Tag Archives: Rachel Reeves

COOK ISLANDS BY RACHEL REEVES

Cook Islands. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Rachel Reeves, the author of ‘Mātini: The Story of Cyclone Martin’, gives her recommendations.

Visit the island of Atiu

I’m partial to the outer island of Atiu, which is where my grandmother comes from. It’s an island of 500 people about 45 minutes by plane from Rarotonga. It’s known for spectacular caves and wild pigs and the tumunu, or the local watering hole – a thatched-roof hut where you drink homebrew from a coconut shell.

Experience the imene tuki

There are few things more spine-tingling and arm-hair-raising than hymns sung at church in the Cook Islands. They’re a capella harmonies resounding with indescribable Maori power. Go to church on a Sunday – wear something nice that covers your knees and shoulders, and take some loose change.

Eat umukai

Food prepared in the earth oven. I don’t even know if you can sign up for this as part of a tour – but make some friends!

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A CHAT WITH… RACHEL REEVES

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.

RACHEL REEVES

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.

‘MĀTINI: THE STORY OF CYCLONE MARTIN’ BY RACHEL REEVES

‘Mātini: The story of Cyclone Martin’ is a chronicle of the tragic events that took place in the Cook Islands in 1997. It was written by Rachel Reeves, a young journalist from California whose paternal heritage derives from the island of Atiu.

MATINI

Summary

For the inhabitants of two small villages of Manihiki Atoll, November 1st has begun just like any other Saturday. It is the end of pearl harvesting season, so the farmers are quite busy with their usual chores. The sea is high, but people aren’t overly concerned. It is, after all, the time of year when storms are the norm. And Cyclone Martin is said to be nowhere nearby.

But then something changes. Coconut trees start to fall down. Fish are found lying on the ground – in places, where they aren’t supposed to be. There’s rubbish everywhere. Within hours, Manihiki is hit by the series of waves. The Islanders know that Mātini has officially arrived.

Review

Rachel Reeves was commissioned to write this book by Cook Islands News and the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust. She was given seven months. Only seven months to research and deliver a finished story. She managed to do just that. The result? A masterpiece, pure and simple.

‘Mātini’ is not a pleasant read – a chronicle of such tragic occurrences can never be considered enjoyable – and yet it’s impossible to put it down. Although written in a journalistic manner, there’s magic at work here. I must admit, in all honesty, that Rachel Reeves has a gorgeous way with words. Her cinematic approach makes every single scene unveil before your eyes. You don’t just imagine Manihiki during those dark days in November, you feel as if you were actually there. Everything is incredibly vivid, and you can’t help but be moved by this emotionally-charged narrative.

Especially that the story is told through the eyes of Cyclone Martin survivors. The author shares the accounts of people who experienced ‘waves tall as the coconut trees’; who experienced fear, helplessness, and unimaginable despair. The disaster changed the lives of all Manihikans. But for some of them, particularly those who lost their relatives, it was the most agonizing night ever. The Islanders’ exceptional courage, willingness to fight, refusal to give up must be admired. Not once do they express their resentment towards God or Mother Nature. Most of the atoll’s residents don’t blame the Cook Islands government either. They accept that natural calamities happen. They say it is the price of living in paradise. However, in the case of Cyclone Martin not everything can be explained so easily.

Apart from being a heart-rending record of one of the worst catastrophes in the Cook Islands’ history, the title is also an extremely valuable educational resource. It is a manual on what not to do that should probably be read by every aid agency worker and every government official that deals with disaster management. Although the author makes no accusations, she closely examines the performance of those responsible for dealing with emergencies. She documents mistakes that were made. And she raises questions: Could the cataclysm have been averted? What could have been done differently? Who should have been held accountable? What steps must be taken in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future? The book doesn’t provide clear-cut answers, but it sparks ideas that will hopefully incite discussion.

‘Mātini’ can’t be praised enough. It is an exquisitely written, embellished with incredible photographs and beautiful illustrations piece of non-fiction literature. It gives hope. It enlightens. It makes you think. It reminds you to appreciate your blessings. It memorialises those who survived Cyclone Martin, and those who didn’t. It is a book of remembrance that should be treasured. Superb, absolutely superb!

Ms Reeves, chapeau bas!

BEST BOOKS ABOUT COOK ISLANDS

‘Cannibals and Converts: Radical Change in the Cook Islands’ by Maretu

This is probably the best book to read if you want to learn about the Cook Islands’ past. Written by Maretu in the Rarotongan language (translated into English by Marjorie Tuainekore Crocombe), it tells the story of the archipelago immediately before the arrival of Europeans.

The author wonderfully describes how and in what ways the Westerners changed the local culture, and how the native inhabitants had to adjust to the new order established by those who had suddenly appeared on their shores. Fantastic, enlightening publication well worth your time and attention!

‘Mātini’ by Rachel Reeves

In 2014, Rachel Reeves was commissioned to write a book that would document the stories of Cyclone Martin survivors. She was given seven months. And she created a masterpiece.

‘Mātini’ is a detailed account of the tragic events that took place in the Cook Islands on November 1st, when the tropical cyclone nearly destroyed Manihiki Atoll. Although the author portrays the catastrophic occurrences in a rather matter-of-fact manner, the book is deeply touching and emotional. It is also extremely thought-provoking and surprisingly revealing. Simply put, it is a true gem you should have on your bookshelf.

‘Don’t Walk Under the Coconuts’ by Robert Borden

I don’t think any other book conveys the tranquil atmosphere of the Cook Islands better than Robert Borden’s memoir. His words paint a vivid picture of Aitutaki, where Robert and his wife Mary Lou used to spend the winter months.

If you wish to experience life in the tropics – get to know the locals, discover their culture, ‘do’ what they do every single day – this is a perfect title for you. It will transport you to one of the most beautiful places on planet Earth the moment you start reading the first chapter. Fantastic way to enjoy the Cooks from the comfort of your home!

‘The Book of Puka-Puka’ by Robert Dean Frisbie

This is a classic of the South Seas genre and a must-read for anyone interested in the Cook Islands. Samoa had Robert Louis Stevenson. The Cooks had Robert Dean Frisbie.

‘Ropati’ knew the archipelago probably better than any other sailor that has ever visited it. His wonderful memoir about the years he spent on the atoll of Puka-Puka is not only an extremely entertaining piece of literature but also a gold mine of information that offers detailed, often humorous descriptions of island life in the Pacific. The book was written in the 1920s, but some of the Frisbie’s observations are still relevant today.

‘Miss Ulysses from Puka-Puka: The Autobiography of a South Sea Trader’s Daughter’ by Florence Johnny Frisbie

Robert Dean Frisbie’s book is a classic, but his daughter’s autobiography – although incomparably less known – is equally worthy of note. Written from a young girl’s perspective, it shows a different side to life in the Cook Islands.

In this fascinating memoir, Florence Johnny Frisbie tells her version of the story. It is simpler than her father’s, definitely not as thorough and sophisticated. And this is exactly why it makes for such an unusually interesting read. Puka-Puka may be just a small atoll. However, for little Miss Frisbie it was a whole world packed with delightful adventures… Just try to imagine how delightful her reminiscences are.