Remembering a national icon: Dame Margaret Karika Ariki (1919–2017)

Pacific Collection Manager Grace Hutton pays tribute to Cook Islands tribal leader Dame Margaret Karika Ariki.

Dame Margaret

Dame Margaret Karika Ariki. Photograph courtesy of Cook Island News

In 1996 while working at Te Papa I flew to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands to talk with Dame Margaret about her father, Makea Karika Pa George, D.C.M. I wanted to record an interview with her to find out what she could tell me about her father’s service to the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion in WW1. Sergeant George Karika was awarded the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while in command of a platoon”, the highest award to a Pacific person in WW1.

Dame Margaret told me that unfortunately her father never spoke about his time in the war to her or other close members of the family. Maybe Makea Karika Pa George, as with many of our Cook Islands men, only spoke with the men who they were with during the war. We know many of our men didn’t speak about their experiences during the war, and we are aware that it must have been a very harsh time for them all, so far from home.

Makea Karika Pa George

Makea Karika Pa George. Detail from Portrait of three soldiers: Pa George Karika, Iaveta Karika, and Piat M. Mani in greatcoats, with uniform hats, a swaggar sticks. Rarotongan soldiers. No known copyright restrictions. Photograph courtesy of Auckland War Memorial Museum

She was born Pauline Margaret Rakera Taripo in 1919. Her father acceded the Makea Karika Ariki title from 1942 to 1949, and at 29, Dame Margaret succeeded her father to the title on May 14, 1949 after his death. With her husband Ernest Taripo they had five children – Pauline, Tauira (Vira), George, Tiberio (Rio), and Annie. Dame Margaret had many grandchildren, as well as great, and great-great, grandchildren.

Dame Margaret was a long-time member of the Avarua Cook Islands Christian Church, an inaugural member of the House of Ariki as well as being a member of many community organisations. As a traditional leader she was conferred the title of Dame in the 2012 Queen’s New Year Honours.

From 1902 to 1922 Dame Margaret’s grandmother made land available to the Crown for public purposes and government buildings in Avarua and during her own lifetime she continued to honour the agreement. In 2004 she officially opened Rarotonga’s new courthouse. She valued, and was a strong supporter of, environmental causes in the Cook Islands.

She continued to be an honoured guest at cultural ceremonies and important events on the island, right up to her last days.

The Cook Islands and indeed the Pacific has definitely lost a national icon in Dame Margaret. She led Ngati Karika for 68 years, and as far as I know she was the second-longest serving leader in the world. Only King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand was the longest, serving his people for 70 years before dying last year aged 88. Queen Elizabeth is the third-longest serving monarch at 64 years.

Dame Margaret

Dame Margaret Karika Ariki. Photograph courtesy of Cook Island News

Dame Margaret was a wonderful role model for our people – one who served tirelessly, with great humility and mana. I feel honored to have stayed with Dame Margaret, and for her kind and generous welcome to me while in Rarotonga. In the short time I stayed with her I observed how busy she was attending many functions and community events, and many of the events she invited me to attend with her.

Aere ra e Metua Vaine, Dame Margaret Karika.

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Tepaeru Herrmann, Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration for her tribute to Dame Margaret, and Cook Islands News.

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