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Cook Islands, People

Rarotonga, Pacific Islanders, extended families, smaller islands, extension center

The population of the Cook Islands was 20,811 in 2002, with a population density of 87 persons per sq km (225 per sq mi). Almost 90 percent of the people live in the southern islands. The island of Rarotonga has well over half of the population. Due to limited employment opportunities on the islands, Cook Islanders living overseas outnumber those at home. The vast majority live in New Zealand, and there is considerable movement of people between the Cook Islands and New Zealand.

The people of the Cook Islands are of Polynesian descent. Due to extensive intermarriage with Europeans over many years, most of the people today are of mixed ancestry. The official language is English, although most people are bilingual and literate in both English and the indigenous language of Cook Islands Maori.

About 70 percent of the people belong to the Cook Islands Christian Church, which is derived from the Congregationalist London Missionary Society. The remaining 30 percent are about evenly divided between Catholicism and several other faiths. Most Cook Islanders are devout churchgoers.

Cook Islanders are among the best educated of all Pacific Islanders. Education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 15. The University of the South Pacific has an extension center in Rarotonga, and numerous students attend schools and universities overseas.

Most inhabitants of the smaller islands live in extended families and derive much of their livelihood from subsistence activities. In contrast, life on Rarotonga is heavily influenced by Western culture. Housing and dress are largely Western, and there is a variety of stores, shops, restaurants, and other small businesses.

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