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Cook Islands (New Zealand)

Kuki Airani

Last modified: 2002-10-19 by santiago dotor
Keywords: cook islands | kuki airani | new zealand | stars: 15 | ensign: blue | union flag | prime minister | customs | crown: royal | letters: 3 | atiu |
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[Cook Islands (New Zealand)] 1:2
by Zeljko Heimer, modified by António Martins
Flag adopted 4th August 1979

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The official name of the Cook Islands is the Cook Islands. It would be rather unusual to say the least to refer to this country today as the Associated State of the Cook Islands. It would also be incorrect to refer to this country by that expression if that were to infer that the Cook Islands lacked its own international personality and had less than plenary competence to engage in international affairs in its own right. Indeed, for example, the Cook Islands recently became a contracting party to the Cotonou Agreement between 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States and the European Union, that Agreement being open for participation only by independent States. As well, the Cook Islands is a full member of a number of world organisations of which New Zealand is also a separate and full member (e.g. FAO, ICAO, UNESCO, WHO and WMO). While the Cook Islands is in a relationship of free association with New Zealand, that relationship does not qualify the Cook Islands' plenary competence referred to above.

The Maori translation of the Cook Islands is te Kuki Airani, not Rarotonga, the latter being the main island of this country.

James Gosselin, International Legal Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, 3 January 2001 (in an e-mail to Roger Moyer)

The following information is from the US Department of the Interior on islands of disputed sovereignty in the 20th century. The document appears to be from early 1998, so there may be some changes. In a treaty signed June 11, 1980, the United States renounced claims to four atolls in favor of Cook Island sovereignty. The treaty was effective September 8, 1983. The atolls were: Danger (Pukapuka), Manahiki, Penrhyn and Rakahanga.

Phil Nelson, 27 April 2000

The Cook Islands were declared a British protectorate in 1888, and annexed to New Zealand in 1901. In 1965, they were granted internal self-government with their own unicameral Parliament. They have an elected Legislative Assembly, and a High Commissioner who ratifies the legislation. (Those familiar with Westminster style constitutions will understand that this ratification is merely a formality with its roots founded in the fact that the ultimate head of state is the Queen of England.) The High Commissioner is appointed by the New Zealand government, but I don't know whether it is a parliamentary, cabinet, or ministerial appointment. Presumably, the "Queen's Representative" is the Governor-General of New Zealand.

Bill Anderson, 11 January 2001


British Blue Ensign with fifteen white five-pointed stars in a circle in the fly. The ratio is 1:2. The stars represent the 15 islands in the Cook Islands group. The use of the Blue Ensign refers to the British links of the Cook Islands, formerly as part of, and now as an independent state in free association with, New Zealand.

Stuart Park, 8 December 1995

The Cook Islands ensign is described and its symbolism explained in the Government of the Cook Islands website:

The Constitution declares the Cook Islands Ensign described below to be the recognised flag of the Cook Islands (Article 76C):-

"The Cook Islands Ensign shall be a Royal blue ensign. The Union Jack shall occupy the upper staff quarter, having on the fly 15 stars in a symmetrical ring, all of equal size and equal spacing, and the colour of the stars shall be white. The flag proportion of length to breadth shall be two to one.

"And it shall mean -

  • "Blue - is the colour most expressive of our Nation, it is representative of the vast area of the Pacific Ocean in which the islands of the Cook Islands are scattered. Blue also depicts the peaceful nature of the inhabitants of our islands.
  • "Union Jack - indicates our historical association with and membership of the British Commonwealth.
  • "The 15 white stars - represent the 15 islands of the group."
(Third Schedule to the Constitution).

Santiago Dotor, 3 February 1999

According to Barraclough and Crampton 1981, pp. 212 and 252:

New Zealand has two territories in the South Pacific which are in the same relationship to her as the Associated States are to the UK. These are the Cook Islands and Niue. (...)

A new design for the flag was introduced on 4 August 1979. The circle of stars is now white, and is placed in the fly of a British-style Blue Ensign, thus making the flag much more like that of New Zealand. This change follows a change of leadership in the islands. The present flag is not unlike that originally submitted by Len Staples in the 1973 competition.

And according to Crampton 1989, p. 126:
The fifteen Pacific Ocean islands that make up this group became self-governing in 1965, but still rely on New Zealand for foreign affairs and defence. The Cook Islands have had many flags, the latest having been adopted on 4 August 1979. It continues to use the ring of fifteen stars (one for each island) used on the previous flag, which was otherwise plain green. The change was made when the Cook Islands Party lost power to the Democratic Party, whose colours are blue and white.

Santiago Dotor, 4 January 2000

The Cook Islands' Constitution describes the flag as a Royal blue ensign. Perhaps they wanted to say British blue ensign (the most natural description, surely) but decided that that was politically incorrect as they were subjects of the Crown of New Zealand? Royal blue ensign seems like a compromise that would issue from that, though it is patently confusing.

Andrew Yong, 13 January 2000

Mistaken Flag

[Mistaken Flag (Cook Islands, New Zealand)]
by Zeljko Heimer

The Cook Islands website shows the field as a light blue, rather than a dark one, as in most Blue Ensigns.

Santiago Dotor, 14 October 2002

Probably because that image seems to be taken off the FOTW website [formerly appearing as the correct flag], scaled down, believing it to be correct. I have seen the Cook Islands on television a bit, and the amount of variations of the flag is amazing! They clearly don't have any worries about making the flag accurate. I think the 'normal' dark blue ensign is correct, as seen in many flag books.

Sam Lockton, 14 October 2002

Evidently a single shade of the blue is present in the Cook Islands' flag — the blue of the field is identical to that in Union Flag.

Jan Zrzavy, 14 October 2002

You are right — I seem to recall seeing that light blue shade only in FOTW, and in the Cook Islands website — hence my belief that this shade was the correct one! It seems we have we spread yet another vexillological mistake...

Santiago Dotor, 14 October 2002

I had to check the Cook Islands flag as they were competing in the Commonwealth Games. They were quite happy with a standard British blue ensign defaced with the circle of stars. That would make the blue Pantone 280.

Graham Bartram, 16 October 2002

I would guess the problem comes from the use of the term royal blue in the Cook Islands flag law. In popular usage, at least in the United States, this connotes a bright blue, more or less FOTW regular blue (B). But as David Prothero points out, royal blue is also the official designation of the blue in the Union Flag and British blue ensign, which we have agreed is FOTW very-very dark blue (B+++).

Joseph McMillan, 16 October 2002

Prime Minister's Flag

[Prime Minister (Cook Islands, New Zealand)] ~3:7 (?)
by Jaume Ollé

According to Crampton 1989, p. 126:

The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands flys [sic] a blue flag with the Islands' logo (combined C and I) in white in the centre.
I have written to the webmaster of the Government of the Cook Islands website asking for information on the Prime Minister's flag referred by Crampton. This office is currently held by Hon. Terepai Maoate.

Santiago Dotor, 4 January 2000

John Walters, the Government of the Cook Islands webmaster, answered, "I have checked with the Prime Minister's department and have been told there is definitely no such thing as the "Prime Minister's Flag"".

Santiago Dotor, 7 January 2000

A black and white photo of the car flag of the Cook Islands' prime minister was taken in 1985 and reported by Crux Australis Vol. IV 2/18, April 1988, quoted by Vexillinfo no. 97. The flag is proportion c. 3:7 and is a plain flag with a central emblem. The background is possibly blue and the emblem white, but this has not been confirmed.

Jaume Ollé, 21 January 2000

Queen's Representative's Flag

[Queen's Representative (Cook Islands, New Zealand)] 1:2
by Victor Lomantsov, modified by António Martins

Queen's Representative. Source: an article by Michel Lupant in Gaceta de Banderas, no. 9, 1993.

Victor Lomantsov, 7 January 2001

Probably he is still a High Commissioner. Whitaker's Almanac 1986 has, "The High Commissioner of the Cook Islands is employed in a dual role, since he represents both the Queen and the New Zealand Government".

David Prothero, 10 January 2001

Please note that the New Zealand High Commissioner in the Cook Islands is not the Queen's Representative — this is a separate office, held by a Cook Islander, Sir Apenera Short.

Ken Westmoreland, 9 February 2002

Flag of Her Majesty's Customs

[Her Majesty's Customs (Cook Islands, New Zealand)] 1:2
by Victor Lomantsov, modified by António Martins

Source: an article by Michel Lupant in Gaceta de Banderas, no. 9, 1993.

Victor Lomantsov, 7 January 2001

The Cook Islands are a political dependency of New Zealand, whose head of state is Queen Elizabeth, who, as most people would know, is resident in, and sovereign of the United Kingdom. The style Her Majesty's Customs is merely a reflection of the fact that New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with the Queen as head of state. With the exception of what are called the reserve powers, the Queen has no part in the running of the country. The reserve powers are only used in cases of constitutional crisis, and would in all probability be exercised by her local representative, the Governor-General. To my knowledge, the reserve powers have never been used in New Zealand, and have only been used rarely in other countries sharing the same constitutional heritage (e.g. Canada, Australia, United Kingdom). The Commissioner for Customs is a person appointed by an Act of the New Zealand Parliament. He or she may be a representative of the Queen in name only. His or her role and powers are defined by the Act appointing him or her. It would be closer to the fact that the Commissioner of Customs (or is it Comptroller?) represents the people of New Zealand as a separate sovereign state. The style "Her Majesty's Customs" could be changed at any time the executive government in New Zealand decided to change the style.

Bill Anderson, 10 January 2001

(Non-existent) Subnational Flags

Has anyone seen the flag of Penrhyn Island located East of Tokelau? Does it have its own flag?

Nozomi Kariyasu, 22 March 1999

The Cook Islands consist of two groups: the Southern (or Lower) and Northern Cook Islands. The Northern group is rather scattered and consists of:

  • Nassau
  • Palmerston (Avarau)
  • Penrhyn (Tongareva)
  • Manihiki (Humphrey)
  • Rakahanga (Reirson)
  • Pukapuka (Danger)
  • Suwarrow (Anchorage)
At the Government of the Cook Islands website there is a nice map of Penrhyn with a good history lesson — but no flag. Names: Te Pitaka (the Circle), Tongareva (Tonga floating in space). The present-day Maori name is Mangarongaro which developed from the name of one of the divisions of the large south-western islet. Penrhyn after the "Lady Penrhyn" commanded by Captain William Cropton Lever who landed on August 8th 1788. Another European name was Bennett Island. The Peruvians knew the island as the Island of the Four Evangelists.

Jarig Bakker, 22 March 1999

A person from the Cook Islands once wrote to me that "some of the larger islands in the southern group have a banner, particularly Atiu". Unfortunately, he did not know where to get hold of one. However, it is not impossible that the 500 Penrhynese also have a banner, although they live in the Northern group of islands if I remember correctly.

Thanh-Tâm Lê, 22 March 1999

John Walters, the Government of the Cook Islands webmaster, wrote me, referring to subnational and/or island flags, "There is only one flag for the Cook Islands."

Santiago Dotor, 10 January 2000

Atiu Coat-of-Arms (mistakenly reported as its flag)

[Coat-of-Arms (Atiu, Cook Islands, New Zealand)]
by John Walters and Santiago Dotor

John Walters, the Government of the Cook Islands webmaster, wrote me, "There is, incidentally, a flag for Atiu. If you like I can send you a GIF of it." I answered him, asking for the Atiu flag image and asking about any other current flags in the Cook Islands. John Walters sent a GIF of what appeared to be a coat-of-arms, with a transparent background. I therefore sent the following questions:

Perhaps the Arms were sent instead of the flag by mistake? Or does the Atiu flag show that coat-of-arms on a plain background? If so, what colour is the background? And if indeed this is the flag, are those the height:width proportions (293:250)? Or is the flag actually 1:2 (height:width) with the coat-of-arms centred? And in this case, what size would the coat-of-arms have with respect to the height of the flag?
To which he firstly answered, "Background is a pale blue. Proportions are exact.", but shortly afterwards, "You are right. There is only one flag for the Cook Islands. The Atiu emblem is the crest of Atiu." In summary, there is no Atiu flag, only an emblem or crest i.e. a coat-of-arms.

Santiago Dotor, 10 January 2000

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