Cook Islands Collection

Photograph © Van Eijk & Meers, Raratonga

Cook Islands dancers, 1976. Documentary image held in association with collections made by Beth Dean & Victor Carrel. Photograph © Van Eijk & Meers, Raratonga.

The Macleay holds over 30 cultural objects from the Cook Islands. The collection is dominated by material dating from the late 1960s related to Cook Islands dance and ceremonial practices.

These items were all collected by Beth Dean and Victor Carell and include skirts, hats, bark cloth masks and headdresses originating from the islands of Rarotonga, Atiu and Mangaia. Dean and Carell were heavily involved in the dance and theatre scene and passionately interested in dance as an aspect of cultural expression.

In 1969 the couple were involved in the establishment of the Cook Islands National Arts Theatre. They went on to produce and direct the inaugural South Pacific Festival of Arts staged in Suva, Fiji in 1972, which included thousands of participants from across the Pacific. Following the success of the festival, they especially selected Cook Islander dancers to take part in cultural performances they organised for the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973.

Items in the Cook Islands collections are related to many of these events as well as Independence celebrations in Rarotonga. There are only five items dating to earlier times in the collections, a series of four undecorated bark cloth pieces and a stone artefact from Aitutaki island. Thought to date from the late 19th century they probably formed part of the original Macleay family bequest (1865 – 1891) and are likely to have been traded to Macleay via the London Missionary Society. The LMS established a mission on Aitutaki following the arrival on the island of Reverend John Williams in 1821. Today, the majority of Cook Islanders identify as Christian, yet missionary attempts to halt traditional music and dancing were less successful. The collections held at the Macleay are testament to the continuity of this element of Cook Islands culture.