Rarotonga Island, Cook Islands
My name is Tuerei Taimai, most people call me Mama Tu. I was born in Atupa on Rarotonga in 1935. I am the daughter of Mareta Teariki Kokama and Teremoana Hirovanau, the third child in our family.
I was educated at St Josephs Catholic School in Avarua. I left with my Elementary School and Junior Typing Certificate. In those days there was no other school certificate. My aim was to be a nurse but that didn’t happen. I left school at 16 years old to help my family.
My first job was with the Cook Islands Trading Company collecting customer dockets from the shop, preparing their end of month statements and delivering them back to where each customer worked. I spent two years there and then I moved on the United Island Traders where I was a wage clerk. After that, I worked for the Scott and Watson Factory as the pay clerk for 232 workers.
In 1955, I married Ngati Tetonga. We have eight children. In 1974, our third daughter died when she was just 14 years old. In 1959, I went to New Zealand for a holiday with my husband and oldest daughter. We ended up staying there for 40 years. My first job in New Zealand was as a typist for Customs. The work was similar to what I had done in Rarotonga but the pay was better. In 1964, we moved from Wellington to Lower Hutt City. I got a job as a copy typist and later became pool head typist. I moved on to a role with the Railway Workshop to help out Pacific Island labourers mainly from Tokelau and Samoa with worker safety rules.
In 1976, the Pacific Island Women’s Conference was held in Auckland organised by Paddy Walker. She encouraged Pacific Island women to help our people and told us we had talent and had to use it to get involved in what was happening. My first project after the Conference was to set up a branch of the Pacific Lower-Hutt –Women’s Pacific Island Support Group.
Throughout the Pacific, I helped to push for community houses in Pomare where lots of Pacific Island people and Maori people were living in state houses. We wanted to get a space where mothers could get together with a nurse and a doctor holding a clinic there once a week. We also pushed for the Petone Community House, for a Wellington Pacific Island Resource Centre and a Lower-Hutt Community and Learning Centre.
In 1987, I left the railways and moved to join the Lower-Hutt City Council as a community worker. My manager there had created the roles of Pacific Island Community Officers and Maori Community Officers. My first project in this job was to organise a Pacific Island Forum. There are six islands and we wanted each one of them to form a group so they could be represented in Council community meetings. Language was a problem; all the Pacific Islanders were lumped together. I kept saying that there are many groups and that I could only represent the Cook Islands.
I represented the Pacific Islands on the Area Health Board from the top of Wellington down to Nelson. We visited these areas once a month. I was also on the Social Welfare Steering Committee and on the Executive Committee that established the Ethic Council. I pushed for recognition of the Cook Islands with the creation of the Hutt Valley Cook Islands Association and advocated for the inclusion of Cook Islands Studies at Victoria University as well as Cook Island and Samoan languages.
Outside of work, I was active with the Cook Island Sports Association. I was involved with the Lower-Hutt Pacific Resident Women’s Project to take action against women and child abuse. Through that I was on involved in the Women’s Centre for Pacific Island Women, the PTA and the Police Committee. The arts have always been important to me so I was also on the Lower Hutt Arts Council. For the 50 Anniversary of the Lower-Hutt Council we organised a display of arts and crafts from the Mamas and Papas.
In 1990, I was awarded the New Zealand Commemeration Medal. In 1993, I stood as a Labour Party Candidate on the Lower-Hutt City Council. I was also attended the Labour Party New Zealand National Conference as a member of the women’s group. In 1996, I was awarded an Member of the British Empire and became a Justice of the Peace.
In 1997, my husband and I came back to live in Rarotonga. Here I have been involved as a driver for the Are Pa Metua and a member of the National Council of Women. I left because of my husband’s ill health. He passed away six years ago at the age of 81 years old. We had been married for 51 years. I was a member of the Petone Multictultural Church where I taught sunday school . I am now an elder in the Matavera Cook Island Christian Church and in the women’s group. I have 18 grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Today I am once again a member of the National Council of Women and Vice-President of the Are Pa Metua.