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Religion in the Cook Islands

Missionaries from The London Missionary Society arrived in the Cook Islands as early as 1821 and hit upon the idea of using converted Polynesians to spread the Word. The islanders back in the early part of the 19th century were probably more interested initially in the material benefits brought their way by Europeans and may well have ceded that changing allegiances from the old gods to a new one were more beneficial to them.

For all that however, they became converts quickly and have remained firmly entrenched in a tropical religious bastion that is very important to them, ever since. Major changes Historically, there were some sociological impacting changes on the Cook Islands through the introduction of a Westernised lifestyle. The traditional tribal system where hereditary chiefs were in control was gradually replaced by a centralised form of government under elected politicians. As with most islands in the Pacific Rim, the concept of a cash economy which replaced the traditional barter system was implemented very early on.

There are some stunning coral churches on Aitutaki and visitors are welcome to the Sunday morning church service, which is renowned for the singing of the congregation.

Agriculturally, the missionaries were also responsible for lasting change. The introduction of calico cotton, being cheap, plentiful and easily produced, replaced the traditional tapa as islands normal attire. Calico led to the skills of sewing for clothing, bedding and house furnishings. Before contact with missionaries, the Rarotongans lived inland deep in the valleys and thus protected from neighboring tribes. 

However, the location of these settlements did not suit the missionaries' attempts at conversion since access was difficult and restrictive. The missionaries set up their stations on the coast and persuaded the chiefs to build villages around them. Housing was changed to suit a nuclear family unit instead of the previous communal extended-family living arrangements.
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