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Cook Islands, History

Polynesian peoples had migrated to some of the Cook Islands, which were settled by ad 600. The language and culture of the islands are closely related to those of Tahiti and the Society Islands to the east. Spanish voyagers of the late 16th century were the first Europeans to reach the Cook Islands. British and other European explorers mapped the islands in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The islands were named after British explorer and navigator Captain James Cook, who first sighted them in 1773.

Missionaries from the London Missionary Society arrived in the early 1820s. Christianity spread rapidly, and the church gained firm control over the social and political life of the islands. In 1888 Britain declared Rarotonga a protectorate, and the southern islands were included soon thereafter. In 1901 authority over the Cook Islands was transferred to New Zealand, and the colony’s boundaries were extended to encompass the northern islands.

Largely as a result of international anticolonial sentiment in the early 1960s, the Cook Islands became one of the first Pacific Island groups to achieve self-determination. In 1965 the Cook Islands became a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand.


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