Cook Islands Culture

Cook Islanders are renowned as a friendly, outgoing people who retain a strong sense of their heritage and traditional ways. As a nation, Cook Islanders have a huge talent for and love of music and song, and are famous throughout the Pacific for their dancing. Dancers often wear outfits made from the many natural fibres found in the Cook Islands including kiriau – fibre from the young wild hibiscus tree, tapa (bark cloth), flowers, pandanus leaves, shells, feathers, kaka (fibre from the coconut tree) and rito (new and old coconut leaves). 

Cook Islanders have successfully kept alive many aspects of their heritage and culture. Traditional arts and crafts are in regular use, from the woven pandanus mats, fans and baskets to the finely woven rito hats from the northern group. The Cook Islands are famous for their beautiful tivaevae (an applique and embroidery quilt made by local women) and for their flower art. Woodcarving is widely practised, and the phallic god Tangaroa is a popular theme. Visitors can learn about Cook Islands culture at the museum at Avarua, which has displays of traditional crafts and tools. The Cook Islands Cultural Village at Arorangi is another good place to witness traditional arts, crafts and dances in action. 

The Cook Islands have several ancient marae sites (ceremonial meeting places) to visit, where tribal feasts and offerings were once held. These include Te Pou Toru Marae on Rarotonga and the stone structures of Arai-Te-Toinga – the royal court (Koutu) of a former Ariki (high chief). The ancient marae on Motutapu, off Rarotonga, is thought to be 1500 years old.

Cook Islanders attend church regularly and are very devoted. Sunday is honoured throughout the islands as a day of rest. Visitors are welcome to attend church services, and experience the beautiful singing for which Cook Islanders are famous.

Cultural Festivals
Cultural festivals hold a special place in the Cook Islands events calendar, providing a wonderful opportunity for visitors to share in celebrating the nation’s vibrant heritage and people. Two of the highlights of the year are the Te Maeva Nui festival in August, which celebrates the nation’s political independence from New Zealand, and the Te Mire Tiare Festival in early December, a week-long celebration of the beauty of the Cook Islands flowers. These are magical times to visit the Cook Islands and to experience the singing, dancing and culture for yourself.