COOK ISLAND CULTURE
|Cook Islanders have retained a deep sense of their cultural identity. Expressed through the preservation of traditional art and craft practices, legends, songs and dance, along with maintaining fluency in the Cook Island Maori language, entwining it with bi-lingual English, they are a people who have successfully kept alive many of their traditions yet are fully conversant with modern cosmopolitan life.
Finest Polynesian Dancers
They are renown throughout the Pacific for the sensual grace, beauty and flair they display in their traditional dance performances, Cook Islanders are reputedly the finest dancers across all of Polynesia. This talent is matched by the colourful finery of the costumes they wear while performing. Made using natural fibres from the coconut and wild hibiscus plants, they are ornately decorated with shells and feathers. Regular “island night” dance and drumming performances are held at resorts around the islands for visitors to experience, and usually include an umu kai feast featuring traditional delicacies. Each year competition heats up as villages throughout the islands take part in the Te Mire Kapa “Dancer of the Year” festival held during the month of April.
Tiare Flower Festival
Festivals and celebrations make up a big part of Cook Island cultural life and the people exuberantly support these occasions making them into boisterous joyful events. Visitors to the country are always welcome and are encouraged to attend. Each December the Tiare Flower festival is a fragrant spring highlight, celebrated with floral float parades through Avarua’s main streets and a pageant to choose the reigning Miss Tiare for the following year.
Gospel Day, a public holiday in October, is a national celebration recognising the arrival of the Gospel to this strongly Christian nation. Members of the major CICC churches participate in a Nuku, where Bible stories are dramatised, interspersed with soulful hymns, music and singing.
Maeva Nui Festival
The culmination of all the festivals and events is the weeklong Maeva Nui festival, held at the start of August to celebrate the declaration of self-governance in 1965. The programme includes colourful float parades, drumming and dance performances made up of teams from each of the islands in the group, and sporting and other cultural activities showcasing the fierce pride Cook Islanders have for their nation’s independence.
Arts and Crafts
Outside of the calendar of events and festivals, Cook Islanders hold onto the significant aspects of their culture by continually putting it to use in the arts and crafts they produce. Famous for the intricate embroidered tivaevae quilts made by the women, they are also gifted weavers, making baskets, mats, fans, and gorgeous hats from the rito pandanus leaves. The women of the northern group islands are particularly skilled practitioners of these crafts, shipping the wares down to be sold at the markets and stores on Rarotonga.
Wood carvers continue to produce distinctive creations, from handmade wooden ukuleles, to figures depicted the phallic male god of the sea and fertility, Tangaroa. Once banned by Christian missionaries because of its overt sexuality, the resurgence of detailed carvings of Tangaroa figures is now commonplace again and his presence appears in many forms, including on the local coinage.
Experience it for yourself
But it is the outward displays of affection, humour and friendliness of Cook Islanders themselves that is also a major part of the culture, setting them apart as a people confidently heading into the future with their roots firmly connected to the old ways of the past, of family and friendship and respect for each other and visitors who venture to these shores. It is that marriage of spiritual values and tangible customs present in everyday life that makes the Cook Islands such a fascinating destination to experience.
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