Cook Islanders are believed to be related to New Zealand Maori and the Maohi of the Society Islands in French Polynesia. Historians believe the first wave of Cook Islanders migrated from the Society Islands to the Cooks around 500AD. Later, the land was divided among six tribes, each one headed by a tribal king or high chief (Ariki). Today, every member of Cook Islands Society belongs to one of the six family clans.
Spanish Captain Alvaro de Mendana is thought to be the first European to sight the Cooks when he sailed by Pukapuka in 1595. British Explorer Captain James Cook passed through the region on his expeditions of 1773 and 1777, but Rarotonga was not discovered until some time later, when Philip Goodenough of the Cumberland landed there in 1814.
The first missionaries arrived in 1821 when Rev John Williams landed on Aitutaki, followed by Papeiha, a Christian convert from Raiatea in 1823. Despite missionary influence, the hierarchy of Ariki remained intact, although European diseases decimated the population.
By 1901, all the islands had been annexed by New Zealand and eventually became self-governing in August of 1965. Today, strong ties remain between the two countries and all Cook Islanders hold New Zealand citizenship.
Renowned as a friendly outgoing people, Cook Islanders retain a strong sense of their heritage and traditional ways. They have a huge talent for and love of music and song, and are famous throughout the Pacific for their dancing.
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