Translating Aotearoa


Open editorial post

My Language tells the world who I am (part 3)

This is the last instalment of Fanaura’s account of her mother tongue means to her. She is one of our longest standing Cook Island Maori translators.

The many dialects

Each island of the Cook Islands, with the exception of Atiu, Mauke and Mitiaro, as well as Manihiki and Rakahanga, have their own dialects, particularly of verbs and adjectives.  The exception of course being Pukapuka with a language totally different from the rest of us, but it is called Maori.

Map of the Cook Islands
The many islands of the Cook Islands

Here for example is the translation for the English words “speak”, “talk”, “converse”:

Rarotonga = tuatua, komakoma

Aituaki = autara, autaratara

Mangaia = koma (I think!)

Atiu, Mauke, Mitiaro = araara

Manihiki, Rakahanga = kauta

Penrhyn = akaiti (the ti has a si sound)

Pukapuka = talatala

Here is another example of a translated English sentence:

“Thank you very much indeed.”

Rarotonga = Meitaki maata ua atu ei.

Aituaki = Meitaki atupaka ua atu ei.

Mangaia = Meitaki ngao ua atu ei.

Atiu, Mauke, Mitiaro = Meitaki ranuinui ua atu ei.

Manihiki, Rakahanga = Meitaki (I’ve forgotten!) ua atu ei.

Penrhyn = Meitaki ua atu ei.

Pukapuka = Atawai wolo ye manaki (ye is pronounced with a ‘th”)

Naturally therefore, with my Mum and Dad, it was the Aitutakian dialect for us, but away from them, especially during the 5 years when my Dad was sent to Rarotonga to study at the Takamoa Theological College, it was the Rarotongan dialect for me at school, at play, when swimming with friends, at Brownies/Girl Guides, at Sunday School, and so on. So during our 5 years in Rarotonga, I spoke 2 dialects, Rarotongan and Aitutakian.

If one of the 3 of us unwittingly used a Rarotongan word, e.g. “akara” (“look”) instead of “akatau”, the other two would start laughing and mocking and teasing the now shamed person!  This went on all the time with me and my parents which made sure for me that I did not lose my Aitutakian dialect while we were in Rarotonga.

However, my father did tell me very firmly, that speaking in Aitutakian at a gathering of the people of Aituaki was fine, but at meetings of the Cook Islands people, I must speak in Rarotongan as that is the dialect that everyone understands.  Our Cook Islands Maori Bible is written in the Rarotongan dialect.

So all my life, I have used the Rarotongan dialect when needed, which includes of course doing translation work into Cook Islands Maori, otherwise, it is Aitutakian for me all the way!

My language tells the world who I am (part 2)

Fanaura, one of our Cook Island Maori translators, shares what her mother tongue means to her and why she works as a translator. Here’s the second part of her account.

From that day when my mother instructed me never to speak but Maori when we were together, as well as with family members and friends whenever I met them, what she said has remained with me, that my language determines who I am, and it identifies me from my friends who spoke a different language.  I was also able, and still do so today, to express Picture of a carved wood figure from the Cook Islandsmyself for who I am through the many songs, hymns, chants, legends, quotations of my Maori heritage, and so on and so forth.

Today, while the older generation of Cook Island Maori people are holding fast to our mother tongue, our first and most important means of identity, very sadly, the younger generations are lacking in the desire to be of the same calibre.  In particular are those who are married to other ethnic group members and therefore find it easier to use English to communicate more easily within their family circle.  This includes my own two sons who have Papa’a (English) wives.

As for the many publications which I have translated for the Department of Internal Affairs, I was determined to make sure that what I translate will be understood clearly and easily by our people, so they are not left confused because of the use of a wrong word, or incorrect spelling, or a badly constructed sentence.  I do translation work and will continue to do so, for the joy of knowing that I can do it to the best of my ability for the sake of our people, rather than for the amount that I am paid for doing it.  Money comes and goes, but one’s language is only kept within one’s life, when you hold on to it with pride and joy.

We celebrated our “Epetoma o te Reo Maori Kuki Airanai” in Tokoroa by having a variety of activities including:

  • a special Cook Island Maori church service held at 9am on Sunday 3 August, to declare the “Epetoma” opened for our church, the St. Luke’s Pacific Islands Presbyterian parish, before the usual main combined church service at 11am;
  • Cook Island Maori language lessons taught at Tokoroa High School by one of the Cook Island Maori teachers who teaches at Tokoroa High;
  • public performances by the two secondary schools of Tokoroa, Forest View High School and Tokoroa High at their schools as well as by our two Cook Islands Maori ECE Centres or “Punanga o te Reo Maori Kuki Airani” (Fortress of our Reo Maori Kuki Airani);
  • displays and sale of Cook Island Maori arts and craft and umu cooked food at the St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church premises;
  • a special closing Cook Island Maori service on Sunday 10 August with a special feast following the service.

There were other celebration programmes as well conducted by the much older generation of our people, which were to be expected, but the ones done by the young ones were the ones I was taken up with as one of the means of helping them to hold on to what is totally and completely theirs.

I will continue to do all I can to help make sure that my Maori language which tells the rest of the world who I am will remain for generations to come, despite the very drastic forecast that many languages are doomed to be lost in the future.

To be continued…


My language tells the world who I am

Fanaura, one of our Cook Island Maori translators, shares what her mother tongue means to her and why she works as a translator. We will publish her account in several parts.

Kia orana kotou katoatoa i te aroa maata o to tatou Atu Akaora ko Iesu Mesia.

Greetings to you all in the precious name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Old stamp from the Cook IslandsI consider myself an extremely lucky person considering the fact that from the very early age of 12 years (in 1952) I found myself alone with over one hundred English speaking children and teachers at St. Mary’s Diocesan private boarding school, in Stratford, Taranaki.  There were also 5 Samoan and 3 Tongan students at the school, but I was the only Cook Island Maori student.  It was to be expected therefore that English was the only language of communication for me, not being Samoan or Tongan.

Most fortunately for me however, my father and mother were also in New Zealand for two years so that my father could attend a further 2 years of theological studies at what was then the Mt. Eden Congregational Theological College in Auckland.  My father had completed the required 5 years theological studies in Rarotonga, but the Head of the national Takamoa Theological College who was from England, decided my dad should come to New Zeeland and do 2 more years of study.

I was lucky because with my parents in Auckland, I was allowed to go and stay with them during the school holidays.  All Pacific Island students in those days had to go with friends from their school “to help further improve their English”, according to the Department of Education in Wellington!

While at St. Mary’s, it became a habit for me to keep correcting my friends at school whenever they mispronounced a NZ Maori word, or the Maori name of a town, of a person, and every Maori word pronounced incorrectly.  When the May holidays arrived, it meant a long train ride from Stratford to Auckland.  And of course, all the way I would quickly correct my school friends when they kept mispronouncing Maori names of the towns the train went through.  We eventually arrived at Auckland and there my mum and dad were waiting for me!

On our way in a taxi to the Mt. Eden Theological College, I was bubbling over with all I had to tell my Mum and Dad about the school, the boarding house, the freezing temperatures of Stratford, the teachers, the Anglican church we attended every Sunday and so on and so forth.  I had barely started chattering however, when my mother firmly put her hands on my knee and said to me in a very stern but quiet voice, “Look, he [pointing to my Dad] is Maori, I am Maori [pointing to herself], and you are Maori [pointing to me!].  When you go back to where you have just come from, you speak to them in that language.  When you come back to us, don’t speak to us in English.  We are Maori and we have our own language.  I don’t want you to speak to us in that other language but in our own Maori language!”

That lesson from my mother over 62 years ago has remained with me ever since.  The fact that I was the only Cook Island Maori student at St. Mary’s for the one year I was there before I was sent on to New Plymouth Girls High School, where again, I was the only Cook Island Maori student with a huge number of boarders at “Scotlands”, the boarding house, and even more at school, as well again as a lot more Samoan and Tongan students than there were at Stratford, did not deter me from keeping my language through reading my Maori Bible and singing songs and hymns to myself.

To be continued…


Blog at

Up ↑