This Friday, the 1st of July, the Cook Islands recognise Ui Ariki Day; a public holiday to honour and acknowledge the Cook Island’s traditional leaders, past and present. Ui Ariki Day will see the chiefs from a number of the 15 Cook Islands come together in Rarotonga. Ui Ariki Day and the Saturday following will be an opportunity for these leaders to discuss issues and topics concerning land, title holders, government, Raui and further subjects of the like. The Ariki in today’s society are “somewhat a voice for the people” says William Heather, who represents the seat of Ruaau in the Cook Islands Parliament.
Whilst Ariki Day is a chance for Cook Island chiefs to come together, some also consider the day as a celebration of Cook Islands heritage. Locals and tourists a like are welcome to watch as a float makes it ways around the island on Friday, where the Ariki can be seen traditional dress including Rauti (kind of ceremonial leaf) capes.
History of the Ariki
In the Cook Islands, each of the islands was ruled by a number of Ariki (high chiefs). Rarotonga had around five or six and most of the other islands had around three. Each of these Ariki ruled an ivi or ngati (tribe). Beneath each of the Ariki in the social hierarchy were a number of Mataiapo and Rangatira (minor chiefs) of noble rank.
Historically, a chief’s control over his people was related to his mana (power). This came not only from his birth – titles are passed down through the family – but also through his achievements and status. Mana could be gained or lost based on the actions of the Ariki and someone who lost popularity also lost some of their mana which in turn could lead to a loss of control.
The most important thing for an Ariki to control is matters of tapu (sacred) and this was a powerful weapon for an Ariki. For supernatural reasons, certain activities were forbidden and since an Ariki had control over what was or was not forbidden, this gave him considerable power. An Ariki’s mana and ability to control all things tapu are what allowed them to take control of the people without the need for physical enforcement. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ariki)
Ariki in the modern day
The Ariki title still exists today and is passed down through families as a birth right. Whilst the influence and power of the Ariki is not the same as it once was, the Ariki are still an important part of their ivi or ngati and still command the respect of their people.
Ariki day is the perfect way to celebrate the impact that the Ariki have had on the people of the Cook Islands over the years and a chance for people to gain a better understanding of the history of the Cook Island people.
If you are in Rarotonga this Friday, be sure to head out to catch the celebrations.