The Guide to the Religions in the Cook Islands©
The Guide to the Religions in the Cook Islands

The Guide to the Religions in the Cook Islands


What are the Religions in the Cook Islands?

The Cook Islands is a religious country, particularly devoted to Christianity. Christianity was introduced to the islands around 150 years ago and has been going strong ever since. Christianity influences cultural norms, such as observing Sunday as a day of worship and rest, while the church plays a part in social interactions, provides guidance and redistributes goods and services to those in need. As a visitor, being part of a church service or observing Christian holidays with the locals is a good way to immerse in the local culture. Find out more about religions in the Cook Islands in the guide below.

A (Quick) History of the Religions in the Cook Islands

In pre-missionary times, the Cook Islands has its own ancient religion which was consistent with island cultures across Polynesia. Gods such as Vatea, Tangaroa, Rongomatane, and Tane, as well as demigods like Maui and Rata were known across Polynesia, including in the Cook Islands. One of the most important gods, who is the inspiration for carvings produced across the Cooks even to this day, is Tangaroa, the god of the sea and fertility.

Stories and worship of the ancient gods were replaced with Christianity during the missionary period of the 19th century. Reverend John Williams from the London Missionary Society (LMS) left two Tahitian preachers on Aitutaki for two years to return to an island almost fully converted by 1883. Over the next 50 years or so, the rest of the Cook Islands followed suit.

Learn more about the missionary history of the Cooks in A Brief History of Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.

The Guide to the Religions in the Cook Islands©

Christianity in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands

The religion most represented in the Cook Islands is Christianity with around 84.2% of the population identifying with one of the Cook Islands’ main Christian denominations. Religion is sacred in the Cook Islands, where Sundays are widely considered a day of worship and rest.

Where to Experience Christianity in the Cook Islands as a Tourist

Visitors to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands are welcome to join Sunday worship in churches across the islands. Churches are found in all villages, while some villages in the smaller outer islands share a church. For the visitor, going to a Cook Islands church is an experience of listening to the powerful acapella harmonies and seeing the locals dress in their finest rito (coconut palm frond) hats crafted on the distant island of Penrhyn.

Note that anyone going to a church in the Cook Islands needs to dress respectfully, covering their knees and shoulders. Think your Sunday best! See more tips in the 10 Best Churches in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for Visitors.

The Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter are also great times to be in the Cook Islands to witness celebrations of these holidays. Learn more in How to Spend Christmas in the Cook Islands and The Guide to Easter in the Cook Islands.

Christian Denominations Represented in the Cook Islands

These are the main Christianity denominations found in the Cook Islands in order of popularity:

  • Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) – 49.1%
  • Roman Catholic – 17%
  • Seventh Day Adventist – 7.9%
  • The Church of the Latter-Day Saints – 4.4%
  • Assemblies of God – 3.7%
  • Apostolic Church – 2.1%.

Around 7% of the population belongs to six more Christian denominations.

The Guide to the Religions in the Cook Islands©

Other Religions in the Cook Islands

Around 1% of the population of the Cook Islands belongs to a religion other than Christianity, according to a 2016 census. 5.6% of the population doesn’t belong to any religion.

The Baha’i Faith is the only non-Christian religion represented in the Cook Islands (which is the majority of that extra 1% of the population). There is a Baha’i Faith Centre in Ngatangiia, just outside of Muri on Rarotonga.

The Guide to the Religions in the Cook Islands©

Frequently Asked Questions About Religion in the Cook Islands

Finally, check out the frequently asked questions about the religions in the Cook Islands and see if your question is answered!

Islam is a tiny religious minority in the Cook Islands. With not all of the population participating in the country’s census, it is hard to determine exactly how many Muslims are in the Cook Islands. However, there are no mosques anywhere in the Cook Islands.

After converting Tahiti to Christianity, Reverend John Williams is cited as the one who brought Christianity to the Cook Islands along with two Tahitian preachers, Papeiha and Vahapata. See A Brief History of Rarotonga & the Cook Islands to learn more about the history of Christianity in the Cooks.

More About Religion in the Cook Islands

That’s it for our guide to the religions in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. To learn more about the culture of the Cooks, check out our other guides:

Finally, get the full picture of planning a trip to the Cook Islands using The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as the Cook Islands. She knows the islands inside out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Raro’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also the editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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