07.03.2012 - UNESCO Office in Apia

Revival of Maori Language Commission in the Cook Islands

(c)Highland Paradise in Rarotonga

In Celebration of International Mother Language Day (22 February) this year, Hon. Teariki Heather, the Cook Islands Minister of Culture announced the revival of “Te Kopapa Reo” or Te Reo Maori Commission (Maori Language Commission).

The Minister formally re-appointed the former member of the Commission and Mr Sonny Williams, Secretary of the Ministry of Cultural Development, as chairman of the Commission.  Mr Williams, who is also member of the Cook Islands National Commission for UNESCO, said that the Commission faced a heavy task in preserving and promoting the Cook Islands Maori language. 

The Cook Islands government has been actively engaged with the preservation and promotion of Maori Language.  Between 2000 and 2005, the Ministry of Cultural Development conducted a project for recording and collecting oral traditions with support of UNESCO.  The researchers of the Ministry travelled to the outer islands to record oral traditions of Tumu Korero, or traditional orators, with a view to capturing their knowledge and wisdom expressed in Maori language before it was too late.  These masters with exceptional oratory skills were indeed a reservoir of knowledge and wisdom. The project was then extended to the orators residing overseas including Australia and New Zealand.

In 2003, the Cook Islands government adopted the Maori Language Act (2003), which recognizes the Cook Islands Māori as an official language of the Cook Islands. (http://www.paclii.org/ck/legis/num_act/trma2003130/).  According to Te Reo Maori Act, Maori means (a) the Māori language (including its various dialects) as spoken or written in any island of the Cook Islands; (b) is deemed to include Pukapukan as spoken or written in Pukapuka (The Pukapukan language spoken in Pukapuka island, one of the atolls in north west part of the country, is considered as a distinct language closely related with Samoan and Tokelauan languages); and (c) Includes Māori that conforms to the national standard for Māori approved by the Maori Language Commission.  Cook Islands Maori language is closely related to Tahitian and New Zealand Maori. 

Further, the Cook Islands National Heritage Trust developed a Biodiversity Database (http://cookislands.bishopmuseum.org/) that became online in 2003. This database compiles data on Cook Islands natural heritage and biodiversity amounting to 4,200 spicies including 2,500 with photographs.  The database has search functions for Maori related entries. 

Mr Williams said that the priority of the Maori Language Commission are to create a national standard by managing a database (http://www.maori.org.ck/index.php) of all words in all reo Maori dialects and to devise new words which describe elements of modern culture and of foreign concepts. The goal is to make this interactive database available not only for people in the Cook Islands but also for Cook Islanders overseas. 

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