Cook Islands History

The Cook Islands were named after the naval captain and explorer Captain James Cook who visited the island between 1773 and 1777. Spread over a vast area in the South Pacific Ocean are 15 major islands divided into two groups – the Northern Cook Islands and the Southern Cook Islands of the coral atolls. Cook Islands’ main language is Rarotongan Māori but they have several dialect variations especially in the outer islands.

Who Are the Early Settlers of Cook Islands?

It is believed that they have been settled sometime in 900-1200 AD. Great warriors from Tahiti – who were considered true Tahitians – were among the early settlers of the country. This is why Tahiti and Cook Islands have a special connection which is apparent in their tradition, language and culture. When you read stories and traditions of Cook Islands, you will know about the historic adventures of great warriors who traveled between Tahiti and Cook Islands. Also, some small groups may have fled to Cook Islands on the account of local wars that were forced upon them. To survive, they needed the help of great warriors.

European Explorers

The first-ever historical record of Cook Islands started in 1595, during the sighting of Pukapuka by the Alvaro de Mendaña. It was followed by the Spanish explorer, Pedro Quiros when he landed in 1606 at Rakahanga. In 1764, The British arrived at Pukapuka but later called it Danger Island for they could not land. Captain James Cook landed on the Southern part of the island sometime in 1773-1779 but he never came close to Rarotonga. A few years after, Captain William Bligh of the Bounty landed on Aitutaki and in April of the same year, Bounty mutineers appeared at Rarotonga but surprisingly did not land. Captain James Cook named Cook Islands as Hervey Islands. He also discovered Manuae and gave this same name to that island. It was the Russians who named this South Pacific Country as Cook Islands. This was in honor of an English navigator that appeared on a naval chart in Russia in the early 1800s.

British Period

The takeover by France of Tahiti in 1843 caused a serious apprehension amongst the chiefs or ariki of Cook Islands. Because of this, they requested the British to protect them in case the French attack. History repeated itself in 1865 when they asked for another protection from the British in a petition to New Zealand’s Governor Grey. One of Cook Islands chiefs or ariki was Queen Makea who was a skilled negotiator. She was able to get good export prices and cut the debts that resulted in the Cooks enjoying prosperity in the 1870s. Queen Makea achieved paramount status and formally petitioned the British in 1888 to set up a Protectorate to head off the invasion by the French. However, the British were reluctant and were continuously pressured by New Zealand to pass Cook Islands to them. In 1898, New Zealand tried to take over but Makea did not favor it as she preferred to be annexed to Britain. This annexation resulted in the freedom of religion and the arrival of the missionaries from different religious denominations.

More Recent Cook Islands History

They were a New Zealand dependent territory until 1965 when the islands became independent. However, they were still under New Zealand’s sovereignty. The latter oversees Cook Islands’s defense and foreign relations. In 1980, they signed a treaty with the US and with France in 1990. On June 13, 2008, some members of the House of Ariki claimed to take control of the Cook Islands’s leadership. It was described as nonsensical and ill-founded by Jim Marurai, the Prime MInister. The situation was normalized on June 23.

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