Cook Islands

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The Country

Scattered across a vast expanse of the South Pacific Ocean, the Cook Islands are of course named after the legendary navigator and explorer Captain James Cook, whose career highlights included “discovering” Australia – which has in fact been home to a human population for longer than Europe – and being mistaken for a god upon his arrival in Hawaii, where he was subsequently killed and eaten by the natives once they learned of his mortality, although they did spare his family on the basis that too many Cooks spoil the broth. Ironically the Cook islands were not named BY the man himself (he dubbed them the “Hervey Islands”) but rather by Russian mapmakers in the 1820s, a good 40 years after he’d wound up on some Hawaiian toothpicks. Today the country is, to all intents and purposes, an independent nation, however they retain a ‘Free Association’ status with New Zealand meaning that the Kiwis are still responsible for defence, which is handy seeing as they’ve probably got a shitload of spare Orcs lying around since Lord of the Rings filming wrapped up.

The Cook Islands Defence Force prepares to repel a Tahitian invasion.

Another shared trait between Cook Islanders and New Zealanders is their indigenous Maori culture and all of the flamboyant forms of greeting that come with this. Visitors to the islands can expect to be treated to a traditional Haka (the famous war dance usually performed for tourists and dignitaries, and most famously wheeled out before international Rugby matches), get up close and personal with a friendly Hongi (i.e. the pressing together of noses and foreheads) or enjoy a good chuckle at the Pukana, a versatile wide-eyed tongue scream which can be used to convey delight, anger, aggression, playfulness, boredom, wistfulness or simply the fact that someone is presently standing on their toes.

Image result for maori greeting tongue 

Probably shouldn’t have gone in for a Hongi with a guy wearing golf shoes.

Traditional Cook Island cuisine is very much centred around the ubiquitous breadfruit, and popular concoctions include suckling pig with breadfruit, octopus with breadfruit, sea cucumber with breadfruit as well as an encyclopedic variety of fresh fish, all served with your choice of side dish, just so long as your choice is breadfruit. The natives also swear by their locally produced ‘bush beer’, a highly alcoholic beverage fashioned from oranges and first brewed by British sailors as a source of vitamin C to ward off scurvy on long voyages. Leave it to us Brits to conjure up an excuse for getting shitfaced on medical grounds.

Sports wise, Rugby is the undisputed king in the South Pacific, and considering the Cooks population barely stretches to 17,000, those foolhardy enough to forego egg chasing in favour of a proper ball will usually find that said ball spends more time than is ideal loitering in the back of their net. The national team’s first two participations at the Oceania Nations Cup both resulted in crushing defeats against Australia to the tune of 16-0 in 1998 and 17-0 in 2000. Still, given that the Cook Islands’ first ever international match in 1971 ended in a 30-0 demolition at the hands of Tahiti*, perhaps just keeping the score down below twenty against such a ruthless Aussie side – who at the time were making a habit of racking up indecent scores against such lowly opposition – should be considered a small mercy. More encouragingly, the team’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded not just one but two actual victories; 3-0 vs Tonga and 1-0 vs Samoa, a pair of results that hauled the Cooks from the foot of the world rankings and up to the giddy heights of 193rd out of 211. Let the good times roll.

*Technically this wasn’t an official match as neither nation had yet joined FIFA. Tahiti eventually became a member in 1990, with the Cook Islands following suit in 1994.

The shirt

Almost all of my Oceania national shirts arrived together in one massive parcel about three years ago courtesy of Lotto’s New Zealand offices. For the longest time official replicas from these tiny countries simply didn’t exist, presumably because the various football federations didn’t vouch for oddballs like myself living on the other side of the planet whose dearest wish was to be kitted out in their team colours.                                      Eventually, Italian sportswear giants Lotto – who at the time supplied nine of the ten Pacific minnows – decided to just go ahead and make them all available online, prompting my calm and level-headed decision to acquire most of them at once.

The only downside to this is that all the shirts are a bit samey. The main distinguishing feature of this Cook Islands design is that it’s green, otherwise the template is virtually identical to that of any other Oceania team. Since then the team has switched brands to a company called Onu Sports and are now clad in a far more attractive kit which their F.A. do apparently sell via their website, although at 100 NZ dollars a pop plus import charges from the other side of the globe on top, they can fuck right off.










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