Cook Islands - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Traditionally each district of each Island had its own hierarchy of rank titles, ideally based on male primogeniture, but today rank titles are equally often held by women. This structure still exists but its main significance is in relation to organizing meetings of landowners and ceremonial activities. Elective status, occupation, education, and wealth are today much more important organizing principles. The clergy are much respected and have relatively high levels of personal consumption. There is considerable social and geographical mobility and no clear social classes.

Political Organization. The central government, which provides a very extensive range of services, is comprised of a parliament of twenty-four members elected every five years. Parliament elects the prime minister from among its Members, and he selects a cabinet of seven ministers to govern the country. Local government is by island and comprises a majority of elected members plus the ariki (highest-level chiefs) ex officio. These island councils derive almost all their funds from the central government and have limited powers and functions. There is a "House of Ariki" to which all ariki belong, but it usually meets only once a year and sometimes not for several years. Its functions are advisory and ceremonial, and it has almost no powers.

Social Control. At a formal level this is maintained by a central government police force, which has increased greatly in size in the last decade. But social control at the community level is maintained largely by the fact that in such small Communities most people have a network of ties by blood, Marriage, and common activities and by the high value given to compromise and the avoidance of direct conflict. Senior relatives and religious leaders also play a significant role in social control.

Conflict. Warfare was endemic on many islands until the establishment of Christian missions in the nineteenth Century. But war was rare on some of the small islands. With the exception of three islands in close proximity (Atiu, Mauke, and Mitiaro), distances between islands were generally too great to allow interisland conflict. Since Christianity was adopted there has been no overt conflict. There is no army and the police force is unarmed.

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