Cook Islands Māori communities in Aotearoa

A starting point for building your understanding of Cook Islands Māori culture. It includes some common concepts, terms and phrases that families in Aotearoa might use and value. Read it alongside the related page Pacific peoples and cultures in Aotearoa.

Land and people

Each of the islands in the Cook Islands has its own identity, social structures and dialect. A family's enua anauanga (islands of origin) and extended family are key to their identity, but families also have kinship links to people from different areas.

The way communities are centred around their islands is different to other indigenous Pacific communities, which are often centred around their village or connected by religion.

Social structures in Cook Islands
Social structures in Cook Islands


Cook Islands society has a hierarchical, collective, tribal structure. 

  • Each individual is seen to contribute to a larger group such as family, church, and community. 

  • Each individual has a role to play that supports and complements the roles of others. 

Cook Islands communities include mataiapo (chiefs or leaders) and ariki (paramount chiefs), who are mainly based in the Cook Islands. Leaders in Aotearoa might be senior family members of extended families ( ), community leaders such as church ministers (orometua), healers (ta'unga) and other respected individuals.

Family roles

Parents have complementary roles in the family. Women influence family decision-making and are income earners. Increasingly, men are taking on a greater role in domestic duties. 

Traditionally, Cook Islands children are represented by their parents or other adult family members in formal discussions. The role of children is changing and it is becoming more acceptable for them to speak in less formal gatherings, with the permission of a parent or elder.

Traditionally, Cook Islands Māori do not use titles for ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’. People in these roles are called mama or papa. A cousin is referred to as (sister), (brother) or (older) or (younger).

Family terms

Cook Islands Māori English
tama’ine daughter
tamaiti son
pepe baby
mokopuna grandchild
tama child (can be female or male)
metua va’ine (or) mama mother
metua tane (or) papa father
family, extended family

Common greetings and phrases

Cook Islands Māori English
Greetings, hello
Welcome, come in
Welcome, come in (formal)
How are you? (to 1 person)
How are you? (to 2 people)
How are you? (to more than 2 people)
I’m fine thank you / Thank you
Please, excuse me, I apologise for the intrusion
Excuse me
Goodbye (to 1 person)
Goodbye (to people)
Blessings, best wishes

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū

Most of the information in this article comes from Va'aifetū, the Oranga Tamariki cultural practice tool for working with Pacific children and their families. Read it to find out more about Pacific cultures and building relationships with Pacific peoples.

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū | Practice Centre(external link)