Kia Orana and welcome to the Cook Islands!
The Cook Islands is made up of 15 islands spread over 850,000 square miles (2.2 million sq. km) of the South Pacific Ocean. Rarotonga is the capital and the most thriving island, home to the international airport with direct flights from Los Angeles, Sydney, Auckland and Papeete.
HistoryCook Islanders have a heritage that links directly with the finest seafarers of the Pacific.
The Cook Islands first settled around the 6th century AD by the Polynesian people from Tahiti in the Polynesian exploration and migration period. The Māori migrations occurred to New Zealand from Rarotonga in the 5th century AD. Māori traditions state that the exploring canoes may have followed migrating birds as the long-tailed cuckoo comes to New Zealand from Polynesia in October. Over-population on many of the islands of Polynesia led to these migrations.
The first written history of the Cook Islands began in 1595, incited by the sighting of Pukapuka by the Spanish voyager Alvaro de Mendana. It took 150 years for the British to arrive, again with a sighting of Pukapuka in 1764. Subsequently, the infamous Captain Bligh and his ship the HMS Bounty landed on Aitutaki in 1798.
British navigator Captain James Cook arrived in 1773; he was an expert on navigating and mapping the whole region. The name ‘Cook Islands’ was first mentioned in an atlas called de l'Ocean Pacifique published by the German Admiral Adam Johann von Krusenstern. Research shows that he named the islands in honour of Captain James Cook.
1821 was the arrival of Christianity; alongside the Christian faith the people of the Cook Islands are proud of their Polynesian heritage and still practice their traditions.
The total population of the Cook Islands is approximately 19,000. Most of the population lives on the South Islands; this is where Rarotonga is located. Although, there are many Cook Islanders who live and study overseas, there are approximately 50,000 in New Zealand.
Song & DanceCook Islanders are known for their distinct Polynesian singing and dancing; they are amongst the finest dancers in the south pacific. Traditional dancers are accompanied by drums and perform to a beat whilst telling a story. Each island has its own unique dances and drumbeats.
Some well-known traditional dance categories are the Ura Pa’u, Kapa Rima, Pe’e and Ute. Ura Pa’u is a drum dance which involves fast pace dancing accompanied by drumming. Kapa Rima is an action dance which involves a large amount of arm and hand movement, Pe’e involves traditional chants and singing whilst the Ute, known by some as the haka, are celebratory chants. Traditional costumes are worn by dancers which include kikau (coconut frond skirts), shell necklaces, coconut bras, flowers and head dresses which are woven matting filled with pearls, shells and feathers.
Cook Islanders have many dancing competitions and regular international awards throughout the year; where you can appreciate a full range of cultural dances and traditions. One of the most popular of these competitions is Te Maeva Nui, a week long festival and dance competition dedicated to celebrating the Cook Islands independence.