The Cook Islands are a group of 15 islands and two reefs in the South Pacific Ocean, formed by volcanic activity. They were first settled by Polynesian people from Tahiti around AD 1000. The first European to reach the islands was Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendaña in 1595, but they were named after Captain James Cook, who visited them in 1773 and 1777.
The islands became aligned to the British Empire in 1888, then became a New Zealand territory in 1901, and finally gained self-governance in 1965. The islands have a rich culture and history influenced by Polynesian, European and Christian traditions.
The Cook Islands culture is based on the influences of those who settled the islands over several centuries, including Polynesians, Europeans, missionaries, pirates, and traders.
The Cook Islands culture is also influenced by its free association with New Zealand, which provides some benefits such as citizenship, defense, and foreign affairs.