Cook Islands Maori language endangered
New Zealand's Cook Island language week has prompted community leaders to call for urgent intervention over the declining number of Cook Island Maori speakers.
New Zealand's Cook Islands language week has prompted community leaders to call for urgent intervention over the declining number of Cook Island Maori speakers.
Four times the number of Cook Islanders live in New Zealand than in the Cook Islands but only 13 per cent say they can speak the language.
The Cook Islands High Commissioner to New Zealand, Tekaotiki Matapo says a joint initiative between the New Zealand Government and Cook Islanders is needed to preserve the language.
Daniela Maoate-Cox reports.
Hundreds of Cook Islanders took to the stage in Porirua, Wellington, to celebrate the country's third annual Cook Islands' Language week.
But for the majority of those performing, their knowledge of Cook Islands Maori doesn't extend beyond the song they're singing.
Out of the 61,000 Cook Islanders living in New Zealand only 8,000 can speak the language. Whitireia college dance teacher and Pacific Dance artist in residence Tuaine Robati has spent decades teaching Cook Islands youths. He says language week is a reminder that New Zealand born Cook Islanders are increasingly disconnected with their heritage.
TUAINE ROBATI: It's through the language that I know my culture so the loss of language, we'll be lost as a people. I think the challenge for us is that our average Cook Islander is too busy working to put bread on the table and that really takes the priority and I think we seem to have lost the cause why we migrated to New Zealand. For better education, better life, we've just got caught up in the living.
Mr Robati fears the language will become extinct unless the New Zealand Government steps in.
TUAINE ROBATI: We are part of the realm countries, Niue, Tokelau and the Cooks and already, 20 years ago those three languages were identified as being at risk. I don't really see what the New Zealand Government has done to take that on board and I think the language week is great but I actually think it's just a piecemeal, it's just to keep people quiet and keep people happy.
National MP Paul Foster-Bell represented the foreign affairs minister Murray McCully at the Cook Islands Constitution day celebration held in Wellington during language week. He says the week, which finished on Sunday, was about showcasing New Zealand's diversity.
PAUL FOSTER-BELL: It's not going to necessarily sign people up to life long learning in the language. I think it's really important that people are able to learn their language so having those options available is great but I don't think we should be forcing people into it and I think a language week is a profile raiser but it isn't pushing people towards something they might not be comfortable with.
But for the Cook Islands High commissioner to New Zealand, Tekaotiki Matapo, the language week has highlighted the serious need to take action now.
TEKAOTIKI MATAPO: Maybe we'll need to get a language commission or something but there is this concern among the leaders here that everybody likes to dance, to sing, do they really understand the meaning of the song? Doubt it. It's certainly very important so we're gonna seek help whether it's from the Maori, or the Government or where ever, I think there's got to be some concerted effort in setting up the language commission mentioned.
Tekaotiki Matapo says a committee has been formed to review the language week events and formulate strategies to conserve the language. But without collaboration between the New Zealand, and Cook Islands government's Mr Matapo says the language is unlikely to reach the remaining 87 per cent of Cook Islanders in New Zealand who cannot speak Cook Islands Maori.
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