Aue`anga Ngakau - Silent Tears. The impact of colonisation on traditional adoption lore in the Cook Islands: Examining the status of Tamariki `Angai and their entitlements
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The traditional adoption practice of tamariki `āngai was widely practiced in the Cook Islands by our ancestors. Tamariki `āngai is the highest respected gift that anyone could ever give to a close relative. Commonly a grandchild is gifted to his or her grandparents by their biological parents as their way of honouring their parents. It is a traditional custom which was exercised well before the colonisation of the Cook Islands. This study focuses on the colonisation of the traditional adoption practice of tamariki `āngai and examines the status of Cook Islands tamariki `āngai on the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Of particular interest are the contributing factors and reasons for a child to go through the tamariki `āngai practice and how the papa’a (non-Māori) adoption law, as a result of colonisation, has influenced the status and entitlements of tamariki `āngai. This study also looks at the traditional allocation of inheritance, land and traditional title entitlements of the tamariki `āngai. In the pre-colonial era, having a large family in a tribal setting was paramount for survival purposes, for food gathering, hunting, providing security to the tribe, and multiplying the population of the tribe through child birth. Accordingly, the traditional practice of tamariki `āngai was a means of ensuring heirship within the tribe and embracing inter-tribal sharing of children to mark allegiances with each other. The tamariki `āngai practice endured even after the introduction of non-Māori legislation to formalise the arrangement through the Land Court as stipulated by the Cook Islands Act 1915. The influence of non-Māori customs may have contributed to the modern perception and interpretation of the adoption practice. Subsequently, family disputes over birth rights, land rights and other entitlements is a result of the overlap of the two adoption frameworks. The field work data was gathered from in-depth interviews and represents the views of the participants and traditional advisors. ‘Silent tears’ depicts the sensitiveness of the adoption practices especially when the adoption of non-blood related children were allowed through legislation and is often a topic that most families avoid open conversation about. The tamariki `āngai practice is traditionally an open arrangement, yet some choose to keep it a secret which often haunts them later in life once the child discovers the truth. This study explores the perceptions, views and experiences of several tamariki `āngai, it provides insights into the adoption experience, and identifies those characteristics which support and sustain tamariki `āngai. This approach contrasts with the papa’a literature on adoptions because the tamariki `āngai experience is embedded in Cook Island Māori cultural beliefs and practices.