Rarotonga is a high island in the southern Cook Islands. The islanders converted to Christianity in the 1820s and 1830s, and information on the indigenous religion is fragmentary. We do know that the Rarotongans worshipped some of the great Pan-Polynesian gods such as Rongo and Tangaroa, as well as more local deities such as the deified founding ancestor Tangiia. These gods were represented by enormous wooden images, which were destroyed during the conversion process.

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Traditional Culture(1822)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Deified ancestor(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Sissons (1989)
God(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Gill (1856), pp. 13-14
Sissons (1989)

Supernatural Punishment

Supernatural punishment for impiety Present (Source)
Gill (1856), pp. 14, 16

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Gill (1856), pp. 14
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife Absent (Source)
Gill (1892), pp. 11-19
Myth of humanity’s creation Absent (Source)
Smith (1898), pp. 68

Classes of Tapu

Social hierarchy tapu Present (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 13
Resource management tapu Present (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 13-14


Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Present (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 11-12
Mana linked to genealogy Present, linked to both paternal and maternal lines (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 7-8, 11-12
Mana and social status Tightly coupled (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 11-12
Mana as a personal quality Present (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 11-12
Mana related to social influence or technical skill Present (Source)
Practice +

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Absent (Source)
Gill (1856), pp. 11-19
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Gill (1856), pp. 16
Largest religious community Whole society or larger (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 6
Political and religious differentiation Some overlap (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 1-18, 33-96
Social Environment +
Population 7000 (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 45
Population of largest political community 1,000-9,999 (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 6
Importance of Patrilateral descent High (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 10-11
Importance of Matrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 10-11
Kinship system Hawaiian (Source)
Crocombe & Crocombe (1991), pp. 41
Polygamy Limited polygyny (Source)
Crocombe & Crocombe (1991), pp. 41
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 10


(No) external warfare Rare or never (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 1-19
Conflict within community High (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 14
(No) internal warfare Common, at least every five years (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 14-16
Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Occasional but not often (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 19-21
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 203.6 (Source)
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Distance to nearest continent 4735.0 (Source)
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Pre-Austronesian population Absent: No evidence of human occupation prior to Austronesian settlement (Source)
Bellwood (1995), pp. 109
Hindu / Buddhist influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.21
Islamic influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.23
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 4
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Animal husbandry as a source of food Minor (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 15-16
Land-based gathering Medium (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 30
Agriculture / Horticulture Principal (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 30

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Medium (Source)
Mokoroa (1981)
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Minor (Source)
Mokoroa (1981)
Water-based gathering Medium (Source)
Mokoroa (1981)
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture One (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 22

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Volcanic high island (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 21-22
Island Size (km²) 67.3 (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 22
Maximum elevation (meters) 653.0 (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 22


Latitude -21.2 (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 22
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude -159.8 (Source)
Baltaxe (1975), pp. 22
Google Maps (2014)
Post Contact History(1822-2014)Expand All +
Religious History +


Role of social status in conversion process Primarily a top-down process. (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 21-22
Use of force in conversion Low (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 20-56
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 26
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 20-56

Syncretic Movements

Syncretic religious movements Absent (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 20-56
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Williams (2001), pp. 106
Immigration Low (Source)
Cook Islands Statistics Office (2011), pp. 11-12
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 78, 182
Language shift Medium (Source)
Cook Islands Statistics Office (2011), pp. Table 3.8
Foreign education systems High (Source)
Cook Islands Statistics Office (2011), pp. 12

Economic Changes

Changes in means of subsistence High (Source)
Cook Islands Statistics Office (2011), pp. 16-19
Exportation of goods to other cultures Present and substantial (Source)
Central Intelligence Agency (Cook Islands) (2014)

Modern Infrastructure

Vehicles and roads Present and widely used (Source)
Cook Islands Statistics Office (2011), pp. Tables 1.1, 8.14
Air travel Present and long-distance (Source)
Cook Islands Statistics Office (2011), pp. 9
Sea port Present (Source)
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (2009), pp. 174

Loss of Autonomy

Nature of loss of autonomy Partly voluntary (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 59-60, 62-64, 104, 107, 111-112, 119-121
Loss of political autonoomy High (Source)
Gilson & Crocombe (1980), pp. 59-60, 62-64, 104, 107, 111-112
Scott (1991), pp. 285-286, 298
Current Culture(2014)Expand All +
Belief +

Religious Demographics

Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Cook Islands Statistics Office (2011), pp. 2.4
External Links
Baltaxe, J. B. (1975). The transformation of the rangatira: A case of the European reinterpretation of Rarotongan social organization (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Illinois, Urbana, IL.

Bellwood, P. (1995). Austronesian Prehistory in Southeast Asia: Homeland, Expansion and Transformation. P. Bellwood, J.J. Fox, & D. Tryon (Eds.), The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (pp 113-114). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

Blust, R. (2007). Proto-Oceanic *Mana Revisited. Oceanic Linguistics, 46(2), 404-423. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20172322

Central Intelligence Agency (Cook Islands). (2014). The World Factbook: The Cook Islands. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cw.html

Cook Islands Statistics Office (2011).Census of Population and Dwellings 2011. Retrived from http://www.mfem.gov.ck/statistics/census-and-surveys/census/143-census-2011

Cribb, R. (2000). Historical atlas of Indonesia. Surrey, UK: Curzon Press.

Crocome, R & Crocombe, M. T. (1991). "Cook Islands". In T.E. Hays (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of World Cultures (Volume II: Oceania) (pp 40-42). New York, NY: G.K. Hall & Co.

Daft Logic Distance Calculator. (2014). http://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm.

Foster, F., Crocombe, M. T. & Crocombe, R. G. (2012). Cook Islands. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Cook-Islands.

Gems from coral islands; or, incidents of contrast between savage and Christian life of the South Sea Islanders (Vol. II: Eastern Polynesia: Comprising the Rarotonga Group, Penrhyn Islands and Savage Island. London, U.K.: Ward & Co. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/gemsfromcoralis00unkngoog/mode/1up

Gill, W. (1979). Cook Islands Customs. Suva, Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies. (Originally Published in 1892).

Gilson, R. & Crocombe, R. (Ed). (1980). The Cook Islands 1820-1950. Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press.

Google Maps (2014). Retrieved from maps.google.com

Marck, J. (1996). The First-Order Anthropomorphic Gods of Polynesia. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 105 (2), 217-258. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20706661

Maretu, & Crocombe, M.T. (1983). Cannibals and Converts: Radical Change in the Cook Islands. Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific.

Mokoroa, P. (1981). Traditional Cook Islands Fishing Techniques. Journal de la Societe des Oceanistes, 37 (72-73), 267-270. DOI: 10.3406/jso.1981.3067.

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (2009). World Port Index Nineteenth Edition. Bethesda, MD: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Scott, R. (1991). The Years of the Pooh-Bah: a Cook Islands History. Auckland, NZ: Hodder and Stoughton.

Sissons, J. (1989). The Seasonality of Power: The Rarotongan Legend of Tangiia. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 98 (3), 331-347. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20706296

Smith, S. P. (1898). Hawaiki: The whence of the Maori; with a sketch of Polynesian history; being an introduction to the native history of Rarotonga. Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin, New Zealand: Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd.

Williams, A. (2001). Economic Marginalism and the Microstate, the Impact of Donor Conditionality Requirements in International Aid Programmes on a SHRM Training Project in the Cook Islands. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 12 (1), 99-108. DOI: 10.1080/09585190121754