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Cook Islands - Culture


Cook Islands Culture

The Cook Islanders are Polynesians, people of the 'many' (poly) islands of the South Pacific. They are Maori people, distantly related to the New Zealand Maori. Over 90% of the population is Polynesian, with small minorities of Europeans, New Zealanders, Fijians, Indians and Chinese.

The local tongue is Cook Islands Maori, closely related to New Zealand Maori and to the Polynesian languages of Tahiti and Hawaii, though English is spoken as a second language by virtually everyone. Although each island has its own dialect, islanders can all understand each other when speaking Maori.

The islanders are reputed to be the best dancers in Polynesia - even better than the Tahitians, say the connoisseurs. Cook Islands dance is notoriously sexy, traditionally performed in honour of Tangaroa, god of fertility and the sea. Any time is dance time, though you're really in for a treat during the frequent 'island nights,' when rotund women get surprisingly spry and unsuspecting papa'a (foreigners) get dragged up on stage to perform.

Among the notable arts and crafts in the islands are ceremonial adzes, an axe-like tool with a stone blade and an intricately carved wooden handle; woven fans, belts and baskets; feathered headdresses; and wooden seats. The Cooks are famous for their tivaevae (appliqué quilts), usually taking the form of colourful patterned bedspreads.

Cook Islands cuisine relies on local delicacies such as coconut and fish. Popular dishes include raw fish in coconut sauce (ika mata), stuffed breadfruit (anga kuru akaki ia) and Cook Islands bread pudding (poke).

Little is known of pre-European religion of the Cook Islanders, with its 71 gods and its 12 heavens - 7 above the sun, 5 below it, plus another dominion below the earth - each the dwelling place of particular gods and spirits. Missionaries' attempts to wipe out these beliefs were largely successful; today people in the Cooks are overwhelmingly Christian. The major local denomination is the Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC), founded by the missionaries in the 1820s.



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