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Tivaivai are valuable in ritual exchanges which mark family ‘life’ events, and other gifting events which draw people together through family and social networks. Tivaivai mark and recall these events through their patterns and convey ideas about place, culture and history. Tivaivai are steeped with social and cultural importance.
Part of the base for Cook Islanders is the ancestral land in the islands and the kinship system that links people with land and belonging. The gifting of Tivaivai is determined and perpetuated by those links. In a very public way tivaivai connect one community to another via reciprocity, supports values of kinship and aro’a (love) and meet women’s gifting obligations.
Tivaivai are also a display of how to be a Cook Island woman and mother and can provide prestige or mana for women. They are given to maintain or create important relationships in a woman’s life. They are gifted publically to close family members and used to wrap and adorn the people going through rites of passage events such as weddings, funerals, pākoti‘anga ‘o‘ora (hair cuttings – a male rite of passage ceremony), key birthdays and anniversaries. To cherish the Tivaivai you are given is to honour the relationship you have with the giver.
In addition Tivaivai dignify the gifting of money as occurs at life events such as haircutting ceremonies and weddings. Tivaivai are gifted to dignitaries at public ceremonies, or to church ministers and used as decoration at ceremonial venues during these events.
The funerary process also utilises tivaivai and highlights the potency of tivaivai around death. From the wrapping of bodies to commit them to the grave as a testimony of aro‘a (love) to the gifting of money through the funerary process and the unveiling of the gravestone. The removal of the layers of tivaivai from the headstone at the unveiling ceremony symbolises the removal of layers of the deceased’s life on earth in preparation for the next world.
The way tivaivai are being made and used in the current environment, is not less Pacific nor is it a hybrid of implanted textile art. Tivaivai are about the Cook Islands way of seeing and being in the world today. Tivaivai symbolically wrap the recipient of the textile in the layers of quintessential Polynesian values of familial relationships and obligations of reciprocity.
Tivaivai in the Cook Islands ceremonial economy: an analysis of value Horan, Jane Catherine – Pg 3-38, 56-78, 81-171/ Tivaivai The Social Fabric of the Cook Islands 2010, S Kuchler & Andrea Eimke Pg 17, 19-51 Land Tenure in the Cook Islands, R Crocombe 1964.
Akono’anga Maori, Cook Islands Culture 2003, R Crocombe & others Pgs 127 – 150