The Noni Tree

During our trip to the Cook Islands we were introduced to Morinda citrifolia, the noni tree. It bears about 50 flowers and creates a very unique looking fruit of a cream color. If your unsure of whether the plant your looking at is a noni, just take a nice whiff of the fruit. It is known for its repulsive cheesy smell. Although it is called the noni tree, it is a true shrub, ranging from 15-30 feet tall. The leaves are a dark green glossy color with vibrant veins.

Noni plant

Noni tree fruit.

This plant is known for it’s many medicinal purposes such as; treating bowel disorders, arthritis, allergies, healing burns, stings and most significantly Ciguatera fish poisoning. These are just a few of the many examples that were given regarding the healing powers of this incredible plant.

The Dancing

One thing that I thought that was truly amazing about our time on the capital island (Rarotonga) was the big dance competition they had.  I thought it would have been a lot more fun if we could have seen some more of that or to learn a quick little routine or two.  I really thought it was beautiful.  Anyone can learn a lot about someone’s culture by the dancing, the music in their air, and the objects people take the time to craft by hand.  I would have loved to have stayed on the capital island for a few more days and to learn more about our host nation that way.

I thought that it was cool to see the many different kinds of dances and songs.  At first, I had a hard time telling if there was a different style of dance going on from dance to dance.  However it soon became clear that there were two broad categories of “dance” that I could distinguish;  one was “sitting” and the others were “standing.”  The mostly sitting variety was cool in its own way.  More solemn and soulful in my opinion.  These pieces also escalate as it progresses.  A piece would often start at a normal pace but then seem to pick up the pace after a little bit.  Towards the midpoint one of the women would stand up and start to dance a little.  And by the end of the dance something like three or four women would be energetically dancing around.  These would also follow a defined arrangement with all the women sitting and the men standing behind them, clothed in Aloha shirts/flower print full-length dresses.

The other broad category of dances had everyone standing throughout the entirety of the dance.  These seemed to be more of the typical dances that one would associate with the Hawaiian Islands or greater Polynesia.  Or with any other island nation for that matter.  It was all very cool to see.  I just wish I was able to learn more about these awesome traditions from the local people.

Sunday is a rest day

On Aitutaki, Sunday is a day of rest for everyone.  Except for 2 places 🙂  All of the stores are closed and most people spend the day with their families after morning religious ceremonies.

This morning some of the group accompanied the professors to one of the local churches and the rest of the group stayed to enter our first round of official data.

This afternoon Aspen, Vanessa and I are resting at the beach near the Boat shed to enjoy the afternoon off.  Tomorrow will be back to work!

I must be back in California…

Our New Orleans trips have a “getting home to SoCal” tradition.  Once we land at LAX (usually late at night), we hit the In-N-Out on Sepulveda for some burgers (preferably Animal Style) and fries.

Having just returned the good Dr. Lambrinos to LAX for his connecting flight up to Oregon I decided to make the ceremonial stop at the reigning temple of SoCal fast food culture.  This happened even though my family had just satiated John and me with drinks and food for the past few hours on a balcony in Manhattan Beach while we passed the hours of his layover.

Tradition are traditions afterall…Although it would have been nice to have one final pow-wow here in SoCal.


Went to church yesterday. It was really cool to see all the locals get into it. To me it seemed to to be and older crowd, 60’s and a few people that were younger like in 30’s with a few kids in side. The church that we went to was catholic. There was a lot of sitting and standing. The service in general seemed like any other service that I have been to. However the singing is what made the whole thing amazing. It was mostly relatively loud and soulful. These people truly believe in what they are singing. The priest gave us a very brief history about the church for the visitors. The two things that really stuck in my mind was that the church was the first church to be made in all The Cook Islands and that it took 10 years to complete it. Seeing the inside and outside I can totally believe it.

The inside was so beautiful. The inside was mostly white and a few with few colored tiles that were around the lights and the windows were mostly stain glass. They weren’t exceptional stain glass windows. They had the four main colors melded together to make it. However just the simple fact that they had it there in the 1800s was an extraordinary feet. The place where priest stood was also spectacular. There was just so much to look at during the service. It is hard to describe. I would have loved to see another service someday.

Take Me To Church

CSUCI, OSU, and PML visiting the first church in the Cook Islands.

CSUCI, OSU, and PML visiting the first church in the Cook Islands.

Sunday is taken quite seriously on Aitutaki and every other island across the Cooks.  No (or very little) work, the shops are closed, and you are expected to get on over to church.

Christianity is deeply rooted across the culture and day-to-day life here.  With none of us having been to the Church of the Cook Islands, our faculty and students took this opportunity to check out what was reputed to be one of the most musical masses in the islands.  And we were not disappointed!

The Church we attended was the first Christian church founded in Aitutaki and the oldest Christian community in the Cook Islands.  This was also one of the first permanent, modern buildings here on Aitutaki, built in 1836 by Reverend John Williams, his lieutenants, and early flock.  From its 1826 Cook Islands inception with the touching down of Fijian believers arriving on Aitutaki, Christianity spread to nearby islands.  After establishing a Christian community on Aitu, Reverend Williams was finally given correct directions to find Rarotonga and begin his conversion efforts across Rarotonga.  This paved the way for the conversion of the entire island chain.

Pastors over time

Pastors over time

Cook Islands Church 08-02-15

Only End of Day Three

Since arriving to the Cook Islands, I have been blown away by the beauty of the land and surrounding ocean, the friendliness of the locals, and the differing culture. The crystal clear water and the dense vegetation of both islands we have been on seize to amaze me. They are sites I have only seen in movies or on social media. No filters needed on the pictures I am coming home with because nothing can enhance the raw beauty of these islands. Also, the local people here are more than welcoming, and it is refreshing to see people so connected to their culture. Their passion is quite prevalent here; it makes our stay really surreal. Being at the 50th anniversary of independence celebration (Te Maeva Nui), I was taken aback by the power behind the drums from music and the traditional clothing worn during the dances.

It is only day three of this amazing trip, which blows my mind because we have already done so much. I am looking forward to the rest of the time here. Rarotonga was amazing, but I know the duration of our time spent on Aitutaki will be filled with research and will be just as adventure filled.

Celebration Night #2

Another day of poor Internet connectivity but great goings on!

We started today with an island cruise off of Muri Beach where we got to see some giant Tridacna maxima inside protective cages.  Individuals were brought over from Aitutaki (and they were not native there, but that’s a story…). The cages are more of a demonstration of what is possible.  In fact we actually got to see a predated clam thanks to a hungry octopus who got into the cage.  We finished up with lunch and a demonstration of coconut tree climbing by the world champion coconut tree climber, were instructed how to husk and open coconuts, how to properly tie a sarong, etc.

We then headed over to TIS’s new Marine Park Visitor Center and got the update on the efforts to implement their Marine  Park vision.

After some tasty dinner from outside the National Amphitheater, we are headed in to see the second night of the 50th Anniversary Independence Day dance and song celebration.

(We will post pictures when connectivity is better). 

Looking Forward

Going on this trip to the Cook Islands, I am most looking forward to the overall experience I will be getting out being given this opportunity. First, I am not a very experienced traveler, so I feel like the traveling on this trip better prepares me for future endeavors where large traveling is required. Also, I am anticipating the “way of life” out of the islands. I cannot wait to just take in all of the societal norms of their culture, as well as be there for their 50th year anniversary of independence. It is an honor to be able to observe and be a part of such as significant celebration that many others will not get the chance to see. Likewise, I am excited to be doing research out there, especially as an undergraduate. I am very much looking forward to doing hands-on studies and being able to say that I did field work out on the Cook Islands. In addition, I will be taking this trip with one of my best friends; I am really excited to share this kind of opportunity with someone close because it will only make our friendship even stronger.

When thinking about the trip, I am curious to experience their culture. I am very inexperienced when it comes to foreign countries and their lifestyles; therefore, I am eager to be immersed in such a different culture for two straight weeks. I am interested to learn more about the marine protected area the Cook Islands established, too. It would be interesting to know how much the average resident there knows and cares about the MPA, as well as how involved they are in the MPA. Moreover, I am interested in learning about the dynamics of any research that they are trying to do on the islands that is not heavily influenced or involved with outside sources, such as our CSUCI group. I am curious to know if they are trying to do any analyses on local biotic and abiotic factors, even if it happens to be unorthodox or outdated methods.