In this blog and video for Cook Islands Language Week, Ma’ara Maeva (Learning Specialist) and Paula Legel (Associate Curator, Heritage Publications) zoom in on an early map of Ma’ara's home island of Ma’uke, and trace links between names on Ma’uke and places right here in Tāmaki Makaurau.

You can learn more about Ma’uke through the eyes of the community at Te Taunga Community Hub, the community-run space in the Grand Foyer. Explore more Cook Islands Language Week content here.

Made up of two groups, the Cook Islands lie 3300km to the north-east of Aotearoa New Zealand. The Northern Group are all low-lying coral atolls with small 'motus' – small reef islands formed by broken coral and sand – on a reef surrounding an interior lagoon: Penrhyn (984 ha), Manihiki (544ha), Rakahanga (388ha), Pukapuka (506ha), Nassau (121ha), and Suwarrow (243ha). The Southern group is made up of larger islands: Rarotonga (6719ha), the administrative centre and main port, Aitutaki (730ha), Mangaia (5139ha), Ma’uke (1842 ha), Atiu (2693ha), Mitiaro (1050ha), Takutea (122ha), Palmerston (405ha), and Manuae (617ha).

New arrivals, new maps

In 1901, the Cook Islands became part of the colony of New Zealand, following a petition by the chiefs of Rarotonga, Atiu, Ma’uke, and Mitiaro. The New Zealand government appointed Walter Gudgeon as the first Resident Commissioner of Rarotonga, with resident Agents under his authority stationed in most of the outer islands. As Commissioner, Gudgeon developed the colonial administration; one of the tasks he undertook was the establishment of the 'Cook and other Islands Land Titles Court' to create land titles across the islands thought to be most suitable for agriculture. In order to establish these titles, the islands required surveying to create maps for use in the allocation of land for plantations and to assign titles to the local indigenous landholders.

As in New Zealand decades before, there was an assumption by the Administration that any land not actively under cultivation was deemed spare: 'unimproved or unplanted lands'. In order to ‘encourage’ locals to lease or at the very least, to bring into production this spare land, land taxes were imposed in 1905. Lands were also taken for ‘public purposes’.

By 1905 surveys were completed of Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Ma’uke, Manuae, Takutea and Rakahanga, and the resulting maps published at the end of a report to the New Zealand House of Representatives in 1906. These maps '…showing the lands awarded to the Native owners, acquired by Government, and leased to Europeans…'¹

Copies of these maps are held in the map collection of Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira and for Cook Islands Language Week this year, we highlight the 1906 Ma’uke map.

Map of Mauke, Cook Islands. A.M. Lonnal, Govt. Surveyor; F. W. Flanagan, Chief Draughtsman. 1906. AWMM. G9602.M5. More information ›


The report sent to the New Zealand government accompanying these maps saw Ma’uke and Atiu having the most potential. Encompassing a total of 1842ha with only 202ha ‘in beneficial use to the 370 inhabitants’² the Administration considered Ma’uke a prime opportunity for settlement. The Administration was working with ‘Native Judge’³ Tararo in order to facilitate the process until a European Agent could be appointed. By the end of 1907, much of the land had been assigned title⁴ and the Administration proceeded with landing and agricultural storage infrastructure. However, that didn’t guarantee access to the land, as the locals didn’t necessarily want to lease land to incoming European settlers.

Local knowledge

Ma’ara Maeva, Tuiātea Learning Specialist at Auckland Museum, was born on Ma’uke, and in viewing the map with him, we gain a completely different perspective on the island and how Aotearoa and Ma’uke are inextricably linked. 


Speaking in Cook Islands Māori, Ma’ara speaks about names and locations on this early map and highlights specific early ocean voyaging links between Ma’uke and Aotearoa. A mighty tamanu (Pacific Mahogany) tree was felled from a place called Ta`uri to the south west part of the island and hewn into what became te vaka Mataatua, which then voyaged across the moana to Rarotonga and on to Aotearoa. Several specimens of Tamanu collected in the Cook Islands are held at Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

At least two locations in Tāmaki Makaurau are also locations on Ma’uke: One’unga/Onehunga on the Manukau Harbour and Oneroa on the motu of Waiheke in the Hauraki Gulf. Paikea, an ancestor of Mauke and also of Te Tai Rawhiti who was made famous in the movie Whale Rider, was swept out to sea whilst fishing at Anaiti and the summer flowering Pohutukawa of Aotearoa carry similar name to that of trees that grows at a place called Po`utukava on the south coast of Ma’uke.

Ma’ara also discusses the coastal archaeological site at Anai’o, excavated in the 1980s by Richard Walter⁵, which offered a glimpse into early settlement of Ma’uke, based on archaeological determinations and artefact similarities to that found and dated elsewhere in Polynesia.



1 COOK AND OTHER ISLANDS. [In continuation of Parliamentary Paper A.-3, 1905.], Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1906 Session II, A-03.
2 Ibid
3 Ibid
4 Otago Witness, Issue 2800, 13 November 1907, Page 11
5 Anai'o : the archaeology of a fourteenth century Polynesian community in the Cook Islands. Richard K. Walter. 1998.