Named after Captain Cook, who sighted them in 1770, the islands became a British protectorate in 1888. By 1900, administrative control was transferred to New Zealand; in 1965 residents chose self-government in free association with New Zealand. The emigration of skilled workers to New Zealand and government deficits are continuing problems.
The natives, who are of Polynesian stock and speech, have legends of their arrival from Samoa. They say their ancestors found black people on the islands, and the strongly Melanesian type which is found, especially on Mangaia, supports the statement. The Cook Islanders were formerly man-hunters and cannibals.
The archipelago was discovered by Captain Cook in 1777, and in 1823 became the scene of the remarkable missionary labours of John Williams, of the London Missionary Society.
The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica wrote, "Since 1899 the islands have enjoyed a general legislature and an executive council of which the Arikis (" kings " and " queens ") are members. But all enactments are subject to the approval of the British resident
at Rarotonga, and a British protectorate, proclaimed in 1888, was followed by the
annexation of the whole archipelago by the governor of New Zealand, by proclamation of June l0th, 1901."
When New Zealand became independent, the Cook Islands were transferred from British to New Zealand rule. In 1965, residents chose self-government in free association with New Zealand. Cook Islands is fully responsible for internal affairs. New Zealand retains responsibility for external affairs and defense, in consultation with the Cook Islands.
Like many other South Pacific island nations, the Cook Islands' economic development is hindered by the isolation of the country from foreign markets, the limited size of domestic markets, lack of natural resources, periodic devastation from natural disasters, and inadequate infrastructure. Agriculture provides the economic base with major exports made up of copra and citrus fruit.
Manufacturing activities are limited to fruit processing, clothing, and handicrafts. Trade deficits are offset by remittances from emigrants and by foreign aid, overwhelmingly from New Zealand. In the 1980s and 1990s, the country lived beyond its means, maintaining a bloated public service and accumulating a large foreign debt. Subsequent reforms, including the sale of state assets, the
strengthening of economic management, the encouragement of tourism, and a debt restructuring agreement, have rekindled investment and growth.