Written by Tauraki Rongo
This year’s Cook Islands Language week theme will continue to explore into the 2021 theme.
Atutui’ia au ki te oneone o toku Ui Tupuna – Connect me to the soils of my ancestors.
Over the years our theme has changed continuously, and while it was good for exploring words or phrases that arose from it, we never delved deeper than the surface. But as for the number of Cook Islands Maori speakers across New Zealand and across the world, our language-use has continued to decline.
As it is today, only 9% of those who identify as Cook Islanders in New Zealand and across the world can speak the reo. Over 80 percent of that total across the globe resides in New Zealand, which means if we are serious about revitilising our reo, we need not look further than Aotearoa. It is also interesting to note that while this 80% includes Cook Islanders born in New Zealand, this percentage includes the elderly and those fluent in the reo.
Sadly, there are more language speakers in Aotearoa than there are in the Cook Islands.
The 2022 theme is merely bringing to the fore the voices of the youth and of those who know very little about their heritage, on that they are a ‘Cook Islander’. The hope here is that by knowing our heritage, the youth and those desiring to speak the reo would have a reason to learn their reo.
Language is not just about the reo, it is our culture, our way of life and who we are. The challenge today is, how do we make it attractive to those who don’t speak it? And why should they speak it?
While the theme is the voice of the next generation and those who don’t speak the reo, it is also for to those who speak it, to realise that they have a precious gift that they need to share.
The way to lift the number of speakers is through everyone working together. Teachers, leaders and all those who speak the reo need to realise that the teaching of the reo today needs to be purposeful for the leaners.
The theme therefore is another way of encouraging Cook Islanders to reach out to their parents and surviving relatives to find their heritage and which island/s they come from. Sadly today, even some old people who has the language and have come across from the islands do not know their heritage. At least when one knows his or her heritage, he/she will have some sort of support when one day they decide to stand for the land against certain economic development activities.
One activity that will be part of the 2022 week of language celebration is the a workshop to develop language revitalisation plans for each region.
We look forward to learning from our regions, and hopefully with those learnings, create our next steps going forward!
Connect me to the Soils of my ancestors!
Atuitui’ia au kit e Oneone o toku Ui Tupuna
I teia mataiti