GOSPEL DAYS

Celebrating a turning point in Cook Islands history

Photo: Cook Islands News

Cook Islanders are very religious...but who says religion can't be fun?! Gospel days are public holidays for celebrating the arrival of Christianity. Events are organised by the Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) and the churches themselves compete against each other to put on the best show. Islanders dress up, stage elaborate dramas or "nuku", sing, dance, play music and generally have a great time. 

2023 was particularly special with a two day celebration on Rarotonga of the bi-centenary of the arrival of Christianity on the capital island and special  events on Mitiaro, Mauke and Atiu where they celebrated 200 years since the arrival of Christianity on their own islands

Photos: Cook Islands News

MARCH
Penrhyn Gospel Day , 26th

JUNE 
      Palmerston Gospel Day, 7th
MANGAIA BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION 2024, 8-15th
JULY
Atiu Gospel Day, 19th 

   Mitiaro Gospel Day 21st
Mauke Gospel Day 23rd
AUGUST
Manihiki Gospel Day, 8th
Rakahanga Gospel Day, 15th 
OCTOBER
 Aitutaki Gospel Day, 26th
DECEMBER
Pukapuka Gospel Day, 6th

NATIONAL GOSPEL DAY, RAROTONGA
Typically around 25 July

ARRIVAL OF CHRISTIANITY BY ISLAND
Source:  Cook Islands Christian Church

 AITUTAKI 26 October 1821
 ATIU 19 July 1823 
MITIARO 21 July 1823
MAUKE 23 July 1823
RAROTONGA 25 July 1823
MANGAIA 15 June 1824
MANIHIKI 8 August 1849
RAKAHANGA 15 August 1849
PENRHYN 13 March 1857
PUKAPUKA, NASSAU 6 December 1857
PALMERSTON 25 May 1863

THE MISSIONARY WHO CHANGED HISTORY

London born clergyman, the Rev. John Williams was responsible for bringing Christianity to the Islands. He was working as an ironmonger's apprentice when he volunteered and was accepted for service with the London Missionary Society in 1816 aged just 20. He was ordained in September of that year, married in October and sailed for the South Seas in November.

It was five years later - after working in Tahiti - that Williams, his wife and some native Tahitian evangelists arrived off Aitutaki. According to another LMS missionary, Bernard Thorogood in his 1960 book 'Not Quite Paradise', Island chiefs came across in canoes, "men ready to do battle if necessary, clad chiefly in tattoo marks and waving their spears".

That was 23 October, 1821, but It was 1823 before the Islanders finally rejected their idols and Williams returned to Aitutaki for the opening of the first Christian church. Williams also helped translate the Bible into Rarotongan which Thorogood says was "one of the greatest achievements in those early days"

"The Rev John Williams on board ship with native implements, in the South Sea Islands" by Henry Anelay, 1838. From the pictures collection of the National Library of Australia (nla.pic-an6621835). Reproduced with permission

GOSPEL DAY ON PALMERSTON
A rare first-hand account

Palmerston has a population of just 25 people, but Gospel Day there is celebrated by every single one of them. Things start long before dawn, there's feasting, lots of prayers and finally holy day gives way to holiday. Read the only published account of the unique celebrations written by one of the island's young residents.

GOSPEL DAY ON RAROTONGA
Video

Click here to watch a short film created by Wendy Evans about gospel day on the capital island

AITUTAKI BICENTENNIAL 2022
Video

As the first of the Cook Islands to be converted to Christianity, Aitutaki celebrated in 2022This is a video of the memorable celebrations