Williams stopped at Aitutaki in 1821 and dropped off two Tahitian teachers. Returning two years later, he found that one, Papeiha, had done particularly well. Williams took him to Rarotonga and left him there for four years. When he returned in 1827, Williams was welcomed by Papeiha's many converts.
The missionaries taught an austere, puritanical morality and believed the white man's diseases such as dysentery, measles, smallpox, and influenza, which killed two-thirds of the population, were the punishment of God descending on the sinful islanders. The missionaries became a law unto themselves; today, the ubiquitous churches full to overflowing on Sunday are their legacy. (The missionaries arrived from Australia, and since they weren't aware of the idea of an international date line, they held Sunday service on the wrong day for the first 60 years of their presence!) About 63 percent of the population now belongs to the Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC), founded by the London Missionary Society. Takamoa College, the Bible school they established at Avarua in 1837, still exists.
Reports that the French were about to annex the Cooks led the British to declare a protectorate over the southern group in 1888. The French warship approaching Manihiki to claim the islands turned back when it saw a hastily sewn Union Jack flying, and in 1889 the northern atolls were added to the protectorate at the behest of the missionaries. The local chiefs petitioned the British to have their islands annexed to the British Crown. Thus on June 11, 1901, both the northern and southern groups were included in the boundaries of New Zealand. During World War II, the United States built air bases on Aitutaki and Penrhyn.
A legislative council was established in 1946, followed by an assembly with greater powers in 1957. After decolonizing pressure from the United Nations, a new constitution was granted in 1964, and on August 4, 1965, the Cook Islands was made a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand.
Today the Cook Islands manages its own internal and external affairs. The islanders are New Zealand and Cook Islands dual citizens and have the right of free entry to New Zealand and Australia. In fact, over three times more of them live in New Zealand and Australia than on their home islands. New Zealanders and Australians, on the other hand, do not have the reciprocal right to live permanently in the Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands belongs to many United Nations agencies but has never applied for full U.N. membership as this might lead to New Zealand's withdrawing citizenship privileges. In recent years the Cook Islands has sought closer economic and cultural ties with French Polynesia to balance its relationship with New Zealand.
Continue to History: Dateline »