CULTURE OF COOK ISLANDS

Float parade during the annual Maeva Nui celebrations.
CULTURE OF COOK ISLANDS
Language
The languages of the Cook Islands include English, Cook Islands Maori, or "Rarotongan," and Pukapukan. Dialects of Cook Islands Maori include Penrhyn; Rakahanga-Manihiki; the Ngaputoru dialect of Atiu, Mitiaro, and Mauke; the Aitutaki dialect; and the Mangaian dialect. Cook Islands Maori and its dialectic variants are closely related to both Tahitian and to New Zealand Māori. Pukapukan, by contrast, is considered closely related to the Samoan language. Both English and Cook Islands Maori are considered official languages of the Cook Islands.

Art
Carving - Woodcarving is a common art form in the Cook Islands. Sculpture in stone is much rarer although there are some excellent carvings in basalt by Mike Tavioni. The proximity of islands in the southern group helped produce a homogeneous style of carving but which had special developments in each island. Rarotonga is known for its fisherman's gods and staff-gods, Atiu for its wooden seats, Mitiaro, Ma'uke and Atiu for mace and slab gods and Mangaia for its ceremonial adzes. Most of the original wood carvings were either spirited away by early European collectors or were burned in large numbers by missionary zealots. Today, carving is no longer the major art form with the same spiritual and cultural emphasis given to it by the Maori in New Zealand. However, there are continual efforts to interest young people in their heritage and some good work is being turned out under the guidance of older carvers. Atiu, in particular, has a strong tradition of crafts both in carving and local fibre arts such as tapa. Mangaia is the source of many fine adzes carved in a distinctive, idiosyncratic style with the so-called double-k design. Mangaia also produces food pounders carved from the heavy calcite found in its extensive limestone caves.

Weaving - The outer islands produce traditional weaving of mats, basketware and hats. Particularly fine examples of rito hats are worn by women to church on Sundays. They are made from the uncurled immature fibre of the coconut palm and are of very high quality. The Polynesian equivalent of Panama hats, they are highly valued and are keenly sought by Polynesian visitors from Tahiti. Often, they are decorated with hatbands made of minuscule pupu shells which are painted and stitched on by hand. Although pupu are found on other islands the collection and use of them in decorative work has become a speciality of Mangaia. The weaving of rito is a speciality of the northern island of Penrhyn.

Tivaevae - A major art form in the Cook Islands is tivaevae. This is, in essence, the art of making of tropical Island scenery handmade patchwork quilts. Introduced by the wives of missionaries in the 19th century, the craft grew into a communal activity and is probably one of the main reasons for its popularity. The Cook Islands make some of the most beautiful displays of tivaevae the eye can see.

Contemporary Art - The Cook Islands has produced notable and internationally recognised contemporary artists and the main island of Rarotonga has an exceptionally vibrant contemporary arts scene. Those born of Cook Islander heritage include painter (and photographer) Mahiriki Tangaroa, sculptors Eruera (Ted) Nia (originally a film maker) and master carver Mike Tavioni, painter (and Polynesian tattoo enthusiast) Upoko’ina Ian George, Aitutakian-born painter Tim Manavaroa Buchanan, Loretta Reynolds, and multi-media, installation and community-project artist Ani O'Neil, all of whom currently live on the main island of Rarotonga. New Zealand-based Cook Islander artists include Michel Tuffrey, print-maker David Teata, Richard Shortland Cooper, and Jim Vivieaere, who has mentored many of his compatriots and is a well-known curator and installation artist. Most of these artists have studied at university art schools in New Zealand and continue to enjoy close links with the New Zealand art scene. However, Apii Rongo, a comparably younger painter, is developing his career entirely on Rarotonga.

Artists of non - Cook Islander heritage currently working in Rarotonga include Judith Kunzel, Joan Rolls Gragg and Kay George, who is also known for her exquisite fabric designs. On Rarotonga, the main commercial galleries are Beachcomber Contemporary Art (Taputapuatea, Avarua) run by Ben Bergman, and The Art Gallery ('Arorangi), run by Kay and Ian George. The Cook Islands National Museum also exhibits art.