Why the dispersion of our Cook Islands Culture is important - A taboo act.
By Jasmine Samuel-Mata 08/01/2020
As an Australian born Cook Islander, 80% of my upbringing was nothing to what my parents had experienced growing up as a Cook Islander back home. I am grateful to be raised in a country where I have been thrown opportunities I may not have been handed if my parents did not make the decision to move here over 40 years ago however I have always had no sense of belonging within communities here in Australia (that is not until I became heavily involved with our Cook Islands Culture)
One rarely guesses my cultural background. I am always mistaken as a Filipina woman and on other occasions people have asked whether I am Thai or Spanish. When I explain that I originate from the Cook Islands, none are knowledgeable of where the Cook Islands is situated so when I elaborate that the Cook Islands is an island located next to Tahiti and Bora Bora, the first comment made without hesitation is "but you don't look like an islander". At others times I have to describeour traditional dance as being very similar to the Hawaiian Hula just to help individuals better understand where I come from and who we are as a people. I know when concluding these conversations I am dishonouring both cultures.
At times these misinformed comments frustrate me but I do not blame people. Neither am I aware of what your typical island or Cook Islands woman is supposed to look like nor do I know what better describes our culture other than describing it as being similar to another's culture for one to understand. My approach on this is to ensure that one day, my children and grandchildren will never have to be asked such questions nor would they be involved with tainting our history. I hope that one day they will never have to describe our dance as being similar to the "hula" because in many ways we are rewriting who we are as a people. Sure hula is similar to ura but it is distinct as is ura.
I am confident that through our Cook Islands dance and the practice of our Cook Islands Culture worldwide we will be able to proclaim that "we do exist". We are such a minority, this may be one of the only methods (besides tourism) that will shed light on our tiny nation!