Polynesians from Tahiti were probably the first people to settle Rarotonga around A.D. 900. Over time, Samoans and Tongans also settled in Rarotonga, and Rarotongans voyaged to the northern Cook Islands, settling Manihiki and Rakahanga. Pukapuka and Penrhyn in the northern Cook Islands were settled directly from Samoa. Prior to European contact, there was considerable travel and trade between inhabitants of the different islands and atolls but they were not united in a single political entity. Spanish navigators were the first Europeans to spot the northern Cook Islands in 1595 followed by the first landing in 1606. The Cook Islands remained free of further European contact until the 1760s, and in 1773, British explorer James COOK saw Manuae in the southern Cook Islands. The islands were named after COOK in the 1820s by Russian mapmakers. English missionary activity during the 1820s and 1830s banned singing and dancing and converted most of the population.
Fearing France would militarily occupy the islands like it did in Tahiti, Rarotongans asked the UK for protectorate status in the 1840s and 1860s, which the UK ignored. In 1888, Queen MAKEA TAKAU of Rarotonga formally petitioned for protectorate status, which the UK reluctantly agreed to. In 1901, the UK placed Rarotonga and the rest of the islands in the New Zealand Colony and in 1915, the Cook Islands Act organized the Cook Islands into one political entity. It remained a protectorate until 1965, when New Zealand granted the Cook Islands self-government status. The Cook Islands has a great deal of local autonomy and is an independent member of international organizations, but it is in free association with New Zealand, which is responsible for defense and foreign affairs. Economic opportunities in the Cook Islands are sparse, and more Cook Islanders live in New Zealand than in the Cook Islands.
In a referendum in 1994, voters chose to keep the name Cook Islands rather than changing to a Maori name for the islands. The issue was revived in 2019, but after being poorly received by the diaspora in New Zealand, the government decided to retain the name Cook Islands but to provide a Maori name alongside it. The Maori name has not yet been determined.
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NOTE: The information regarding Cook Island on this page is re-published from the 2023 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and other sources. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Cook Island 2023 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Cook Island 2023 should be addressed to the CIA or the source cited on each page.
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