They make a type of sarong, called a pareu, which is typically brightly-colored. Like the other islands of Melanesia such as Fiji and Samoa, the Cook Islanders are known for their hand-painted and silk-screened dress fabrics. An important practice among women is tivaevae, a type of quilting.
The music of the Cook Islands is characterized by heavy drums and “frantic ukuleles” and Raro Records is the main specialist in music retail on the islands. Performing groups include the Cook Islands National Arts Theatre, Arorangi Dance Troupe, Betela Dance Troupe, Akirata Folk Dance Troupe, and Te Ivi Maori Cultural Dance Troupe. Men perform the hura, which is the equivalent of the Hawaiian hula, locking their feet on the ground and keeping their shoulders steady. Drums form part of an ensemble.
Due to the island location and the fact that the Cook Islands produce a significant array of fruits and vegetables, natural local produce, especially coconut, features in many of the dishes of the islands as does fresh seafood. Most food, however, is imported from New Zealand. Typical local cuisine includes arrowroot, clams, octopus, and taro, and seasonings such as fresh ginger, lime, lemon, basil, garlic and coconut.
Rukau is a dish of taro leaves cooked with coconut sauce and onion. A meal of octopus is known locally as Eke, and sucking pig is known as Puaka. Ika mata is a dish of raw fish marinated with lemon or lime and served with coconut cream. Poke is a desert which can be made in one of two ways, either with banana and coconut milk or with pawpaw. Coconut water, local beer, with the brand name Cooks Lager, and coffee are popular beverages among the Cook Islanders.
Māori Kūki ‘Āirani (also known as “Rarotongan”) is the nation’s official language. There are several mutually-intelligible dialects, spoken on the fifteen islands which are spread over 1,800,000 square kilometres (690,000 sq mi) of ocean. Cook Islands radio incorporates English and Tahitian in its programs while broadcasting in the Cook Islands language.
Cultural heritage in the field of literature created by the island’s writers and musicians is quite considerable. Tuepokoina Utanga Morgan is credited with writing musical compositions and poetry. He also produced folk opera. Another famous composer and poet, Teate Makirere, who toured as communications adviser of the Pacific Conference of Churches, was commended for his secular writings.
Other writers of culture of Atiu Island and Pukapuka were Paiere Mokoroa and Merota Ngamata. Tingota Simiona wrote an extensive collection of stories based on the legends of Atiu Island. One of the well-known Cook Islands children’s story tellers was Mona Matepi, who produced a television series of 52 episodes for children, titled “Mokopets”; he also wrote poetry.
Traditional houses, called kikau, have panadus-thatched roofs. Few of these structures remain, mostly on the northern islands. In the south, this architecture remains only on the island of Aitutaki in a village called New Jerusalem. On Rarotonga, this style of building is prohibited because it is considered inferior to European architecture and bears a certain stigma.
Rugby league is the most popular sport in the Cook Islands, with soccer and rugby union as the next most popular/played sports.
New Year’s Day is celebrated 1 January. Anzac Day on 25 April commemorates Cook Islanders killed in World War II. The queen’s birthday is celebrated on the first Monday in June. Constitution Day is celebrated on 4 August; the ten-day festivities include sports and dancing. Flag Raising Day occurs on 27 October. Tiare (Floral) Festival Week is held in the last week in November; it includes parades and other festivities.
Most economic growth is in tourism, offshore banking, and the mining and fishing industries, however, economic development has been hampered by geographic isolation, a lack of natural resources, and natural disasters. The country has a severe trade imbalance that is partly compensated for by foreign aid from New Zealand.
The Cook Islands is expanding its agriculture sector.