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Arts & Crafts

The art of Tattoo

After the arrival of Christianity, the art of tattoo was among many traditional Cook Islands customs that were abolished. Tatau, meaning tattoo in Cook Islands Maori, was traditionally applied with a comb-like chisel fastened to a wooden handle. The tool would then be struck with a separate wood-piece to help penetrate the ink into the skin. Although tattoo practitioners in the Cook Islands today prefer the use of the modern electric tattoo gun, there are tattooist currently practicing and reviving the use of traditional tattooing tools. Generally, Maori tattoos consist of geometric figures that represent natural elements related to Polynesian mythology as the sun, the ocean and various sea creatures that symbolize the deep attachment to homeland, family and navigation. One of the many traditional motifs is the 'Tikitiki Tangata', which symbolizes people holding hands and stands for unity. There are many tattoo artists based on Rarotonga, all of whom are proud wearers of Cook Islands tatau.

The art of wood and pearl carving

Many local carvers still practice their wood carvings with traditional Polynesians motifs in the making of drums, decorative weapons like spears and other tools, historical idols like the Tangaroa god of the sea & fertility. In the foyer of the University of the South Pacific you can appreciate various paintings & wooden and stone carvings by a variety of local artists. One of the most talented of them is Mike Tavioni; he has his workshop across from the Whale & Wildlife Centre on Nikao back road. 

Black pearls are a natural resource here in the Cooks. All of them come from the island of Manihiki in the northern archipelago. Tokerau Jim is one of only a few pearl-carvers in the world. His pieces are a cut above the rest: smaller, more intricate and highly prized. See displays of his stunning mother-of-pearl shell carvings at his popular showrooms.

Pareu, Tivaevae and flower Ei

A variety of colourful pareu (sarong) can be found throughout stores, alongside mini-markets, as well as the main Punanga Nui Market on Rarotonga. The are many useful pareu ties to change your casual sarong wear to an outfit for a special occasion. Several local women craft their own artistic pareu creations, many also practice the craft of hand-stitched Tivaevae quilts.

Christian missionaries introduced fabric quilt-making more than one hundred years ago. Tivaevae are deeply treasured hand-stitched heirlooms which portray the artistic talent of our Cook Island women. Hand-stitched Tivaevae, many of which represent the local colourful flowers, can be found on display in galleries and shops and also at the Punanga Nui Market as not many of them are available for sale. 

The Cook Islands is blessed with many fragrant and exotic flowers, and these are used daily for personal adornment and to grace homes and buildings. Upon arrival visitors are customarily adorned with a flower neck garland or 'ei kaki' in Cook Islands Maori. Blooms of virtually every shape and colour are also used to create flower head crowns or 'ei katu', which many local women wear on special occasions. The 'Tiare Maori' flower, which is the national flower of the Cook Islands, is widely used in making both creations.