History, Language & Culture Cook Islands

History, Language & Culture Cook Islands

History of the Cook Islands and British Western Pacific Territories

The Cook Islands were first settled by around AD 1000 by Polynesian people who are thought to have migrated from Tahiti, an island 1,154 kilometres (717 mi) to the northeast of the main island of Rarotonga.


The first European contact with the islands took place in 1595 when the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendaña de Neira sighted the island of Pukapuka, which he named San Bernardo (Saint Bernard). Pedro Fernandes de Queiros, a Portuguese captain at the service of the Spanish Crown, made the first European landing in the islands when he set foot on Rakahanga in 1606, calling the island Gente Hermosa (Beautiful People).


The British navigator Captain James Cook arrived in 1773 and again in 1777 giving the island of Manuae the name Hervey Island. The Hervey Islands later came to be applied to the entire southern group. The name "Cook Islands", in honour of Cook, first appeared on a Russian naval chart published by Adam Johann von Krusenstern in the 1820s.


In 1813 John Williams, a missionary on the Endeavour (not the same ship as Cook's) made the first recorded European sighting of Rarotonga.The first recorded landing on Rarotonga 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 English missionaries arrived in 1821. Christianity quickly took hold in the culture and many islanders are Christians today.


The islands were a popular stop in the 19th century for whaling ships from the United States, Britain and Australia. They visited, from at least 1826, to obtain water, food, and firewood. Their favourite islands were Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Mangaia and Penrhyn.


Governor Lord Ranfurly reading the annexation proclamation to Queen Makea on 7 October 1900. The Cook Islands became a British protectorate in 1888, largely because of community fears that France might occupy the islands as it already had Tahiti. On 6 September 1900, the islanders' leaders presented a petition asking that the islands (including Niue "if possible") should be annexed as British territory. On 8 and 9 October 1900, seven instruments of cession of Rarotonga and other islands were signed by their chiefs and people. A British Proclamation was issued, stating that the cessions were accepted and the islands declared parts of Her Britannic Majesty's dominions. However, it did not include Aitutaki. Even though the inhabitants regarded themselves as British subjects, the Crown's title was unclear until the island was formally annexed by that Proclamation. In 1901 the islands were included within the boundaries of the Colony of New Zealand by Order in Council under the Colonial Boundaries Act, 1895 of the United Kingdom.The boundary change became effective on 11 June 1901, and the Cook Islands have had a formal relationship with New Zealand since that time.


When the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948 came into effect on 1 January 1949, Cook Islanders who were British subjects automatically gained New Zealand citizenship. The islands remained a New Zealand dependent territory until the New Zealand Government decided to grant them self-governing status. On 4 August 1965, a constitution was promulgated. The first Monday in August is celebrated each year as Constitution Day. Albert Henry of the Cook Islands Party was elected as the first Premier. Henry led the nation until 1978, when he was accused of vote-rigging and resigned. He was succeeded by Tom Davis of the Democratic Party.


Official languages English and Cook Islands

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