An Insight into Islands' Life, Culture and Tradition
"If the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness, the Cook Islanders have fulfilled that mission.  (They are) experienced in the slow pace of daily life, in song and dance, in the peacefulness of their communities, in their warmth and genuine consideration for others and the desire to live their lives to the fullest." 
Clarence Lancelot-Dunn, author

Few foreigners visit the outer islands and even fewer take the trouble to write about their experiences.   Clarence's book is an important addition to the sum of global knowledge about the Cook Islands.   His experiences and his affectionate reflections on those he meets are an insight into the richness of the Islands and its people, customs and way of life.  You'll wish you could have the same adventures.

Jamaican, Clarence Lancelot Dunn spent two years visiting all but one of the 15 islands in the Cooks.   And his remarkable travels while working with the International Human Assistance Program are recalled in a book* which is full of true tales that range from the fascinating to the fantastical.  Clive has kindly allowed me to share some of the picures and extracts from it on this page and they provide a unique insight into Islands' life.
Above:  Atiu dancers;  Sheltering from the sun on Pukapuka; Dancing with Tangaroa on Gospel Day
Preparing for the ceremony

The  coronation of an Ariki - the chief or head of a tribe or clan in the Islands - is a very elaborate and important event, and as far as I know it has never before been documented by a foreigner.   Clarence was invited to attend a ceremony in the village of Ureia in Aitutaki which began with a procession accompanied by drumming, singing and chanting.  

Gifts of fattened pig carcasses, taro, bunches of water coconuts, and huge fish are laid out on woven palm leaves in front of the future Ariki who is then carried shoulder high in procession to his coronation.  There's much chanting and the six burly guards carrying their precious cargo make a lot of sharp up and down motions.  The future Ariki has to hold on tight because, according to tradition, if he falls he won't be a good Ariki.  

Ancient custom dictates that the hair of the first-born son is not cut until he's 12 years old.  As part of the ceremony witnessed by Clarence on Aitutaki, the boy's hair is braided into small plaits each of which has a ribbon tied to it.  Each guest cuts a plait as souvenir and presents the boy with a gift to start him off in adult life.  And like so many ceremonies in the Cook Islands, it all ends with an elaborate feast.
 "It is to their credit that in spite of the influence of modern society, the Cook Islands have been able to maintain and celebrate their culture and traditions"
Once at the coronation site, a group of women dress him in a light brown, finely decorated tunic and grass skirt, and drape a dark brown sash across his shoulder and necklaces of white seashells around his neck (above centre).  Sandals woven from cocnut fibre are put on his feet.  Fiinally a peaked, richly adorned  crown of similar material is placed on his head by a prominent member of his tribe who shakes his hand in congratulations.  He is now an Airki of his village.   The ceremony ends with a priest annointing him with holy oil (above left).  And then everyone celebrates with a feast (above right).
Banjo playing welcome
Shell collecting
Pukapuka welcome - copyright photo
"Under a thatched shed. three girls - one playing a ukelele - sang joyfully....The Government building was the only concrete structure.  The thatched houses, nestled among the coconut trees, presented a picturesque scene."
More about Nassau
"In the damp grass and along stony crags, women and children crouched with containers collecting tiny yellow snails (pupu) which emerge after the rain."
After several weeks storage, the dead snails are washed out and the shells pierced and strung into necklaces.
More about Mangaia
"The entire population appeared to have gathered...almost a year had passed since the last ship came.   Children huddled together in a variety of poses, older folks sat together here and there under coconut trees as they waited expectantly for our arrival....Our spirits were lifted by the cheerfulness and welcoming smiles."
More about Pukapuka
Copies of Clarence's book are available through the publishers,  AuthorHouse, USA

*Extracts and photographs  from the book, "Adventures in Development" are copyright Clarence Lancelot Dunn and are reproduced with his permission.   Further reproduction is prohibited without permission from the author.
Atiu dancers
Gospel day dancing
Book cover
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