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Cook Islands puts its unique culture on show for Pacific Islands Forum opening ceremony

opening ceremony of the 52nd Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting

Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS — The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders Meeting opening ceremony erupted with song, dance and the fierce drumming performances involving hundreds of Cook Island children on Monday local time.

The green carpet made of woven coconut leaves was rolled out for Pacific leaders. They were welcomed in waves — four by four and were greeted at the entrance by Cook Island Prime Minister and Forum chair Mark Brown.

All 18 Pacific States are being represented this year and for the first in the Forum's history, the UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis is attending, alongside more than 500 delegates.

Host nation Cook Islands proudly served up its best performers including 200 local primary school kids, who held nothing back. Those present could see and feel every ounce of spirit and mana during the Cook Islands welcome.

One of the culture leaders from the island Ma'uke leading the Atiu team, Lotiola Mateariki, almost lost her voice after giving her all in the performance.

"I am so proud, privileged to the organizers to give us a chance to perform. We are unique, we are from the outer islands," Mateariki said.

The Cook Islands is made up of 14 outer Islands outside of Rarotonga and Mateariki said it meant a lot to have representation from smaller islands for this big event.

Inside, the ceremony hundreds of locals joined leaders and delegates for more performances, traditional songs. The Cook Islands national anthem was sung, and a prayer was said for the Christian nation laying a foundation for the week to come.

Foreign Affairs Minister Tepaeru Herrmann fought for the forum to be held in the Cook Islands and said it has been an effort of the entire nation in the lead up.

"What you will not see is those who have been working volunteering for weeks now to spruce up our roads, trimming trees."

She said it was "a whole of nation contribution not just in Rarotonga but in Aitutaki as well so we can be proud of the hosting we deliver over the next week."

She honored the memory of the forum's founding father, the late Albert Henry.

"He was well known for saying 'no one in the tribe is left behind'. That continues to serve as a reminder for Cook Island leaders in how they lead and serve."

During his opening speech, Cook Islands Prime Minister and Forum chair Mark Brown said, "it's time for the Pacific to stand tall in the global arena and deliver for pacific people."

Over the course of the week, leaders will be discussing climate change funding, security, visa-free travel to New Zealand and Australia, regional economic development, a possible moratorium on seabed mining and even the Gaza-Israel conflict.

Brown said the spotlight will be on Pacific nations — not the global superpowers.