Rongomatane Ada Nicholls
Ariki of Atiu Island, Cook Islands
My dad comes from Atiu and my mum comes from Rarotonga. They had six children: four girls and two boys. I’m the eldest child. I was born in 1948. I went to primary school in Atiu.
From the age of six, I started going to meetings with the villages and chiefs on Atiu. I went with my parents. I just sat there and listened because at that age I didn’t have a say. Sometimes I got bored and ran away to play with the other kids. Usually, I followed my parents and saw what there were doing. Back in those days, my brothers and sisters weren’t that interested in attending all the meetings.
I was in the Girl Guides and went to sunday school. I went to college on Rarotonga. In 1966, I was chosen to be the Green Queen to raise money for the Inter-Island Pacific Games. When I left school, I became a shop assistant. I applied to work in the Philatelic Bureau where I worked until 1978. After that, I joined the Government in the treasury department. I was a clerk there.
In 1972, I was invested as the Ariki (Paramount Chief) of Atiu Island: one of three Ariki on the island. I was only 24 years old. At the beginning, I would ask my Uncles and Aunties for advice on the role of the Ariki. When I first sat in the House of Ariki all the other Ariki were very old.
Being the Ariki involves a lot of hard work. I have to go to lots of community meetings on Atiu. My role is to take my people’s concerns to the Island Council and to represent them there. I am a member of the Island Council but I do not have a vote. I also attend lots of church meetings. The role of the Ariki is unpaid, I work because of my love of the people.
In 1972, I also got married to Ernest from Aitutaki. In 1974 we moved to Aitutaki. I worked for the government there. We got married in 1978. We have two children: a boy and a girl.
We moved to Atiu at the people’s request in 1984. Since then I have always lived on Atiu. I worked for the Island Government in the treasury department while my husband was the Senior Public Health Officer. As the Ariki, I went to lots of church, community and island meetings. I joined the National Council of Women in 1984. In 1985, I had my daughter and that was another job.
I became President of the House of Ariki, a position I held from 2007 until 2009. In the House of Ariki, I think women can have a lot of power. It’s the men who nominate the women for the role of President.
In 2012, I became Patron of the National Women’s Council. I want to continue to serve my people and work with the National Women’s Council.