It is 2014, and I’m sitting at the Puanga Market in Avarua. Some of the locals are talking about the role of Cook Islanders in World War One. The tone is one of respectful remembrance. Many of our great grandfathers who returned did not speak about their experiences the horror and trauma of War — too much of a burden to share. An estimated 500 Cook Islanders and a significant number of Niueans served in WW1. This is a massive number for a country, which, at the last census, had a population around 15000. Most of them were in the Rarotongan Company, which served with the British in Sinai and Palestine as ammunition handlers.
Cook Islands commemorations in Porirua
It is ANZAC week 2015, and I am sitting in the Akapuanga Hall in Porirua at a Commemoration Ceremony. Names are being called out and descendants of those people are asked to come forward in remembrance of their tupuna. Most of us at some stage had been educated in New Zealand. There are questions. Why did we get involved? How were our people treated? Why were we not taught these things in school?
The impact of World War One on the Pacific Islands had a profound effect that still resonates today. It helped define how we Pacific Islanders viewed ourselves, and our relationship with the, then, British Empire, and New Zealand, its proxy in the region. It is essential to know this history if we are to understand who we are as people living in Aotearoa. From the legacy of the New Zealand occupation of German Samoa, and the subsequent inept administration in the post-War years — so appallingly inept that then Prime Minister Helen Clark apologised on behalf of New Zealand in 2002 — to the many who went, primarily from the Cook Islands and Niue, but also other Pacific nations including Kiribati, Tonga, and Fiji.
This history should be of interest to all who think it is important to understand our place here in the Pacific.
Enter the First World War project – a space that provides students with an opportunity to explore how the events and experiences of the First World War are relevant to today and the future, and support them to meet several New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa achievement objectives. Teachers can use these guides and resource packs to help students develop their own inquiries, and relate them to their everyday lives, communities, and aspirations.
Ka kōrero a Tinokura Tairea te wāhi ki ngā tāngata Kuki Airani i Te Pakanga Tuatahi o te Ao, tō rātou hononga ki Te Ope Māori me te whakarewatanga o Te Ope Rarotonga. Ka whakahoki mahara hoki ia ki ngā pānga o Te Pakanga Tuatahi o te Ao ki ngā moutere Kuki Airani me ngā tāngata Kuki Airani i Aotearoa.
The Māori-Medium side of the project has a specific theme relating to the Pacific. Themes include: ‘Understanding our place in the Pacific’, ‘The Occupation of German Samoa’, and ‘The Role of Pacific Islanders in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force’. It has a number of videos, student reference material, and teacher's notes that align with Te Anga Marautanga o Aotearoa. It should be of interest for those working in the Māori Medium sector who want to understand the role of New Zealand in the Pacific and how those events are relevant today.