Cook Islands Culture

Cook Islands culture is an interesting mix of Polynesian heritage and European influences with a unique identity, customs and traditions that are primary shaped around arts and craft, music and Cook Islands songs. Considered some of the best artists in the Pacific, Cook Islands culture is expressed through tattoos, wood carvings, weaving, painting and cloth designs.

Although the Christian missionaries of the mid-1800s tried to ban the then 'taboo' practice of tattooing, the Cook Islanders managed to preserve this tradition and have since brought it back into more modern practices, with designs derived from ancient symbolism and heritage and worn proudly to signify one's traditional lineage.

Wood carving is also a common practice with the Tangaroa the most common symbol. Everything from fish hooks, war clubs, spears, story boards, canoes and even bowls are carved from wood and can be seen not only in the museums but at the many markets. Weaving is another part of traditional life and coconut fibers and pandanus are used to make everything from ropes, fishing nets, eel traps and baskets to sandals, hats, mats and fans that are used in daily life.

Painting is another popular form of art in the Cook Islands culture and the relaxed way of life and stunning natural environment has served as a muse for centuries. Inspired by the traditional elements of the islands, Cook Islanders create everything from portraits and sketches to watercolours, oil paintings and hand painted or printed fabrics which feature renderings of wood carvings, traditional patterns and iconic islands flora and fauna.

A huge part of the Cook Islands culture is made up of music. From the call of the drum to the grace of their dancing and the uplifting Cook Islands songs, the sound and movement will take you on a journey through history and spirituality. Based on legends and lore of passion, love and heartbreak, the music and dance expresses a strong and proud heritage.

Children are taught young and something as simple as a hollow tree trunk becomes a drum while harmonious hymns and chants emanate from Sunday choirs, churches, string bands and homes. Even the ukulele is still a popular part of Cook Islands culture and music whether it be a modern electric for traditional coconut shell instrument.

To experience the culture of the Cook Islands firsthand, check out the Cultural Village tour.