Cook Islands History Part 1

Cook Island History Part 1 - Pre European

Cook Islanders are true Polynesians, some of the finest seafarers of the Pacific, voyagers on twin-hulled sailing canoes called Vakas who felt at home on the ocean and who travelled across its huge wastes in search of new lands and new beginnings. The journeys undertaken by these brave people in their Vakas can be compared to the voyages of exploration boasted of by the Portuguese, Spanish, British, Dutch, and French. 

Over-population on many of the tiny islands of Polynesia led to these oceanic migrations. Tradition has it that this was the reason for the expedition of Ru, from Tupua'i in French Polynesia, who landed on Aitutaki and Tangiia, also from French Polynesia, who are believed to have arrived on Rarotonga around 800 AD. 

Some evidence for this is that the old road of Toi, the Ara Metua which runs around most of Rarotonga, is believed to be at least 1200 years old. 

Similarly, the northern islands were probably settled by expeditions from Samoa and Tonga. As was common with most patterns of Polynesian migration, expanding population and pressure on resources resulted in the ocean-going Vakas being stocked with food and set off to look for more living space. 

Cook Islanders are convinced that the great Maori migrations to New Zealand began from Rarotonga as early as the fifth century AD. The most favoured location for the starting point was Ngatangiia on the eastern side of Rarotonga where there is a gap in the fringing reef at the widest part of the island's lagoon. 

This gap is now known as Avana Harbour, where the ocean enters Muri Lagoon. It is a great place to view whales, surf and fish, and can be snorkelled in the right conditions and with local knowledge.

Edited Source: 

Traditional Ocean Going Vaka of the Cook Islands


Pa te Pou Ariki, Chief of the Takitumu tribe, Rarotonga 1837






Posted by Simon Drewery on July 04, 2023

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