Cook Islands

views updated May 23 2018

Cook Islands

Culture Name

Cook Islander


Identification. The country is named after Captain James Cook, who landed there in 1773.

Location and Geography. The Cook Islands are part of Oceania, a group of islands in the South Pacific roughly halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, lying between American Samoa and Tahiti. Their total area is 93 square miles (240 square kilometers). The islands are dispersed over nearly two million square kilometers of ocean. The southern islands, which make up 90 percent of the land area, are hilly terrain of recent volcanic origin; Rarotonga is the most mountainous. The northern islands are coral atolls that have formed over ancient sunken volcanoes and are characterized by outer reefs surrounding a lagoon. There are several species of birds but few native plants and animals; the only indigenous mammal is the Pacific fruit bat.

Demography. The population is 20,407 (July 2000 estimate). Among the residents, 81 percent are full-blooded Polynesian, 8 percent are mixed Polynesian and European, 8 percent are mixed Polynesian and non-European, and 2 percent are European. Among the Polynesian people, there are slight variations from island to island; northerners, for example, are more closely related to Samoans than they are to other Cook Islanders. More than 90 percent of the population is concentrated in the southern islands, and over 50 percent on Rarotonga. The population is declining, as many residents have emigrated to Australia and New Zealand; there are more Cook Islanders in New Zealand than in the islands.

Linguistic Affiliation. English is the official language and is taught in school. The common vernacular is Cook Islands Maori, also called Rarotongan, which is similar to the Maori spoken in New Zealand and Tahiti. Dialects vary, and in the north, some islands have their own languages.

Symbolism. The flag has a blue background with a Union Jack in the upper lefthand corner. In the center of the flag is a circle of fifteen white five-pointed stars, one for each of the fifteen islands.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Archeologists trace the settlement of the islands to the fourth century c.e.; the oral history of Raratonga (the most influential island and the first one to be settled) dates back about 1,400 years.

The first European sighting occurred in 1595, when the Spaniard Alvaro de Mendana glimpsed Pukapuka, one of the northern islands. In 1606, Pedro Fernandez de Quirós landed on Rakahanga in the north. Captain Cook was the first European to explore the land extensively. He arrived in 1773 and returned in 1777. Cook's name was bestowed on the southern islands in an 1835 atlas. At that time, the northern group was known as the Penrhyn Islands or the Manihiki Islands.

Christian missionaries had an important large impact on the islands. They decimated the population by introducing diseases such as whooping cough, measles, and smallpox. However, culturally they did not attempt to eradicate all indigenous traditions. The first missionary on the islands was the Reverend John Williams of the London Missionary Society, who landed on Aitutaki in 1821. Another influential figure was Papeiha, a convert from the Society Islands who moved to Rarotonga in 1823.

In 1888, the British declared the islands a protectorate to counter the French, who were increasing their colonial holdings in the South Pacific. In 1900, New Zealand annexed Rarotonga and the other main islands in the southern group; this was extended the next year to include the northern islands. The goal was eventual self-sufficiency for the islands, but despite their agricultural potential, this has not happened. In 1965, the islands gained the right to self-government in internal affairs, but defense and foreign policy remain under the control of New Zealand.

Albert Henry of the Cook Islands Party (CIP), a major figure in the independence movement, was elected prime minister in 1968. He was knighted in 1974, but the honor was revoked in 1980 because of claims of corruption. When Henry died in 1981, Dr. Thomas Davis of the Democratic Party became prime minister. Several years of relative political instability followed; power changed hands a few times between 1983 and 1989, when Geoffrey Henry, Henry's nephew, became prime minister. His government did not have widespread popular support, but Geoffrey Henry was knighted in 1992, and the CIP won by a large majority in the 1994 elections.

In the mid 1990s, a controversy known as the "winebox affair" surfaced: the islands were accused by New Zealand of illegal practices in offshore banking and international tax evasion. The affair developed into an international scandal, but the nation's misdeeds were never proved in court. However, economic problems continued to beset the country, including a trade imbalance. In April 1996, Prime Minister Henry announced a 50 percent cut in government departments and privatized a number of government-owned businesses. Many of the recently fired government employees left for New Zealand and Australia. The tourism industry suffered for several years as well.

National Identity. Cook Islanders identify first with their individual islands and secondarily with the country as a whole. There is a strong sense of connection with New Zealand; Cook Islanders have citizenship, and many emigrate or have relatives there.

Ethnic Relations. There is some resentment toward Europeans because of the islands' colonial heritage, but it is acknowledged that Europeans generate a large proportion of the nation's income in the form of tourism.

Urbanism,Architecture, and the Use of Space

The capital, Avarua, is the largest city but is more like a small town. Located on the northern coast of Rarotonga, it has an old harbor and one main road that follows the waterfront. Much of the architecture is colonial, including the Cook Islands Christian Church, which was built in 1855.

Traditional houses, called kikau, have panadus-thatched roofs. Few of these structures remain, mostly on the northern islands. In the south, this architecture remains only on the island of Aitutaki in a village called New Jerusalem. On Rarotonga, this style of building is prohibited because it is considered inferior to European architecture and bears a certain stigma.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Rori (sea cucumbers) are eaten raw or cooked with butter, garlic, and spices. Fish is eaten both raw and cooked. Raw fish, called ika, is marinated in lemon juice or a mixture of vinegar, oil, and salt and served with chopped onion and coconut cream. Young taro leaves are mashed and mixed with coconut cream, salt, and chopped onion in a dish called rukau.

Coconut water is a popular beverage, as are fruit juices and coffee. Beer, called bush beer, is brewed from oranges, bananas, pawpaws, or hops.

Traditional cooking is elaborate and time-consuming. Food is prepared in anumu, an oven dug in the earth and filled with firewood and basalt rocks. A grill of banana wood is placed over the hot stones. Food is wrapped in banana leaves and then in sacks and thrown into the pit, which is covered with soil and allowed to sit for about three hours.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Special occasions are marked by a feast called an umukai (literally "food from the oven"). Meat is the main dish, supplemented with ika and potato salad. Kava, made from the root of the pepper plant, is a traditional ceremonial drink. It is nonalcoholic but can be consciousness-altering. Christian missionaries virtually eliminated the drink from the islands; today, the word "kava" is used for any alcoholic beverage.

Basic Economy. Economic development has been hampered by geographic isolation, a lack of natural resources, and natural disasters. The country has a severe trade imbalance that is partly compensated for by foreign aid from New Zealand and by remittances sent by islanders living abroad. The New Zealand dollar is the currency used. Most economic growth is in tourism, offshore banking, and the mining and fishing industries.

Land Tenure and Property. There are laws prohibiting the buying or selling of land. Ownership is hereditary; land can be leased, but outsiders are not allowed to own land. Land is divided among the descendants after the death of the owner. As a result of this system, a family may possess several plots scattered over an island.

Commercial Activities. Commercial activity centers on the tourist industry. The islands (Rarotonga in particular) are dotted with hotels, resorts, and restaurants that cater to tourists.

Major Industries. The major industries are fruit processing and tourism. Rarotonga receives nearly fifty thousand tourists a year.

Trade. The islands import large quantities of products, including food, textiles, fuels, timber, and capital goods. Forty-nine percent of imports come from New Zealand, and the remainder primarily from Italy and Australia. Exports include agricultural products (copra, papayas, fresh and canned citrus fruit, coffee, and fish), pearls and pearl shells, and clothing. Eighty percent of exports go to New Zealand; the rest are sent to Japan and Hong Kong.

Division of Labor. People are relatively free to work in the profession of their choice. Twenty-nine percent of the labor force works in agriculture, 15 percent in industry, and 56 percent in services.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Class traditionally was determined by a hereditary system of titles. Today, status is determined more by education and profession, and there is a good deal of social mobility.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The majority of residents today wear Western-style clothing. Dress is often casual, with the exception of churchgoing on Sundays. The traditional outfit of short, fringed grass skirts, headbands, and collars is worn mainly for dances and other celebrations. Both men and women wear flowers in their hair. Traditionally, fat is a symbol of wealth and beauty, and at puberty boys and girls undergo ritual seclusion and feedings to gain weight. However, this is changing as Western standards of beauty have begun to exert more influence.

Political Life

Government. The chiefs of state are the British monarch and the New Zealand high commissioner. The head of the government is the prime minister, who appoints a cabinet. The unicameral parliament has twenty-five members elected by popular vote for five-year terms. Twenty-four members represent different districts, and one represents islanders living in New Zealand. The prime minister is not chosen by election; this position goes to the leader of the party that wins the most seats in the parliament. The indigenous ruling body is the House of Arikis (chiefs). The chiefs advise the government on matters relating to tradition but do not have legislative power.

Leadership and Political Officials. The Cook Islands Party was the party largely responsible for independence. The two other parties are the Democratic Alliance Party and the New Alliance Party.

Social Problems and Control. Violent crime is rare, but petty theft is becoming more common, particularly on Rarotonga. The legal system is based on New Zealand law and English common law.

Military Activity. The Cook Islands do not have a military. They depend on New Zealand, which defends the islands at their request, in consultation with the islands' government.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The country participates in several international organizations, including UNESCO and the World Health Organization.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Women are responsible for domestic work; men do all the fishing and heavy labor such as construction. Women often work outside the home. Until recently, men dominated most positions in management and government, but this situation is changing.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women are treated with respect, primarily in relation to their roles as wives and mothers. Women are in charge of family finances and oversee the land, determining which crops to plant. At the level of the church and village, women are the primary administrators. Domestic violence against women is punished strictly.

Marriage,Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Polygamy has been eliminated because of the influence of the Christian churches. There is a good deal of freedom in choosing one's spouse, and it is not uncommon for couples to have a trial marriage before wedding. Divorce and separation are fairly common, as are common-law marriages.

Domestic Unit. The extended family is highly valued, and it is common for various relatives and generations to live under the same roof. A newly married couple usually lives with one set of in-laws until they have the means to establish a residence of their own.

Inheritance. Inheritance is not gender-specific. When a mother dies, land passes jointly to all her children.

Kin Groups. Society is divided into family clans, each of which is linked to the ancient system of chiefs. Rarotonga has six clans (ariki ), which were established centuries ago, when the Maoris first settled on the island and divided the land.


Infant Care. Infants are given a lot of attention and are treated with indulgence.

Child Rearing and Education. The teaching of Christian values and respect for elders is an important aspect of child rearing. Education is free and compulsory from age five through age fifteen. There are twenty-eight primary schools and seven secondary schools.

Higher Education. There are several institutions of post secondary education. There are training programs for nurses and teachers as well as an apprenticeship program for various trades and a Cook Island Christian Church theological college that trains ministers. There is a branch of the Fiji-based University of the South Pacific in Avarua. Many people send their children to New Zealand, Australia, or other South Pacific countries to receive higher education. The government provides scholarships to students for studying abroad.


Cook Islanders are known for their hospitable and generous, if somewhat reserved, nature. When invited to someone's home, it is customary to bring a small gift for the host. Upon returning from a voyage, travelers are greeted with a garland of flowers placed around their necks; they are seen off the same way before departures.


Religious Beliefs. Virtually all the people are Christian; 70 percent belong to the Protestant Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) and 30 percent are Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, or members of other denominations. Little is known about the indigenous religion, which had a complex system of seventy-one gods, each of which was responsible for a specific aspect of life; this religion also believed in twelve levels of heaven, some of which were located above the earth, and some below.

Religious Practitioners. Ministers are the central figures in the CICC. They are held in high esteem and have a great responsibility to their congregations. People express approval or dissatisfaction with a minister through the size of their donations to the local church.

Rituals and Holy Places. There are churches throughout the islands, and many residents attend regularly, dressing up in white straw hats. Sermons are in Maori. (The Bible was translated into Maori in the 1880s.) Singing is an integral part of services, and hymns often incorporate traditional Polynesian harmonies.

The site of worship in traditional religious practice is called a marae. Despite the fact that the indigenous religion has been supplanted by Christianity, marae still hold significance for many people, particularly on Rarotonga.

Death and the Afterlife. Burial vaults are located in the front yards of houses. Usually, the woman who built the house is buried there. Women's coffins are sealed in these concrete structures because it is considered disrespectful to cover their bodies in dirt after death. Graves are only cared for by friends or family of the deceased. When no survivors remain, the tops of the burial vaults are removed and the land is plowed over.

Medicine and Health Care

Health care is provided by the government, but the system is relatively primitive. Each island has a hospital, but some of the more remote hospitals are very poorly equipped. People generally are sent to the hospital in Rarotonga or New Zealand for serious illnesses. Some people rely on traditional medicines and faith healers in addition to the Western medicine that is available.

Secular Celebrations

New Year's Day is celebrated 1 January. Anzac Day on 25 April commemorates Cook Islanders killed in World War II. The queen's birthday is celebrated on the first Monday in June. Constitution Day is celebrated on 4 August; the ten-day festivities include sports and dancing. Flag Raising Day occurs on 27 October. Tiare (Floral) Festival Week is held in the last week in November; it includes parades and other festivities.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Avarua is home to the National Library, which has a collection of rare books and literature about the Pacific. The National Museum displays traditional arts and handicrafts. The capital has the Sir Geoffrey Henry National Cultural Centre, which was built in 1992.

Literature. The literary tradition is primarily one of legends and stories passed orally from one generation to the next. Many of these stories have been written down and published. One of the best known writers in the twentieth century was Manihikan Kauraka Kauraka, who published both renderings of traditional tales and original poetry, stories, and nonfiction writings.

Graphic Arts. The islands are known for a textile art called tivaevae, practiced by women, which combines appliqué and embroidery. Tivaevae decorates bedspreads and cushion covers. Flower art is popular in the form of ei (necklaces) and ei katu (tiaras). Jewelry made from black pearls is another specialty. Other traditional arts and crafts include woven pandanus mats, baskets, purses, and fans.

Performance Arts. The islands are known for music (primarily fast, complex drumming) and dance, in particular the fast, hip-swinging tamure, which is performed in traditional costumes consisting of grass skirts and headbands. Many of these performances are held for tourists on so-called Island Nights at hotels. They also are staged during the annual Dance Week every April and during Constitution Week in the summer.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

There are few facilities for the study of the physical and social sciences.


Baltaxe, James Bernard. Transformation of the Rangatira: A case of the European Reinterpretation of Rarotongan Social Organization, 1975.

Beaglehole, Ernest. Social Change in the South Pacific: Rarotonga and Aitutaki, 1957.

Buck, Peter Henry. Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands, 1944.

. Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki), 1976.

Campbell, Andrew Teariki, ed. Impressions of Tongareva (Penrhyn Island) 18161901, 1984.

. Social Relations in Ancient Tongareva, 1985.

Crocombe, R. G. Land Tenure in the Cook Islands, 1964.

Feizkhah, Elizabeth. "Large Load, Heavy Soil, High Spin." Time South Pacific, February 28, 2000.

Gilson, Richard. Cook Islands 18201950, 1980.

Harmon, Jeff B. "Ignoring the Missionary Position." New Statesman, August 21, 1998.

Kauraka, Kauraka. Legends from the Atolls, 1984.

Web Sites

U.S. State Department, Central Intelligence Agency. The Cook Islands,

Eleanor Stanford

Cook Islands

views updated May 21 2018

Cook Islands

ETHNONYMS: Cook Islanders, Cook Islands Maoris


Identification. The Cook Islands is an independent state in an associated-state relationship with New Zealand. It has its own parliament and government and its own laws and judiciary, but defense matters and foreign policy should be handled, according to the relationship, in consultation with New Zealand. In practice the Cook Islands has taken radically different policies on some issues from New Zealand without consultation (e.g., New Zealand forbids visits by nuclear warships whereas the Cook Islands permits them), and the Cook Islands has its own minister and ministry of foreign affairs that operate independently of those of New Zealand. The designation "Cook Islanders" includes all persons tracing genetic ancestry to one (or more) of the twelve inhabited Islands of the Cook group. This is not exclusive, however, as probably all Cook Islanders also have some non-Polynesian blood. Significant European genetic and cultural influence began about 150 years ago and has continued to the present. A relatively small African genetic but not cultural influence began not long after, but it ceased with the whaling industry in the last century. Chinese genetic influence occurred in the late nineteenth century, and a recent minor input of diverse Asian peoples is occurring. Residence within the Cook Islands is far from a necessary criterion for identity as about two-thirds of all people who consider themselves Cook Islanders live in New Zealand, Australia, or elsewhere overseas.

Location. The Cook Islands stretch from 156 to 167° W and 3 to 23° S. The total land area is only 240 square kilometers, but the sea area is nearly a thousand times larger, at 2.2 million square kilometers.

Demography. The 1986 resident population of the Cook Islands was 16,425. The population is static as the high natural growth rate is balanced by the rate of emigration to New Zealand and Australia, to both of which Cook Islanders have automatic right of entry. About 87 percent of the population live in the southern group, which are high islands, and the remainder in the northern atolls. Residents with no indigenous blood ties number in the several hundreds, most of whom are Europeans living on the capital island of Rarotonga.

Linguistic Affiliation. Each island, and in the case of Mangaia, each village had some minor linguistic differences from the others. In all cases except Pukapuka and Nassau, however, these were dialects of a basically common Eastern Polynesian Austronesian language, whose closest relatives are found in French Polynesia and New Zealand. The language of Pukapuka and Nassau is Western Polynesian, as is the Culture. Today Cook Islands Maori is the language of government and the church, and all Cook Islanders learn English in school.

History and Cultural Relations

Almost every island culture has a unique origin or origins outside the Cook Islands. The only exceptions are Manihiki and Rakahanga, which trace a common origin from Rarotonga, and it is possible that the first of many migrations into Mangaia was also from Rarotonga. Rarotonga itself traces its earliest settlers to the Marquesas early in the Christian era, but these peoples were dominated by a migration perhaps 800 years ago from Raiatea in the Society Islands. A migration from Manu'a in Samoa, led by the defeated chief Tui Manu'a, had a significant but not dominant influence on Rarotongan history, though not on its culture. Later migrants from rious islands of Polynesia were absorbed but seem not to have had any cultural impact. The other islands trace their origins mainly to the Society Islands, excepting Pukapuka's diverse origins from the west and occasional later incursions, such as that of Tongans to Mangaia long after settlement by Eastern Polynesians. It is also possible that Tongareva, the northern-most atoll, was settled very early by Western Polynesians, with Eastern Polynesian influence following later. Settlement by Europeans and others was never extensive, but it was very Influential in bringing radical change to the religion, technology, economy, political system, and some values.


Most Cook Islanders traditionally lived in hamlets (of Perhaps fifty people) which were accessible to their agricultural lands. The London Missionary Society, beginning its work in the Cook Islands in 1821, persuaded the people to resettle in villages in groups of a few hundred or, in some cases, more than a thousand people. This policy soon coincided with commercial convenience, as the people came to value Imported commodities and to export their own products, and with administrative convenience: initially that of their own chiefs, then from 1888 that of the British Protectorate, and from 1901 that of the New Zealand Dependency. On Rarotonga, due mainly to its greater size, the advent of motor Vehicles (of which most families own at least one) has led in the past twenty years to resettlement in individual homes on the land being farmed.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Almost all Cook Islanders derive some sustenance from the land, lagoon, or ocean. But whereas these areas provided total sustenance in the past, they are now of relatively minor importance. Agriculture, formerly the main economic activity, now has a lesser role. Most households keep a few chickens, pigs, and/or goats for domestic consumption more than for sale. The main income today is from salaries, wages, or business profits. Government is the largest single employer, with about 21 percent of those aged 15-64 being its full-time salaried employees. If we add those in the casual employ of the central government and the permanent or casual employ of local government, and those who are still full-time students, more than one-third of working-age Cook Islanders are in government employ or education. The next-largest category is employed in the travel industry. Others work in the international finance center (now the largest in the Pacific islands), in clothing and shoe factories, for the churches, or in services. The highest incomes are those of the more successful business and professional people, of whom a considerable proportion are Europeans, but in comparison with most countries there are no major concentrations of wealth. A high proportion of assets is owned by the government (including the majority shareholding in the largest hotel). The small market and system of landholding facilitate distribution of assets and incomes.

Industrial Arts. Traditional arts are maintained mainly by women because fewer of them have salaried employment, the arts can be done at home, and there is both a domestic use for them and a commercial market (mainly to tourists or for export). These crafts are mainly items of fiber (mats, baskets, hats, etc.) or cloth (especially embroidered quilts). Traditional men's industrial arts are now confined mainly to factories making wooden or shell items of traditional design for the tourist market. In every village there are men who maintain vehicle and small boat engines or who specialize in building construction.

Trade. Small stores, mainly locally owned, are found in every village; bakeries are also common. There is a small Market for fresh produce in Rarotonga, but prices are high as turnover is small and most stores are overcapitalized (e.g., they own and operate their own vehicles despite low utilization). Most people produce some of their own food and both give and receive some from relatives and friends, as well as buying some privately. Small businesses are dominated by women. Medium-sized businesses are operated mainly by Cook Islanders or Europeans, though a number of them are run by Cook Islanders married to or in partnership with Europeans. The largest businesses, including the larger airlines, some of the larger hotels, and the banks, are generally owned overseas.

Division of Labor. The traditional division of labor is much modified, though deep-sea fishing and other marine employment is still almost exclusively male, as are construction and most forms of heavy labor. Senior management, both government and private, was exclusively male until Recent years.

Land Tenure, Land cannot be bought or sold, except to the government for public purposes, and even leases are generally restricted to indigenous Cook Islanders or the small percentage of nonindigenous permanent residents. Traditionally land was held for practical purposes by small, localized kin groups, with succession mainly in the male line Except in the event of no male issue, illegitimacy, uxorilocal Residence, or adoption. From 1902 the Land Court has registered most land in the name of its "traditional" holders at the time of the court investigation, and it has allowed bilateral inheritance thereafter. With minimal use of provisions for consolidation and exchange, the average of three or four landholders originally registered per unit of land has now become dozens and in many cases hundreds. For housing or other intensive usage it is now usual for individuals to obtain a lease or "occupation right" from their co-owners. Thus while every Cook Islander is a landowner, the fraction of right that many of them hold is insignificant. If most of them did not live in other countries, there would be major problems of shortage and allocation. Political parties promise to reform the system but do not do so, because the public supports land-rights reform in theory but opposes it in practice, as Individuals fear that they will be worse off after any change. Disputes within groups of owners in common are frequent.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is now traced bilaterally with equal weight given to both sides. Every major kin group is now spread out not only over many of the Cook Islands but even more so throughout New Zealand, Australia, French Polynesia, and in many cases other countries. Interaction by mail, telephone, and personal messages on government-broadcast radio is reinforced by the sending of money and/or goods and relatively frequent visits, especially for Weddings, funerals, laying of memorial stones, or family reunions. These reunions can involve 20-150 people coming together, often from several countries.

Kinship Terminology. A classificatory system, with Hawaiian-type cousin terms, is used. Seniority is generally indicated in the kinship terms.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Since the acceptance of Christianity in the nineteenth century all marriage has been monogamous. In the past polygamy was theoretically allowed, but in practice it was only possible for those of outstanding rank or strength. Trial marriage has long been common. Arranged marriages no longer occur. Separation and divorce are relatively Common, as is common-law marriage. Postmarital residence is neolocal as a matter of preference, but for convenience couples often reside with either set of parents-in-law until separate housing can be arranged.

Domestic Unit. The 1986 census showed an average of just under five persons per dwelling. The nuclear family is the preferred unit, but many children stay with relatives for higher schooling or as a result of illegitimacy or broken Marriages. Grandparents usually like to have one grandchild live with them. These and other causes, including work transfers, lead to many short-term domestic arrangements.

Inheritance. Landownership rights are distributed equally among descendants, but leases and occupation rights are generally allocated to individuals on the basis of occupation, need, or personal preference. Other property is ideally shared equally among the children, but this is not practicable with consumer goods such as automobiles and refrigerators, which are allocated to individuals.

Socialization. Children are raised by the older members of the household they are in at the time. Infants are treated with great indulgence. Respect for others is highly valued. Christian teachings constitute a significant element of training.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Traditionally each district of each Island had its own hierarchy of rank titles, ideally based on male primogeniture, but today rank titles are equally often held by women. This structure still exists but its main significance is in relation to organizing meetings of landowners and ceremonial activities. Elective status, occupation, education, and wealth are today much more important organizing principles. The clergy are much respected and have relatively high levels of personal consumption. There is considerable social and geographical mobility and no clear social classes.

Political Organization. The central government, which provides a very extensive range of services, is comprised of a parliament of twenty-four members elected every five years. Parliament elects the prime minister from among its Members, and he selects a cabinet of seven ministers to govern the country. Local government is by island and comprises a majority of elected members plus the ariki (highest-level chiefs) ex officio. These island councils derive almost all their funds from the central government and have limited powers and functions. There is a "House of Ariki" to which all ariki belong, but it usually meets only once a year and sometimes not for several years. Its functions are advisory and ceremonial, and it has almost no powers.

Social Control. At a formal level this is maintained by a central government police force, which has increased greatly in size in the last decade. But social control at the community level is maintained largely by the fact that in such small Communities most people have a network of ties by blood, Marriage, and common activities and by the high value given to compromise and the avoidance of direct conflict. Senior relatives and religious leaders also play a significant role in social control.

Conflict. Warfare was endemic on many islands until the establishment of Christian missions in the nineteenth Century. But war was rare on some of the small islands. With the exception of three islands in close proximity (Atiu, Mauke, and Mitiaro), distances between islands were generally too great to allow interisland conflict. Since Christianity was adopted there has been no overt conflict. There is no army and the police force is unarmed.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. There are fourteen different Christian denominations active in the islands, with about seventy churches, or about one church per 250 people. The Baha'i faith, the only non-Christian faith with an organized Community, has less than 1 percent of the population as members. There are a few Hindus and Muslims among the nonindigenous transient population. While the Christian God is Paramount, the traditional deities are often referred to, often in jest but often not, and a compromise that allows a place for both is not uncommon, though not publicly acknowledged.

Religious Practitioners.

Only the Cook islands Christian Church (to which over 60 percent of the population belong) trains some of its ministers in the country, but it too sends most of them to New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, or the United States. All other denominations train their clergy in those countries. The clergy have a respected status and participate in all community activities of any significance. There are also some faith healers and dispensers of herbal and other Remedies who use a combination of Christian and traditional pre-Christian techniques.

Ceremonies. Only the traditional Christian ceremonies are observed, though with some adaptations (e.g., the nuku, or pageants, at which dramatic performances are accompanied by feasting at the time of a Christian rite). Ritualized hair cutting ideally marks the puberty of selected boys, and involves substantial gift giving as well as feasting.

Arts. Tattooing was abandoned in the nineteenth century and has not been resumed. Secular expressive arts are highly developed, with literally dozens of dance troupes (all parttime and mostly unpaid) and dozens of composers of music and song in the tiny population.

Medicine. Government doctors, nurses, and hospitals are located on all of the larger islands but, particularly if their treatment is not successful, people often turn to traditional healers who use herbal and supernatural methods.

Death and Afterlife.

Government regulations used to require burial within twenty-four hours of death owing to the hot climate and absence of preservation facilities. This rule curtailed the traditional death ceremonies, which otherwise would last for months. On the main island (Rarotonga), however, facilities for preservation now exist. This development is leading to a practice of holding the body until relatives from other countries arrive. As most Cook Islanders now live in other countries, it is also becoming increasingly common for bodies to be returned to the island of birth, Together with accompanying relativesanother very expensive procedure. A year or more after the death it is customary to hold a major ceremony to lay the headstone over the grave. The stone is always purchased overseas at considerable cost, and relatives from several countries may attend the ceremony. Belief in the afterlife follows the Christian tradition.

See alsoManihiki, Pukapuka, Tongareva


Baddeley, Josephine (1978). Rarotongan Society: The Creation of Tradition. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Auckland.

Buck, Peter H. (1932). Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin no. 99. Honolulu.

Buck, Peter H. (1934). Mangaian Society. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin no. 122. Honolulu.

Crocombe, R. G. (1964). Land Tenure in the Cook Islands. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

flare, Raira (1967). E Au Akonoanga na te Iti Tangata o te Kuki Airani. Wellington, N.Z.: Government Primer.


Cook Islands

views updated May 21 2018

Cook Islands

Basic Data
Official Country Name:Cook Islands
Language(s):English, Maori
Literacy Rate:NA

The Cook Islands, located in the South Pacific, maintains public education that is free and compulsory for all children between 5 and 15 years of age. Although governed by the Ministry of Education, the administration of the system is divided among three regions: Rarotonga Island, the Southern group, and the Northern Group. The use of Maori is encouraged in all the schools, although English is also widely used.

Primary education in the Cook Islands covers the first five years with an emphasis on agriculture, mathematics, and science. In 1996, 90 percent of Cook Islanders reported having completed primary school. As with the primary system, secondary education in the Cook Islands is modeled after the system adopted in New Zealand and is available through seven colleges, all of which follow the national syllabus for forms one to five. Studies in the secondary curriculum include specific technical courses, commercial studies, environmental studies, social science, health, and Maori culture and heritage. Forms six and seven are also available for individuals interested in continuing their education at the college level.

In addition to public education, a number of church-based programs have been established throughout the islands, and they account for approximately 12 percent of the student enrollment. Two other private, non-religious schools account for an additional 3 percent of the total enrollment.

Individuals seeking postsecondary education may attend the teacher training institute at Nikao or attend college in New Zealand. Although there is still some concern about unlicensed teachers, this situation is rapidly improving, and the Ministry of Education hopes to insure that all teachers will be certified.

Distance education includes vocational and cultural education, with special concern for the Maori culture. The Ministry of Education also intends to utilize the two radio stations, the daily newspaper, the telephone system with Internet access, and the two libraries and museums. There has also been a recent increase in the use of correspondence courses emanating from New Zealand.

Major future concerns articulated by the Ministry of Education include developing further opportunities for female students, encouraging the developments of trade and technical education, increasing budget allotments, attracting qualified teachers, and decentralizing the education system as a whole.


Crocombe, Ron, and Marjorie Tuainekore Crocombe. "Scale, Sovereignty, Wealth, and Enterprise: Comparisons Between the Cook Islands and the Solomon Islands." Comparative Education 29.3, 1993.

Educational Characteristics of the Cook Islands, 1986. Rarotonga, Cook Islands: Statistics Office, 1991.

Suva, Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific in association with United Nationals Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 1992.

Matts G. Djos

Cook Islands

views updated May 09 2018

Cook Islands

Basic Data

Official Country Name:Cook Islands
Region (Map name):Oceania
Language(s):English, Maori
Literacy rate:N/A

The Cook Islands, named after the British naval captain who first sighted them in 1770, are located in the south Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and New Zealand.

The Cook Islands enjoy freedom of the press and freedom of speech. A Cook Islands Media Council, based on the Australian and New Zealand model of press self-regulation, operated between 1995 and 1999 to respond to a perceived threat of government regulation. When the threat passed, the council disbanded. No formal council currently exists, but proposals surface periodically to revive the model.

The country supports two main English-language newspapers: the daily Cook Islands News and the weeklyCook Islands Herald. The Cook Islands News began in 1944 as a one-page news sheet and was developed in the late 1960s as a government-owned publication. It was privatized in 1989 and is the country's largest independent newspaper, publishing Monday through Saturday. Its estimated print run is 2,000; its online edition, which is updated every Wednesday, contains selected stories from the print edition. The Cook Islands Herald, which is published every Wednesday, started in 1997 as a guide to television programming but it adopted a newspaper format in 2000. Its estimated print run is 1,300, and it maintains an online edition.

There are three radio stations in the country, one AM and two FM. Radios number approximately 14,000. Two local television stations broadcast to approximately 4,000 televisions. There are three Internet service providers.

The island chain consists of seven sparsely populated coral atolls and eight volcanic islands. The country became a British protectorate in 1888, but administrative control had been transferred to New Zealand by 1900. In 1965 Cook Islanders chose self-government in association with New Zealand, meaning islanders are responsible for their internal affairs through a parliamentary democracy, and New Zealand takes care of external affairs in consultation with island government. The estimated population is 20,600, and the literacy rate is 95 percent. The country's economy is based on agriculture, but fruit processing and tourism are also important. The official language is English, but Maori and Pukapukan are also spoken.


Australian Press Council. Country ProfileCook Islands. 2002. Available from

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). World Fact Book 2001. Available from

Cook Islands News. Retrieved May 31, 2002. Available from

Jenny B. Davis

Cook Islands

views updated May 29 2018

Cook Islands Group of 15 islands in the s Pacific Ocean, ne of New Zealand, consisting of the Northern (Manihiki) Cook Islands and the Southern (Lower) Cook Islands; a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand. Discovered (1773) by Captain James Cook, the islands became a British protectorate in 1888 and were annexed to New Zealand in 1901. They became self-governing in 1965. Products: copra, citrus fruits. Area: 293sq km (113sq mi). Pop. (2001) 18,027.


views updated May 21 2018

COOK ISLANDS. A self-governing dependency of New Zealand, which lies c.3,200 miles to the south-west of the 15 scattered islands. Languages: English (official) and local Polynesian languages. Between 1888 and 1901, the islands were a British protectorate; in 1901, they became a New Zealand dependency; in 1965, they became self-governing.