The Forum meeting took place from 6-9 November, 2023. Three days were spent on Rarotonga and two on Aitutaki where the leaders delivered a communique directing the regional work of the Pacific Islands Forum for the next year. Climate change and deep sea mining were among the challenging issues discussed
As the motorcade of leaders arrived at the National Auditorium for the opening ceremony they were welcomed by three warriors and the sound of conch shell (pu) which is a traditional way to signal the arrival of visitors. Each warrior represented one of the three pillars that unite the nation - the government (Te kavamani ), traditional leaders (To te Enua) and religious leaders (To te evangelia). 100 students representing schools around Rarotonga formed a guard of honour and Cook Islands chants from across the Northern and Southern groups echoed across the auditorium. Prime Minister, Mark Brown then led the formal welcome and the joined in some of the energetic dancing
Photos: Pacific Islands Forum Facebook page
The theme for the Forum was "Our voices, our choices, our Pacific way: Promote, Partner, Prosper". The rallying call to delegates is a traditional one: “Te Moana Nui a Kiva, Kia Rangatira”. The Cook Island aspiration is summarised on the Forum's website."together we will create a shared inheritance – an implementation plan fuelled by Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity that will provide for our Pacific people today and long into the future"
Prime Minister, Mark Brown chaired the event and reflected on its importance...
"As a founding member of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the Cook Islands remains deeply committed to a united region, guided by our 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent vision for our future. A vision of a resilient Pacific Region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity that ensures all Pacific people can lead free, healthy, and productive lives"
Alongside the forum, an 'Adopt a Nation' programme included an eight week curriculum for school students to learn more about the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent
Photos: Pacific Islands Forum Facebook page
A lump of black potato-shaped rock was among the parting gifts for the leaders and it was a controversial choice. The rock is actually an example of a nodule of multiple metals which the Cook Islands wants to mine from the seabed despite international calls for a moratorium on such mining. Prime Minister, Mark Brown and his government are in favour of the mining depending on exploratory studies now underway because the nodules could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.
But it's an issue which is dividing Pacific nations. The president of French Polynesia, Moetai Brotherson who attended the forum was shocked to find it among what Brown called items of "cultural and unique significance to the Cook Islands". Brotherson is among those strongly opposed to the mining and he told business leaders on Rarotonga: “This is the cradle of life, and we don’t want to be guinea pigs. We’ve been guinea pigs for the nuclear tests, and we don’t want to be guinea pigs for deep-sea mining if it goes full scale before the technology is ready.” Photo published by Cook Islands business journalist, Nic Maclellan
The panel design in the logo draws inspiration from Te Moana Nui a Kiva traditional art of ‘tapa’ (hiapo/siapo/masi/ngatu) making, moenga (jaki-ed/ 'ie tōga/ whāriki) weaving, and storytelling through symbolism and patterns.
From the official 2023 Forum website
What were dubbed ‘Kia Orana baskets’ woven from palm fronds went into the rooms of the leaders at the Edgewater Resort. Each contained his and hers pareus, soaps, oils, playing cards and dried bananas.
Delegates also received a special NZ$10 coin minted by the Philatelic Bureau similar to this NZ$5 one which went on general sale
The beauty of Aitutaki and its lagoon stunned the Forum leaders when they travelled there for closed discussions on One Foot Island. Each of the country representatives was also invited to plant a young tamanu tree. Cook Islands Prime Minister, Henry Puna said it was a symbolic gesture to drive home the importance of discussions about the environment
Forum VIPs received highly prized Tiare Maori and ara (pandanus fruit) eis which were specially created by Mauke businessman, Taratoa Metuariki and flown in from the neighbouring island for the opening ceremony
US Secetary of State Hillary Clinton led the highest powered American delegation to the Forum in its 41 year history. Hundreds turned up at Rarotonga airport to greet her. As she made her way to a session with the regional leaders at Trader Jacks, she did a U-turn to greet three American nuns who called out 'God bless America'.
Prime Minister, Henry Puna presented Mrs Clinton with a necklace of Manihiki black pearls and a pair of matching ear studs set in white gold. They were a departing gift from the Cook Islands Pearl Authority in gratitude for her support of the country's marine conservation initiatives
Photo credits: 52nd Pacific Islands Forum website, US State Department, Cook Islands News and Reuters