Cook Islands mulls name change

The Cook Islands is mulling a new name to better reflect its indigenous Polynesian identity.

The Cook Islands is mulling a change of its colonial-era name to a new one that reflects its indigenous Polynesian identity, government officials say.

"I am quite happy to look at a traditional name for our country which more reflects the true Polynesian nature of our island nation," said Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Brown, according to Radio New Zealand.

The government's support to leave behind the colonial past comes after Pa Marie Ariki, a tribal leader or paramount chief, convened a committee in January to choose a new name for the nation, which has a population of 21,000 inhabitants spread across 15 islands.

The committee, which is evaluating 60 possible names from public submissions, hopes to shortlist the top contender by next month, which will be sent to the government for further action.

Danny Mataroa, who heads the name change committee, said the names being considered incorporate several elements that are important to the inhabitants such as Christianity, Maori heritage and national pride.

"It must also be easy to say," he added.

The archipelago was inhabited by Polynesians from Tahiti in the 6th century, according to historians.

In 1595, Spanish sailor Alvaro de Menda a de Neira sighted the islands and named them "San Bernardo" (Saint Bernard) while in 1606, Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queiros, a subject of the King of Spain, became the first European to set foot on the islands and renamed the region "Gente Hermosa" (Beautiful People).

British explorer James Cook visited the islands in 1773 and 1777 and named them "Hervey Islands."

Finally, in the 1820s appeared the first documents referring to the archipelago as Cook Islands, its current name.

The Cook Islands became a British protectorate in 1888 and was included within the boundaries of New Zealand in 1901 until 1965, when Wellington granted it autonomy.

Earlier attempts to change the name of Cook Islands, which is a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand, were unsuccessful, including a national referendum in the middle of 1999 in which citizens voted to retain the name.

"This is the first time we've actually gone this far," said Mataroa, who added that the previous referendum failed as it was based on the deliberations of the archipelago's main island Rarotonga, where 75 per cent of the population lives.

This time, traditional leaders from all 12 of the country's inhabited islands took part in the process although the committee is seeking to avoid a referendum owing to the costs involved.

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