Cook Islands Language Week: John Kiria
John Kiria (JK) is a familiar figure in the Cook Islands community, with no need for an introduction due to his deep involvement in Cook Islands traditions. He takes pride in sharing his heritage, enlightening us about his efforts to preserve and sustain the language and culture.

Tell us where do you hail from in the Cook Islands?

Kia Orana – I hail from the Kingdom of Aitutaki and Rakahanga. My mother is from Rakahanga and my father is from Aitutaki. Aitutakian culture has always been part of our life from chanting, drumming, singing, and so on. It was passed on from my grandfather to my father and then to us siblings. One of my older brothers Tamarua is a master drum maker. So it has played a huge role in my upbringing.

We have started to learn and embrace my Rakahanga culture on my mother’s side.


Could you share a cherished family tradition or cultural practice from your Cook Islands background that you hold close to your heart?

One of the many family traditions I cherish is supporting families in times of need – from funeral services to weddings, and family events. For example, for weddings, we take cartons of chicken and kinaki (taro/cassava) to support the wedding and also support food preparation as well.


Food is often a significant part of any culture. What is your favourite traditional Cook Islands dish?

Banana poke and Mayonnaise with raw fish is my favourite.


What is your favourite Cook Islands proverb, quote, verse, song etc?

My favourite pe’e – Ano mai au ia ara tuitui, ia ara pukupuku ia ara ko makemakea, Nga niu kake tu ia a Tonga e a Tokerau, tana tu’itu’I ko te ka ia o tana a’i – ei ai marama no tatou e taku iti tangata. This means, “I came through valleys, difficult pathways, and challenging seasons, two palm trees - stand one in the North, one in the South. The seedling candle nuts gathered to determine the brightness of your torch, let your light shine bright for my people.”

Favourite verse: Psalms: 116:12 – Eaa taku ka akaoki kia Iehove no tona ra takinga meitaki kiaku nei. What shall I render to God for his goodness to me.


What role does the Cook Islands language play in preserving and passing down the cultural knowledge and values of your homeland?

It plays a tremendous role, like how I do it every weekend with performances for events like birthdays and weddings. I teach my dance team (Anuanua Performing Arts Troupe) the reo, drumming, and traditional songs to keep our culture alive here in NZ.


It’s ura piani time, what do you do when someone asks you to dance?

Show the crowd how fast you are at learning how to swing those hips and move those legs after watching how it’s done. Participation is the key, it’s not a competition, but give it a go.


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