Cook Islands: Country and Foreign Investment
Population, Language and Culture
In 1595 the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendala became the first European to sight the Cook Islands; the Portuguese landed on them in 1606. The Russians named the Islands the Cook Islands after Captain James Cook who made 3 trips there between 1773-7. The Islands became a British Protectorate in 1888 and were annexed to New Zealand in 1901. In 1965 they became self governing in a free association with New Zealand from which they require support only in external affairs, defence and finances.
The Cook Islanders are Polynesians who are closely related in tradition, language, culture and customs to the Maoris of New Zealand. Although English is the official language Maori is also spoken. British missionaries ended cannibalism and made Christianity the predominant religion.
However Western occupation was accompanied by Western diseases which so devastated the indigenous population that by 1850 there were less than 2,000 inhabitants. The total resident population of the Islands was estimated at approximately 10,777 as at July 2012. Annual population has declined by just over 3% in the past year.
In the 20th century it is economic difficulties and not disease which has kept the population low, with large numbers of Cook Islanders emigrating to New Zealand in search of employment.