Volume 70 1961 > Volume 70, No. 1 > The migration of Cook Islanders in New Zealand, by Antony Hooper, p 11-17
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Mr. Hooper, who is at present working for a doctorate at Harvard University, wrote a thesis on Cook Islanders in Auckland for his M.A. degree at the University of Auckland.

In this article he discusses the recent migration and the present residential distribution of Cook Islanders settled in New Zealand. In the next issue of this Journal Mr. Hooper will present a comprehensive account of the social organisation of Cook Islanders in Auckland, to which the material presented in this article may serve as a brief introduction.

FROM AS EARLY as the 1830's, and throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, missionary records 1 from the Cook Islands contain brief references to movements of population within the group and to emigration to other parts of the Pacific. The numbers of people involved were not large, but within the context of the small, isolated, self-sufficient island societies, the effect of the movements must have been considerable. Most of the migration within the group was to the island of Rarotonga, where the overseas vessels called, and when the first detailed census of Rarotonga was conducted in 1895 it was found that one-third of the total population were immigrants. 2

The amount of migration away from Rarotonga was a matter of concern to both the chiefs and the missionaries. In 1833 some 85 Rarotongans left the island, and only 29 returned. 3 The exodus appears to have continued in subsequent years, and since 95 per cent of the emigrants stayed away permanently, the chiefs passed a law prohibiting further emigration. 4 By 1863 it was estimated that some 200 Rarotongans had left the island permanently. 5 The Society Islands attracted a great number of the Cook Islanders: in 1885, approximately 200 of Atiu's total population of 1,000 were in Tahiti, 6 and there were estimated to be 400 Rarotongans there in 1903. 7

The isolated Northern atolls of the group were raided during the early 1860's by vessels engaged in recruiting labour for the copper mines of Peru. Penrhyn Island probably suffered most heavily: it was - 12 claimed that there were 700 people on the island before the slavers reduced their numbers to 60. 8 Pukapuka and Mangaia were also raided, and it may be doubted that any of the people taken in this manner ever saw the Cook Islands again. The organised hiring of contract labour from the islands also appears to have begun during the 1860's, and at least some of it appears to have been sanctioned by the missionaries. In 1870 a trader was given permission to recruit 60 Rarotongans for work on the guano deposits of Starbuck Island. 9 During the period of the British Protectorate in the islands (from 1888 to 1901), British firms were required to obtain a licence if they wished to recruit labour. A law passed in 1900 limited to 70 the number who could be absent from the group at one time for this reason. 10

After the islands were annexed by New Zealand in 1901, Cook Islanders could leave the group freely as British subjects and New Zealand citizens, provided only that they had the permission of the Resident Commissioner. In spite of this freedom to recruit labour after 1901, there appears to have been little demand. In 1905, a Melbourne company was employing Cook Islanders to work Malden Island guano, and continued to recruit until 1913. In 1943, the French Phosphate Company of Oceania entered into an agreement with the New Zealand Government to permit the hiring of Cook Islanders to work the guano deposits of the island of Makatea in the Society Group, and the company had little difficulty in securing all the labour it required from the Southern Cook Islands. In 1945 there were 485 Cook Islanders on Makatea, of whom 67 were women, together with an unspecified number of children. Labourers were employed on one-year contracts, and were required to make allotments from their wages to dependents or savings accounts. Many of the labourers sought employment for further terms, and in this way saved sufficient money to pay their fares to New Zealand at the termination of their contracts. A great number of the men now in New Zealand earned their fares in this way. Owing to unemployment among the Tahitians, the company stopped recruiting in 1955: in that year there were 209 male labourers on Makatea, and the last of them returned to the Cook Islands in 1956. Altogether, 2,767 recruits went to Makatea between 1943 and 1955. 11

Cook Islanders have been migrating to New Zealand in considerable numbers since the early years of World War II, and there are now some two-and-a-half thousand “full-” and “mixed-bloods” resident in this country. The majority have arrived as young adults, with men and women in approximately equal numbers.

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The 1936 General Census of New Zealand was the first to record the Cook Islanders separately from the category of “Polynesians other than New Zealand Maoris”. In that year there were 103 Cook Islanders in New Zealand, of whom 50 were of “Mixed-blood” and 53 of “Full-blood”. Twenty-four individuals reported that they had been resident for over ten years, and one man had been resident for the previous 40 years. It is not unlikely that Cook Islanders had been coming to New Zealand ever since there were the trading ships to bring them, and that some of those whom the missionaries had reported as “staying away permanently” had reached New Zealand and intermarried with Maoris.

Table 1 illustrates both the growth and certain changes in the composition of the Cook Islander population in New Zealand, as shown by the three censuses since 1936.

Census Year   “Full-blood” “Mixed-blood” Total
  Male 34 28 62 (60%)
1936 Female 19 22 41 (40%)
  Total 53 (51%) 50 (49%) 103 (100%)
  Male 102 46 148 (42%)
1945 Female 120 86 206 (58%)
  Total 222 (63%) 132 (37%) 354 (100%)
  Male     (51%)
1951 1 Female     (49%)
  Total     951 (100%)
  Male 832 312 1,144 (49%)
1956 Female 822 354 1,176 (51%)
  Total 1,654 (71%) 666 (29%) 2,320 (100%)
1   The 1951 census data are complicated by the bracketing of Niue Islanders with the Cook Islanders in New Zealand. Migrant Niueans form a separate community in New Zealand. However, on the basis of the recorded birthplaces of those included in the 1951 Census category of “Cook Island Maori (including Niuean)” it is possible to estimate the approximate number of Cook Islanders in New Zealand at the time, and it is this estimate which is listed in the tables of this essay. The percentages recorded for the 1951 population throughout the tables has been calculated from the Cook Islander-Niuean bracket: these percentages are taken to represent the Cook Islander population alone, on the assumption that both migrant populations have similar demographic characteristics.

The sex ratio of the population has remained very close to unity over the years. Females have slightly outnumbered males since 1945—a fact which may be accounted for by a demand for Cook Islander women as domestic servants in this country, and the willingness of prospective employers to pay fares from the Cook Islands. On the other hand, Cook Islander men wishing to come to New Zealand have - 14 had either to save money in the islands, or else to have their fares paid for them by friends and relatives already established here: for them, employment on the island of Makatea had the advantage of requiring no initial outlay for fares. At the time of the 1945 census, Cook Islander females in Wellington city outnumbered males by almost three to one.

Continued migration rather than natural increase is no doubt responsible for the rising proportion of “full-bloods” in the population: the rise has been maintained in spite of the considerable number of Cook Islander women marrying Europeans and bearing children who would be classified for census purposes as mixed bloods. In 1956, 666 individuals, or 29 per cent of the population, were mixed-bloods, and the question naturally arises as to what extent these individuals participate in the web of social relations and the institutions which constitute the Cook Islander community in New Zealand. Are they Cook Islanders or Pakehas? I can give no definite answer, but the following observations on the “mixed-bloods” are relevant:

(1) Three-fifths of the “mixed-bloods” are under 16 years of age, and these children may be divided into two groups.

  • (a) Those born in New Zealand of marriages and common-law unions between Cook Islanders and Pakehas. From my observation in Auckland, families of Cook Islander mother and Pakeha father (by far the most common pattern of inter-marriage), are not closely integrated with the Cook Islander community in the city. The children, by their physical appearance and upbringing, will have greater opportunities to live apart from the community.
  • (b) Those born of “mixed-blood” parents. They may be considered as socially identical with “full-bloods”, since their parents are.

(2) The European population of the Cook Islands has never risen to as high a proportion of the native population as it has in the islands of Fiji and Samoa, and although a considerable number of European men in the islands have married Cook Islander women, there has been no tendency for a separate class of part-Europeans to develop there. Davis has remarked that:

“It is interesting to note that the great majority of mixed-blood marriages in the past two generations have chosen to marry with those of more than half native blood.” 12

243 “mixed-bloods”, representing 36 per cent of the “mixed-blood” population in New Zealand, were born in the Cook Islands. My own observations in Auckland confirm Davis' from the Cook Islands, and it is possible to state that those “mixed-bloods” in New Zealand who were born in the Cook Islands are socially indistinguishable from “full-bloods”.

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Table 2 shows the distribution of Cook Islanders in New Zealand by provinces.

District 1936 1945 1951 1956
Auckland 58% 71% 72% 67%
Wellington 11% 19% 19% 22%
Hawkes Bay 18% 7% 5% 7%
Other 13% 3% 4% 4%
Total 100% 100% 100% 100%

Table 3 demonstrates the heavy concentration of Cook Islanders in urban areas.

Area 1936 1945 1951 1956
Auckland 32% 50% 52% 47%
Wellington 14% 9% 12%
Hastings 9% 2% 1% 3%
Napier 4% 2% 1% 3%
Other 4% 4% 12% 10%
Total Urban 49% 70% 74% 72%
Total Non-Urban 51% 30% 26% 28%
Total 100% 100% 100% 100%

The distribution by provinces in 1936 is roughly concordant with that which persists to this day: Hawkes Bay no longer has quite as high a proportion of the total population as it had in earlier years, and there has been a general increase in urban concentration, but most of the Cook Islanders in this country still live in the three provinces of Auckland, Wellington and Hawkes Bay. This is not entirely accounted for by factors of climate and the ease with which employment may be obtained in these areas, although these are important: new arrivals have sought the aid and fellowship of those already established, so that settlement of these areas has built up an impetus of its own.

Table 4 gives a summary account of the age and sex structure of the “full-blood” and mixed-blood” Cook Islanders in New Zealand, together with the proportion of these populations who have never married.

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  Aged under 16 Aged under 45 Aged over 45 Total (100%) Never Married
“Full-blood” 5 (10%) 45 (85%) 8 (15%) 53 19 (38%)
“Mixed-blood” 24 (48%) 48 (96%) 2 (4%) 50 39 (78%)
Total 29 (28%) 93 (91%) 10 (9%) 103 58 (58%)
“Full-blood” 22 (9%) 195 (88%) 27 (12%) 222 137 (61%)
“Mixed-blood” 53 (39%) 124 (94%) 8 (6%) 132 86 (65%)
Total 75 (22%) 319 (91%) 35 (9%) 354 223 (63%)
“Full-blood” 433 (26%) 1,525 (93%) 120 (7%) 1,645 929 (57%)
“Mixed-blood” 402 (60%) 632 (95%) 34 (5%) 666 498 (76%)
Total 835 (36%) 2,157 (93%) 154 (7%) 2,311 2 1,427 (62%)
2   9 Cook Islanders were listed as “Unspecified”.

Briefly, the Cook Islander population of New Zealand has the following characteristics:

  • 1. Youth. 36 per cent are under 16 years of age (cf. 33 per cent of the total New Zealand population). 93 per cent are under 45 years (cf. 72 per cent of the total New Zealand population).
  • 2. Concentration in the provinces of Auckland and Wellington; 89 per cent live in these two provinces.
  • 3. It is mainly urban; 72 per cent live in urban areas.
  • 4. Approximately equal numbers of males and females; the sex ratio is 0.97.
  • 5. A prodigious rate of growth, due, of course, to continual immigration. Between 1945 and 1956 the population increased by over 650 per cent.
  • 6. The adults are first-generation immigrants (i.e. they were born in the Cook Islands): second-generation (born in New Zealand) are children of school age and under. 13

A few of those Cook Islanders who came to this country before 1936 are still living in Auckland, and even some who are married to Europeans still retain an interest in the community and the affairs of the more recently formed church. A number of those who married New Zealand Maoris have been absorbed into such Maori communities as Orakei, where there are today some half-dozen Rarotongans.

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The official statistics on immigration have not classified the Cook Islanders separately from the Niueans with any consistency, and for this reason it is not possible to document any changes in annual rates of migration. An indication of the fact that the people still want to come to New Zealand is given by the large numbers awaiting passage; in August 1957, accommodation on the regular monthly steamer to the islands was booked for five months ahead, and the Union Steam Ship Company was making no further reservations.

  • DAVIS, T. R. A., 1947. “Rarotonga Today.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 56:197-218.
  • GILSON, R. P., 1952. The Administration of the Cook Islands. Unpublished thesis, University of London.
  • MCARTHUR, Norma, n.d. The Population of the Pacific Islands. Part II, Cook Islands and Niue. Cyclostyled, Department of Demography, Australian National University.
1   References to missionary records are taken from two secondary sources: Gilson 1952 and McArthur n.d.
2   Appendix to the Journals of the New Zealand House of Representatives, vol. 1, A-3, 1896.
3   Letter from the missionary Aaron Buzacott to the headquarters of the London Missionary Society, dated 12 January, 1854.
4   Charles Pitman to L.M.S., 7 March, 1849; 1 January, 1852.
5   E. Krause to L.M.S., 10 April, 1863.
6   J. Hutchin to L.M.S., 8 April, 1885.
7   Gilson 1952:225. (Page references to this unpublished manuscript refer to copies held by the Department of Island Territories, Wellington.)
8   H. Royle to L.M.S., 17 May, 1865.
9   J. T. Arundel to L.M.S., 9 March, 1872; 12 May, 1872.
10   Appendix to the Journals of the New Zealand House of Representatives vol. 1, A-3, 1901: pp. 6, 10.
11   Appendix to the Journals of the New Zealand House of Representatives, vol. 1, A-3, 1955: p. 35.
12   Davis 1947:210.
13   The particular combination of statistics (Race/Age/Birthplace) needed to document this statement is not available in published census records. The observation is made on the basis of my own research in Auckland, and a simple deduction from the fact that most of the migrants have arrived in New Zealand since the early 1940's.