Kuki Airani (Cook Islands) Profile
Archeologists currently trace the settlement of the islands to the fourth century A.D. and the oral history of Rarotonga, Kuki Airani’s main island, dates back at least 1,400 years.
These islands are widely known today as the Cook Islands, a Maori nation with a booming tourism industry. Orthodox economic success, however, has come at the cost of social decimation.
Most homeland Cook Islanders – roughly 8,000 out of 10,000 total residents – live on the main destination, Rarotonga. Outside of singing and joking at cultural performances for tourists, most have to speak English day and night to endless streams of tourists. In a mere generation, use of Te Reo Maori, the indigenous language, has dwindled to almost nothing.
Tourism is a consistent growth earner and has been since the early 1980s, hitting the 100,000 visitor mark last year – impressive stats for on an island just 31 kilometres (about 19 miles) by coastal road.
Plans are to boost tourism further, to 200,000 over coming years. That would see the ratio of visitor to local double to about twenty to one, on an annual basis. To reach a similar ratio, the 4 million people of New Zealand would have to absorb some 80 million visitors a year. That’s just a little bit more than visitors to France, with a population of 65 million to support its status as the world’s most popular destination.
Long-term job growth prospects are strong, but living costs on the capital island are prohibitive, raising doubts about who or what tourism is still expanding for, exactly. After three decades of growth, local tourism operations have for years imported contract workers from Fiji. Most Cook Islanders are long gone, using their automatic birthright to New Zealand passports to migrate.
Nothing speaks systemic failure quite like arriving at a national hotel and being welcomed with the national greeting of another island nation – “Bula!”, for example, instead of “Kia Orana!”
With 10,000 stayers at home, as many as 90,000 people of Cook Islands ancestry live overseas, an overwhelming majority in Australia and New Zealand, often on social welfare with low education and health, a language deeper in “crisis,” and a general sense of dislocation. Says one migrant of his homeland: “Rarotonga is only for the rich people now.”
CIA Factbook link to more demographic, geographic and economic data for Avaiki: