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Aitutaki Lagoon, Cook Islands, South Pacific
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Song and Dance - The heart of Cook Island's culture.
What most defines the Cook Islands and leaves a lasting impression on tourists is the grace, art and skill demonstrated in song and dance - particularly a traditional dance known as the Ura.
Unlike most western dancers, the islanders tell a story with their bodies that matches the words of the song. The dancing, accompanied by highly rhythmic drumming is taken very seriously, with each island having its own unique songs and dances that are practised from an early age.
The Cook Islanders are considered amongst the finest Polynesian singers and dancers. And there are many competitions throughout the year where the competitive spirit between each island comes to the fore. Regular international awards are a testament to this phenomenal talent.
Close harmonious singing can also be heard in churches along with the powerful and emotional impact of chants and hymns during weddings and funerals. This range and talent of popular singing can be found at numerous festivals throughout the year.
String bands that play at restaurants, hotels and concerts, using combinations of modern electronics with traditional ukuleles made from coconut shells also provides tourists with a uniquely Cook Islands experience.
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Festivals and Events.
Throughout the year we find many reasons to celebrate and have fun. Some of our festivals have a cultural or historical significance, such as the Te Maeva Nui Celebrations held each year in July, where we celebrate our nation’s self-governance. This is an important festivity for us and perhaps our largest, with colourful float parades, drumming and dancing competitions, choir singing, sports and so on. This event involves peoples from all of our islands and is a great time to be in the Cook Islands.
Other celebrations and events of note are: Te Mire Kapa ‘Dancer of the Year’ Competitions that are excellent events to watch, attracting many spectators. During the month of April, men and women, boys and girls participate in several categories of dance, all leading up to the finals late in the month or early in May.
Miss Cook Islands Pageant is held every two years and is a big event for our young female contestants aged between 18 to 25 years. The winner goes on to represent our nation at other pageant such as Miss South Pacific and Miss world.
Cook Islands Gospel Day, also known as ‘Nuku’ takes place in October. Various religious groups from around the islands assemble together to perform religious dramas or acts, in remembrance of the arrival of the missionaries to our shores.
The Tiare Festival or Flower Festival is a big event, celebrated each year in November with a different theme. There are competitions for best decorated shops, schools and government buildings, best head or neck ‘ei, best pot plant and much more. Miss Tiare Pageant and a float parade also feature during this fun week of festivities.
Many sporting competitions take place during the year. They include the Rarotonga International Triathlon that attracts participants from all over the globe and the Round Rarotonga Road Race, in which visitors are encouraged to participate. Others include the International Rugby Sevens Tournament, Boxing Day Touch Tournament, Cook Islands National Athletics Championships and of course the local Rugby Union, Football and Netball seasons.
Other events include the Cook Islands Tourism International Food Festival, Cook Islands Tivaivai Exhibition, All Souls Day ‘Turama’ , Kumete Sports, ‘Vaka Eiva’ Canoe Regatta and much more.
Contact a Cook Islands Tourism office for dates and additional information or visit www.cook-islands.com.
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Government and New Zealand.
Having been a British Dominion since 1888, the Cook Islands was formally annexed by New Zealand on 7th October 1900. This status was changed to a separate administration in 1903. From this point, the Cooks Islands remained under New Zealand's governance, although a Cook Islands Legislative Council was elected in 1946.
In April 1965, the first elections were held, leading to a government led by the Cook Islands party under Albert Henry. From this point, the islands became self-governing in association with New Zealand. This special relationship exists today, recognised by the automatic right granted to all Cook Islanders to have New Zealand citizenship.
Today, the Cook Islands enjoys a Westminster-style of Parliamentary Government similar to many other Commonwealth countries. The Head of State is Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth the Second.
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History and people
Cooks cultureCook Islanders look upon themselves as true Polynesians, with a proud heritage that connects directly with the finest seafarers of the vast Pacific. Voyaging on handmade canoes with none of the sophisticated navigation tools of today, they made their way fearlessly across vast tracts of ocean in search of new lands and beginnings.
According to tradition, the first voyagers to arrive in the Cook Islands landed on Rarotonga around 800 AD. These people had set sail from Tupua'i in what is now French Polynesia. Continuing the Polynesian habit of seabound exploration and migration, Cook Islands tradition also has it that the great Maori migrations to New Zealand began from Rarotonga as early as the 5th century AD.
The first written history of the Cooks began in 1595, prompted by the sighting of Pukapuka by the Spanish voyager Alvaro de Mendana. It took almost 150 years for the British to arrive, beginning again with a sighting of Pukapuka in 1764. Subsequently, the infamous Captain Bligh and his ship the HMS Bounty landed on Aitutaki in 1798.
1821 saw the arrival of the first Christian missionaries. Their influence spread quickly throughout the Cook Islands. But whilst the arrival of Christianity did alter many aspects of traditional island existence, the people of the Cook Islands have been able to preserve their proud Polynesian heritage alongside their Christian faith.
One final point: the name 'Cook Islands' was actually bestowed by the Russians, in honour of the great English navigator!
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Early tourists and the flying boat era.
From the early 1900s through to the 1950s, tourists began arriving mainly by sea. In those days, Cook Islands dance troupes also earned a widespread reputation as compelling entertainment on board the sailing ships that plied the Pacific waters.
Regular air services from New Zealand did not start until after World War Two. Operating from 1951-1960, Tasman Empire Air Lines (TEAL - later Air New Zealand) flew huge Solent seaplanes from Auckland to Tahiti via Fiji, Samoa and Aitutaki. From here, travel to Rarotonga and other islands in the group was by boat. Rarotonga International Airport finally opened in 1974, leading to a corresponding increase in tourist numbers. Boat the original lodge remains a beautiful resort.
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The Language of Aitutaki and the Cook Islands.
Cook Islands Măori or Maori Kuki Airani is the most widely spoken language in the Cook Islands and has been our official language since 2003. Cook Island Maori is also referred to as ‘Te reo Ipukarea’ or “the language of the Ancestral Homeland’.
In addition, English is almost universally spoken and understood.
Should you want to explore speaking another language, here are some common words and useful phrases in Cook Islands Măori:
Good Morning - pőpongi
Good Night - pő manea, pő meitaki
Have a nice day - ră mănea
Good bye - ‘aere ra
Come here - ‘aere mai
Thank you - meitaki
Thank you very much - Metaki Atupaka
You are beautiful - te mănea ‘iakoe
What is... your name? - ko‘ai tő‘ou ingoa?
the time? - ‘ea‘a teora?
Where is... the bus stop? - tei‘ea te ngai tăp~u anga o te bus?
the hospital? - tei‘ea te are maki?
the museum? - tei‘ea te are vairanga apinga takere?
the library? - tei‘ea te are vairanga puka tatau?
the bank? - tei‘ea te pangika?
the market? - tei‘ea te makete?
the church? - tei‘ea te are pure?
where are going? - ka aere koe k~i‘ea
How much... is this? - ‘~e‘ia teia?
does this cost? - ‘e‘ia moni i teia?
is the cup of coffee - ‘~e‘ia moni i te kapu kaope?
How old are you? - ‘~e‘ia ő‘ou mata‘iti?
Can you help me? - ka rauka ăinei ia koe i te tauturu mai iăku?
Is it safe to swim here? - ka meitaki ăinei te pa‘~i tai i konei?
Can I have a drink? - ka tika ăinei kia inu au i te vai?
I only speak a little Cook Islands Maori - meangiti ua taku tuatua maori ka kite
I don’t speak any Cook Island Maori - kăreau e kite meitaki i te tuatua maori
tai, rua, toru, ‘ă, rima, ono, itu, varu, iva, ta‘i nga‘uru
Yes - ‘ăe
No - kăre
Stop - tăp~u
Flower - tiare
Food - kai (Rarotonga word for food), mănga (-over the first a) (Ngaputoru an Aitutaki word for food)
Book - puka
Water - vai
Girl - tamăi‘ne
Pretty girl - tama‘ine maneă
Woman/wife - vaine
Pretty woman - va‘ine manea
Boy - tamaiti
Man/husband - tăne
Happy - mataora
Dance - ‘ura
Let's dance - ka ‘ura tăua
Happy - mataora
Feast - umukai
Tomorrow - ăpőpő
Moon - marama
Ocean - moana
Maunga - mountain European/foreigner - papa‘a
Plane - pa‘irere
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The Legend of One Foot Island.
Long ago, one of the chiefs of Aitutaki, seeing that there was not enough food for his people, created a fishing reserve to protect the resources of the lagoon. In this area, no one was allowed to fish at any time. By doing this, the chief was making sure the lagoon was not over-fished and his people would always have enough food to eat.
Nga was a simple fisherman. He respected the wishes of his chief but his family was hungry. Surely, a few fish for his family would not be too much? The village was preparing for a big dance festival, so Nga made a plan with his son Taongo. While the rest of the villagers were busy dancing and partying, they would slip, unnoticed, into the lagoon and paddle to the reserve where fish were still plentiful.
The journey was long as it was hard to navigate in the dark. When they reached the reserve both father and son were tired but they knew they had to catch as many fish as they could and return to the mainland.
The sun began to rise and back on the main island one of the villagers coming home late from the festival spotted the silhouette of an outrigger vaka in the reserve. He ran and told the chief who was outraged that anyone had dared to disobey his orders. “Send a war party to capture whoever is fishing in the reserve!” he shouted, and the warriors of the village swiftly launched their vaka’s.
Nga spotted the war party in the distance and knew they would never escape in time. “Paddle to Tapuaetui!” he instructed his son, and they made their way as fast as they could to shore. Nga told Taongo to run to the center of the motu, which he did. Nga also ran to the center of the motu but he was careful to step in his son’s footprints as he did. Soon the sounds of the warriors could be heard on the shore. Nga lifted his son high into the arms of a bandana tree, where he could hide. “Do not come down until dark,” he whispered and continued running to the other side of the motu.
Taongo watched from the safety of the tree as the warriors, covered in tattoos and carrying long spears, came running by, following the footprints from the beach. They passed right underneath him and kept running to the other side of the motu. He watched them lead his father back, at spear point, demanding to know if anyone else was with him. “No, it was just me,” said Nga, and the warriors believed him because they only saw one set of foot prints.
After the sun set, Taongo climbed down from the tree and paddled his father’s vaka back home. His mother couldn’t believe her eyes. Her husband had been killed for breaking the chief’s law and she thought her son was also dead. Taongo told her the story of how his father had saved him. In time, the story spread, as stories do, and soon, and forever after, Motu Tapuaetai was known as “One Foot Island”.
Aitutaki & Cook Islands Culture
A culture shaped by Polynesia and Europe.
The beauty and charm of our islands is matched only by the friendliness of our people. Here among your island friends, you will find the hospitality warm and spontaneous, the music and dancing exuberant, the mood relaxed.
The Cook Islands culture is shaped by the arrival of Polynesians that took place around 800 AD.
This was part of what was believed to have been the last great wave of Polynesian migration from Asia that began in 1500 BC.
Of equal importance has been the contact with European culture, particularly the British and the influence of missionaries spreading the Christian message.
Cook Islanders share a genuine care for others and as we have chosen to retain and preserve much of our old ways, our cherished culture lives on. This is openly expressed with song, dance and an easy pace of life, uncomplicated by the turmoil of the outside world. We invite you to share this unique lifestyle whilst you are our guest.
Although displays of the Cook Islands past are exhibited in local museums, our culture is not confined to their walls, or to restored sites. Polynesian identity can be found in everyday life, in the many art galleries around the island of Rarotonga who exhibit local artists, in the carvings that adorn our buildings and homes, in dance and drama and at various events throughout the year, particularly during Te Maeva Nui Constitution Celebrations in July. This is a time to renew the warrior’s might and the dancer’s grace - a time when heritage excels. However, it is the songs of the Kaparima, the hymns of the Sunday choir, and pride in traditional crafts that exists in the day-to-day lives of our people.
Christianity plays an important role in our lives and Sunday is a day for celebration, prayer, families and singing. There are several denominations who\ welcome your attendance at church services on Saturdays or Sundays. An uplifting highlight of your visit will be the joyous sound of a Sunday choir.
The total population of our islands is approximately 19,000. Some 2000 people live on the Northern Group islands and about 5000 on 5 Southern Group islands. The rest live on Rarotonga. Many of our people live overseas, including close to 50,000 in New Zealand.
Throughout the villages, at your hotel, or at the many attractions, you will be welcomed by our people and treated as a friend.