Removing Cook's legacy - Cook Islands seek name change

By Regan Paranihi

A new Cook Island Māori name could be on the cards for the beloved Cook Islands.

The move is an attempt to depart from the legacy of the British explorer, James Cook, who sighted the islands in 1773- more than a thousand years after Polynesian voyagers are thought to have first set foot on their shores.

Pa Marie Ariki, the paramount chief of the Cook Islands, met with the committee in charge of the name change in January to discuss possible names for the Island and deliberated on a possible indigenous name.

The Cook Islands' government have given their tentative support to the committee.

Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) that an indigenous name would better express the essence of the islands' residents.

"I'm quite happy to look at a traditional name for our country which more reflects the true Polynesian nature of our island nation," he says.  

This, however, is not the first time the island has attempted to change its name.

In 1994 a referendum was held to change the country’s name which saw 69% of Cook Islanders vote to retain their name.

Committee’s chair Danny Mataroa told RNZ the country has made progress this time around and they have support from leaders from all twelve islands regarding the proposal.

"This is the first time we've actually gone this far," he says.

Mataroa says names being considered by the committee had to incorporate a number of elements important to Cook Islanders, including Christianity, Māori heritage and national pride.

However Brown says it is the people who will have the final say on whether or not the name change goes ahead.

“I think the first steps are to find out what the public appetite actually is for a change of name."

Elsie Hosking, who is a descendant of Ngāti Vaikai in Rarotonga, has taken to Facebook to address how she feels about the possible name change following the negative feedback she's seen on social media.

She says, " We need our own name, we need to have a name that has mana, we need to have a name that we can be proud of."

Hosking says the islands should not be named after a man who brought disease, murder, rape and colonisation to Pacific peoples.  

She also believes a Māori name would be positive for language revitalisation.

"I feel like if we adopted a Māori name it could be the one thing that motivates us to increase the number of Cook Island speakers because, as you may or may not know, we are the second least spoken language in the Pacific.

"If we adopted a Māori name it could be the one thing that motivates us to increase the number of Cook Island [Māori] speakers."

Around 60 names are currently under consideration with a referendum expected on the issue to be confirmed.