Pacific Leaders and delegates traveling to the Cook Islands for the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting (PIFLM52), can expect a warm and colourful Polynesian welcome during the PIFLM52 opening ceremony to be held on the evening of 06 November 2023 at the National Auditorium in Rarotonga.

The islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki have been a hive of activity over the past few weeks, as the island nation with a population of just over 17,000 people prepares to welcome Pacific Leaders and their delegations for the week-long meeting.

More than two-hundred Cook Islanders, consisting mostly of students, have been working hard to perfect their welcome routines to showcase an opening ceremony that Pacific Leaders and their delegations will remember. PIFLM52 Culture Coordinators Tereapii Tumutoa and Uirangi Bishop, along with their team, have been finalising loose ends for the ceremony.

“Firstly, let me say that as Cook Islanders, we are looking forward to welcoming everyone to our beautiful country,” said PIFLM52 Culture Coordinator, Tereapii Tumutoa. “The opening ceremony will be a showcase of our proud and lively Cook Islands culture, our people, and a coming together of our Pacific cultures and Forum family. For example, the sounding of the conch shell, which signals the arrival of someone very important will be prominent at the start of the ceremony, to signal the arrival of all our very special guests.

“Throughout the different stages of the opening ceremony, we will also showcase our Pacific voices through Cook Islands drumming, our vaka as a means of connecting, and our shared voyaging DNA as Pacific people. Chants from different parts of the Cook Islands including the north to the south, showcasing our identity, have also been woven into the ceremony.”

Scheduled to take place at the National Auditorium, the opening ceremony shines the spotlight on Cook Islands youth, with the event open to the public.

In recent weeks, and directed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) in partnership with the Ministry of Education, schools and volunteers from within and beyond the government have been part of preparatory sessions learning about the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) community, as they gear up to showcase their learnings and cultural identity during the opening ceremony.

“At the heart of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific continent is the health and well-being of our Pacific People, our oceans, and our lands through our faith, our cultural values, and our traditional knowledge,” said Tumutoa.

“These inter-generational Pacific values must be nurtured within our children if we are to ensure the security and prosperity of our Pacific people into the future. We want our students to be excited about our Leaders gathering for PIFLM52. It is their voices that will reach our Leaders and resonate across the decisions our Leaders make that will guide the future direction of our Pacific. At the forefront of these decisions is the health and well-being of our Pacific people and our youth, who are the Leaders of tomorrow.

“The opening ceremony will also showcase the Pacific Islands Forum evolution and the passing of knowledge from generation to generation,” Tumutoa said. “If we look back at the history of the PIF Secretariat and our Cook Islands contribution through the late Albert Henry, and all contributing Leaders of our Forum, including the present day, we have much to be proud of. We want to highlight the spirit of our Pacific leadership, aspirations and service through the years.”

Rehearsals for school students for the opening ceremony will start next week, with students participating at mid to lower levels due to seniors’ student exams scheduled in November. The doors for the opening ceremony will open at 5pm to welcome guests to be seated before the event starts at 6pm.

The 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting will be hosted in Rarotonga, Cook Islands from 6 – 10 November 2023, with the Pacific Leaders Retreat to take place in Aitutaki. The theme of the PIFLM52 is “Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way: Promote, Partner, Prosper.”

The PIFLM52 will bring all Pacific Leaders, donors, partners, and special guests to talanoa and promote genuine Pacific Partnerships that will ensure the resilience and prosperity of our Pacific people.