Cook Island Maori language under threat

Knowing the language is central to understanding your identity as a Cook Islander, says Pastor George. Photo: Mr Bullitt, wikipedia_commons
Knowing the language is central to understanding your identity as a Cook Islander, says Pastor George. Photo: Mr Bullitt, wikipedia_commons

The number of Cook Island Maori speakers are declining.

Pastor Nagarima George, a community elder in the Cook Islands, blames the Ministries of Culture and Education and believes that it is their job to promote and preserve the language.

The language is taught in schools in the Cook Islands, but Pastor George doesn’t think it is that effective. “They have programmes, but maybe it’s not functioning well,” he told the cookislandsnews.com.

Over 60,000 people identify themselves as being of Cook Island Maori decent in New Zealand. Ninety-one percent of them speak English as their first language. Twelve point eight percent speak Cook Island Maori. This number has decreased by 3.3 percent from 2006 where the total Cook Island Maori speakers were 16.1 percent, according to stats.govt.nz.

The figures are similar in the Cook Islands with a substantial portion of locals speaking English as their first language.Women are more likely than men to speak both English and Cook Island Maori.

The general age group of speakers is between 30 – 64 years old.

Cook Island parents are not encouraged to speak Te Reo to their children. Others were taught growing up that being able to speak Te Reo would not get them a reasonable job and were discouraged from learning.

Hearings and land court disputes are all done in Cook Island Maori.

Knowing the language is central to understanding your identity as a Cook Islander, says Pastor George.

“It’s very important that every Cook Islander comes to know who they are, where they come from and where they’re heading,” he says.

Pastor George is developing a dictionary of the Manihiki dialect, one of five dialects still present in the Cook Island language.

For Cook Island Maori language classes, check out these sites below:

www.facebook.com/cookislandreoclass

www.pacificislandeducation.co.nz

www.arts.auckland.ac.nz

Romana Trego