The Cook Islands (Kūki ‘Āirani in Māori) is a self-governing island country in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand. It comprises 15 islands whose total land area is 92.7 square miles (240 square kilometers). The islands’ defense and foreign affairs are the responsibility of New Zealand, but they are exercised in consultation with the Cook Islands. Although Cook Islanders are citizens of New Zealand, they have the status of Cook Islands nationals, which is not given to other New Zealand citizens. The main population centers are on the island of Rarotonga (10,572 in 2011), where there is an international airport. There is a larger population of Cook Islanders in New Zealand, particularly the North Island. In the 2006 census, 58,008 self-identified as being of ethnic Cook Islands Māori descent.
There are 15 major islands spread over 849,425 square miles (2,200,000 km²) of ocean, divided into two distinct groups: the Southern Cook Islands and the Northern Cook Islands of coral atolls. The islands were formed by volcanic activity; the northern group is older and consists of six atolls, which are sunken volcanoes topped by coral growth. The climate is moderate to tropical.
It is thought that the Cook Islands may have been settled from 900-1200 A.D. Early settlements suggest that there were warriors migrating from Tahiti, to the north east of the Cooks. The Cook Islands continue to hold important connections with Tahiti, and this is generally found in culture, tradition and language. It is also thought that the early settlers were true Tahitians, who landed in Rarotonga (Takitumu city). There are notable historic epics of great warriors that travel between the two nations for a wide variety of reasons. These missions are still unclear but recent research indicate that large to small groups often fled their island due to local wars being forced upon them. For each group to travel and to survive, they would normally rely on a warrior to lead them. Outstanding warriors are still mentioned in local traditions and stories.
These arrivals are evidenced by an older road in Toi, the Ara Metua, which runs around most of Rarotonga, and is believed to be at least 1,200 years old. This 29 kilometer-long, paved road is a considerable achievement of ancient engineering, possibly unsurpassed elsewhere in Polynesia. The islands of Manihiki and Rakahanga trace their origins to the arrival of Toa, an outcast from Rarotonga, and Tupaeru, a high-ranking woman from the Puaikura tribe of Rarotonga. The remainder of the northern islands were probably settled by expeditions from Samoa.
Spanish ships visited the islands in the sixteenth century; the first written record of contact from Europeans with the native inhabitants of the Cook Islands came with the sighting of Pukapuka by Spanish sailor Álvaro de Mendaña in 1595 who called it San Bernardo (Saint Bernard). Portuguese-Spaniard Pedro Fernández de Quirós made the first recorded European landing in the islands when he set foot on Rakahanga in 1606, calling it Gente Hermosa (Beautiful People).
British navigator Captain James Cook arrived in 1773 and 1777; Cook named the islands the Hervey Islands to honor a British Lord of the Admiralty; Half a century later, the Russian Baltic German Admiral Adam Johann von Krusenstern published the Atlas de l’Ocean Pacifique, in which he renamed the islands the Cook Islands to honor Cook. Captain Cook navigated and mapped much of the group. Surprisingly, Cook never sighted the largest island, Rarotonga, and the only island that he personally set foot on was tiny, uninhabited Palmerston Atoll.
The first recorded landing by Europeans was in 1814 by the Cumberland; trouble broke out between the sailors and the Islanders and many were killed on both sides.
The islands saw no more Europeans until missionaries arrived from England in 1821. Christianity quickly took hold in the culture and remains the predominant religion today. In 1823, Captain John Dibbs of the colonial barque Endeavour made the first official sighting of the island of Rarotonga. The Endeavour was transporting Rev. John Williams on a missionary voyage to the islands.
Brutal Peruvian slave traders, known as blackbirders, took a terrible toll on the islands of the Northern Group in 1862 and 1863. At first, the traders may have genuinely operated as labor recruiters, but they quickly turned to subterfuge and outright kidnapping to round up their human cargo. The Cook Islands was not the only island group visited by the traders, but Penrhyn Atoll was their first port of call and it has been estimated that three-quarters of the population was taken to Callao, Peru. Rakahanga and Pukapuka also suffered tremendous losses.
The Cook Islands became a British protectorate in 1888, due largely to community fears that France might occupy the territory as it had Tahiti. On September 6, 1900, the leading islanders presented a petition asking that the islands (including Niue “if possible”) should be annexed as British territory. On October 8 and 9, 1900, seven instruments of cession of Rarotonga and other islands were signed by their chiefs and people; and by a British Proclamation issued at the same time the cessions were accepted, the islands being declared parts of Her Britannic Majesty’s dominions. These instruments did not include Aitutaki. It appears that, though the inhabitants regarded themselves as British subjects, the Crown’s title was uncertain, and the island was formally annexed by Proclamation dated October 9, 1900. The islands were included within the boundaries of the Colony of New Zealand in 1901 by Order in Council under the Colonial Boundaries Act, 1895 of the United Kingdom.
They remained a New Zealand dependent territory until 1965, at which point they became a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand. The first Prime Minister Sir Albert Henry led the county until 1978 when he was accused of vote-rigging. He was succeeded by Tom Davis of the Democratic Party. On June 11, 1980, the United States signed a treaty with the Cook Islands specifying the maritime border between the Cook Islands and American Samoa and also relinquishing its claim to the islands of Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Manihiki, and Rakahanga. In 1990, the Cook Islands signed a treaty with France which delimited the maritime boundary between the Cook Islands and French Polynesia.
On June 13, 2008, a small majority of members of the House of Ariki attempted a coup, claiming to dissolve the elected government and to take control of the country’s leadership. “Basically we are dissolving the leadership, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister and the ministers,” chief Makea Vakatini Joseph Ariki explained. The Cook Islands Herald suggested that the ariki were attempting thereby to regain some of their traditional prestige or mana. Prime Minister Jim Marurai described the take-over move as “ill-founded and nonsensical”. By June 23, the situation appeared to have normalized, with members of the House of Ariki accepting to return to their regular duties.
Today, the Cook Islands are essentially independent (self-governing in free association with New Zealand), but are still officially placed under New Zealand sovereignty. New Zealand is tasked with overseeing the country’s foreign relations and defense. The Cook Islands, Niue, New Zealand (and its territories: Tokelau and the Ross Dependency) make up the Realm of New Zealand. The emigration of skilled workers to New Zealand and government deficits are continuing problems.
As with many of the Pacific islands, contact with the outside world was originally maintained by missionaries who first started missions in the islands in 1821. At that time, letters were carried by the few ships which called occasionally at the islands, but there is evidence that these were coordinated by the British consulate.
Before the introduction of the Cook Islands Post Office, mail was forwarded via Auckland, New Zealand. Under the British protectorate, the first stamps of the Cook Islands were issued on May 7, 1892. There were four denominations — 1 penny black, 1½ penny violet, 2½ pence blue, and 10 pence carmine (Scott #1-4) — designed by F. Moss and printed by the Government Printing Office in Wellington, New Zealand, in sheets of 60 (6×10) from plates constructed from a matrix of six slightly different types. They were typographed on unwatermarked paper, perforated 12½,, and inscribed COOK ISLANDS FEDERATION. These were used at Rarotonga, which was the only post office open at that time. A post office at Mangaja on a neighboring island was opened in 1903.
Between April and July 1919, stamps of New Zealand were surcharged in dark blue or red for use in the Cook Islands (Scott #48-60). These were inscribed RAROTONGA. Stamps were inscribed or overprinted RAROTONGA from 1919 to 1932 for use throughout the islands, but reverted to COOK ISLANDS when Aitutaki and Penrhyn were included in the group and their separate issues withdrawn. Eight post offices within the group were operating by 1935.
Scott #84 was released on March 15, 1932, part of an eventual set of set (the final value, one shilling, was released on May 2). This ½ penny black and deep green unwatermarked, perforated 13, stamp was designed by L.C. Mitchell and recess printed by Pitney Bowes & Company Ltd. in London. It portrays the landing of Captain James Cook FRS RN in the Cook Islands. Captain Cook was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.
Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. He saw action in the Seven Years’ War, and subsequently surveyed and mapped much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec. This helped bring Cook to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society. This notice came at a crucial moment in both Cook’s career and the direction of British overseas exploration, and led to his commission in 1766 as commander of HM Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages.
In three voyages, Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe. He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously achieved. As he progressed on his voyages of discovery he surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time. He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.
In 1779, after sailing around the archipelago of Hawaii for some eight weeks, Captain Cook made landfall at Kealakekua Bay, on Hawaii Island. After a month’s stay, Cook attempted to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific. Shortly after leaving Hawaii Island, however, the HMS Resolution‘s foremast broke, so the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs. Tensions rose, and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians. An unknown group of Hawaiians took one of Cook’s small boats. The evening when the cutter was taken, the people had become “insolent” even with threats to fire upon them. Cook was forced into a wild goose chase that ended with his return to the ship frustrated. He attempted to kidnap and ransom the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu.
That following day, February 24, 1779, Cook marched through the village to retrieve the King. Cook took the King by his own hand and led him willingly away. One of Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s favorite wives, Kanekapolei, and two chiefs approached the group as they were heading to boats. They pleaded with the king not to go until he stopped and sat where he stood. An old Kahuna (priest), chanting rapidly while holding out a coconut, attempted to distract Cook and his men as a large crowd began to form at the shore. The king began to understand that Cook was his enemy. As Cook turned his back to help launch the boats, he was struck on the head by the villagers and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf. He was first struck on the head with a club by a chief named Kalaimanokahoʻowaha or Kanaʻina and then stabbed by one of the king’s attendants, Nuaa. The Hawaiians carried his body away towards the back of the town, still visible to the ship through their spyglass. Four marines, Corporal James Thomas, Private Theophilus Hinks, Private Thomas Fatchett and Private John Allen, were also killed and two others were wounded in the confrontation.
The esteem which the islanders nevertheless held for Cook caused them to retain his body. Following their practice of the time, they prepared his body with funerary rituals usually reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of the society. The body was disemboweled, baked to facilitate removal of the flesh, and the bones were carefully cleaned for preservation as religious icons in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of the treatment of European saints in the Middle Ages. Some of Cook’s remains, thus preserved, were eventually returned to his crew for a formal burial at sea.
James Cook left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the twentieth century, and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.