Mama Taiau Nicholas shares traditional Cook Island game


 Mama Taiau Nicholas is a respected figure in the Cook Island community and has been a tutor of the Tangaroa Cook Islands group for over 20 years.

Proud of her Aitutaki roots, she has a deep knowledge and passion for the Cook Island language and culture including dance, music, and fashion, and has been involved with South Auckland cultural groups and schools such as Ferguson Intermediate in Ōtara.

Taiau recently taught a traditional game Tuki Tuki Teni Teni to Healthy Families South Auckland (main image) as part of our Village Games initiative. The game was then passed on to Kedgley Intermediate School who incorporated it as part of their celebrations for the Cook Island Language Week, Sunday 2 August – Saturday 8 August. 

“I was born and raised in Aitutaki until the age of 13. I learnt Tuki Tuki Teni Teni there as a young girl and I have fond memories of playing it with my family and friends,” says Taiau.

“It’s a fun game to learn language, help build self-confidence, get people dancing and moving. I moved to Rarotonga and then shifted to New Zealand when I was 18, where I’ve lived ever since.”

Healthy Families Lead Systems Innovator, Fila Fuamatu, is excited about Village Games.

“The Village Games movement is a platform for Māori and Pacific people in South Auckland to celebrate their culture and identity by playing their traditional village games.”

“The people in our communities like Mama Taiau are the knowledge holders of these traditional games. We encourage these knowledge holders to share these games as part of Villages Games, for the next generation of people to learn, understand and enjoy.”

Healthy Families South Auckland is utilising the Village Games initiative to begin conversations with Māori and Pacific people about their lived experiences in Aotearoa and the barriers they face to being active. 

“Ultimately we want a collective community voice to drive policy change so Māori and Pacific communities in South Auckland are supported to use their traditional village games to achieve good health and wellbeing,” explains Fila.

Tuki Tuki Teni Teni instructed by Mama Taiau Nicholas of Aitutaki

Passing a marked shell (tuki tuki teni teni) was a game in which participants sat in a circle. In time to a chant, all the children beat upon the ground before them and passed the Coconut shell to the right in rhythm. On the last word (toke) of the chant the passing of the coconut stops. The child with the coconut shell is out.


Tuki tuki teni teni (x 2) Te reira uarai

To matariki ki rapa Totoro e paparuru Tairi metua rakau Tamu tare tamu tare

Kia akatere pakarua e toke

The person who has the coconut shell (is out) exits the game by getting up to dance in the middle to a second chant. 


Ranatu Ranatu Itiiti ranatu (x2)

Ani ti to re (x 4)

Uka uka te mea o ani ti to re (x 2)

If they are a female, a male will get up and dance to support the dancer and vice versa. If a male is out, a female will get up to support the dancer. The game continues until the last person is left.

For more information about the Village Games movement, contact Fila Fuamatu at [email protected].