Intersections: Dance in the Cook Islands: Globalisation, Regional Flows and the Boundaries of the Nation
Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 23, January 2010

Dancing Gender in the Cook Islands:
Globalisation, Regional Flows and the Boundaries of the Nation

Kalissa Alexeyeff

  1. This article explores how dancing women's bodies are deployed in debates about the boundaries of the Cook Islands' nation. These women dancers are viewed as symbolic guardians of tradition, and thus occupy a central position in Cook Islanders' discussions about globalisation and the threat it is seen to pose to local authenticity. Concerns about cultural homogenisation, ownership and loss are framed with reference to Western-dominated globalisation processes but also with reference to intra-regional flows. Here I examine the intra-regional traffic that operates between the Society Islands and the Cook Islands and its role in articulating contemporary Cook Islanders' boundary-marking practices. One crucial aspect of Cook Islands' debates about national authenticity is that they are highly gendered. It is the female dancing body, and female dance practice, which are crucial to discourses about cultural legitimacy.
  2. The interchange between the Society and Cook Islands is informed by the missionary and colonial history of the region. Prior to European incursion the islands that now make up these two groups were in regular communication and engaged in significant and frequent economic, political and artistic exchange. The London Missionary Society established a base in the Cook Islands in 1821, bringing with them Society Islander converts to proselytise. Despite attempts by missionaries to control the movement of indigenous populations abroad, inter-island traffic continued. It was not until the British made the Cook Islands a protectorate in 1888 that fifteen islands were grouped together as a nation. This was despite geographic and social proximity with other islands to the east that were subsequently named French Polynesia in 1889. The Cook Islands were then annexed to Aotearoa/New Zealand in 1901—a move which encouraged traffic with Auckland in the south-west over that with the French colony. They became self-governing in free association with New Zealand in 1965.
  3. In the first section of this article I detail the contours of contemporary debates about tradition and dance in the Cook Islands. As will become clear, there are contested opinions about tradition in relation to dance practice. The parties are largely divided along generational lines: older (40 to 70 year olds) and younger (20 to 40 year olds) generations of cultural producers. The vigorousness of the debate suggests that more is at stake than simply a discussion of aesthetic form. The dancing body—perhaps because of its physical and affective immediacy—is particularly expressive of Cook Islanders' beliefs about local authenticity and about the 'Others' that are seen to endanger national integrity.
  4. Many feminist scholars have argued that it is largely women who are employed as symbolic signifiers of national difference. This is particularly the case with respect to a nation's traditions and its past. As Tamar Mayer says, 'when nation, gender and sexuality intersect, the body becomes an important marker—even a boundary for the nation.'[1] Cook Islanders' debates focus on particular parts of the female body—hips and navels. I explore debates on these body parts in order to demonstrate the efforts to police the female body and attempts at boundary marking that encompass global, regional and national issues.
  5. As I detail in the second part of the article, these boundary-marking processes are attempts to negotiate incursions from outside. Globalisation, most commonly viewed by Cook Islanders as Westernisation, is referred to as the spread of papa'a ways (the ways of white people). It is understood as processes of colonisation by papa'a (including New Zealand, and more generally 'Americanisation') and is perceived to be the most menacing threat to Cook Islander identity, as I detail elsewhere.[2] In this article I examine another aspect of Cook Islanders' discourse of globalisation: namely, how it shapes perceptions of intra-regional cultural flows. As Koichi Iwabuchi says, in much work on globalisation 'Global-local interactions are predominantly studied in terms of how the Rest resists, imitates, or appropriates the West.'[3] The specificities of regional global flows are largely ignored. While the hegemony of the West in shaping 'the global' cannot be denied, its articulation through intra-regional networks and relationships deserves closer consideration. The Society Islands, encompassing Tahiti, figure as a prominent threat to Cook Islands' culture, particularly with respect to their ownership of particular dance genres, popular music songs and drum beats. As the Cooks' closest neighbour, this proximity provides an important avenue for concerns about cultural homogenisation, ownership and loss that are particularly acute in the global era.[4]

    The currency of tradition
  6. My initial fieldwork in the Cook Islands examined expressive practices—principally dance but also music, dress and comportment. I centred my analysis on the history of these practices from pre-colonial times to the present, including both officially-sanctioned performances (those that take place for ritual events such as the investiture of chiefs, village Christmas festivities and national independence celebrations), and the expressive practices of less formal contexts such as nightclubs and parties. In doing so, I was attempting to broaden definitions of what constitutes 'culture' and, by focussing on historical change, I emphasised the creative nature of these expressive practices.
  7. However, my anthropologically informed beliefs about the dynamic nature of cultural forms sat in stark contrast with those of many Cook Islanders whose priority was to demarcate 'real Cook Islands traditions.' They were largely uninterested in my views of aesthetic practices as mediums of social action rather than as fixed attributes of a culture. What they wanted from me, as a 'student of old things' (as they characterised anthropology), was a study which defined and quantified the aspects of Cook Islands' expressive culture that were original, authentic and ancient.
  8. At a presentation entitled 'Continuity and Change in Cook Islands' Dance' that I gave toward the end of my field research, I attempted to circumvent questions of authenticity by introducing the idea of 'invention of tradition' and drawing on scholarly work critiquing essentialised notions of culture. I also appealed to the authority of the then Cook Islands' prime minister, Sir Geoffrey Henry, who similarly emphasised fluidity and flow in his description of Cook Islands' culture. 'Culture is a movement not a condition; a voyage not a harbour,' is one of his most poetic summations, which utilises the islands' history of sea voyaging and uses oceanic metaphors that have deep resonance for a local audience.[5]
  9. Despite these efforts, my various strategies did not work and after my presentation the debate about tradition and Cook Islands' dance began and continued enthusiastically for another hour and then for days to follow. The most common questions asked of me over this time were: 'What island in the Cooks retains its distinct dance style?' and 'What dance group on Rarotonga (the main island of the group) performs traditional dance or a mixture?' In response I tried to stick to my position about there being no such thing as a distinctive style and that traditions varied in accordance with historical agendas. It does not take much imagination to picture that my responses appeared indecisive and were received as largely immaterial to the concerns of many Cook Islanders.
  10. Debates about pre-colonial traditions, and the impact of missionisation and colonialism pervade discussions about contemporary Cook Islands' dance and expressive culture. There are a number of reasons why the notion of tradition (and accompanying issues of authenticity and originality) has currency in the Cook Islands. First, traditions have economic value in the present. Tourism is the islands' main industry, accounting for up to 65 per cent of GDP.[6] On Rarotonga, tourists at any one point of the year make up a fifth of the population.[7] Traditions are key signifiers in the tourist industry, from the utilisation of tattooing and carving designs in tourism advertising to the provision of 'traditional' activities for tourists to undertake, such as dancing, food and the purchase of traditional island crafts. Secondly, an overlay of religious belief shapes moral evaluations of tradition. Ninety-one per cent of Cook Islanders identify as Christian and religious activities form an important component of everyday
    life.[8] Many Cook Islanders make a distinction between traditions that are acceptable (such as dancing) and those that are heathen (such as the worship of Polynesian gods). The line that separates these two categories is porous and context-dependent. Some Protestant and Roman Catholic churches believe Cook Islands' dancing and music are acceptable in non-church contexts. Other religious denominations such as the Seventh-day Adventists view dancing as heathen across the board, and prohibit most traditions such as tattooing, carving and island music. Some traditions feature prominently in relation to tourist spheres but are invisible in the private sphere of homes. For example, while Cook Islanders carve and sell figures of the god Tangaroa (popular with tourists because of his large penis – see Figure 1), very few locals will have a representation of him in their house—describing him as 'heathen' and 'unlucky' and 'frightening.'

    Figure 1. Tangaroa: God of the Sea and of Fertility. Source: Virtual Tourist.[9]

  11. At the same time that some 'traditional' practices have been repudiated on religious grounds, other 'traditions' have been important in attempts to form an independent nation-state. When the Cook Islands became independent in free association with New Zealand in 1965, the arts, the revival of traditions and the importance placed on forms understood to be pre-colonial were central to the Cook Islands' vision of itself in the post-colonial era. Part of this process involves what Karen Stevenson has identified as the trend toward institutionalisation of culture—the creation of arts schools, museums, and festivals that aim to classify and standardise aspects of traditional and authentic national culture.[10] In this regard, the Cook Islands holds annual Constitution Celebrations, whose centrepiece is a dance competition between islands of the group. The government funds a Ministry of Cultural Development whose role is to collect oral traditions and information on historical sites, and to promote the arts in schools.[11]
  12. The increased value placed on cultural traditions in terms of national identity and tourist promotion since independence has also paradoxically amplified anxiety about cultural maintenance. As an important national resource at a number of levels, cultural integrity is monitored by government bodies involved in tourism and culture and by cultural producers and practitioners themselves. Since at least 1965, Cook Islanders have been concerned about the influence of papa'a culture on their cultural traditions and more generally, 'local' ways of doing things. Tourism is both seen as an opportunity to maintain cultural traditions (it provides money and a reason to dance) but tourism also represents the vanguard of Western influences which are viewed as eroding traditional forms.

    Dance traditions
  13. On Rarotonga, the main concern about dance traditions was that these traditions were being compromised by the demands of the tourist industry. Older Cook Islanders in particular discussed how dance was 'bastardised' and commodified. 'It is all about money now,' they often say. When I asked respondents for concrete examples of this process they would almost always reference female dance practice to illustrate their point. As an example, an older female ex-dancer said to me:

      The girls are very attractive nowadays, but they are dancing cabaret-style. In our day it was more like theatre; it had class; it was culture. The dance costumes leave nothing to the imagination. Well, to me they are like prostitutes; they are posers. They are bastardising our traditions, our culture. Maybe that is what the tourists want to see—but we should remain true to ourselves.[12]

  14. I was to hear versions of this comment over and over, particularly from older Cook Islanders. The
    increasing sexualisation of Cook Islands' dance is considered a product of tourism. The often-employed phrases 'prostitution' and 'bastardisation' point to this and to the ambivalence felt towards tourism and the global processes of commodification and perceived loss of cultural ownership. These are expressed in ways that connect selling culture with selling women and ultimately with selling out the nation's morality. These concerns are not surprising given the ubiquitous nature of live performance and bodily display in Pacific—what Jane Desmond calls 'people tourism' and 'song-and-dance tourism' in Hawai'i.[13] Young Cook Islands women—dancing, walking down the beach, sitting on a motor scooter, or looking at a sunset—feature prominently in tourist advertising. Images such as these present the islands as feminine, sensual and above all welcoming.

    Figure 2. Bikini Tourism. Source: Cook Islands Sun, May, 1997.

  15. A younger group of performers that currently performs at tourist shows attempts to authenticate their dance practice and costuming by suggesting that the older generations are prudish and influenced by missionary ideology. In contrast, they claim to be returning to pre-colonial forms and assert that their dancing has a freedom which embodies the 'original spirit' of the dance. The female dancing body is also central to their reasoning as this comment made by a younger male composer suggests.

      The missionaries prohibited our dancing; they repressed it. The ladies were covered up from the neck down and they had to dance like that. In the old days they wouldn't have even had something covering their chest, just a grass-skirt. We are getting closer to those old ways and traditions…They would have danced sexy in the past.[14]

    A younger female dancer and choreographer makes a similar claim:

      The older ones who say we are posers, well in my opinion they are the ones who are coming out of the missionary style of dancing, they are the ones who are influenced by the papa'a.[15]

    'Sexy' dancing, embodied in female dancing and adornment, is represented in the first quote as a product of tradition rather than a negative consequence of tourism. It is implied in both remarks above that missionaries, and older Cook Islanders who are similarly repressed, attempted to prohibit this kind of dancing. Younger dancers are said to be returning to pre-colonial forms and reinstating important dance traditions. Far from demeaning Cook Islands' women and local cultural traditions, these younger dancers argue that they are actually removing layers of artifice that had built up since the missionary era.
  16. In these contestations over traditions and authenticity, men's dancing bodies are invisible. The issues in relation to women's bodies, dance and tradition could quite easily be applied to men. During missionary and colonial periods men's bodies were similarly covered up with Western clothing, most commonly black trousers and white shirts. Thus, their contemporary dance costumes may be considered as revealing. Most consist of a small loincloth (and underwear) and their dance style,
    especially in tourist contexts, plays on the hypermasculinity of the 'Polynesian Warrior.' Young men in the dance group I worked with on Rarotonga would joke that if they liked a tourist 'girl' in the audience they would jump off the stage and dance up close to them, often chanting loudly along with the drumming: 'Papa'a [girls] love it' one said to me, 'they get scared and then they giggle like this [he enacted a girl giggling, legs crossed, her hand over her mouth, her head turned away indicating shyness but with large adoring eyes].'[16] Claims about the sexual objectification of Cook Islands' women could be equally levelled at the way Cook Islands' men are represented in tourist advertising. Images of men appear far less often in promotional material, but when they do, they can be viewed as similarly sexualised, exotic and erotic. The picture of the male dancer in the adjacent image is one used in tourist brochures and it clearly engages with the trope of 'Polynesian Warrior.'

    Figure 3. Dancing Warrior. Source: Courtesy of Dean Treml, 1996.

    Hips and navels

      In my time you didn't show the pito [navel]. My question is why? In our times it was because from the pito down was your private parts. In my Christian belief, it is wrong to show the pito.[17]

      They would have done the 'washing machine-style' dance in the old days![18]

  17. After mentioning issues of cultural 'prostitution' and sexualisation in general terms, critiques of contemporary dance practice move onto how these processes are embodied. Almost without fail, two things were mentioned: 'the grass skirt should not be below the belly button,' and 'hip movements should be side to side' not, 'round and round like a washing machine. Both comments refer exclusively to the dance styles and costuming of women.

    Figure 4. Dancers circa 1970. Navel covered. Source: Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Mamia T. Savage.

    Figure 5. Mamia T. Savage dancing in the 1980s. Navel barely visible. Source: Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Mamia T. Savage. Figure 6. Young Dancer 2006. Navel on display. Source: IgoUgo.[19]

  18. Most young female dancers nowadays wear their grass skirt or pareu (sarong) in a way that reveals their navel (see Figure 6), whereas older dancers wore the top of the skirt higher as Figures 4 and 5 illustrate. Older people consider the lower position to be immodest and untraditional. Proponents of the lower position argue that it improves technical virtuosity. Dance skirts that are tied on the hips emphasise hip swaying more than costumes that are tied at the waist. It took me a considerable amount of time to even begin to 'see' these small graduations in the placement of the top of the skirt. As will be clear from the images presented here we are talking about a matter of centimetres. For a long while I thought these measurements were inconsequential. I wondered how a few centimetres could preoccupy so many people. This thought led me to a story my mother used to tell of having the skirt of her school uniform measured—it had to fall no less than two inches below the knee. Subsequent reading on élite schooling and dress demonstrates forcefully how a skirt an inch too short, an untucked shirt, a jumper tied around the waist all signify serious and punishable transgressions. These sartorial rules serve to discipline bodies and shape entitlement: they are, 'sets of habiliments in the moral economy of schools that manifest the kind of subjectivities that are valued by educational institutions.'[20] Rather than being considered inconsequential, the placement of the dance skirt in relation to the navel speaks to the moral economy of Cook Islands nationalism and the representational role of women within this.
  19. The second set of comments about washing machine dance-style needs some explanation. A key characteristic of Cook Islands' female dance is the side to side sway of the hips. The phrase 'washing machine hips' refers to a circular hip movement that is viewed by many as 'dirty' and 'too sexual' and definitely not appropriate to the Cook Islands.[21] At national dance competitions older generations repeatedly complain about variations to the side to side movement, while dancers are continually experimenting with different hip movements. Audiences at these major events applaud loudly and appreciatively at these innovations.
  20. The marking of the navel and hip movements as morally sensitive in adjudications of tradition serves to emphasise that norms of bodily propriety are culturally shaped. To Western observers it is the coconut bra that is the object of much fascination and which serves as a metonym for the sexually saturated figure of the Polynesian island princess that exists in the Western imagination. To Cook Islanders, to reveal the lower part of the body is far more problematic than donning a coconut bra or a bikini-style top. It is considerably more daring to reveal the lower part of the body, including the navel, lower waist and upper thigh, than the upper torso. At the beach, for example, especially in mixed-sex company, women are extremely careful to cover the lower region of the body.
  21. Furthermore, the coconut bra could equally be targeted in debates about tradition and authenticity in Cook Islands' dance. These have only been utilised since around the 1980s, and were probably imported from Tahiti. Before this time cloth bikini tops were worn and previous to the bikini the whole upper torso was covered by a piece of material. This upper bandage style (or a t-shirt) is still utilised in the outer islands and by religious denominations that have stricter definitions of bodily modesty. Outer islanders considered the coconut bra and bikini top to be immodest (along with revealing the torso and upper thighs). However on Rarotonga, where the debates I outline here are most vigorous, I have never once heard the coconut bra discussed in relation to overt sexualisation of female dance, commodification of culture, inauthentic traditions or the corrupting influence of Tahiti.[22]

    Figure 7. The Polynesian Coconut Bra as portrayed in tourist advertising. Source: Mele Kalikimaka.[23]

    Figure 8. Palmerston Island Dancer,
    Cook Islands. Source: Flickr.[24]

    Globalisation and its regional dimensions
  22. Rather unexpectedly, given the prominent role of the West's corrupting influence in debates about tradition, blame for the display of the navel and the circular-style of hip movement are not attributed to tourism or Westernisation more generally but to the influence of Tahitian culture. Dance costumes tied low are always referred to as 'Tahitian-style.' Similarly, circular hips are unequivocally viewed as Tahitian. Comments like this one, made by an older woman, are common.

      We are losing the Cook Islands style, it is becoming too Tahitian. It is the gracefulness of the dancing that people want to see. Hips should move side to side that is graceful—the Tahitian style is too rough and too flirty, or sexy. Our costumes should be simple not like the Tahitian ones; they are too revealing.[25]

    Figure 9. Tahitian Dancers. Note the comparatively low tie of the pareu (sarong). Source: The Paul Latta Dancers & Co.[26]

  23. Tahiti, as Cook Islanders refer to the neighbouring Society Islands, is signalled as posing a major threat to the grace and refinement of Cook Islands' dance. It is a threat that is felt in other areas of cultural production as well. Mention is often made that the Cook Islands is not represented at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawai'i, a major tourist destination which features exhibits of Polynesian villages, related cultural activities and Polynesian dance and dinner shows, all organised around particular localities and essentialised cultures such as Hawai'i, Tahiti, Fiji, Aotearoa, Samoa, Tonga and so on.[27] The Cook Islands is not one of the localities represented and so many of the Cook Islanders who work at the Centre are employed as 'Tahitians.' To add further insult, it is alleged that Tahitian dance numbers performed during cultural shows are actually original Cook Islands' compositions. Similarly, composers of Cook Islands' string-band 'island music' are worried that Tahitian artists are copying their melodies without permission and making a sizeable profit as their music industry is viewed as larger and more developed.
  24. What is missing in the expression of these issues is the fact that Cook Islanders also copy Tahitian music, costuming and dance styles. Indeed, Tahiti is viewed by many Cook Islanders as a place of sophistication and style; it serves as a significant reference point for Cook Islands' dance styles and notions of beauty, glamour and fashion. Tahitian women are viewed as more elegant (speaking French adds to this) and in comparison Cook Islanders are considered to be rural cousins. For example, a Tahitian woman married to a Cook Islander explained to me that her relatives found the Cooks boring and quiet and 'twenty years behind' Tahiti, which is considerably more urbanised.
  25. That Tahiti is constructed as both a threat and a reference point for the Cook Islands is a product of a long history of economic, political and artistic relations that existed before the region was colonised. These relations continued as Cook Islands' men worked in phosphate mines in the Society Islands during the 1940s and 1950s and participated in the Bastille Celebrations (which included dance competitions) in the 1960s. Today many Cook Islanders have relatives in Tahiti and they visit for family and other community events such as church gatherings and school trips. However, the relatively harmonious two-way exchange that has characterised relations between the two nations is increasingly seen as a question of appropriation as issues of cultural ownership and codification of traditions become central to nation-making projects in the global era.[28]
  26. My understanding of the prominent position of Tahiti in relation to Cook Islands' contemporary identity politics is that it is one node in a larger global circuit. Apprehension about cultural homogenisation, commodification and loss are a product of global cultural flows which both shape and are shaped by regional cultural traffic. In other words, the global is simultaneously Western-dominated and shaped by prior relations, particularly between geographically contiguous islands. Globalisation not only facilitates the spread of Western goods, services and ideas but also intensifies intra-regional flow and movement.[29] In the Cook Islands' case, it is this intensification and the increasing commodification of cultural property through tourism and government-sponsored cultural production that makes Tahiti a preoccupation in relation to Cook Islands' dance practice. In this particular instance, intra-regional cultural traffic has become a site of contestation as well as exchange.[30]

  27. All borders, each act of debordering and rebordering, and every border crossing are constitutive of social relations, and, as such, help us orientate ourselves to the world.[31]
  28. My first aim in this article has been to show that dance and gender play crucial roles in articulating the agendas of post-colonial Cook Islanders. Disquiet about cultural homogenisation and loss—being overwhelmed by outside global forces (be they Westernisation or neighbouring threats) and the resulting loss of control and ownership figure centrally in contemporary practices of rebordering. Scholars of globalisation and nationalism note that global unification and the rearticulation of difference are interrelated trends. At the same time as national boundaries become increasingly tenuous on economic, cultural and political grounds, there is a tendency to reinstate borders around ethnic, religious and cultural identities.[32] Put differently, while global cultural flows may be boundary-violating—debordering acts—they simultaneously draw attention to those borders which are under threat and lead to rebordering processes which aim to codify cultural traditions and reinstate ownership.
  29. Cook Islands' women's dancing bodies, particularly their hips and navels, are key sites for debate about broader issues of authenticity, legitimacy and possession. Women's bodies become a conduit for a national moral code in which they appear as chaste, virtuous, and now compromised by contaminating outside forces. While I have focussed on the question of authenticity and tradition in relation to dance here, Cook Islanders' apprehension also extends to related issues about loss of land, language and Cook Islands' values.
  30. The second aim of this article has been to demonstrate that globalisation has regional dimensions. It is important to note that 'the West' is not the only 'significant Other' in Cook Islanders' discourse on globalisation. This serves to remind us that global/intra-regional interaction has been largely overlooked in academic literature about the Pacific. While there have been a number of excellent studies of regionalism and globalisation with reference to Asia there is yet to be a comprehensive analysis of these flows in the Pacific region.[33] This is despite the highly influential and evocative vision of cultural regionalism in the Pacific developed by academic and artist Epeli Hau'ofa and the practices, movements and discourses generated by Pacific Islanders which have regional frames and global proportions.[34] Mapping these complex multi-centred global flows will enable us to detail, with more clarity and specificity, the machinations of contemporary identity politics within the region.


    [1] Tamar Mayer, Gender Ironies of Nationalism: Sexing the Nation, London and New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 1–22, pp. 17–18. See also Nira Yuval-Davis and Marcel Stoetzler, 'Imagined Boundaries and Borders: A Gendered Gaze,' in The European Journal of Women's Studies, vol. 9, no. 3 (2002):329–44; Nira Yuval-Davies, Gender and Nation, London: Sage, 1997; and Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 131–80.

    [2] Kalissa Alexeyeff, Dancing from the Heart: Movement, Gender and Cook Islands Globalisation, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2009, pp. 57–83. In this article, I focus closely on visual representations at more length than was possible in the monograph.

    [3] Koichi Iwabuchi, Recentering Globalization: Popular Cultural and Japanese Transnationalism, Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2002, p. 50.

    [4] My analysis of the relationship between Cook Islands and Tahitian dancing develops upon the insights of ethnomusicologists, Helen Reeves Lawrence, 'Is the "Tahitian" drum dance really Tahitian? re-evaluating the evidence for the origins of contemporary Polynesian drum dance,' in Yearbook for Traditional Music, vol. 24 (1992):126–35; and Jane Moulin, 'What's mine is yours? Cultural borrowing in a Pacific context,' in Contemporary Pacific, vol. 8, no. 1 (1996):128–53.

    [5] Geoffrey Henry, 'Foreword,' in Visions of the Pacific, ed. David Arnell and Lisette Wolk, Rarotonga: Ministry of Cultural Development, 1993, p. 6. For scholarly work on the politics of tradition see, David Hanlon and Geoffrey M. White, Voyaging through the Contemporary Pacific, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000; Epeli Hau'ofa, 'Our Sea of Islands,' in Contemporary Pacific, vol. 6, no. 1 (1993):147–61; Margaret Jolly and Nicholas Thomas, 'Introduction,' in The Politics of Tradition in the Pacific, guest ed. Margaret Jolly and Nicholas Thomas, special issue, Oceania, vol. 62, no. 4 (1992):241–48.

    [6] Glenda Tuaine, Director of Marketing, Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, personal communication, 2008.

    [7] 'Tourism Statistics, 2008,' in Cook Islands Statistics Office, Rarotonga: Cook Islands, online:, site accessed 10 October 2008.

    [8] 'Census of Population and Dwelling,' Cook Islands Statistics Office, Rarotonga: Cook Islands, 2001, p. 26, online:, site accessed 10 October 2008.

    [9] 'Wood-carved Tangaroa.' Photo by FletteMette, 20 February 2005, online:, site accessed 26 November 2008.

    [10] Karen Stevenson, 'Politicization of la Cultural Ma'ohi: The Creation of a Tahitian Cultural Identity,' in The Arts and the Politics, guest ed. Karen Nero, special issue, Pacific Studies, vol. 15, no. 4 (1992):117–36.

    [11] For a comprehensive overview of the institutionalisation of Cook Islands culture post-independence see Jeffrey Sissons, Nation and Destination: Creating Cook Islands Identity, Rarotonga: Institute of Pacific Studies and the University of the South Pacific Centre in the Cook Islands, 1999, pp. 21–57.

    [12] Interview with Maria Henderson, Rarotonga, 1998.

    [13] Jane C. Desmond, Staging Tourism: Bodies on Display from Waikiki to Sea World, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999, pp. xiii–xxv, p. xv. See also Margaret Jolly, 'From Point Venus to Bali Ha'i: eroticism and exoticism in representations of the Pacific,' in Sites of Desire, Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific, ed. Lenore Manderson and Margaret Jolly, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 99–122; Teresia Teaiwa, 'Bikinis and other S/pacific N/oceans,' in Contemporary Pacific, vol. 6 no. 1 (1994):87–109.; Haunani-Kay Trask, From a native daughter: colonialism and sovereignty in Hawai'i, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1993, pp. 136–47.

    [14] Interview with Maki Karati, Rarotonga, 1998.

    [15] Interview with Georgina Keenan-Williams, Rarotonga, 2000.

    [16] Aspipelli, male dancer, personal communication, Rarotonga 1998.

    [17] Interview with Ota Joseph, Rarotonga, 1997.

    [18] Interview with Merle Puaikura, Rarotonga 2000.

    [19] 'Every dance tells a story,' Photo by Brianestadt, February 25, 2006, URL:, site accessed 26 November, 2008.

    [20] Inés Dussel, 'School uniforms and the disciplining of appearances: toward a history of the regulation of bodies in modern educational systems,' in Cultural History and Education: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Schooling, ed. Thomas S. Popkewitz, Barry M. Franklin and Miguel A. Peryra, New York and London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 207–42, p. 207. See also Edward W. Morris, 'Tuck in that shirt!' Race, class, gender, and discipline in an urban school,' in Sociological Perspectives, vol. 48, no. 1 (2005):25–48.

    [21] At tourist performances, the Master of Ceremonies calls male and female audience members to dance on stage. He inevitably says 'Girls just make your hips like a washing machine and go like mad.' This comment is received humorously by tourists and locals alike but presumably for somewhat different reasons given the way washing machine-style is imbricated with Cook Islander debates over tradition and authenticity.

    [22] This is not to say the bikini is insignificant in relation to Pacific Islanders' negotiations of dress and propriety and indeed the colonial history of the region (see Teaiwa, 'Bikinis and other S/pacific N/oceans') but simply to say it does not figure prominently in Cook Islanders' discussions about the politics of tradition.

    [23], n.d., online:, site accessed 26 November, 2008.

    [24] 'Dance, Palmerston Atoll, Cook Islands,' photo by Chrisbest, 1 September 2006, online:, site accessed 26 November 2008.

    [25] Interview with Apii Turua, Rarotonga, 2000.

    [26] 'Ori contestants,' The Paul Latta Dancers and Co., March 2005, online:, site accessed 26 November 2008.

    [27] Polynesia Cultural Center online:, site accessed 9 June 2009.

    [28] An argument could be made that the Cook Islands are competing over 'traditions' with the Society Islands in the global tourist market given their geographical and cultural similarity. This is not however the case as relative to population size the Cook Islands are far more successful in attracting tourists. In 2007, 109,192 people visited the Cook Islands (population 12,000) compared to 242,994 visitors to French Polynesia (population 178,133). See 'Tourism Statistics,'Cook Islands Statistics Office, online:, site accessed 13 May 2009; Statistiques Touristiques,' in Institut de la Statistique de la Polynésie française, online, site accessed 13 May 2009.

    [29] Iwabuchi, Recentering Globalization, p. 16.

    [30] Koichi Iwabuchi, Stephen Muecke and Mandy Thomas (eds), Rogue Flows: Trans-Asian Cultural Traffic, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004, pp. 1–9, p. 2.

    [31] Chris Rumford, 'Introduction: theorizing borders,' in European Journal of Social Theory, vol. 9 no. 2 (2006):155–69, p. 167.

    [32] As a starting point see Rumford, 'Introduction: theorizing borders,' pp. 155–69; Arjun Appadurai, Globalization, Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2001, pp. 1–21.

    [33] Iwabuchi, Muecke and Thomas, Rogue Flows; Iwabuchi, Recentering Globalization, pp. 1–9. Recent work on regionalism in the Pacific is primarily focused on issues of regional governance, political institutions and economic cooperation and not the aesthetic, affective and global dimensions of regionalism I outline here. See, however, Victoria Lockwood (ed.), Globalization and Cultural Change in the Pacific Islands, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.

    [34] Hau`ofa, Epeli. 'Our Sea of Islands,' and 'The Ocean in Us,' in Contemporary Pacific, vol. 10, no. 2 (1998):391–411.

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