CREATION OF A NATION
The birth of today's Cook Islands

CREATION OF A NATION
The birth of today's Cook Islands

CREATION OF A NATION
The birth of today's Cook Islands

The Cook Islands became a self-governing nation on 4th August, 1965. 
This page reflects on the history of the nation...and that very special day which is a national holiday around which two weeks of celebrations (Te Maeva Nui) take place each year

ROYAL WISHES FOR " A HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS FUTURE"

HM The Queen letter HM Queen Elizabeth II

As Head of State, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II sent "warmest greetings to all my people in the Cook Islands" on Constitution Day, 1965. It was another nine years before she visited in person when she opened Rarotonga airport, but she said in this letter "It is my sincere wish that this important day in your long history will be blest by Almighty God and will be the door to a happy and prosperous future"

THE VISIONARY FIRST PREMIER

First Cook Islands PM, Albeert Henry

Albert Henry thought big...he wanted big ships and big planes to come to Rarotonga. And he encouraged foreign investment. Today's docks and international airport are down to his vision and his hard work.

He also introduced a universal old age pension (10 shillings a week = 50 UK pence = NZ$1 today), and a policy still in force today that no building in the Cook Islands should be higher than the highest coconut tree.

But Henry's political career came to an ignominious end. He was tried and convicted of election crimes in 1978 and his government was removed from office. He was officially pardoned for those crimes by the King's Representative in November, 2023 and to this day he's much loved and an important part of the Islands' history and development

A PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY

Cook Islands Parliament building

Parliament is based on the UK model and has two houses. The lower house or Legislative Assembly has 24 members  elected under universal suffrage by secret ballot in a "first past the post" system. The Members of Parliament represent districts and islands. There must be elections every four years although the Prime Minister can call one sooner.  The upper house, or House of Ariki, is made up of 14 traditional leaders appointed by the King's Representative. They provide advice and recommendations to MPs

The Parliament buildings on Rarotonga are not quite a rival for the UK's Westminster, but they're no less important constitutionally. They were once temporary buildings for contractors who built the airport back in the early 70s. The inside of the buildings were gutted and long overdue modernisation took place in 2019. The public can sit in on sessions which are also broadcast live on the government's Facebook page. Parliament doesn't meet all the time...there are several sessions each year and their length varies.

TIMELINE OF COOK ISLANDS' CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY

Proclaiming Cook Islands annexation (newspaper photo)
Cook Islands self-government stamps

4 August, 1965: Cook Islands PROCLAIMED a self-governing nation "in free association with New Zealand" 

GOLDEN CELEBRATIONS
The Islands celebrated 50 years of self-govenment in 2016.  I created this special video to mark the event

GOLDEN CELEBRATIONS
The Islands celebrated 50 years of independence in 2016. I created this special video to mark the occassion

DANCING TO A POLITICAL TUNE

Cultural competitions have been a focal part of the constitution celebrations from the start. But dancing and singing performances were used originally  by islanders to praise political parties and lobby for projects on their islands. Changes came as recently as 2002 when the Culture Secretary of the time decided that the political rally format should be ditched in favour of one that focussed on unity through cultural heritage. And that's how it's been ever since. 

CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS AND FLAG

The Cook Islands is a self governing nation "in free association with New Zealand" (Nuie is the only other country in the world to have such a designation). That means it makes its own laws and governs itself, but New Zealand is responsible for External Affairs and Defence in consultation with the Cook Islands government. All Islanders also have New Zealand citizenship and this right is protected under the constitution. His Majesty King Charles III is the Head of State (following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II). His constitutional role on a daily basis is fulfilled by the person known as the "King's Representative".  The current office holder is Sir Tom Marsters who has been in post since 2013

Cook Islands first flag Cook Islands flag

THE CONSTITUTION OF THE COOK ISLANDS EXPLAINS THE FLAG AS FOLLOWS:
"BLUE is the colour most expressive of our Nation, it is representative of the vast area of the Pacific Ocean in which the islands of the Cook Islands are scattered. Blue also depicts the peaceful nature of the inhabitants of our islands. THE UNION JACK indicates our historical association with and membership of the British Commonwealth. The 15 WHITE STARS represent the 15 islands of the group​"

THE FIRST FLAG AND ITS MEANING
The first flag was green and was adopted in1973 before being replaced in August, 1979 at the behest of Prime Minister, Sir Tom Davis. It was designed by the first Premier, Albert Henry who  explained its meaning some years later. He said thebackground was green, as the colour of life and everlasting growth, fifteen stars represent faith in God, their yellow  colour  represents the people, their friendliness, their hope, faith, dedication, love, and happiness and their grouping in a circle symbolises the unity of the fifteen islands and the union between the land and the people.  

NATIONAL ANTHEM

Sir Tom Davis Cook Islands stamp

On the 20th anniversary of self-government the Cook Islands issued this stamp honouring twice Prime Minister and doctor Sir Tom Davis who was responsible for both today's flag and national anthem.  ​In 1982,  at Sir Tom's behest, "Te Atua Mou E" (God is Truth) was adopted as the national anthem replacing  "God Defend New Zealand". Davis wrote the music to "Te Atua Mou E" and his wife, Lydia wrote the lyrics.  The literal translation of the words is: God of truth, you are the ruler of our country. Please listen to our voices as we call to you. Protect us and guide us and give us your crown of truth so we can be successful and so that love and peace will rule forever over our beloved country.

LISTEN TO A BEAUTIFUL RENDITION OF IT HERE

On the 20th anniversary of self-government the Cook Islands issued this stamp honouring Sir Tom Davis who was responsible for both today's flag and national anthem.  ​In 1982, at Sir Tom's behest,  "Te Atua Mou E" (God of Truth) was adopted as the national anthem replacing  "God Defend New Zealand". Davis wrote the music to "Te Atua Mou E" and his wife, Lydia wrote the lyrics. 

The literal translation  of  the lyrics is: God of truth, you are the ruler of our country. Please listen to our voices as we call to you. Protect us and guide us and give us your crown of truth so we can be successfuland so that love and peace will rule forever over our beloved country.
LISTEN TO A BEAUTIFUL RENDITION OF IT HERE

"THE MOST IMPORTANT CELEBRATION"

The annual celebration of self rule is the most important event in the Cook Islands calendar. Formerly called the Constitution Celebrations, it was renamed in 2001 because the Prime Minister of the time wanted a Cook Islands Maori name to capture the essence and joy of the festival. It's now called "Te Maeva Nui" which translates as "the major or most important celebration"

COOK ISLANDS EVENTS CALENDAR