Royal Backbone and Body Politic: Aristocratic Titles and Cook Islands Nationalism since Self-Government

Sissons, Jeffrey
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University of Hawai'i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
The main body of this article is a narrative account of the partial inclusion of traditional titleholders in the Cook Islands nation as representatives of local "royalty" or an ancient Polynesian heritage. Shifting forms of ideological inclusion and political exclusion are discussed in relation to changes in the way the nationbuilding project has been pursued since self-government in 1965. Of particular interest is how successive Cook Islands leaders have sought to incorporate a partly disempowered traditional leadership into a postcolonial imagined community. Between 1965 and 1974, during a period of party nationalism, Albert Henry encouraged the view that ariki, as local "royalty" should remain above and outside everyday politics. With the development of a local tourist industry, local titleholders came to embody a valued ancient heritage. However, this greater symbolic empowerment did not translate into a greater role in local government. The defeat of Albert Henry in 1978 by Tom Davis and the Democratic Party saw locallevel titleholders ignored by the government in favor of the symbolic reinstatement of an indigenous royalty. Since 1989, in the context of a rapidly expanding tourist industry and a growing middle class, local traditional leaders have once more been seeking to translate increased symbolic status into real political autonomy. Contradictory developments until the present suggest that, despite encouraging government rhetoric, these efforts are destined to meet with limited success.
Sissons, J. 1994. Royal Backbone and Body Politic: Aristocratic Titles and Cook Islands Nationalism since Self-Government. The Contemporary Pacific 6 (2): 371-96.
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