The Cook Islands is considering replacing its colonial-era name with a new one that recognises the nation’s indigenous inhabitants.
The country, which was named after British explorer Captain James Cook in 1835, is made up of a series of 15 tropical islands in the South Pacific, with a population of 17,500 people.
Danny Mataroa, chair of the name change committee launched in January, is slowly gaining government support for the project, and is in the process of evaluating 60 proposed names whittled down from public submissions.
The goal is to submit the top contender to the government by April – something which is “easy to say” Mataroa insists, but also imbued with local history and culture. Then, the government will put the name change to a public vote.
“It must have a taste of our Christian faith, and a big say on our Māori heritage. And it must instil a sense of pride in our people, and unite our people.” Mataroa told RNZ Pacific.
It is likely any new name for the country would be in Cook Islands Māori, the local Indigenous language, which is closely related to New Zealand’s Māori language.
So far no hint has emerged of the names on the list, though Avaiki Nui, a local term for the islands, has been frequently suggested.
The Cook Islands could also opt for a dual-language name as New Zealand does, committee members said, with the common and frequent use of Aotearoa – the Māori name for New Zealand – in public and professional spheres.
Cook Islands deputy prime minister Mark Brown said he was supportive of his country exploring all options for a new name, and was keen to hear what islanders had in mind.
“I’m quite happy to look at a traditional name for our country which more reflects the true Polynesian nature of our island nation,” Brown told RNZ Pacific. “I think the first steps are to find out what the public appetite actually is for a change of name.”
An earlier bid to change the Cook Islands name was rejected in the 1990s, but Mataroa says all 12 chiefs from the country’s inhabited islands are now engaging in the process, and the push for change is stronger than ever before.
Cook sighted the Cook Islands in 1773 and 1777, and the islands became a British protectorate in 1888.
The vast majority of Cook islanders live in New Zealand, but as tourism numbers have steadily increased many islanders are returning home, and their investment in the future of the country may prove crucial in any upcoming referendum.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN