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  • Mouria Ngati Au

Letter to the Editor 30.08.19

A Letter to the Editor of the Cook Islands News in response to the Cook Islands Party's hypocritical appeal to the authority of "traditional leaders".

Dear Editor,

“Our traditional leaders have spoken” was the caption the CIP recently posted, sharing an article via Facebook in which Tupuna Rakanui stated the Ui Ariki supported water Chlorination. I’d like to remind them just how “traditional” they are:

In 1893 Frederick Joseph Moss published an article with the Fortnightly Review detailing his observations of Rarotongan society. In 1894, Moss again published an article, this time with the Journal of the Polynesian Society, focusing on Rarotongan polity. Moss’ source was an ariki named Manarangi who held the title Makea Vakatini after his father, Te Pou. At the time of the LMS’ arrival at Rarotonga, Manarangi was himself a young man. His perspective is exceptional given his direct knowledge of pre-1823 Rarotonga.

Moss’ record regarding native polity exhibits a remarkable degree of impartiality despite the fact Manarangi was an ariki, whose insights lack a distinct “ariki-centricity” apparent in the views expressed by future Ui Ariki, heavily influenced by the fact that ariki were considered a species of “king” and afforded privileges of authority by missionaries and colonial administrators beyond what native custom bestowed. Col. Gudgeon lamented the fact the ariki “[had] been taught to regard [themselves] as king by divine right”. This artificial narrative of the ariki led to an attempted coup in 2008. A significant portion of the Ui Ariki attempted to dissolve parliament and establish themselves as “Hereditary Kings and Queens… Sovereign Heads of State and Native Sovereign Proprietors of the Cook Islands” ex officio. Ultimately a failure, the Ui Ariki withdrew their “Royal Proclamation to the World” and took up their constitutionally appointed role as the House of Ariki.

In their 1977 recommendations to Parliament, the Ui Ariki rejected Moss’ statement that “The Mataiapos are the most powerful class. Their Families have held the land from time immemorial” instead asserting “the land belongs to the Ariki”. According to the Ui Ariki, all other taonga are subordinate, mere satellites caught in the gravitas of the artificial “kings” and “queens” of the Cook Islands. Moss’ record of Rarotongan polity is but one source of evidence which sharply contradicts this characterization and challenges the distribution of rank and power of taonga today.

Mouria Ngati Au

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