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LANGUAGE OF THE ISLANDS
A Papa'a's Guide
 
Missionary, James Chalmers
COOK ISLANDS MAORI is sometimes called Rarotongan after the capital island and it's the most widely spoken version of maori.   It's estimated that about 42,700 speak it.   That includes islanders on Atiu, Aitutaki, Mitiaro, Mauke and Mangaia where they have their own accent and a few of their own words. 
Least spoken is PENRHYNESE which is unique to the Northern Group island of Penrhyn and is rapidly disappearing.  It's also spoken - after a fashion - on Palmerston Island where it's mixed up with words from the Gloucestershire accent of England.    More of this below.
PUKAPUKAN is more like the Samoan language than Cook Islands Maori and is completely unintelligible to most other Cook Islanders.  Remarkably though, there are more speakers outside Pukapuka than on the Northern Group island.   It's estimated 2,300 people are fluent, with the majority in Australia and New Zealand.  Until December, 2007, there was no known written form of the language.   The very first work to be created was a translation of the Bible's New Testament which is still only in a draft form.
 An example of Pukapukan:  Ata wai wolo = Thank you
Pukapuka from the space shuttle
Pukapuka
Still without any written form though is RAKAHANGA-MANIHIKI which is spoken by about 2,500 Cook Islanders, only half of whom live on the two islands from which it takes its name.   The rest are in New Zealand.   Speakers of Cook Islands Maori can understand some of it, but not much.
On the remote island of Palmerston, only English is the official tongue, and has been since William Marsters settled there from his native Leicestershire in the 19th century.   But lingustics experts say that to this day there are still remnants of an English Midlands accent in the words and the way they're spoken.  Find out more
ENGLISH WITH A TWANG!
William Marsters
A papa'a is a foreigner - the word literally means four layers of clothes and refers to the way missionaries used to dress.  James Chalmers from Scotland (left) was one such missionary who arrived in Rarotonga in 1867 and spent the next 10 years of his life working there.

These days, the four layers are optional, and definitely not recommended!  And unlike in Chalmer's time, you will find almost everyone you meet is happy to speak to you in English, unless you venture to the most remote northerly islands.

However, according to the authoritative Ethnalogue.com, there are still five living languages in the Cook Islands. 



LEARN THE LANGUAGE ON LINE
Cook Islands Maori can be tricky, but Tairi and Neita Maoate from New Zealand (pictured above) have made learning the language as easy as possible.   They've created a series of lessons on line, each of which is no more than 5 minutes long.  There are 10 new words in each lesson, so after less than an hour's work, you can have a vocabulary that provides you with  basic communication skills.   You need to register, but there's no charge and I can't recommend their non-commercial site too highly.     Click here to go to the registration page

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Kia orana = Hello
(literally, "may you live long")
Aere ra = Goodbye
Meitaki = Thank you
'Ae = yes
Kare = no
Tane = man
Vaine = woman
Manea = pretty/handsome


Mataora = happy
Kai = food
Teia ra = today
Apopo = tomorrow
Ra = sun
Marama = moon
Moana = ocean
Maunga = mountain
'Ura = to dance


SOME USEFUL WORDS
Just as in other countries though, there are local variations of Cook Islands Maori. 
How you say thank you very much is a good example.   
Meitaki maata becomes...Meitaki ngao on Mangaia.  Meitaki atupaka on Aitutaki.  Meitaki polea on Penrhyn.
Meitaki nui on Mauke.

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OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: ENGLISH AND COOK ISLANDS MAORI