, ‘Why can’t I study this?’ At first I couldn’t find any schools that offered courses in cultural dance. I then attended Victoria University of Wellington studying Pacific Studies, Cultural Anthropology and Tourism. I decided if I couldn’t study what I loved I would study

the cultures it was in. Halfway through my second year I discovered Whitireia Performing Arts School in Wellington, which offered a degree in Cook Island, New Zealand Māori, Samoan and contemporary dance. I was very excited but decided to finish what I had started first before embarking on a new journey. On my final year at Victoria University I started to question if I should go to Whitireia. I had attended one performance and felt it to be very contemporary. Being brought up in the Cook Islands and studying at Victoria had instilled me with a protective instinct for my culture. After much thought I decided that if I didn’t do it I would wonder for the rest of my life, ‘What if?’ In all honesty I found the course to be a bit of a letdown. Granted I learnt a lot about the body — our muscles and movements — but I felt that the dance that I had learnt as a child wasn’t represented in this course. It was a different dance form, a more contemporary one. I fought against it for most of the year until I realised I only had to perform that dance form in the course. I was in control of my own dance style, and like the beginning of my dance journey, I had the ability to pick it apart and choose what I would apply to myself. We travelled overseas and performed mostly New Zealand Māori performances but the Cook Islands and Samoan dancers were performed on a few occasions. I loved the look on the faces in the crowd when they saw a completely different culture to their own. When I was performing the Cook Islands ura I was excited and happy. Living away from home has made me a louder and prouder Cook Islander. It has strengthened my identity, and a lot of that has to do with dance. The words in our songs, the rhythm of our drums, and our movements are very unique and they are ours. They are a part of the foundation we as a people stand on. Dancing connects me to my home and my heritage, and takes me back to the days I was a child trying to swing my hips because I felt the love for it in my blood. I will never stop learning. I will always love my culture. Ura will always be a part of who I am. Kate Ngatokorua


‘Helps us stay away from the doctors. It’s as simples as that.’


I’ve come to Luduina Williams’ home to see her compost heap. An officer with the Ministry of Agriculture brought me here to see it because he knows I want to write about sustainable growing practices. The compost heap is large and well-kept, but now that I’m here I’m interested in a bigger story. I’m interested in everything else, the evidence of a sustainable life lived on Rarotonga, a place where these days it’s easy to eat takeaways and buy tablets. Luduina and her husband Angaroa compost waste and grow food but they also filter rainwater, ferment noni juice, make their own medicine, and cook the chickens they catch. They have one of every kind of tropical fruit tree you can imagine and some vegetables, too. “It’s important to live local,” Luduina tells me. “It matters a lot. Helps us stay away from the doctors. It’s as simple as that.” It’s also cheaper. I wonder if she always thought this way, or whether there was an event, a moment, that marked the beginning of her journey into self-sufficiency. It turns out there was. When she was in her thirties, Luduina began to be constantly sick. She had always used an inhaler for asthma and gotten seasonal allergies, but suddenly her symptoms got worse. She was breaking out in rashes, getting pneumonia frequently. Soon she and Angaroa had spent thousands of dollars on appointments with a private doctor, house calls, injections, and expensive medications. “I was getting jabbed just about every

week,” she says. Now she’s 55 and a model of health, a regular at highintensity fitness classes. Back then, she didn’t know what she knows now. At the time, Dr. Woonton recommended she change her diet. Her parents suggested she eat only local foods but she didn’t want to hear that; planting, harvesting, and preparing healthy foods was more work than buying meals. She continued eating the things she always had — milk, butter, cream, sugar, flour — and baking cakes for the family, one of her favourite pastimes. Luduina, who also goes by Aunty Mama, searched for other answers. She read on the internet about allergies and how they’re often caused by toxic chemicals. She thought about her long relationship with chemical fertilisers and pesticides. As a kid she spent every afternoon helping her dad on the plantation, weeding with her bare hands after he’d sprayed. Now, as an adult, she tended and sold houseplants, always treating them with chemicals. Aunty Mama decided to start feeding her plants naturally. She made a compost heap and filled it with yard rubbish and organic waste. The change in her plants was dramatic; a lemon tree that had never fruited produced lemons so large and sweet you could eat them whole. “I saw the changes in the plants and I thought that could be me,

you know?” she says now. “The plants were transforming into this beautiful, luscious green, getting healthy. I thought that could be me. I thought I’m not going to live like this anymore.” She started changing the way she ate. Then, in her early forties, Mama had a stroke. Afterward she couldn’t use the right side of her body. Her right eye wouldn’t close. For three days, she stayed in her room, refusing to see anyone. She had drugs to manage the flow of her blood but the doctors said there wasn’t anything they could do about her wide-open eye. Mama remembered a Mangaian healer in Titikaveka she’d taken her brother to see before he died. The woman made a mixture of poroporo leaves, local lime, and coconut oil, and dropped some of it into Mama’s eye. She was blinking before she got home. Mama studied with another healer after that, but today she shies away from making medicine for anyone outside her family. She knows that the effectiveness of a treatment depends on a patient’s faith and habits; she doesn’t want to risk being blamed if someone doesn’t get better. She knows, though, that the treatments work.

(“Especially the young people,” she says. “This generation believes in all the drugs to get better. They don’t know it’s a business; it’s not healing. It’s a business and it’s making other people rich and you worse.”) She knows a lot of people doubt.She’s also found that people aren’t interested in talking about diet as a condition for healing and good health. (“I just tell them we don’t know we are killing ourselves until we get sick.”) The message she wants to share is simple: Live local. It’s good for you. “We can’t blame the doctors for our health problems,” she says. “They are doing their work and we should be looking after ourselves in the first place. No one tells us this. We don’t know all of this until something hit us.” Rachel Reeves Teite ngarau o te ‘enua te kai. Kai ate ki tāna pā’aki umu, kai ate ki tāna. Food comes from the essence of the land. Let each man eat from his own oven. Grow your own. Be independent.

​ ewing tivaevae is about more than making a quilt. It’s long S represented a chance ​for women to come together and chat about their lives. It’s also an expression of commitment and dedication; a tivaevae that takes a year to sew is not a cheap gift. Tivaevae mark special occasions, including birthdays, weddings, funerals, and hair-cutting ceremonies. Many mamas won’t sell theirs. The tivaevae is more special than anything money can buy—a celebration of culture and community, and also of love.




Weaving kikau and making things out of rito are expressions of the resourcefulness and creativity of island people. Tivaevae & moenga photos by Harvie Allison. Weaving photos by Jessie Lee Cederblom



Tutai Ataera had little memory of his birthplace, the village of Kavera, the home of his ancestors, in the Arorangi district of Rarotonga. He’d come to New Zealand as a two-year-old. But nobody in Auckland ever let him mistake his adopted land as home. They gave him names so he would always know he did not belong. “Coconut” was the least hurtful. They couldn’t pronounce his name, Tutai, and in their voices it sound like “tutae,” the Māori word for “shit.” Mainly they called him Boonga. “It means Pacific nigger, I suppose,” Ataera says. “A slang word for Polynesian.” There was only one other family of Cook Islanders in the Weymouth district of South Auckland, which meant the other kids’ focus on Ataera was relentless. He had two options: shut down, or fight. He fought. By his teenage years he was taken from his family and placed under the care of the court. This put him among other kids who’d been dealt the wrong cards, some who’d been abused, or had alcoholic families, all who one way or another had found their way into the criminal justice system. They were birds of a feather, and they found more trouble together.

“You keep calling someone an idiot,” Ataera says, “they will start acting like one.” Finally, at 16, he was deported. He arrived back on Rarotonga thinking finally, at least, he would be home. But he quickly discovered differently. He was an outsider here, too; he couldn’t speak the language, climb a coconut tree, rake the rubbish, or even feed a pig. “I came to my homeland and they treated me like a foreigner, even here,” he says. “Because I didn’t know anything about being an islander.” And so as he settled into Rarotonga, he decided he would no longer be defined by others. He would be not only be a Boonga, he would define what that meant. “I had been trying to run away from being a Boonga,” he says. “Then, I learnt to be a Boonga.” For the next years he apprenticed himself. He studied the language of his people. He learnt how to climb a coconut tree. He offered himself as a student to the ocean and to the night skies. He walked the land and learnt its quiet secrets. He found teachers waited for him, everywhere. “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear,” he says. “I believe the God of my people was helping me to navigate myself to where I was trying to be.”

All paintings by Tutai Ataera


Papa, as Ataera became known on Rarotonga, studied the history of his people’s contact with European culture. He studied Christianity, and the old religion of the islands. He examined the origins of the Polynesian people, the mystery of who the ancients were and how they’d come to populate the far reaches of the South Pacific. “Where did we come from?” he asked. “How did we get here? I was trying to trace our footsteps back to the homeland...I thought maybe that is where I’ll feel at home. Maybe that is where I will belong, and not feel like a foreigner any more.” He found two old men, Papa Tom Davis and Papa Ron Crocombe, who were steeped in knowledge and served as guides for his wide-ranging research. “It was at a time I was hungry for knowledge and they were there,” Papa says. “These are well-travelled men, and I asked them, what is the will of God? These are 80-year-old men and they weren’t religious and they didn’t go to church. They simply said, ‘To help each other. That is the will of God.’” Papa was on a voyage. To accompany his journey, he began creating art, first with a mask-like painting he titled “The Navigator”. Through the mists of time, he’d begun to catch glimpses of a world that was not as vanished as he had once supposed. “The spirit of the navigator, it’s the spirit in our people, it is always there,” Papa says. “It is the spirit that made us go across the ocean. And it’s courageous, it’s witty, it’s intelligent. And that needs to come out of us, all of us, but it’s been pushed down by a mental genocide. We’ve been brainwashed to be something else, to put aside what we are, or who we are. We are a kingly people, and that has been suppressed. Like the Native Americans, they were a kingly people — but their, what we call mana, has been suppressed.” At times, Papa lost hope. In a history littered with suffering, where was God? For a while, he became an atheist. At another time, he delved deeply into the history of Christianity. “This is all about people in the bloody Mediterranean,” he thought. “How is it going to help me as a Polynesian person?” Finally, as he immersed himself in the old gods of his people, he began to see a larger picture. There was no conflict between gods old and new. “That religion was dismissed because it sounded too close to Christianity, because it sounded too similar,” Papa says. “Io created the heavens and earth, and Io created man…It was too close to the Bible version. But then I traced our people back, and found that they had a belief, and they believed in a God that they prayed to when they left the shores of wherever they lived. They had faith in their God that brought them here to paradise, to where we live now. And because of their faith, it helped me to believe that there is a higher power, there is a higher consciousness — our people probably were in that zone where they were in contact with that higher consciousness, or else they would not have taken those journeys across the ocean, if they didn’t believe something would take care of them.” Albert Einstein once wrote that the universe is a hostile place unless you know its laws, and then it is a friendly place. Papa’s investigations began to reveal these natural laws, and gave him a lens through which to understand how the clash of European and Polynesian cultures had dimmed the mana of his own people. “And our people lived by those laws,” Papa says. “Everything was seasonal. Voyaging, the laws of the heavens, which star would be where...they had names for them. And they believed in the Creator of those things. The only information we had of our people was just cannibalism.” To Papa, the ocean exemplified these laws. When he’d arrived back in Kavera, he knew nothing of its ways. And then the ocean became a teacher. The ocean

taught, Papa says, “that I’m not to be fucked with, and if you read me well, I will look after you. And it took me a couple years to learn to respect her and understand her and read her. And after that, from there to now, I can go to her, and get a good feed, whenever I want.” He also learnt how to plant. The same lessons of abundance emerged from the same laws. “Follow the moon, follow the tides,” Papa says. “That has been passed down, and it always works. Today’s planting is all commercialised...But over here, if you grow enough just for your family, and you follow the seasons, you have enough. You will never run out. Learn to respect the land, and it will produce fruit for you. Always.” Papa had awakened as if from a long slumber, one that had begun in Auckland. In that old nightmare, he realised, the things that had seemed most desirable were in fact the instruments of imprisonment. He untied the cords of bondage he’d created for himself and found what he’d been looking for. “Freedom,” he says. “I mean, for me it was freedom to express my true self, to be who I am supposed to be. Where if I stayed in New Zealand I had to live those conditions, which is 9 to 5 robotic life, picket fence and all that stuff. It’s all pre-programmed for you. I guess that is what I was trying to run away from — I don’t want to wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning and all my neighbours are turning their lights on, everyone is brushing their teeth, everyone is getting their breakfast done, and everyone is backing their cars out, everyone is going to work, and everyone is in a traffic jam, and it goes on and on. Freedom from that…from the Matrix.”

The Boys “They have lost sight of who they are, Although Western education has given them new skills, There is an emptiness, a void, It is the spirit of the Polynesian mariner Who returns to the helm, To lead once more, this time from the past to the future, Surfing new waves….” Tutai “Papa” Ataera, from inscription to the painting, “The Identity Seekers.” Papa’s art had changed. The colours brightened, the masks disappeared. Life likewise gained lightness, and ease. He and his wife, Pepe, played music together, and delved into the message of Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae singer who during the 1970s became an international prophet for colonialism’s dispossessed. “We refuse to be/what you wanted us to be/We are what we are/That’s the way it’s going to be….Tell the children the truth,” Marley sang in a song “Babylon System,” one of many that spoke directly to people who sought an identity deeper than the shambles of their recent history. Papa marvelled when he realised that so much of what Marley sang came directly from Christian scriptures, which of course told the story of another displaced people. He re-approached the religion he’d grown up with. “So we had contact with God, but then how do you make personal contact with this God that our people knew?” he asked. “To find out, I had to go back into the Bible — that there is this guy, named Jesus, he supposes to be the gateway, and no one gets to the Father except through him. So I found a guy with an attitude, and I liked his attitude. And that is what it was: he had a nondiscriminatory attitude. He didn’t hate. He believed if we followed him we belonged to a universal family — his father, the higher consciousness, or whatever you want to call it. And I felt happier here, and found home here,


The Navigator


Painting by Tutai Ataera

in that place…a universal home. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, you can belong to this place and feel at home and not give a shit about everything I had just been through.” The will of God, he remembered from Papa Tom and Papa Ron, was to help each other. Papa and his wife looked after people who likewise may have found themselves adrift. There were teenage boys all around the islands who reminded Papa of himself when he was younger. Some had no parents; others had parents who’d left them behind, with grandparents, as they went to New Zealand or Australia. “We’ve got a lot of them here,” Papa says. “And they usually grow up and lose direction.” 86

A group of these boys had started bodyboarding, mostly off the west coast of the island. One of them was—is—called Bird. A Betela native who’d spent some time in New Zealand, his nickname is derived from his given name, Manutai Metuakore. But Bird also frequently emits a joyful, bird-like laugh that is somehow in keeping with his name; rarely is anyone in his company not laughing along. Bird grew up sickly. He’d contracted rheumatic fever and most believed he wouldn’t live to see 20 years. He spent part of his childhood years in and out of hospitals and still gets a monthly injection. “And of course he was the smallest of the lot, so you going to feel sorry for him,” Papa recalls. “So all we could do was lift up his spirits. ‘Grab a board.



Let’s go out there. You won’t die.’ And he’s still alive, and he shouldn’t be.” Bird remembers that the very first time he bodysurfed. “I didn’t like it,” he says. “I got my first wipeout, and that was it. I quit for one year. I got teased at school, and that was it.” Bird is a friend of Papa’s son, Shannon. Papa took him along with them fishing and hunting and mountain climbing. “Enjoy your environment, enjoy your land, enjoy who you are,” he told the boys. “You don’t want to live in paradise and not see it. You might miss it.” Encouraged, Bird went back beyond the reef, once again testing his heart on the waves. This time, he caught a wave, and it changed his life, instantly. “It wasn’t just about surfing,” Papa says. “It was about them knowing who they

are, as Polynesian people, and enjoying the ocean, and enjoying the land, and enjoying what their ancestors have left behind for them, and remembering that and not losing face of who you are in a world in where we wear masks and try to be something else. Don’t be shy to be a Boonga. We should be proud to be Polynesian people; the things that our ancestors accomplished, their blood, their spirit, is still in you. It’s in every Polynesian young person. I think if they learn that, then they will have more pride in themselves.” And that is how the Boonga Boys began. “To us, Boonga was like a boys thing, a group — that’s our name, that’s our crew,” Bird says. “But we found out the real meaning of Boonga and we accepted it after that. It’s how we live, and look after each other. Family.”

Part of living is that sometimes life will slam you. To surf the waves outside Rarotonga’s reef is to feel pain and fear — the scrapes and bruises from the reef, the sheer panic in the long moment between the wave spitting you out and the impact of rock on skin and bone. “It brings something inside of you that you haven’t felt before,” says Bird. “Like the feeling of fear. You have a split second to decide what you will do…When you drop in and ride just one wave, it will tell you what kind of person you are.” The Boonga Boys, who now number around a dozen, have been documented extensively on video. If they have a single defining characteristic as surfers, it is joy. They appear as pure spirit, unleashed, at one with their place in the play of things. “We were an ocean-going people,” says Papa. “If this is as close as we can get to it, and enjoy the thrill, then that’s part of it. That’s part of being Polynesian. We invented that sport. It is part of who you are, and there is nothing wrong with being who you are. Education disagrees with that; they try to make you somebody else. They tell you to forget who you are. Our young people grow up yearning to be who they are; they are going to tattoo themselves and try to regain their identity. The future Boonga will be highly intelligent, university graduated.


It’s already begun. They love their culture and they embrace the white man’s culture, and the conclusion is a better off person.” “Suffer it all, and spit out the rubbish,” he adds. “That is the Boonga attitude.” Nine years ago, the Boonga Boys suffered a loss. One morning after a surf one of the boys, Peter Pokipoki, took off on his motorbike to Matavera. A truck towing a boat trailer was backing out onto the road and he didn’t see it in time and collided. He lost his leg. He was immediately flown to New Zealand for medical care. He was gone for a year. Peter lived through some dark days that year. When he slept, he had a recurring dream about riding barrels. Then he would wake up and remember, all over again, where he was, and what had happened. He was far from the ocean, and from his brothers, and he didn’t know if things could ever be the same. But he is a resilient lover of life. His spirit returned. Even the nurses at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland were drawn to his buoyant charm. “The nurses gave me cakes and Playboy magazines on my birthday,” Peter says. “I met a lot of patients throughout my stay, because they were down. I used to be like that, after it happened, but now I am out of that. So I am happy I’m still alive.”

When he returned to Rarotonga, the Boonga Boys wasted no time in getting him into the water. Shannon had his gear. Peter tucked his prosthetic leg in the bushes. Papa, who Peter calls “like my second father,” had come to the beach and was shocked when he saw the leg poking out from the hedge. “He thought it was a dead body,” Peter says, laughing. “Go, bro,” Shannon told him. “Get back out there.” As the water coursed over him and opened back up to the sky, he thought of his dream in the hospital. “That was the first time I actually remembered how I was, back before then,” he says of the first wave. “And I think that is what the dream was: don’t worry, you’ll get back to it. Just relax, recover. It will always be there.” The boys were protective. Ina Katu, of Aitutaki, remembers how people looked at Peter. “It was pretty sad at first, because a lot of people stared at him,” he says. “It wasn’t nice. We always had to carry him into the water.” But the boys also told him: get over it. For a while, he tried surfing with a covering on his leg. “‘You got one leg,’” Bird recalls telling him. “‘You can’t change it.’ So he ripped the whole thing off, and you just see that steel. And it looks cool.”

What Bird told him next came straight from the gospel of the Boonga Boys. “Feel proud,” he said. “Be yourself. And no regrets.” Anybody, Bird says, can be a Boonga Boy. “If we saw a white man walking down the beach and he just caught an octopus, we’ll straight away say, ‘That’s a Boonga right there. He knows how to survive.’ You catch a wave — ah, that’s a Boonga right there,” Bird says, with a giggle. There is no strict definition. “It’s like everything you do with your life, pretty much,” Ina says. “If you are in need of some cash, you go pick mangoes, or coconuts, and sell it to the tourists, or the restaurants...You go fishing and even if you can’t sell it, give it to the locals. It’s taking what nature provides, but not too much.” “That’s the island way,” Bird says. “Keeping our mana true, our culture alive. That’s the Boonga way on the land, the same on the sea.” Peter knows that Boonga means different things to different people. But like Papa, he has chosen to define it for himself. “In their language, I would say it means Polynesian nigger,” Peter says. “But in ours, I would say, ‘An island survivor.’” Mark McDermott

Photo by Tūrama Photography

​Romans 12:9-21 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality. 9

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 14

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: 17

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 21

We were able to print this magazine because of generous support from the United Nations’ Global Environment Facility. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was set up by the United Nations to fund projects that help protect the environment. A national administrator based at the Cook Islands Red Cross building in Tupapa manages the GEF Small Grants Programme. Here’s how it works: A youth group, village, or community organisation wanting to do something good for the environment submits a proposal for a project worth up to US$50,000. The National Steering Committee makes a decision. If your project is approved, the money comes, the project gets done, and the world becomes a better place. For more information, visit sgp.undp.org.

We are grateful also to the Cook Foundation, the Cook Islands National Youth Council, and Minister of Health Nandi Glassie for contributing toward the cost of printing. We couldn’t have made this without our contributors—the talented photographers, writers, and artists who rallied around the project because they love these islands. If you want us to make another Lokal Magazine, please consider donating to lokalmag. org. All donations will go directly toward production costs. Forest Stewardship Council certification gives customers the option to choose forest products like paper and wood that have been sourced in an environmentally-friendly, socially responsible and economically viable manner. FSC was founded in 1993 in response to concerns about deforestation.