Text source: Wallace Revels
Introduction / History
The Cook Islands are a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand. The fifteen small islands in this South Pacific Ocean country have a total land area of 93 square miles and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surrounding their coastlines giving them 800,000 square miles of ocean set aside for their private usage.
The largest populated areas are on the island of Rarotonga, which houses an international airport and accommodates approximately 15,000 citizens. With over 90,000 visitors travelling to the islands in 2006, tourism is the country's number one industry and the primary element of its economy. Lagging behind by a great distance in economic activity are offshore banking, pearls, and maritime and fruit exports. (1)
The Cook Islands were first settled in the 6th century by Polynesians who migrated from nearby Tahiti. Spanish ships visited the islands in the sixteenth century. British navigator Captain James Cook arrived in 1773 and 1777 and named the islands the Hervey Islands. The name "Cook Islands", in honor of Cook, appeared on a Russian naval chart published in the 1820s.
In 1813, missionary John Williams made the first official sighting of the island of Rarotonga. The first recorded landing on Rarotonga by Europeans was in 1814. The islands saw no more Europeans until missionaries arrived from England in 1821. Christianity quickly took hold in the culture and many islanders continue its practice today.
The Cook Islands became a British protectorate at their own request in 1888, mainly to thwart French expansionism. They were transferred to New Zealand in 1901. They remained a New Zealand protectorate until 1965 at which point they became a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand. On June 11, 1980, the US signed a treaty with the Cook Islands specifying the maritime border between the Cook Islands and American Samoa.
Where are they located?
The Cook Islands are in the South Pacific Ocean northeast of New Zealand between French Polynesia and American Samoa. There are fifteen major islands divided into two distinct groups: the Southern Cook Islands and the Northern Cook Islands. The climate is moderate to tropical.
What are their lives like?
Cook Islanders are Polynesians. The northern islands were most probably settled around 800 AD by migrants from the west – Samoa and Tonga. The southern group inhabitants are largely descendants of voyagers from the Society Islands and the Marquesas. The islanders are of the Maori race and are very closely linked in culture and language to the Maori of New Zealand, the Maohi of French Polynesia, the Maori of Easter Island (known as Rapanui) and the Kanaka Maoli of Hawaii.
Today the Cook Islands use three languages: Maori, English, and Pukapukan. The latter originated in western Polynesia and has links with the tongues of Samoa, Tokelau, and Niue. Pukapukan is claimed to be the oldest language in the Cook Islands according to a New Zealand scholar and researcher, Dr. Mary Salisbury, who has worked hard with Pukapukans to translate the Bible into their language.
Although fun loving and friendly, Cook Islanders, like Tahitians and other Polynesians, are a conservative and generally religious people who cleave to their customary way of life and culture. The early missionaries stamped their indelible print on these islands in the 19th century.
Individuality between islands is the hallmark of the culture of the Cook Islands and reflects their varied sources of ancient migration as well as the vast distances between 15 tiny islands scattered over a section of the South Pacific Ocean as big as the Indian sub-continent. There are some common threads however. Food and sharing of meals is a prominent feature in the cultures. Western notions of the importance of the individual are completely alien to Polynesians. They see themselves as members of a race, a people, a party or some other general group in much the same way as many primitive societies do.
One of the most significant functions of a male was to organize and pay for feasts. A chief, or indeed, any man, was judged by his ability and willingness to bestow gifts and to throw big parties.
One outstanding ability that is shared by all Cook Islanders is music (playing and singing). Close harmony singing is highly developed in church music and the power and emotional impact of chants and hymns at weddings and funerals is well known to visitors. The range and talent of popular singing/singers can be seen at the numerous festivals throughout the year. Each island has its own songs and the various island groups compete fiercely. There are numerous Polynesian string bands that play at restaurants, hotels, and concerts. They use combinations of modern electronic instruments and traditional ones including ukuleles fashioned from coconut shells. The distinctive Cook Islands drumming is world famous and there is disagreement as to whether the Tahitian drumming style might be more correctly called Cook Island style.
Painting, wood carving, and basalt and limestone sculptures are common art forms of the Cook Islands. The distance between the islands likely contributed to slight differences in style yet a cohesiveness of general style can be easily seen. The effects of modernization upon younger generations have deterred them from learning the traditional arts of the islands. Efforts are undertaken by the locals to preserve the ancient artisanship of Cook Islanders.
Crafts produced by the islands also include woven mats, baskets, hats, and decorative trims for hats and clothing. Tivaevae is a patchwork quilt-making skill that was learned from the 19th century missionaries. Quiltmaking was primarily a community activity in the past and enjoyed great popularity. Handmade quilts are sold in fine art galleries and shops.
The Cook Islands have produced and sheltered many writers over the years. Some world-renowned writers have lived in the islands and many more have sought a safe haven for writing in the islands for periods of time.
What are their beliefs?
The dominant religion of the Cook Islands is Christianity. Missionaries arrived in 1821 and quickly uprooted the traditional worship of tribal gods and idols. In addition to leaving a new history of faith in God, the missionaries had a profound impact on the islands by the formation of schools, medical centers, government structure, and improvements in agriculture. (2)
The missionaries influenced the traditional gender roles of Cook Island women by treating them as equal to the island men. Throughout the latter part of the 19th century, less importance was put on authority figures being solely male and some women became more influential in the public sphere. Other important changes brought by the missionaries include the replacement of traditional tribal governing system where hereditary chiefs were in control with a centralized form of government with elected politicians. Missionaries also introduced the concept of a cash economy that replaced the traditional barter system. Lastly, missionaries are credited with bringing cotton usage for clothing, bedding, and home furnishings to the islands. Agriculture increased as more acreage was utilized for growing cotton.
What are their needs?
With a rich heritage of Christianity going back hundreds of years, the Cook Islands are likely to welcome visiting practitioners of the Christian faith. As with any remote location, supplies are probably needed since it is expensive to ship products into remote island locations. Toiletries, personal items, books, videos, CDs, Bibles, Christian literature, and non-restricted medicines could be beneficial to the island people.
Additionally, every nation needs to have the proper instruction and living example of Biblical Christianity. Discipleship and Scripture-oriented teaching and preaching need to be maintained. Evangelistic efforts for the islands and neighboring nations are also an area that needs to be established and/or maintained.
Prayer PointsView Cook Islands Maori in all countries.
* Pray for Biblical Christianity to be proclaimed on these islands.
* Pray for local converts to be prepared for ministry unto their neighbors.
* Pray for their protection and provision while they engage in spiritual warfare.
* Pray for God to raise up a people who will take the gospel message to neighboring islands and into other nations.