Kauraka Kauraka was born in the village of Avatiu, Rarotonga, the Cook Islands. Kauraka’s poetry reflects the interesting cultural roots of his heritage. His mother was a descendant of the Manihiki, and his father was part Manihiki, Mangaian, and Chinese. Kauraka went to New Zealand for his high school and college education and later went to Japan as a professional singer and musician for the Betela Dance Troupe. Kauraka graduated from the University of the South Pacific in Fiji in 1980 and became the language curriculum adviser to the Education Department in Rarotonga. He received his M.A. degree from the Anthropology Department in the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1987. He became a full-time writer retelling, translating, and writing stories of the Pacific Islands. Kauraka founded Sunblossom Press in the Cook Islands and devoted his life to writing about the richness of Polynesian cultural tradition.
Kauraka’s poetry reflects the ancient beliefs and traditions of his rich heritage. The images and metaphors in his poems are essentially Polynesian in nature. His talent for music shows distinctly in his poetry, which has a sing-song quality. Nature imagery (such as gardenias and coconut trees) and animal symbols (such as snakes, dolphins, and birds) constitute important elements of his poems.
In “Return to Havaiki” (1985), Kauraka uses the images of the ngoio (black noddy tern) and “great sky mushrooms” to reflect the natural richness of his Polynesian home, Manihiki.
Kauraka’s experiences while traveling also give his poetry a unique blend of cross-cultural elements that reveal his desire to share cultural complexities, especially those of Polynesia. He often questions the abandoning of traditional culture to embrace unquestionably the cultural practices of modern Western society. In “Darkness within the Light” (1985), Kauraka beseeches the New Zealan-der of indigenous descent not to forsake his traditional roots. In another poem, “Children of Manuhiki, Arise” (1985), he laments the powerful influence of modernity on the younger generation of Polynesians who no longer heeds the oral traditions of their ancestors.
Kauraka’s poems also bespeak the need to use the past to understand the future. All of these characteristics can be seen in the poems in Kauraka’s collection, Dreams of a Rainbow (1987), which he wrote when he was still a graduate student in Hawaii. His respect for the traditional past was most aptly described in “Po, The Great” and “Three Warriors.” In “Po, The Great”, he celebrates the power of Po, the parent of all mythical gods of the Pacific Islands; in “Three Warriors,” he personifies the three virtues of Polynesian heroes.
Kauraka’s most important contribution lies in his ability to create a dialogue between different groups of people. Through poetry, he establishes a platform on which the older and more traditional generation interacts with the younger, modern one. His poetry leads to a better understanding of world culture and interaction between not only two different cultures but also two generations within a culture.
Other Works by Kauraka Kauraka
Manakonako = reflections. Auckland: Mana Publications, 1991.
Manihikian traditional narratives = Na fakahiti o Manihikian. New Zealand: Te Ropu Kahurangi, 1988.
Taku Akatauira = My dawning star: poems. Suva, Fiji: Mana Publications, 1999.
A Work about Kauraka Kauraka
Simpson, Michael, and John Untfrecker. Dreams of the Rainbow: Poems by Kauraka Kauraka. Honolulu: University of Hawaii at Manoa, East-West Center, 1986.