History & Culture

Cook Islanders see themselves as true Polynesians, with a proud heritage that connects directly to the finest seafarers of the vast Pacific. Voyaging on handmade canoes with none of the sophisticated navigation tools of today, they made their way fearlessly across vast tracts of ocean in search of new lands and beginnings.

According to tradition, the first voyagers to arrive in the Cook Islands landed on Rarotonga around 800 AD. These people had set sail from Tupua'i in what is now French Polynesia. Continuing the Polynesian habit of seabound exploration and migration, Cook Islands tradition also has it that the great Maori migrations to New Zealand began from Rarotonga as early as the 5th century AD.

The first written history of 'the Cooks' began in 1595, prompted by the sighting of Pukapuka by the Spanish voyager Alvaro de Mendana. It took almost 150 years for the British to arrive, beginning again with a sighting of Pukapuka in 1764. Subsequently, the infamous Captain Bligh and his ship the HMS Bounty landed on Aitutaki in 1798.

1821 saw the arrival of the first Christian missionaries. Their influence spread quickly throughout the Cook Islands. Whilst the arrival of Christianity did alter many aspects of traditional island existence, the people of the Cook Islands have been able to preserve their proud Polynesian heritage alongside their Christian faith.

The total population of our islands is approximately 19,000. Some 2000 people live on the Northern Group islands and about 5000 on five Southern Group islands. The rest live on Rarotonga. Many of our people live overseas, including close to 50,000 in New Zealand.

One final point: the name 'Cook Islands' was actually bestowed by the Russians, in honour of the great English navigator!

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