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s o r r y m u m meets the people - Piri from Aitu, Cook Islands - the bread changed everything

Piri on Rarotonga.
"You can only appreciate so many montains and beautiful lakes, sunsets and turqoise lagoons - then you have to meet the people", a friend once said. And he was right. When travelling over time, as I did a year, your surroundings start to not give any meaning. You stop seeing and appreciating nature. Nature fatigue. Very interesting phenomena that can even make you sad and depressed. Pointing out the reason helped. I knew I had to meet the people, so I changed my focus.
On Rarotonga, an island in the Cook Islands, I met Piri. In 2002. First at his coconut-tree-climbing show where we als where taught how to make a fire with sticks and to cook with hot stones in the ground. We all had to work together and it gave meaning. It  took us half a day to cook the meal.
Piri making a fire.
The stones were heated by the fire we made. Piri worked hard with dry moss and two sticks and we all gave shelter from the wind so he could nurture the fire. Piri worked up a sweat and managed to start a small fire. We made plates from coconut-leaves. Fish and taro roots in leavs were placed in the ground with heated stones, covered with leaves and left to cook for hours. 

This is when Piri commanded us to rest on the lawn. Lie down and take a nap. We were about ten people unnown to eachother until this day. Now we took a nap together. Curled up on a large blanket on the lawn. "You have to meet the people". I got up early and had an interesting conversation with Piri. He grew up on the small island of Atiu and told me he remembered when their lives changed - when the western civilisation arrived by boat. Bringing bread. The bread changed their lives. After introduction of the bread the islandlife changed. The life they had led with fresh fish, fruit and roots made the way Piri shared with us on that day in 2002. He seemed sad remembering the bread that changed his culture for ever.

I was invited to his house on a later occation. For a beer and a chat. He told me he once had a Norwegian girlfrien and he missed her. We talked and talked and he made me so happy for sharing parts of his life with me. On the beautiful island of Rarotonga he made me happier than the view of the palmtrees on a white beach with the sound of the waves hitting the reef out there. 

Piri died in 2013.I will for ever remember him and his story about his life and the bread. Thank you, Piri. Rest in peace.

Coconut King passes

Wednesday February 20, 2013 Written by Matariki Wilson Published in Other Sports

The ‘master of disaster’ Piri Puruto III will be laid to rest in Melbourne on Friday.

The 72-year-old Cook Islands icon, pictured here fighting fit at 64 in 2005, died in Melbourne on Saturday 16 and will be remembered for his boxing achievements and coconut tree climbing antics that also earned him the name ‘Coconut King’.
Born and raised on Atiu, Puruto eventually moved to New Zealand where in 1959 he became the Auckland middleweight boxing champ which he retained in 1960. 
When he moved to Rarotonga to live, he worked at the Rarotongan Resort and Spa as a security officer where he also came up with the idea to create a show for visitors involving coconut tree climbing which he began in 1977.

Even after retiring from boxing, Puruto continued to help train young men in the sport.
Last year, Puruto featured in the Bairnsdale Advertiser in Victoria, Australia where he took time out to share his boxing skills with youth at the Eastcoast Boxing Club.

A meal once on Atiu. Before the bread.

Go meet the people!

s o r r y m u m


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