Asia-Pacific

Why Cook Islands wants to change its name

Cook Islands Source: Getty

There is support for dropping the Cook Islands name in favour of one that honours the island's local language and Polynesian culture.

The tiny Pacific nation of Cook Islands is considering changing its name to something that reflects its Polynesian culture, rather than honouring the British explorer James Cook.

The government set up a committee in January to find a new indigenous name for the grouping of 15 islands, about 3,000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand.

Initially the idea was to have the indigenous moniker feature alongside the existing Cook Islands name, in the same way that its larger neighbour is sometimes known as Aotearoa-New Zealand.

But committee chairman Danny Mataroa said Monday that once discussions began it became apparent there was support for dropping the Cook Islands name altogether in favour of one in the local language, known as Cook Islands Maori.

"When the committee members, which include Cook Islands historians and people with deep traditional knowledge, met we decided it was time we change the name of the country," he told AFP.

The welcome party for at Rarotonga's airport ahead of a Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands.
The welcome party for at Rarotonga's airport ahead of a Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands.
AAP

Mataroa said the new name should reflect the country's heritage, its people and its strong Christian belief.

Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown backed the move, but said there was still a long way to go before the nation of 12,000 people changed its name.

"I'm quite happy to look at a traditional name for our country which more reflects the true Polynesian nature of our island nation," he told Radio New Zealand.

The cast of a nightly dance show at Rarotongo, Cook Islands
The cast of a nightly dance show at Rarotongo, Cook Islands
AAP

It is not the first time the issue has surfaced, with a 1994 referendum to change the name to Avaiki Nui resoundingly defeated.

The Cook Islands were a British protectorate from 1888 until 1900, when they came under New Zealand's jurisdiction.

The Cooks gained independence in 1965 but maintains close ties to Wellington, which takes responsibility for the Cooks' external affairs and allows its citizens to live and work in New Zealand.

The Endeavour, a replica of Captain James Cook's ship of discovery, lies at anchor in Botany Bay at Sydney, Australia.
The Endeavour, a replica of Captain James Cook's ship of discovery, lies at anchor in Botany Bay at Sydney, Australia.
AP

 

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