Pacific Media Watch

27 May 2015

COOK ISLANDS: Cyclone Martin book brings survivor stories to life

Hero image

Alistar Kata
AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): A book detailing survivors' experiences of Cyclone Martin will be released next month.

In 1997, Severe Tropical Cyclone Martin hit the northern Cook Islands, including Manihiki, killing 19 people.

Author of the book Matini: The story of Cyclone Martin, Rachel Reeves, said the book documents survival stories of "courage" and was a way to recall stories that haven't been told.

"It was a pretty horrific experience," she said.

"People tied themselves to trees and tied their boats to trees in order to survive the impact of what they say were 10m waves hitting their sea level atoll."

Reeves said it also provided an analysis of disaster response and management, which a lot of survivors say was "seriously lacking."

"Some say it was more disatrous than the disaster itself," she said.

Disaster lessons
The book will give real life experiences that disaster managers around the region can use as a "lesson" in what not to do.

Reeves interviewed nearly 150 people, including survivors, disaster managers who were involved at the time, and weather experts.

She said she always wrote with the Manihiki people in mind.

"It is for the sake of the survivor's children and grand children, many of whom don't know what happened, because it's a painful event for people to talk about.

"It's a memorial to those we lost and a tribute to those who survived".

She hopes that the famiies of those affected will be able to see the level of "resilience, courage and strength that it took their forebearers to survive something like this".

"For me it's always been about the people who have trusted me with their stories and that's quite a weight to carry, but it's always been about them," she said.Author Rachel Reeves hopes people will learn from these stories. Image: Tūrama Photography

Valuable resource
The book was comissioned by the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust and Cook Islands News, not only as a keepsake but also as a useful resource.

Niki Rattle from the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust worked as a nurse on Manihiki at the time of the cyclone and said telling these stories through a book makes them more accessible.

"With a book, it is in the home all the time and one can pick it up anytime, and it is available to decision makers anytime, available to schools, organisations and everywhere for a resource, with actual stories, pictures, and so on".

Reeves said she wanted to pay more attention to traditional methods of disaster management and to the community structures that existed to support people in times of tragedy.

"I feel the mana of this place and it was a deep experience to be able to immerse in that through the lens of this one story," she said.

"I hope I've been able to comunicate the beauty and the strength of this community".

Difficulties in writing
Objections, both from survivors themselves and those who were bureaucrats at the time, came while writing the book.

But Reeves said most people changed their minds once they realised proceeds of the book would go towards the Manihiki community.

"There are people who are still opposed," she said.

"I just hope that if one day they do read the book, that they will realise my intention is not to profit off their pain or to sensationalise this tragedy".

Niki Rattle said the royalties from the book would be spent on projects for Manihiki.

"Although we have not yet agreed on exactly what these will be, it will be according to the needs of the island that are not being met elsewhere or to supplement what is needed."

The book is due to be launched in Rarotonga on the June 30 and in Auckland on July 11 and Wellington on July 16.

More information about the book and author

Creative Commons Licence


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.

Alistar Kata

Pacific Media Watch project contributing editor 2015

Alistar Kata is of Cook Island, Māori (Ngapuhi) descent and is a Communication Studies Honours student at AUT and Pacific Media Watch contributing editor.