Friday, July 3
All Cook Islands dancing is good to watch; the boys are dynamic and the girls graceful.
Most Cook Islanders, the ones who live here anyway, can get up and dance any time the mood takes them, but visitors should make sure they see an island night show while they are here.
‘Drums of our Forefathers’ at Highland Paradise is a musical history of Rarotonga from the time the ancestors arrived to the present day.
Legend tells of Polynesians sailing vaka (ocean-going canoes) from Avaiki – the ancestral and spiritual homeland. They settled on Rarotonga but over the years inter-tribal rivalry led to battles. There was cannibalism but it was mainly a ritual – eating a defeated enemy gave a warrior some of his strength and spirit. Dancing and chants were performed at special celebrations - the so-called grass skirts were made from the inner bark of trees.
The missionaries thought those costumes were a bit too exotic. They didn’t stop the local population dancing but made the guys wear long black pants under the skirts while the girls covered up with shorts.
The muumuu dress for women was also introduced by missionaries. It’s a long dress, often with a frill around the bottom and puffed sleeves. These days it’s made out of colourful pareu material and it’s probably the most popular dress style for both formal and less informal occasions. Well, maybe not for teeny-boppers but certainly for the more mature ladies.
Dance groups used to put on shows for visiting ships but tourism really got going when the international airport opened (in the early nineteen seventies I think).
Nowadays the groups have a variety of colourful costumes and choreographers are composing new dances all the time so Cook Islands culture is in good shape.
In fact, the Maeva Nui festival (usually held in July/August but it’s going to be later this year) is a cultural dance competition between Rarotonga villages and the outer islands. This is fiercely contested and with up to fifty performers on the stage at a time it’s quite a sight. But more on that later.