Posted by: Carol | April 25, 2009

ANZAC Memorial Day

2009 South Pacific

cbparker_d700_20090425_tetautua-038It’s Monday morning and Rod and Geraldine have hitched a boat ride across the lagoon to the big city of Omoka (population about 150) for propane and shopping, leaving Mike and I alone on Raven to recuperate from our whirlwind social obligations of the past few days!

First thing Saturday morning we were hailed by returning village fisherman in their boats, coming in with their catch of tuna and offering us a fat yellowfin as a gift. Since we so far have failed to catch one of our own, this was greeted with great enthusiasm by the tuna fans on Raven! The Cook Islanders may not be quite so enthusiastic about tuna as we are as their diet consists almost solely of fish, rice and coconut. With the supply ship only showing up every 6 months or so the only island store sells out of all the imported stuff in just a few days.

And each time the supply ship departs, some 50-100 Penrhyn inhabitants are on board, abandoning the island way of life and heading towards the big city of Rarotonga about 800 miles away, and from there most likely on to New Zealand or even Australia – for work, college, medical treatment, etc., so that the population here is dwindling rapidly and the majority of houses in the two towns sit vacant.

Saturday was ANZAC Day, dedicated to the memory of Australian and New Zealand armed forces lost in World War I and wars thereafter. The Cook Islands are a protectorate of New Zealand and Cook Islanders were among the soldiers killed in combat. We were invited by our newfound host, the health inspector, to attend the church service and ceremony in the village.

cbparker_d700_20090425_tetautua-040We gathered first at our host’s home, dressed appropriately we hoped, us girls in skirts and tops that covered our shoulders. Turns out however that hats were also required, so we were loaned a couple of frilly concoctions. All the village ladies wore festive, flower bestrewn woven hats, quite suitable for an Easter Parade! The men were dressed formally with jackets and ties – something we don’t keep aboard Raven for Mike and Rod.

Once wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, kids and babies were organized we all strolled off together to the church where we waited outside the doors until beckoned to enter by the ringing of a bell. The church is some 100 years old and quite lovely inside, with a ceiling of solid mahagony(?) wood, planked and carved, Victorian chandeliers, lace covered pulpit, stained glass, and open windows allowing fresh island breezes through to keep the occupants cool. Once seated, we could hear marching band music start up outside, and a contingent of uniformed flag bearers – men and women in uniform and a gaggle of little kids – made their way across the plaza and into the church where the flags were fastened in place at the altar.

We sat through an hour-long sermon accompanied by a great deal of singing, all in Cook Island dialect except for some words of welcome to us, the visitors, in English. The singing is beautiful – Polynesians must all share enormous vocal talent for so few to make such a lovely chorus.

cbparker-d700-20090425-tetautua-044.jpgSermon concluded, the flag bearers formed ranks again and led the congregation out of the church and back across the plaza to the community meeting hall. Amidst ceremony a flag was raised and a wreath placed, the little kids in the parade staring up at the flag with mouths open and big round eyes. And then we all took our seats in the meeting hall for tea, coffee and sandwiches and a chance to meet and greet. My time was mostly spent chatting with Flora, principal of Omoka’s school, who spoke flawless English and remembers with great enthusiasm spending the year 2006 in Camden, South Carolina, teaching on an international teacher exchange program.

Another courteous speech by the minister welcoming us as visitors to the village, and eventually Geraldine and I turned in our pretty hats and we all retreated back to Raven for a change of clothes in preparation for the afternoon’s scheduled activity.

More to come!


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