Rarotonga, Cook Islands: A brief history by Bryson and the Moon Guidebook!

Oceangybe

Words by Bryson

Latitude: 21 deg 15′ S

Longitude: 159 deg 45′ W

The Cook Islands, a New Zealand dependency, lie in the centre of the Polynesian Islands of the South Pacific. Approximately 4500 km south of Hawaii, these 15 islands and atolls cover approximately 2 million square kilometers. They range in size and diversity from the high peaks and waterfalls of Rarotonga to the the low lying corals atolls of Mauke and Mitiaro. Almost every different type of oceanic island can be found in the cooks; fringing reefs, true coral atolls, volcanic basins and everything in between.

The islands were well known to Polynesian long before the arrival of Europeans. According to legend, in approximately 1200 AD, two great warriors, Karika from Samoa and Tangiianui from Tahiti, met on the high seas but due to lack of spectators and the declaration of a winner, they decided to head to Rarotonga and settle their land dispute in a more amenable fashion. Starting a one point on Rarotonga, they paddled their canoes (vaka) in opposite directions around the island until joining on the other side. The direct line joining the start and end point divided the island among the two warriors. Legends like these make the South Pacific so much more interesting to visit.

Despite the legends, recent religious site evacuations on Rarotonga point to habitation of the island as early as 500 AD. The first Europeans to sight the islands were Spanish Explorer, Mendana and his crew. However, the islands were rarely visited and often were sailed by. First named the Hervey Islands by Captain Cook in the 1770′s, they were later changed to their current name by Russian Cartographer, Krusenstern, in 1824. The first European visitors to the capital and largest island of Rarotonga, we the crew of the mutineered Bounty in 1789. They were also responsible for the first orange trees to be grown on the island.

The next dominant visitor to the islands was in 1823 by John Williams of the London Missionary Society. The missionaries had a very strict and hard-line doctrine. Williams trained numerous local missionaries and send them out to convert the other islands. These missionaries taught the the European diseases of Smallpox, Measles, Influenza, etc… (which killed 2/3 of the population) were God’s punishment for the sinful islanders. The Cook Islands Christian Church is dominant within the islands. Rarotonga alone has 50 churches for the approx 9000 residents.

The islands self manage their own internal and external affairs and all islander hold New Zealand citizenship. The 25 member Parliment of the Cook Island consists of mainly men, however most of the chiefly titles are given to women as they the main landowners in the islands. The Cook Islands suffer a sever trade imbalance with their imports being 11 times their exports. New Zealand, the major importer, benefits greatly from this situation.

About 84 percent of the people are Polynesian Cook Island Maoris. They are related to the Maori of New Zealand, the Tahitians and the Samoans. English is spoked pretty much everywhere. Compared to the rest of Polynesia, the Cook Islands are cheap, easy to travel to and around. They beauty is unsurpassed and the whole crew of Khulula wishes we had had more time to explore the islands fully.

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