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Cook Islands TikTok creator champions Kūki 'Airani through love of food

goat curry

Auckland, NEW ZEALAND — As we celebrate 'Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani 2023, one content creator is aiming to preserve the language and culture through food videos on TikTok showcasing Cook Islands cuisine.

Hailing from the islands of Rarotonga, Mangaia and Manihiki, Auckland-based creator Delphilius Archer is known for the cheeky anecdotes that voice her popular cooking videos.

But her journey of sharing kai (food) online began a little differently — not speaking at all in any of her first few videos.

"I started off with aesthetically pleasing videos, chill music with no voiceover, that kind of vibe - but it wasn't quite getting the story that I wanted to tell.

"I was like 'If I was a person looking at my account, how would I show myself, you know? How do I show the community who I am?' Then I thought; I'm an Islander. I love all the food that we got raised on, the stories as well that I have put into the videos, are ones that I know we all would have heard around us growing up as kids."

Archer says she wanted to create a community of people who could relate to what she was posting.

"I wanted to also, not just share food, but share the stories like I've already said - the stories of being from Raro. There are only so many meals with coconut cream that I can make."

Archer and her husband Ray Yin own and run Pakuranga's Fruit World store full-time — but always finds the time to create her videos.

Her videos really began to take off when she made Mainese, a traditional Cook Island-style potato salad renowned around the Pacific, as well as Ika Mata, raw fish cooked in lemon juices.

Now, dishes range from Vararoa Karo, a sweet coconut bread crumble, to Puakanio Tarenga, a deliciously fragrant goat curry. While painstakingly handmade fried donuts, elaborate Eke Taakari, and octopus curry fill her page, her favorite Cook Island food is a whole lot simpler.

"I'm probably gonna get a lot of slack for this, but honestly I just love pawpaw and coconut. Just simple, 'cause that was my nana's favorite breakfast. Sliced pawpaw, with grated coconut on top."

Archer's cooking goes hand-in-hand with the comforting stories that she shares about growing up in Rarotonga and uses both English and Te Reo Cook Island Māori in these videos.

"It's definitely a journey of trying to preserve that (language), because I was the only grandchild raised in Raro, so I get it. Nana would only speak to me in Māori — she can speak English, but for my learning she would only speak to me in te reo and I had to respond in te reo."

"I love seeing the comments where people are like "I love that you can speak te reo', I love it. But I'm not 100 percent fluent there, you know? I'm still learning."

In terms of how she retains the language, Archer says while an individual's environment helps a lot, listening to the music is one of the best things to do.

"I'll always have it playing in the background. And you'll catch on to the words. I don't think our language is written. It's not a written language, everything is passed down through song and dance, so if you can, put yourself in that place where you can listen to it all the time."

'Ātuitui'ia au ki te au peu o tōku kāinga Ipukarea' which means, 'Connect me to the traditions and culture of my homeland' is the theme of this year's Cook Island language week.

Archer finds solace in the theme, relating it to the comforts of Te Maeve Nui, a massive celebration of the Cook Islands independence and self-governance, which coincides within the same week.

"I actually had a look at the theme for this year, and I love it. The year my husband and I were in Rarotonga, we got to go watch the celebrations for Te Maeve Nui. He's from China, so this was like a whole new experience for him. It's like a double celebration.

"Being away from home, especially for as long as I have, anything that can tie back to remembering our heritage, reconnecting with our language and food, is the way. There is no right way or wrong way, but I think that if we keep trying to find our way back home, then no one can say anything."

Archer's videos can be seen by searching for @hangrybytes_ on Tiktok.