It’s always great when undergraduate students get an opportunity to undertake research. This summer, Dr Emma Powell of Indigenous Studies had two young students helping with her look at the history and experiences of Cook Islanders in Dunedin as part of the ‘Akapapa’anga nо̄ te iti tangata project.
The following is an account from one of the students, Tiare Makanesi.
At the beginning of 2022, Emma Samuels and I had the privilege of working alongside Emma Powell on ‘Akapapa’anga nо̄ te iti tangata: Stories from the Cook Islands Community in Dunedin. With this project, we learnt more about the Cook Islands community in Dunedin and the journeys of our community from the Cook Islands to New Zealand. From finding Cook Islands dance troupes in the early 60s to learning about the Uki Tamariki Ou Cook Islands childcare centre that was set up in the early 2000s in Corstorphine, we gained a better understanding of our culture and how significant it is to the culture of Dunedin.
We spent most of our time scouring through an array of archives to create a foundation of knowledge to prepare us for our on-going community work. The Hocken was our most used archive where, with past papers and microfilm, we discovered many stories that captured beautiful Cook Islands values and parts of our culture.
One article that I believe expresses the importance of our ui tupuna (ancestors) was an ODT piece from 1993. Emma’s pāpā (grandfather) was interviewed during a study about why the majority of rest home residents are European. Pāpā Puka attributed living with his children as a common tradition practised throughout Polynesia. This custom shows how we treasure and continue learning from their puna (springs) of knowledge. We look after them as they did us. This article reminded us of how important it is to respect and care for those that raised us.
Another article that we came across was about a community leader, Pāpā Kōpu Rouvi, and his involvement within the Dunedin Cook Islands community since 1966! Papa Kopu served the community when bringing Cook Islanders from the Islands to Dunedin, supporting those that needed advice. He became a role model that recently arrived Cook Islanders could confide in. This year was the second year anniversary of his passing and Emma and I organised a gift for his family on behalf of the Otago University Cook Islands Students’ Association. The support and guidance he gave University students over the years was irreplaceable and we wanted to show our appreciation.
Emma’s part in this project has included project managing the Cook Islands’ community’s (Te Vaka Cook Islands of Dunedin Inc.) oral history project, funded by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Her time has been spent upskilling and organising so that the community can complete this project to deadlines and to the standards expected by the funder. Thoughtful communication, the importance of a plan B and taking that extra step for refinement are all things Emma has learnt and put into practice. Emma said this project was more than just researching for her. It was a special insight into a community that she loved being a part of. She has focused on organising an oral history workshop for the community with oral historian, Helen Frizzell, and others at the National Library, and she created an adjusted budget and plan for the project following the award in late 2021.
For Emma and I, it has been an extremely rewarding experience to delve deep into the histories of our Cook Islands community here in Dunedin. Although we are Dunedin-born and raised, we hadn’t grown up involved in Cook Islands events. This project has helped us reconnect with our culture in so many ways. We now have a wealth of knowledge and a kete (basket) of ideas to continue enriching the community through the Otago Cook Islands Students’ Association. The difficulty of uncovering this knowledge also inspired us to amend our association’s constitution to donate to the ephemera collection at the Hocken Archives every year. This will be a growing legacy of our footprints as Cook Islands students here at Otago University.
Emma and I are thankful for this opportunity to dig through the archives as we never would have without encouragement. We were rewarded with evidence of sports teams, church functions and cultural programmes throughout the archive. Not only was I fortunate enough to learn about my cultural heritage but also my family’s history. I am now more aware of my language, culture and how my grandparents experienced life when they arrived here. That was my favourite part of this project. It has allowed us to build strong connections within the community which is important when finding our identity. It really has helped us discover what it truly means to be a Cook Islander here in Dunedin.
We have the deepest gratitude for Te Vaka and Emma Powell for putting their faith in us to execute this research. We have gained many skills and experiences during our work and appreciate the responsibility given to us. We would like to thank Te Tumu and the University of Otago for allowing us to take a break from our supermarket jobs and fully immerse ourselves in such a rewarding “job”.