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Culture of Other Islands

Category Name

  1. Overview

    There are approximately three dozen distinct groups of Polynesian people. The Polynesian Cultural Center showcases the people and island nations of Hawai’i, Samoa, Aotearoa (Maori New Zealand), Fiji, the Marquesas, Tahiti and Tonga. In addition, we also have a new Rapa Nui (Easter Island) exhibit featuring seven hand-carved moai or stone statues.

  2. Cook Islands

    The Cook Islands, with its population of about 19,000, is the largest group of Polynesian people who have yet to be represented at the Polynesian Cultural Center, although a number of Cook Islanders attend Brigham Young University Hawai’i and work at the PCC. The traditions of the Cook Island Maori, as they call themselves, trace their ancestry on the southern islands back to Tahiti and the Marquesas over 1,000 years ago, with Samoan and Tongan migrations settling in the northern islands. Cook Island tradition also says some of the New Zealand Maori migrations originated in their islands.

    The Spaniard Mendaña spotted the northern Cook Island of Pukapuka in 1595, during his same journey from South America to the Philippines that he also discovered the Marquesas and Tuvalu. The Cook Islands are obviously named after British explorer Capt. James Cook, who sighted them in 1770, although the islands didn’t become a British protectorate until 1888. By 1900, Great Britain transferred administrative control over the islands to New Zealand. In 1965 the people chose a self-government status in free association with New Zealand. Consequently, a relatively large number of Rarotongans or Cook Islanders live in New Zealand.

    The majority of the population lives among the eight elevated southern islands, with its capital on Rarotonga. There are also seven low-lying, sparsely populated northern islands.

  3. Niue

    The largest coral island in the world.

    Location

    The westernmost of the Cook Islands, 240 miles east of Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean.

    Area

    100 square miles, or about 1.5 times larger than Washington, D.C.

    Population

    Less than 2,000

    Discovered

    Samoans settled the island around AD 900. According to tradition, a war party from Tonga arrived in the 16th century. In 1774, Captain James Cook sighted Niue but was refused landing three times by Niuean warriors. Cook charted Niue and named it Savage Island.

    Government

    Although geographically part of the Cook Islands, Niue is an administratively separate, self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand.

    Languages

    Niuean, English

  4. Tuvalu

    Location

    In the South Pacific Ocean, about half way between Hawai’i and Australia.

    Area

    Tuvalu consists of nine coral atolls totaling less than 10 square miles (26 sq km), or about 1/10th the size of Washington, D.C.

    Population

    10,838 (July 2000 est.)

    Discovered

    Samoans arrived sometime during the 14th century. Immigrants from Tonga, the northern Cook Islands, Rotuma, and the Gilbert Islands soon followed. The smallest and southernmost island remained uninhabited until European contact. The other eight islands were settled by the 18th century (hence the name Tuvalu, or “Cluster of Eight”). Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira was the first European to discover the islands in the late 16th century.

    Government

    Under ethnic strain, the Polynesians of Ellice Islands voted for separation from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands in 1974. A year later, the Ellice Islands became Tuvalu, a separate British colony. Tuvalu declared independence in 1978. It is currently a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy.

    Languages

    Tuvaluan, English

  5. Wallis & Futuna

    Scientific evidence indicates Wallis, which is traditionally called Uvea, and Futuna — which are located between Samoa and Fiji — were historically settled over 2,000 years ago. About 500 years ago, marauding Tongans captured the islands and intermarried with the Polynesian people there.

    British navigator Samuel Wallis discovered Uvea in 1767, but the islands have been under French administration since 1842. Today, about 9,500 Polynesians live on Wallis and about 5,000 on Futuna. A relatively large number of Wallisians also live in New Caledonia and Vanuatu, which was previously a French territory.

  6. Truant Archipelago

    Location

    French Polynesia

    Area

    75 atolls, one raised coral atoll (Makatea), and innumerable coral reefs.

    Population

    About 15,000

    Discovered

    Ferdinand Magellan sighted Pukapuka atoll as he crossed the Pacific in 1521. Iron cannons recovered on Amanu suggest that the Spanish caravel, San Lesmes, shipwrecked there in 1526. The Tuamotus were also visited by Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós in 1606. In 1844 the islands came under French protection and were annexed in 1880 as a Tahitian dependency.

    Government

    The island is now part of the iles du Vent circonscription (“circumscription”) within the self-governing overseas territory of French Polynesia. It has been under French rule since 1842.

    Languages

    French (official), Tahitian (official) and Tuamotu

  7. Tokelau

    Location

    Half way between Hawai’i and New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean.

    Area

    Three islands totaling 3.9 square miles (10.1 kilometers).

    Population

    1,458 (July 2000 est.)

    Discovered

    Linguistic analysis indicates that Tokelau was settled from Samoa. British commodore John Byron was the first European visitor, and gave the smallest island, Atafu, the name Duke of York Island. Captain Edwards of HMS Pandora sighted the largest island, Nukunono, while searching for HMS Bounty mutineers in 1791. He subsequently named it Duke of Clarence Island.

    Government

    The Tokelau Islands became a British protectorate in 1889 and were transferred to New Zealand administration in 1925.

    Languages

    Tokelauan, English and Samoan

  8. Pitcairn

    Location

    About halfway between Peru and New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean.

    Area

    47 square kilometers, or about 1/3 the size of Washington, D.C. The main island, Pitcairn, is a rugged half crater of about 2 square miles girded by precipitous coastal cliffs rising 1,100 feet from the ocean.

    Population

    Less than 50. Of four relatively close islands — Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno Island — only Pitcairn is inhabited. Emigration to New Zealand has reduced the population from its peak of 233 in 1937. In 1831 the islanders were briefly sent to Tahiti, but soon returned. A number of them were also sent to Norfolk Island, where some remain. Others have migrated to New Zealand.

    Discovered

    British naval officer Philip Carteret discovered Pitcairn Island in 1767, naming it after the sailor who first sighted the island. In 1790, Fletcher Christian led the mutineers of the British ship HMS Bounty to the island. They and their Tahitian companions settled there. Their descendants now populate the island.

    Fletcher Christian and eight other HMS Bounty mutineers — along with six Polynesian men, 12 women and a baby from Tahiti — made Pitcairn island famous in 1789 as their final home. In 1793 five of the mutineers, including Christian, and all the Polynesian men were killed in a revolt. Only John Adams survived past 1800. Outside contact was re-established with the arrival of an American ship in 1808. A small number of descendants remain on the island today.

    Government

    Overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Pitcairn was the first South Pacific island to come under British colonial power, and the last to remain so.

    Languages

    English (official) and Pitcairnese (a mixture of 18th century English and Tahitian)

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