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 that very special day in the history of the nation...a day which is a national holiday and around which two weeks of celebrations (Te Maeva Nui) take place each year

HM The Queen letter

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II sent "warmest greetings" to her people 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 PM

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$0.95 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, which is based on the UK model, has two houses. The lower house or Legislative Assembly has 24 publicly elected members The Members of Parliament represent districts and islands. 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 originally used 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. 

The Constitution Celebrations were renamed in 2001 because the Prime Minister of the time wanted a Cook Islands Maori name to capture the essence and joy of the annual festival. They are now called "Te Maeva Nui" which translates as "the major or most important celebration".

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 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 was green.  The circle of 15 stars was chosen to express "the moulding of our 15 islands in to one united land and people". It was replaced by the current flag in August, 1979

"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