Rachel Reeves is a journalist whose paternal heritage derives from the island of Atiu in the Cooks. In 2014, she was commissioned to write a book that would tell the story of Cyclone Martin. This is how ‘Mātini’ came into existence. If you want to know more about this wonderful title, just read the interview.


Pasifika Truthfully: ‘Mātini’ is not your ordinary non-fiction book. It tells a powerful and unbelievably tragic story. Why did you decide to write it?

Rachel Reeves: I was commissioned to write this book by Cook Islands News and the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust, whose board includes cyclone survivors who wanted their stories recorded for two reasons – for the sake of their offspring and for the betterment of disaster management in the Cook Islands and the greater Pacific Islands region.

PT: So you were chosen as the author. How did that happen?

RR: I have no idea! By the grace of The Big Man Upstairs. I owe the opportunity to John Woods, who was my editor when I worked as a reporter for Cook Islands News. When the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust approached him about what it would take to publish a book, he suggested me as a possible writer. He then trusted me to deliver on deadline even though I absolutely did not trust myself.

PT: Your paternal heritage derives from the Cook Islands. How personal is this book for you?

RR: Very. My grandma’s from Atiu, not Manihiki, but the Cook Islands are part of me. Writing this book was for me about telling a particular story, but it was also about highlighting the nuances that make the Cook Islands and the Cook Islands people so special.

PT: Was it difficult to hear all those first-hand accounts from people who had been lucky enough to survive Cyclone Martin?

RR: Yes. I got sick a lot. I felt a lot of sadness and fought a lot of tears. But whenever it was tough I thought about how much tougher it had been for the people I was interviewing.

PT: Whose story moved you most?

RR: I can’t answer that. I felt every story in my soul. Watching big island men cry over lost children was emotional, but so was talking to people who were overseas when the cyclone hit and couldn’t get through to Manihiki when they tried to ring their families.

PT: You had a chance to visit Manihiki, didn’t you? Does the 1997 tragedy still linger over the Island of Pearls?

RR: There are psychological reminders and there are also physical ones – memorial plaques, new emergency shelters, cracked foundations, vacant buildings. Locals say there’s a sense of emptiness now that wasn’t there before. Before the cyclone, Manihiki’s population was 668. Today it’s about 250. Cyclone Martin wasn’t the only reason for the population decline – there was also the decline of the contraction of the black pearl industry, and the larger national depopulation trend – but many people believe it bears the greatest responsibility.

PT: You don’t collect royalties from this book, which is very admirable. Who benefits?

RR: The Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust. The trustees are Manihiki people who care a lot about their island and their people. Two are cyclone survivors.

PT: It can’t be denied that you are an extremely talented writer. Do you plan to write more? Is there a new book on the horizon?

RR: I’m still coming to terms with all of this! Writing a book has always been my life goal, and honestly I’m still pinching myself. But now that this one’s finished, I’m dreaming about – and also dreading! – doing it all over again.


5 responses to “A CHAT WITH… RACHEL REEVES

  1. Pingback: Press | Rachel Michele Teana Reeves

  2. To whom it may concern
    Firstly I’m emailing to acknowledge the writing of this amazing book ‘Matini’. Coming from a Manihiki / Rakahangan heritage, Iam so grateful that the events of 1997 has been printed. As painful it may have been, it serves as a reminder and a learning. The details from each survivor’s ordeal is so heart-wrenching, especially when it’s someone you’re related to.
    I was one of the many who couldn’t put the book down, I suppose a grown man can cry when its personal.
    I’m impressed that the writer ( Rachel ) remained unbiased, when there was many opportunities to point the finger.
    This book has heightened my values for my heritage.
    Thank you for ‘Matini’

    Secondly … I would like to ask of your take on writing a book about my father, the late Sir Dr Pupuke Robati.
    Please allow me to pitch … my reasons first, then you can tell me if its worth the print or not.
    Pupuke Robati is the son of a Preacher from Rakahanga. At the tender age of 9 his eldest sister died giving birth to his niece Timena, this loss triggered his pursuit to become a Doctor.
    At the age of 13 he left his family for schooling in Rarotonga, he graduated in 1943 winning the Pomare Medal. Being too young to attend University, he spent the next 2 years in a Teachers Training College. Then he went to Fijji to study Medicine, graduating in 1948.
    Returning home he was posted the same year to Atiu as the Islands Medical Doctor until 1955. Approached a few times before accepting to become a Legislative Member of Parliament for Rakahanga.
    He ventured on to NZ to complete his degree in Surgery, graduating from Otago University in 1966.
    Became the Cook Islands Director of Public Health in 1969, only to resign from the top post in 197?.
    His resignation was due to a Parliament change of law … that no Member of Parliament can hold a 2nd job, so he choose to be a Parliamentarian for the privilege of visiting his parents in Rakahanga every year. He was also involved in Boxing at a young age, later to coach many Cook Island medalist like Peter Marsters, Toro George, George Faimau Jnr and Richard Pittman.
    Held the Presidency of the Cook Islands. Boxing for over 2 decades, eventually got inducted into the Cook Islands Sporting Hall of Fame 2006.
    Held almost every political post, became Prime Minister of the Cook Islands 1987 -1989. The first from the Northern Group Islands. Unlike his father he wasn’t the religious church going politician, however he moved the motion that the Cook Islands be declared a Christian Nation and the Sabbath be recognised as a day of worship.
    He had many highs and lows being one of the longest serving politician of 38 years.
    Speaker of the Parliament House.
    Received and returned the Queens OBE Medal 1991 only to be knighted by the Queen with the KBE Medal in 2002.
    Most outstanding was when he intervened and authorised as Prime Minister to have the LDS Mormon Church to copy and photograph all land documents before the infamous Government Building arson of the Cook Islands. Unbeknown to many this act of intervention saved our history.
    Now this is my sales pitch, there’s so much more only time permitting.
    Title : To Sir from Rakahanga

    • Thank you for your nice words. Rachel is an extremely talented writer indeed.

      When it comes to your book, please contact me via email: pasifikatruthfully@gmail.com

      • Please accept my apologies.
        After reading Matini, I was thrilled that there’s a book about my home, culture and identity. My request of Rachel Reeves is a knee jerk reaction simply because she’s familiar with the culture and the people of Manihiki and Rakahanga.
        I didn’t intend to step on any toes.
        I would like to redirect my request to yourself about writing a biography of the late Sir Dr Pupuke Robati.

  3. I obtained “Matini” from the Henderson Library the day before yesterday and I have been glued to it ever since. My connection with Manihiki is that I lived and taught there for a time during 1960 and 1961 during a most impressionable period of my life. In fact my son was born there and his afterbirth was buried on the waterfront close to the wharf in Tauhunu. He has never been back but always hopes to one day.
    Reading the book brought back many many memories of the people I knew there and the places I went to over the period.
    I found the book both intensely sad and very uplifting as the events unfolded and I couldn’t but think how I would have coped had the same circumstances arisen while I was there. There was a bad storm one night and the lagoon rose to within a metre of our house and the waves washed from the ocean as high as the Tauhunu Church and that was only a storm. It is hard to comprehend the strength of Martin.
    My regards to any people who may remember me from those days and my best wishes to all those who live today on Manihiki.
    Dick Sm,ith

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