History of the Cook Islands

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The Cook Islands are named after Captain James Cook, who visited the islands in 1773 and 1777.[1] The Cook Islands became a British protectorate in 1888.

By 1900, administrative control was transferred to New Zealand; in 1965 residents chose self-government in free association with New Zealand.

The Cook Islands contain fifteen islands in the group spread over a vast area in the South Pacific. The majority of islands are low coral atolls in the Northern Group, with Rarotonga, a volcanic island in the Southern Group, as the main administration and government centre. The main Cook Islands language is Rarotongan Māori. There are some variations in dialect in the 'outer' islands.




The Cook Islands were first settled around the 6th century AD by Polynesian people who migrated from nearby Tahiti, to the southeast. Over-population on many of the tiny islands of Polynesia led to these oceanic migrations. Tradition has it that this was the reason for the expedition of Ru, from Tupua'i in French Polynesia, who landed on Aitutaki and Tangiia, also from French Polynesia, who are believed to have arrived on Rarotonga around 800 AD. Some evidence for this is that the old road of Toi, the Ara metua (inland road) which runs round most of Rarotonga, is believed to be at least 1200 years old. Similarly, the northern islands were probably settled by expeditions from Samoa and Tonga.[2]

Spanish ships visited the islands in the 16th century; the first written record of contact with the 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).[3]

British navigator Captain James Cook arrived in 1773 and 1777; Cook named the islands the 'Hervey Islands' to honour a British Lord of the Admiralty; Half a century later the Baltic German Admiral Adam Johann von Krusenstern published the Atlas de l'Ocean Pacifique, in which he renamed the islands the Cook Islands to honour 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.[4]

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