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Wednesday, June 1, 2016
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The Cook Islands were first inhabited by seafaring Polynesians that came from both east and west. Tahitians settled the southern Cooks about 800 AD, while Tongans and Samoans settled the northern islands. From the Cook Islands, the people are thought to have migrated south to New Zealand, where they are also known as Maori.
The first European sighting of the Cook Islands was in 1595 when Spaniard Alvaro de Mendana sailed past. Spanish explorer Pedro Quiros landed in 1606, but the islands were not seen again until 1764. Captain James Cook named them the Hervey Islands in 1773 and William Bligh is credited with introducing pawpaws to the islands when passing through in 1781, just before the mutiny that cast him onto the open seas.
It was not until the 1800s that European settlement began in earnest, with traders, sailors, beachcombers, whalers and missionaries. Missionary John Williams arrived in 1821 with Tahitian converts and the islanders embraced Christianity, leading to the abandonment of cannibalism, infanticide and idol worship. The missionaries brought schools, laws, dress codes and rigid police supervision over the people's morals and activities.
The Islands were first named the Cook Islands by a Russian Cartographer in 1824 in honour of the explorer, and the name stuck.
After the outer islands were raided by Peruvian slavers in the mid-1800s and Tahiti and the Society Islands were subjected to an armed takeover by France, the Cook Island chiefs unsuccessfully requested Britain for protection. As the threat of French takeover heightened, they petitioned New Zealand in 1865 and Britain again in 1888, when protection was granted.
However, in 1900 Britain passed responsibility for the Cook Islands to New Zealand. After World War Two, when a few thousand American troops were based in some of the islands, demands arose for independence. The country's first legislative council was elected in 1946, and independence was granted in 1965, though the islands remain self-governing in association with New Zealand. The Islanders are entitled to New Zealand citizenship and about double the island's population now live and work there.