The land in Vaima'anga on which The Sheraton sits remains contested, more than a hundred years after it was awarded by the High Court to Pa Ariki. The amount of research, understanding and time required to get closer to the truth is beyond me; and so the best I can do, from across the oceans, is to speak to both sides of this dispute. In 2021, I asked representatives from both families to offer their thoughts on the hotel, and both were kind and patient enough to respond. My sincere thanks (in alphabetical order) to Chantal Napa, Mia More, Sam Napa Jr and Florence Syme-Buchanan.  I have presented the answers from both sides here unedited:

Sam Napa Jr.

grandson of Pa Tepaeru Terito Ariki

The land was claimed in 1903 by Pa Ariki after making an application to the High Court. On what grounds did he claim it, and how does your family view the competing claims of More Uriatua and his descendants? Most accounts I've read of the hotel online (and even in the Cook Islands News) focus on this conflict but I'm not clear on exactly how or why there were competing claims for ownership..

More Uriatua was the brother in-law of Pa Maretu Ariki at the time when the New Zealand Land Tenure was introduced by Colonel Walter Edward Gudgeon. The land belonged to Pa Ariki where there was 44 before Pa Maretu Ariki. The owner is whoever holds the the King or Queen Title. My mother fought 3 claimants, 1 of them was More and her own younger sister to the Title, which they all got thrown out. 

Mia More & Florence Syme-Buchanan

(relationship to .........)

The land was claimed in 1903 by Pa Ariki after making an application to the High Court. Do you know on what grounds he claimed it? What was the claim to the land of More Uriatua and his descendants? I know that More Uriatua had been living on the land at the time of his death but I'm not clear on why there were competing claims for ownership for this piece of customary land.. 

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Sam Napa Jr.

It was interesting hearing you talk about overdevelopment on the Cook Islands. Did Pa Tepaeru Terito Ariki support the Sheraton development, seeing it simply as a way to fund the Palace? Or was it very much down to her husband Tom Davis? I know that she strongly opposed development in Muri at one time, but did that happen in the case of The Sheraton too? 

Pa Tepaeru Terito Ariki’s plan was the Sheraton would fund the Affairs of the Ariki including the up-keep of Pa Ariki's Estate. It was to provide jobs and businesses for the people of this country. The Muri Lagoon development was a limited understanding. Former Prime Minister Sir Tom Davis, her husband, had an affair, and that’s why Pa Ariki opposed the Muri Lagoon project. Pa Tepaeru Terito Ariki had lands already built - 2 Resort Properties in Muri Beach Area, Muri Beach Club and Muri Beachcomber Resort - which her children collect a percentage of income from today. The Sheraton went down as to our Government not taking on the challenge to finish it. Too many people had their fingers in the till. The Italians tried to help but the people within our Government didn't keep their eye on the ball and lost it.

Mia More & Florence Syme-Buchanan

Why is this piece of land so important to your family? Are there any sacred sites within the grounds you're able to talk about? 

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Sam Napa Jr.

What is your view on the curse placed on the site, and all the failed ventures to date?

Don't believe in the Curse and it comes down to some people over their heads about the project. These are challenging times and we have to be practical about how to address this moving forward.

Mia More & Florence Syme-Buchanan

What can you tell me about More Uriatua and More Uta? 

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Sam Napa Jr.

Is the history and ownership of the site still a source of active disagreement on the island or does it now feel more settled and accepted?

The lease is back to Pa Ariki  and the previous leasee couldn't find other people’s money to waste on it and even sell their Lease - and because of the size of it may need micro-development and come away from the original plan but build a new City centre

Mia More & Florence Syme-Buchanan

What would your family like to see happen to the land, and do you have any hope of change? 

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Sam Napa Jr.

What do you think of the land's current usage, with tourists, paintballing and buggy tours? 

I gave local businesses opportunity to use the site for those activities to help them.  Covid stopped everything and here we are still trying. I have a local businessman who would like to take a gamble but we will wait for now, sort some things out. Re-develop a block and build a golf course

Mia More & Florence Syme-Buchanan

Did your family talk much about the land in Vaima'anga growing up? And is it still something regularly discussed?

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Sam Napa Jr.

6) Did your family talk much about the land in Vaima'anga growing up?

I grew up with the Wigmores who had the lease and were planting on the land, My family was also a farmer like the Wigmores. I didn't know anything about this land, apart from the Waterfall. I grew up on the Western side of the Island of Rarotonga with the Ariki - Tinomana, who was my Grand Father, my dad's Father, Tinomana Napa Ariki. My interest started when my grandma made the deal and I joined a whole lot of my country men to get educated and learn and train how to manage Hotels. I was a farmer’s boy turned into a Hotel/Property Manager.   

Mia More & Florence Syme-Buchanan

What is your view on the curse placed on the site, and all the failed business ventures to date?

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