07 Jul 2023
We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Jon Tikivanotau Michael Jonassen MBE. Professor Jonassen was a Kūki ‘Āirani composer, university professor, diplomat and political scientist who held a deep love for his people, language and culture.
Professor Jonassen was born in Rarotonga, the son of Michael William Marsters Jonassen and Teina Lily Tauei Napa. After obtaining various degrees from the University of Auckland and the University of Hawai’i, he attained full Professor status at Brigham Young University–Hawai’i, and for twenty years, taught Political Science and Pacific Island Studies classes. Jon held several senior government positions including Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Secretary for the Ministry of Cultural Development, and High Commissioner for Cook Islands to New Zealand, with accreditation to Australia, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea.
Since 1962, Jon received several honours, including the MBE by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to the Cook Islands and the Pacific.
A prolific composer, Jon wrote over 700 songs, including Mou Piri and E Tai Roimata - and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a composer for Cook Island music at New Zealand’s first Tangi Reka Awards. In 2019, the Cook Islands House of Ariki and Tauranga Vananga recognised Jon as a Taunga Tumu Korero Tutara, a specialist on Cook Islands culture and oral traditions.
In 2022, Jon’s book Pe’e Māori: Traditional Cook Island Chants was supported by Creative New Zealand's Pacific Arts Strategy and the Pacifica Arts Centre.
Caren Rangi, Chair of the Arts Council, Creative New Zealand’s governing body, says Jon was a force of nature.
“Papa Jon was a kind, generous man who held an enormous amount of knowledge and a sense of urgency to share his wisdom with future generations,” she says. “He was a living treasure in our Cook Islands community and his passing leaves a huge void.”
“On behalf of Creative New Zealand, especially our Pasifika staff who were lucky enough to meet him in our Wellington and Auckland offices, we send our aro’a to Mama Diya and Papa Jon’s kopu tangata.”
Makerita Urale, Creative New Zealand’s Senior Manager, Pacific Arts says it was a deep honour to have met Papa Jon in person.
“He was living mana, and his passion for traditional Cook Island pe’e touched us all,” she says.
“We're so proud to have supported Papa Jon to publish his book Pe’e Maori: Traditional Cook Islands Chants - it is now more precious than ever. We thank Jarcinda Stowers-Ama and the Pacifica Arts & Culture Centre for taking care of Papa Jon and publication, which now forms part of his legacy for the world.”
Aere Aere rā.
Aere ki te pō.
Kua ‘inga te tumu tamanu nui
Ki te oneone.
E kua rongo ia te pakūkū.
Mei teta’i moana
Ki teta’i moanā.
E E E Hā!
The great mahogany tree has fallen to the ground, and the sound has been heard from sea to sea.
The above is a Farewell chant from Professor Jonassen’s book Pe’e Māori.