The Cook Islands is a self-governing parliamentary democracy in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand. It is composed of 15 small islands whose total land area is 240 square kilometres (92.7 sq mi). The Cook Islands' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), however, covers 1,800,000 square kilometres (690,000 sq mi) of ocean.
The Cook Islands' land-ownership policy has a great influence on the islands' economy and social patterns. A law prohibiting anybody from selling or buying land makes it impossible for outsiders to own land in the Cooks. Land ownership is purely hereditary and land can only be leased, not sold, to an outside party. The maximum term of a lease is 60 years.
Like many ther South Pacific island nations, the cook Islands' economic development is hindered by the isolation of the country from foreign markets, the limited size of domestic markets, lack of natural resources, periodic devastation from natural disasters, and inadequate infrastructure. Agriculture, employing more than one-quarter of the working population, provides the economic base with major exports made up of copra and citrus fruit. Black pearls are the Cook Islands' leading export. Manufacturing activities are limited to fruit processing, clothing, and handicrafts.
Names play a major role in the traditional life of the Maori people of the Cook Islands. It has a dynamic, ever-present symbolism that constantly remains those who are living of responsibilities to their ancestors and descendants. It has emotional, physical and spiritual connotations. Emotional feelings that reveal sacrifices made by those who have passed on who once carried the same name or who have some association to it. Physical undertones that challenge those at present who have inherited the names to be successful in life. And spiritual connotations: that link the past into the future, recognising that a name crosses the boundaries of life and death.
According to the oral traditions of both the Cook Islands and New Zealand Maori people, who share very similar languages, New Zealand was originally settled by canoe voyagers from Rarotonga. Hundreds of ocean-going vakas [canoes] are thought to have landed in New Zealand from about 1000AD - both from Rarotonga and from other islands around the Pacific region.
The British took formal control of the Cook Islands in 1888 and then followed a debate with New Zealand about who should be responsible for the islands. The combination of disease, slavery and migration meant the islands' population of about 17,000 just before contact with Europeans fell to less than half. The population now is about 13,000. During WW2 the USA built airstrips on Aitutaki and Penrhyn but essentially the Cooks remained a quiet dependency. In 1965 the Cook Islands became self-governing. Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens and carry New Zealand passports.
After the explorers came the missionaries. In 1821 Reverend John Williams of the London Missionary Society (LMS) came to Aitutaki. The height of the missionaries' power was from 1835 to 1880. These European missionaries had an enormous impact on Cook Islands life - spiritual, social, economic and political. But they left the actual government of the islands to the tribal chiefs or ariki. The traditional system of land inheritance and the indigenous languages were also left intact.
In the early 1960s New Zealand became hypersensitive to the decolonisation fashion then sweeping the rest of the world and quickly buckled under pressure to give the Cook Islands self-rule. Elections were held on April 20 1965 and resulted in the first government of the Cook Islands Party headed by Albert Henry. He was later knighted and, many years later, stripped of his knighthood for illegal electoral rigging.
Between 1773 and 1779 Captain James Cook sighted and landed on many of the southern group but never came within eyeshot of Rarotonga. The infamous Captain William Bligh of the Bounty landed on Aitutaki in 1789 – he is credited with importing paw paw trees to the Cooks – and in April of that year the mutineers of the Bounty appeared off Rarotonga but, contrary to popular belief, probably did not land. Cook named the islands the Hervey Islands. In fact, he gave this name to the first island he discovered – Manuae. The name "Cook Islands" was given to the group by the Russians in honor of the great English navigator when it appeared for the first time on a Russian naval chart in the early 1800s.
While the exact history of the Cook Islands is not known as there is very little documentation to prove when the first visitors landed on these islands, what is known is that the Polynesians were the first to arrive here from neighboring Tahiti and Hawaii. Most of the ancient history of the islands have been passed on down from generation to generation, with archaeologists tracing settlements of the islands to the fourth century C.E.
The Cook Islands lie in the center of the Polynesian Triangle in the South Pacific Ocean; immediately to the west lie the Kingdom of Tonga and Samoa and the east Tahiti and islands of French Polynesia. The Cook Islands are virtually in the same position south of the equator as Hawaii is North. New Zealand is a 3-hour flight to the south, and Honolulu is a 5-hour flight to the north. The Cook Islands comprise 15 islands broadly falling into two groups: Southern Group: has nine volcanic/atoll islands: Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Mangaia, Atiu, Mauke, Mitiaro, Palmerston, Manuae, and Takutea. Northern Goup: has six low laying atolls: Manihiki, Rakahanga, Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Suwarrow and Nassau. The islands have a total land area of 240 square kilometers scattered over two million square kilometers of ocean. Rarotonga is the main island with a land area of 67 sq. km. and is mountainous, the highest point being 658m above sea level.