Cook Islands

Cook Islands
Cook Islands
Kūki 'Āirani
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem: Te Atua Mou E
God is Truth

(and largest city)
21°12′S 159°46′W / 21.2°S 159.767°W / -21.2; -159.767
Official language(s) English
Cook Islands Māori
Spoken languages English
Cook Islands Māori
Ethnic groups  87.7% Māori, 5.8% part Māori, 6.5% other [1]
Demonym Cook Islander
Government Constitutional monarchy
 -  Head of State Queen Elizabeth II
 -  Queen's Representative
Sir Frederick Tutu Goodwin
 -  Prime Minister Henry Puna
Associated state
 -  Self-government in free association with New Zealand 4 August 1965 
 -  Independence in foreign relations recognized by the UN[2] 1992 
 -  Total 240 km2 (210th)
91 sq mi 
 -  2006 census 19,569 (213th)
 -  Density 76/km2 (124th)
197/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 -  Total $183.2 million (not ranked)
 -  Per capita $9,100 (not ranked)
Currency New Zealand dollar (NZD)
Time zone (UTC-10)
Drives on the left
ISO 3166 code CK
Internet TLD .ck
Calling code 682

The Cook Islands /ˈkʊk ˈaɪləndz/ ( listen) (Cook Islands Māori: Kūki 'Āirani)[3] is a self-governing parliamentary democracy in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand. The 15 small islands have a total land area of 240 square kilometres (92.7 sq mi), but the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers 1,800,000 square kilometres (690,000 sq mi) of ocean.[4]

The main population centres are on the island of Rarotonga (14,153 in 2006), where there is an international airport. There is a much larger population of Cook Islanders in New Zealand, particularly the North Island. In the 2006 census, 58,008 self-identified as being of ethnic Cook Island Māori descent.[5]

With about 100,000 visitors travelling to the islands in the 2010-11 financial year,[6] tourism is the country's main industry, and the leading element of the economy, far ahead of offshore banking, pearls, and marine and fruit exports.

Defence and foreign affairs are the responsibility of New Zealand, in consultation with the Cook Islands. In recent times, the Cook Islands have adopted an increasingly independent foreign policy. Although Cook Islanders are citizens of New Zealand, they have the status of Cook Islands nationals, which is not given to other New Zealand citizens.



Map of the Cook Islands.

The Cook Islands are in the South Pacific Ocean, north-east of New Zealand, between French Polynesia and American Samoa. There are 15 major islands spread over 2.2 million km² of ocean, divided into two distinct groups: the Southern Cook Islands and the Northern Cook Islands of coral atolls.[7]

The islands were formed by volcanic activity; the northern group is older and consists of six atolls (sunken volcanoes topped by coral growth). The climate is moderate to tropical.

The 15 islands and two reefs are grouped as follows:


Beach on Rarotonga.

The Cook Islands were first settled in the 6th century CE by Polynesian people who migrated from nearby Tahiti, to the southeast.[8]

Spanish ships visited the islands in the 16th century; the first written record of contact with the islands came with the sighting of Pukapuka by Spanish sailor Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira in 1595 who called it San Bernardo (Saint Bernard). Portuguese-Spaniard Pedro Fernández de Quirós, made the first recorded European landing in the islands when he set foot on Rakahanga in 1606, calling it Gente Hermosa (Beautiful People).[9]

British navigator Captain James Cook arrived in 1773 and 1777[10] and named the islands the Hervey Islands; the name "Cook Islands", in honour of Cook, appeared on a Russian naval chart published in the 1820s.[11]

In 1813, John Williams, a missionary on the Endeavour (not the same ship as Cook's), made the first recorded sighting of Rarotonga.[12] The first recorded landing on Rarotonga by Europeans was in 1814 by the Cumberland; trouble broke out between the sailors and the Islanders and many were killed on both sides.[13] The islands saw no more Europeans until missionaries arrived from England in 1821. Christianity quickly took hold in the culture and many islanders continue to be Christian believers today.

The Cook Islands became a British protectorate in 1888, due largely to community fears that France might occupy the territory as it had Tahiti. In 1901, the New Zealand Government decided to annex the country despite opposition from the country's traditional chiefs. As many of the islands were independent and ruled by local chiefs, the Cook Islands had no federal statutory law to decide the constitutional constraints regarding whether to agree to the country's annexation. Nonetheless, the country remained a New Zealand protectorate until 1965, when the New Zealand Government decided to offer self-governing status to its colony. In that year, Albert Henry of the Cook Islands Party was elected as the first Prime Minister. Henry led the country until he was accused of vote-rigging. He was succeeded in 1978 by Tom Davis of the Democratic Party. Today the Cook Islands are essentially independent, "self-governing in free association with New Zealand".[citation needed]

Politics and Foreign Relations

The parliament building of the Cook Islands, formerly a hotel.

The Cook Islands is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system in an associated state relationship with New Zealand. Executive power is exercised by the government, with the Chief Minister as head of government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Parliament of the Cook Islands. There is a pluriform multi-party system. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The Head of State is the Queen of New Zealand, who is represented in the Cook Islands by the Queen's Representative.

The islands are self-governing in "free association" with New Zealand. New Zealand retains primary responsibility for external affairs, with consultation with the Cook Islands government. Cook Islands nationals are citizens of New Zealand and can avail of New Zealand government services, but the reverse is not true; New Zealand citizens are not Cook Island nationals. Despite this, as of 2005, the Cook Islands had diplomatic relations in its own name with 18 other countries. The Cook Islands is not a United Nations full member, but does participate in WHO and UNESCO, and is an associate member of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

On 11 June 1980, the United States signed a treaty with the Cook Islands specifying the maritime border between the Cook Islands and American Samoa and also relinquishing its claim to the islands of Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Manihiki, and Rakahanga.[14] In 1990 the Cook Islands signed a treaty with France which delimited the boundary between the Cook Islands and French Polynesia.[15]

Administrative subdivisions

There are island councils on all of the inhabited outer islands (Outer Islands Local Government Act 1987 with amendments up to 2004, and Palmerston Island Local Government Act 1993) except Nassau, which is governed by Pukapuka (Suwarrow, with only one caretaker living on the island, also governed by Pukapuka, is not counted with the inhabited islands in this context). Each council is headed by a mayor.

The ten Outer Islands councils are
Aitutakitopo.png Aitutaki Aerial.jpg Aitutaki (including uninhabited Manuae)
Mangaia english version.png Mangaia (Correct Orientation).JPG Mangaia
Atiumap.png Atiu Aerial.jpg Atiu (including uninhabited Takutea)
Mauke map.jpg Mauke Aerial.jpg Ma'uke
Mitiaro Island map.jpg Mitiaro Aerial.jpg Mitiaro
Manihiki.jpg Manihiki Aerial.jpg Manihiki
Penrhyn.png TongarevaISS009-E-5524.PNG Penrhyn
Rakahanga.jpg ISS002-E-10047rakahanga.jpg Rakahanga
Pukapuka.png Pukapuka Atoll.jpg Pukapuka (including Nassau and Suwarrow)
Palmerston Island map.jpg Palmerston Aerial.jpg Palmerston
Districts of Rarotonga.

The three vaka councils of Rarotonga established in 1997 (Rarotonga Local Government Act 1997), also headed by mayors,[16] were abolished in February 2008, despite much controversy[17]

The three Vaka councils on Rarotonga were
Te au o tonga (equivalent to Avarua, the capital of the Cook Islands)
Puaikura Arorangi
Takitumu Ngatangiia

On the lowest level, there are village committees. Nassau, which is governed by Pukapuka, has an island committee (Nassau Island Committee), which advises the Pukapuka Island Council on matters concerning its own island.


The economy is strongly affected by geography. It is isolated from foreign markets, and has inadequate infrastructure; it lacks major natural resources and suffers greatly from natural disasters. Agriculture provides the economic base and manufacturing is limited. The economy is supported by foreign aid, largely from New Zealand. The Peoples' Republic of China has also contributed foreign aid which has resulted, among other projects, in the Police Headquarters building. The Cook Islands is expanding its tourism, banking, mining and fishing sectors, with varying success.


Float parade during the annual Maeva Nui celebrations.


The languages of the Cook Islands include English, Cook Islands Māori, or "Rarotongan," and Pukapukan. Dialects of Cook Islands Maori include Penrhyn; Rakahanga-Manihiki; the Ngaputoru dialect of Atiu, Mitiaro, and Mauke; the Aitutaki dialect; and the Mangaian dialect. Cook Islands Maori and its dialectic variants are closely related to both Tahitian and to New Zealand Māori. Pukapukan is considered closely related to the Samoan language. English and Cook Islands Maori are official languages of the Cook Islands.


Music in the Cook Islands is varied, with Christian songs being quite popular, but traditional dancing and songs in Polynesian languages remain popular.

Public holidays

Date Name
1 January New Year's Day
2 January Day after New Year's Day
The Friday before Easter Sunday Good Friday
The day after Easter Sunday Easter Monday
25 April ANZAC Day
The first Monday in June Queen's Birthday
During July Rarotonga Gospel Day
4 August Constitution Day (Te Maevea Nui Celebrations)
26 October Gospel Day
25 December Christmas
26 December Boxing Day



Wood carved figure, escaped being emasculated, despite its missionary collectors; only one other comparable example is known, British Museum.

Woodcarving is a common art form in the Cook Islands. Sculpture in stone is much rarer although there are some excellent carvings in basalt by Mike Tavioni. The proximity of islands in the southern group helped produce a homogeneous style of carving but which had special developments in each island. Rarotonga is known for its fisherman's gods and staff-gods, Atiu for its wooden seats, Mitiaro, Ma'uke and Atiu for mace and slab gods and Mangaia for its ceremonial adzes. Most of the original wood carvings were either spirited away by early European collectors or were burned in large numbers by missionary zealots. Today, carving is no longer the major art form with the same spiritual and cultural emphasis given to it by the Maori in New Zealand. However, there are continual efforts to interest young people in their heritage and some good work is being turned out under the guidance of older carvers. Atiu, in particular, has a strong tradition of crafts both in carving and local fibre arts such as tapa. Mangaia is the source of many fine adzes carved in a distinctive, idiosyncratic style with the so-called double-k design. Mangaia also produces food pounders carved from the heavy calcite found in its extensive limestone caves.


The outer islands produce traditional weaving of mats, basketware and hats. Particularly fine examples of rito hats are worn by women to church. They are made from the uncurled immature fibre of the coconut palm and are of very high quality. The Polynesian equivalent of Panama hats, they are highly valued and are keenly sought by Polynesian visitors from Tahiti. Often, they are decorated with hatbands made of minuscule pupu shells which are painted and stitched on by hand. Although pupu are found on other islands the collection and use of them in decorative work has become a speciality of Mangaia. The weaving of rito is a speciality of the northern island of Penrhyn.


A major art form in the Cook Islands is tivaevae. This is, in essence, the art of handmade Island scenery patchwork quilts. Introduced by the wives of missionaries in the 19th century, the craft grew into a communal activity and is probably one of the main reasons for its popularity.

Contemporary Art

The Cook Islands has produced internationally recognised contemporary artists, especially in the main island of Rarotonga. Artists include painter (and photographer) Mahiriki Tangaroa, sculptors Eruera (Ted) Nia (originally a film maker) and master carver Mike Tavioni, painter (and Polynesian tattoo enthusiast) Upoko’ina Ian George, Aitutakian-born painter Tim Manavaroa Buchanan, Loretta Reynolds, Judith Kunzlé, Joan Rolls Gragg, Kay George (who is also known for her fabric designs), Apii Rongo, and multi-media, installation and community-project artist Ani O'Neil, all of whom currently live on the main island of Rarotonga. Atiuan-based Andrea Eimke is an artist who works in the medium of tapa and other textiles, and also co-authored the book 'Tivaivai - The Social Fabric of the Cook Islands' with British academic Susanne Kuechler. Many of these artists have studied at university art schools in New Zealand and continue to enjoy close links with the New Zealand art scene.

New Zealand-based Cook Islander artists include Michel Tuffrey, print-maker David Teata, Richard Shortland Cooper, Sylvia Marsters, and Jim Vivieaere.

On Rarotonga, the main commercial galleries are Beachcomber Contemporary Art (Taputapuatea, Avarua) run by Ben Bergman, and The Art Gallery ('Arorangi). The Cook Islands National Museum also exhibits art.


  • The national flower of the Cook Islands is the Tiare māori or Tiale māoli (Penrhyn, Nassau, Pukapuka).[18]
  • The Cook Islands are infested with Kiore toka (Ship rat).[19] and Polynesian rat[20] The infestation has devastated the bird population on the islands.[21]
  • In April 2007, 27 Kuhl's Lorikeet were re-introduced to Atiu from Rimatara. Fossil and oral traditions indicate that the species was formerly on at least five islands of the southern group. Excessive exploitation for its red feathers is the most likely reason for the species's extinction in the Cook Islands.[22]


Rugby union is the most popular sport in the Cook Islands.[23] Association football (soccer) and rugby league are also popular.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ World fact book : Cook Islands
  2. ^ UN THE WORLD TODAY (PDF) and Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs Supplement No. 8; page 10
  3. ^ Cook Islands Maori dictionary by Jasper Buse & Raututi Taringa, Cook Islands Ministry of Education (1995) page 200
  4. ^ A View from the Cook Islands SOPAC
  5. ^ "QuickStats About Culture and Identity - Pacific Peoples". 2006 Census. Statistics New Zealand. Archived from the original on 2007-08-29. Retrieved 2007-06-12. 
  6. ^ "The Cook Islands Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update For the Financial Year 2010/2011". Cook Islands Ministry of Finance & Economic Management. December 2010. p. 7. 
  7. ^ "Cook Islands Travel Guide" (with description), World Travel Guide, Nexus Media Communications, 2006. Webpage: WTGuide-Cook-Islands.
  8. ^ Cook Islands
  9. ^ European discovery of the Cook Islands by Brian Hooker[dead link]
  10. ^ Cook : the extraordinary voyages of Captain James Cook, 2003, by Nicholas Thomas, page 310-311.
  11. ^ "Cook Islands Government website". Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  12. ^ "Ten Decades: The Australasian Centenary History of the London Missionary Society, Rev. Joseph King (Word document)". Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  13. ^ "History of the Cook Islands". Ck. Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  14. ^ "Treaty Between the United States of America and the Cook Islands on Friendship and Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary Between the United States of America and the Cook Islands (and Exchange of Notes)". Pacific Islands Treaty Series. University of the South Pacific School of Law. Retrieved 2009-05-18. 
  15. ^ "Agreement on Maritime Delimitation Between the Government of the Cook Islands and the Government of the French Republic". Pacific Islands Treaty Series. University of the South Pacific School of Law. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ RAROTONGA LOCAL GOVERNMENT (REPEAL) BILL TO BE TABLED, Cook Islands Government and HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 393 :09 February 2008
  18. ^ "Cook Islands Wildlife". 
  19. ^ "Cook Islands Biodiversity: Rattus rattus - Ship Rat". Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  20. ^ ""Cook Islands Biodiversity: Rattus exulans - Pacific Rat"". Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  21. ^ "Cook Islands Biodiversity: The Status of Cook Islands Birds - 1996". 2005-09-24. Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  22. ^ "BirdLife International: Rimatara Lorikeet (Vini kuhlii) at". Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  23. ^ Hollis, Renee (2007). Aitutaki, Heaven on Earth. Nelson, New Zealand: Renee Hollis. ISBN 9780473146030. 

Further reading

  • Gilson, Richard. The Cook Islands 1820-1950. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press, 1980. ISBN 0705507351

External links

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