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Discoverers of the Cook Islands and the Names They Gave

18 Cook Islands

page 59

18 Cook Islands


The name Cook Islands appeared for the first time on a Russian map during the first half of the 19th century (1). However, it denoted only the islands of what is now the Southern Group. The last question is: When did all the fifteen islands become known as the Cook Islands? The answer is found in the story of their “discovery” by New Zealand, where Sir George Grey had first formulated the idea of an island empire centred on New Zealand in the 1840s (2).

The L.M.S. missionaries did not found a theocratic kingdom in the Cook Islands for the simple reason that the islands were never united under a single king. Both the Northern and Southern Groups became rather a collection of theocratic kingdoms (3). The unifying factor was the Rarotongan mission centre with its Training Institution, Takamoa College, founded in 1837 (4).


For a long time neither the French nor the British were interested in the scattered islands west of Tahiti. The Islanders themselves were jealous of external influence. The intervention of the French in Tahiti and the Maori wars in New Zealand prompted the Rarotonga Chiefs in 1844 to ask the Directors of the London missionary Society to seek protection of the British Crown in case the French would move westwards (5). Laws were passed in Rarotonga and Mangaia prohibiting the sale of land and the marriage of native women to foreigners (6).

The first formal petitions for British protection were submitted by the Rarotonga Ariki, British residents and the L.M.S. missionary to Governor Grey of New Zealand in 1865. The Foreign Secretary secured an assurance from the French that they had no intention of annexing Rarotonga (7).


In 1881 the British Government appointed Mr C.E. Goodman, a trader, as Vice-Consul, recognizing the neutrality and independence of the island (8). On Aug. 10, 1881 the French warship “Hugon” paid a visit to Rarotonga. Captain Ménard invited Makea to draw closer to the French. Makea respectfully declined the captain's present to her. The Chiefs and the European traders wrote to Governor Gordon, notifying him of their fears and wishes (9).

It was early in December 1884 that the New Zealand politicians began to press for the annexation of the Cook Islands (Southern Group) (10). In Sept. 1885 a committee of the New Zealand House of Representatives stated that British intervention in the islands was justified (11). In October of the same year Makea and her husband, Ngamaru of Atiu, went to New Zealand, and held discussion with the Minister for Native Affairs, John Ballance. She expressed a strong desire for British protection, without committing herself (12). In March 1886 the European residents of Rarotonga petitioned the British Foreign Office to appoint a British Consul with full powers to protect their interests (13).


New rumours of French intervention resulted in new petitons by Makea and Tinomana of Rarotonga and the Aitutakian Chiefs to the New Zealand Governor in May 1888. Finally the British Government agreed and on Sept. 27, 1888 the Vice-Consul, R. Exham, proclaimed a protectorate over the Southern Group, that is: Rarotonga, Mangaia, Aitutaki, Atiu, Mauke, Mittiaro and Takutea (14).

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A month later the H.M.S “Hyacinth” arrived, and Captain Edmund Bourke hoisted the British Flag in the three districts of Rarotonga on Oct. 26, 1888, and at Mangaia, Atiu, Mitiaro, and Mauke in the course of the following week, and on Nov. 4 at Aitutaki. He declared the islands to be “part of the British dominions”. This suggested annexation. It was rectified later, except for Aitutaki, which remained annexed (15).

This action in the Hervey or Cook Islands led to action in the atolls to the North, which were closely linked to Rarotonga, their religious and trading centre. One by one the atolls were placed under British protection or annexed (16).


A Protectorate retained a fairly complete measure of internal artonomy (17). The British Resident, F.J. Moss, appointed by the New Zealand Government in October 1890, took up his duties in April 1891 (18). His first task was to establish some kind of federal regime. He called a conference of delegates from Rarotonga, Mangaia, Aitutaki, Atiu and Mauke. They met on June 4, 1891 to provide a law for the good government of the islands. It became the Parliament of the “Federation of the Cook Islands” (19).

In 1893 the jurisdiction of the Western Pacific High Commissioner in Fiji was extended to the Cook Islands (20). In 1898 W.E. Gudgeon was appointed British Resident (21). He arrived on Oct. 10, 1898 (22).

The Status of Protectorate brought freedom of Religion. The Seventh Day Adventist ship “Pitcairn” called at Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Mangaia in 1891. Their first representative was Dr J.E. Caldwell, who established a small hospital at Avarua in 1892 (23). On Aug. 6, 1895 two married couples and a single teacher of the S.D.A arrived at Rarotonga (24).

The first Roman Catholic priest, Fr George Eich, SS.CC., visited Rarotonga in 1893. After brief visites to Mauke and Atiu, Fr Eich and Fr Bernardin Castanié landed at Avarua on Oct. 29, 1894 (25). On July 10, 1895 Mr Moss drafted a note in which he stated that he could not see on what grounds Roman Catholics can be opposed in building a church (26). The first church, St. Joseph's, was dedicated on Christmas 1896 (28). The Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny opened a school on July 30, 1895 (27).


In April 1896 the Colonial Office offered to the New Zealand Governor, Glasgow, the possibility of annexation of the Cook Islands to New Zealand, on condition that it would not provoke opposition among the islanders. Glasgow answered: “to annex the group to New Zealand would be of no benefit whatever to this Colony or to the islands, and I would think not be approved by the islanders to whom it might be the means of doing much harm” (29).

Lord Ranfurly, the N.Z. Governor, visited the Cook Islands in April 1899, and became convinced that annexation to New Zealand would be the best means to a strong and stable government (30). One year later on April 21, 1900 Makea and Ngamaru asked for annexation to the British Empire without attachment to New Zealand (31).

In 1899 the Federation celebrated Christmas twice to correct the calendar. The L.M.S missionaries were unaware of the International Dateline, when they came from Sydney. Thus the Cook Islands were one day ahead. The correction was largely due to the untiring efforts of Fr Castanié.

The New Zealand Prime Minister, R.J. Seddon, visited Rarotonga. Aitutaki and Mangaia in June 1900 (32). Some forty European Residents presented to page 61 him a petition asking for annexation to New Zealand (33). On June 7 Prime Minister had a long discussion with Makea and other Ariki (34).

On Sept. 6, 1900 the Ariki of Rarotonga and Ngamaru as representative of the Nga-Pu-Toru asked for annexation to New Zealand, with the request to include Penrhyn, Manihiki, Rakahanga, Palmerston, Pukapuka and Niue (35). Mangaia had not been consulted (36). The inclusion of Niue was probably due to L.M.S influence (37).


The New Zealand Parliament passed a resolution in favour of annexation on Sept. 28, 1900 (38). Lord Ranfurly read the proclamation of annexation in Rarotonga on Oct. 8, 1900, after having secured a formal cession of the Chiefs. He repeated the ceremony at Mangaia, Aitutaki (without formal cession because of the annexation in 1888), Penrhyn and Niue (39).

The House of Representatives added the islands of Suwarrow and Nassau to those named in the September resolution on Oct. 20, 1900 (40).

An Imperial Order in Council of May 13, 1901 under the Colonial Boundaries Act of 1895 permitted the annexation of the Southern and Northern Groups of Islands to New Zealand. This Order came into effect on June 11, 1901 (41), when the Duke of Cornwall and York read a proclamation at Auckland, dated June 10, 1901 (42). The population of the Cook Islands in 1902 was: 8,213 (43).

On June 10, 1901 Niue was annexed to New Zealand and included in the Cook and other islands, although historically the island had been associated with Samoa and Tonga (44). During the visit of the New Zealand Minister-in-charge of the Cook Islands, C.H. Mills, in 1903, the Niuean spokesman strongly emphasised their wish to have direct communication with New Zealand without any connection whatsoever with Rarotonga. On Sept. 29, 1903 the Cook and other Islands Government Act was passed, and Niue placed under a separate administration (45).

The common name is Niue, but on formal occasions the name Niue-Fekai is used: its means: Niue all around the people. Other ancient names are: Nuku-Tu-Taha, that is: Island that stands by itself; Motu-Tefua, that is: Isolated Island; Fakahoa-Motu, that is: Island made flowering; Nuku-Tuluea, that is: Island that grew up by itself; Varekao, or Arekao; and Vare-A-Toa. Captain Cook named it Savage Island in 1774 (46).


In October 1901 the New Zealand passed “The Cook and other Islands Government Act” (47). Makea remained “Head of Government”, while the Resident Commissioner became chief executive in practice. A Land Titles Court was established under the Act in July 1902. The Federal Parliament was replaced by a Federal Council, which met for the first time in Rarotonga on Dec. 10, 1901. The first New Zealand Minister-in-charge of the Cook Islands, CH. Mills, was appointed on July 22, 1902 (48).

In 1908 the Cook Islands Ariki and members of the Rarotonga Island Council still claimed to be “a self-governing community under the British Crown”. But by the time of Gudgeon's retirement in 1909 it was apparent that the Cook Islands were not in fact a fully self-governing community. District Government and the Ariki Courts had been abolished. The only authority left to the Ariki was that of passing local ordinances, which were subject to the approval of the Resident Commissioner (49).


At the time of annexation in 1901 the islands were not yet known under the collective name of “Cook Islands”, as is obvious from the page 62 title of “the Cook and other Islands Government Act”. But the annexation to New Zealand was undoubtedly the trigger that united them under the name of Cook Islands, or Kuki Airani.

The process was completed in 1915, when the New Zealand Parliament passed “The Cook Islands Act 1915”. The Federal Council was abolished, and the term “Federation” discontinued. The Act tightened control from Wellington in matters relating to the Group as a whole. As a result the Cook Islands traditional leaders were forced further out of touch with executive government (50).


The Cook Islands Act 1915 defined the area of the Cook Islands as extending from 8 degrees South to 23 degrees South, and from 156 degrees West to 167 degrees West (51), an area of 2,201,490 km2, an area more than 8 times that of New Zealand, or almost the combined areas of France, Low Countries, West and East Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslavakia, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, or the combined areas of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The land-area of the fifteen islands is 240 km2, that is .007% of the total area. They have a reef-line of 410.4km, and a lagoon-space of 566.6 km2 (52).

Standard time is 10 hours and 30 minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time. The population in 1966: 19,247, in 1971: 21,317, in 1975: 19,137.


The “Isles of Eden” (53) had become “New Zealand's Little Sister” (54), and its “Tropical Province” (55). Whether you call it “South Seas Paradise” (56), or “Not Quite Paradise” (57) is up to you.


In 1946 a new development in the history of the Cook Islands began with the erection of a Legislative Council, composed of an equal number of official and unofficial members. The latter were elected by the Island Councils. It was a first move towards participation of the Islanders in the government of their own country.

A further constitutional reform took place in 1957: the establishment of a Legislative Assembly of 22 elected members and four official members. It could make Ordinances for the peace, order and good government of the Cook Islands. Full budgetary control was handed over to the Assembly in 1962.

Under pression of the United Nations, which accused New Zealand of being a colonial power, the N.Z. Government offered to the Cook Islands four options: full independence, participation in a Polynesian Federation, integration with New Zealand, or full internal self-government. New Zealand itself chose internal self-government. During the 1963 session the Legislative Assembly adopted a report providing for full internal self-government in 1965. The Executive Committee was reconstructed in the form of a “shadow cabinet”.

In 1964 the Assembly discussed and adopted the Cook Islands Constitution Bill and Amendment Act. The New Zealand Parliament did the same. On the 28th of July, 1965, the Administrator of the Government of New Zealand signed the Proclamation to bring the Constitution into force on the 4th of August 1965. On that day the swearing-in took place of the High Commissioner as representative of Her Majesty the Queen in right of New Zealand Head of State of the Cook Islands, and also as representative of the page 63 Government of New Zealand, The first Premier of the Cook Islands became Mr. Albert Henry (now Sir Albert Henry). The Cook Islands had become self-governing in internal matters. A new South Pacific State was born (58).


Another important date in the modern history of the Cook Islands is the 24th January 1974. On that day the National Ensign of the Cook Islands was officially raised on all the inhabited islands, except Pukapuka, Nassau and Palmerston, because they had not yet received their flags (59).

The new Ensign is green with a circle of 15 gold stars on the fly. The green colour is a symbol, of the vitality of the land and the people, of the evergreen and lasting growth of the Cook Islands. The stars are symbols of heaven and faith in God; it represents the powers which have guided the people throughout their history. The gold colour of the stare symbolizes the friendliness, hope, faith, dedication, love and happiness of the Cook Islanders. The circle of fifteen gold stars is a symbol of the togetherness, strength, and unity of purpose of the people, and expresses the moulding of the fifteen islands into one united land and people. Thus, colours and pattern chosen — green, gold, stars — represent the elements of the earth, the heavens and life, which encompass all the past, present and future, and are inspirations to be one united, free and dedicated people (60).

The new Flag was the result of a competition held during the first half of 1973. 120 Designs were received, and the final design by Mr. Len Staples was chosen by ballot at a meeting of Cabinet, the Flag Design Committee, the Judging Panel and art specialists, and formally approved by Cabinet in July 1973 (61).

In the Cook Islands Library and Museum in Avarua, Rarotonga, one can see a flag of three horizontal stripes - scarlet, white, scarlet, and three blue stars on the white. It is an old flag of Rarotonga. The three stars represent the three land and tribe divisions of the island: Te Au O Tonga, Puaikura (Arorangi) and Takitumu (Ngatangiia and Titikaveka).


see text, no. 17.4






66:48; 187:9 note 19






76:66–67, 234; 131:63–64




76:140, 234–235




76:154, 217, 235; 131:65


76:236–237; 131:65




76:239–240; 131:66; 66:285, 296; 126


114; 126; 76;240–241; 131:66








76:254–255; 131:67


76:257; 131:67




















76:260; 131:71; 66:295


76:261; 131:71




89:334, 442; 76:262




76:265; 131:74; 66:295; 172:24–25




66:295 note 5


76:266–268; 131:75–76; 66:296


76:269; 66:296


76:268–270; 131:76 66:296




76:268–270; 131:76




76:270; 172:25


64:183, 189






55: 11–12; 86a:81–82; 86b:3, 14, 88; 234:217; 187:14


66:296 note 2; page 64 172:26





























Serrated Clubs (Akatara) from Rarotonga; made from the black heart (Taiki) of ironwood (toa). On display in the Cook Islands Museum; on loan from the Otago and Canterbury Museums.

Serrated Clubs (Akatara) from Rarotonga; made from the black heart (Taiki) of ironwood (toa). On display in the Cook Islands Museum; on loan from the Otago and Canterbury Museums.