Cook Islands Religion

Doctrines Variations in belief exist between the different islands of this diverse group, but each of the strands of thought displays marked similarities with other islands and groups throughout the Pacific.
A creation story from Mangaia which presents a very Polynesian view of cosmic beginnings tells how the whole universe was held within an immense coconut shell. From a pre-existent being, Vari-ma-te-takere, The Beginning and the bottom, developed all life. Vari plucked the other deities from her side, including the primal parents, Vatea and Papa.
Other islands have myths of the separation of Sky and Earth as in other groups, and the major deities are generally similar to those found in other Polynesian cultures - Rongo being concerned with food, crops and harvest, Tane overseeing forests, wood, rain and fertility, and Tangaroa being the deity of sea and fishing as well as fertility.

History The first Polynesians arrived in these islands around 800-900 of the Common Era, and developed cultures which were largely similar while supporting local variations. One thousand years later, the coming of Christian missionaries led to drastic changes in culture and belief. The breakdown of the traditional hierarchical structure of society and the abandonment of the central practices of ceremonial life led to the abolition of practices such as human sacrifice, polygamy, cannibalism, and the destruction of images of deities.
The missions which began in the 1820s utilized Polynesian teachers who were early converts to Christianity in other island groups - particularly the Society Islands. These teachers met with early success and prepared the way for European missionaries to follow a decade or two later. In fact within a few years Cook Islanders were themselves sent to other islands as mission teachers. Christianity is fully established today in the Cook Islands and, as elsewhere in the pacific, the church fills a very central place in everyday society.

Symbols In the Cook Islands, as throughout the Pacific region, the coconut palm is a staple of life, its various parts used for food, building material, rope. It is, then, inevitable that spiritual signifcance has also been attached to it. In some islands the nut itself has been used as a symbol of the cosmos. As well as containing within it the essence of all life, the tapered base was seen as the root of existence, and the space above symbolized the various levels populated by human and divine beings. Various stories are told throughout the Pacific to account for the face-like markings on the end of the husked shell.
The carved wooden image of Tangaroa has been retained in modern times as a popular symbol of the Cook Islands. Representations depict this deity with a prominent and overlarge penis, signifying the fertility aspect of creation.

Adherents About 70% of the population of the Cook Islands belong to the Cook Islands Christian Church. The second largest group are Roman Catholics, estimated at the end of 1994 to have 3,086 adherents. The following traditions are also represented in the islands: Anglicans, the Assembly of God, the Baptist Church, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, the Apostolic Church, the Baha'i faith and Jehovah's witnesses.

Main Centre
 Information on religion in the Cook Islands can be acquired from the Religious Advisory Council of the Cook Islands, POB 31, Rarotonga. The main address of the Cook Islands Christian Church is: Takamoa, POB 93, Rarotonga.