Traditional Crafts

Genuine gifts to take home made with love and care, in the spirit of our islands.

Whilst on holiday you’ll find a great variety of traditional handicrafts available for sale and a good choice of retail outlets from which to shop. However, when it comes to selecting that special item to take home as a gift or souvenir of your visit, be sure to visit Punanga Nui market on a Saturday morning.

One of the finest examples of local handicraft is rito hats, intricately woven and in many appealing styles, that are a vital part of every Cook Island woman’s dress. Another item of clothing is the pareu. This 2 metre long length of cloth is a practical garment for our hot climate and the colourful fabric is often tie-dyed in an infinite variety of colours and patterns. Another traditional fashion item for women is the full-length muumuu dress, which originated at the time the missionaries arrived, suggesting a need to cover from neck to foot.

Among the most popular items of choice are wooden carvings, the most renowned is Tangaroa. An iconic figure in the Cook Islands, he is seen on logo’s, flag’s, yacht sails and at many locations throughout our islands. Tangaroa (God of the Sea) not only represents our history but also symbolizes strength and prosperity. Carved wooden clubs, spears, drums, canoes and ukuleles are also prized purchases.

Authentic handicrafts often come from our most distant islands that specialize in a particular item, such as ornate shell and seed hatbands and ‘ei pupu (necklaces) from Mangaia. Finely woven pandanus items are souvenirs from northern group islands; mats and bags from Pukapuka and the coveted rito hats from Penryhn’s talented mamas. The sale of these items helps generate income for their families.

The women of the Cook Islands are well known for their needlework, particularly hand-stitched quilts. This specialized craft is known as tivaevae. Each quilter has her own distinctive colourful patterns and one piece may take several months to complete, which is reflected in the cost. This is a real labour of love and each unique quilt becomes a coveted treasure for a lifetime.

When it comes to the ultimate souvenir of our heritage and culture and one that will last a lifetime, many are opting for a tattoo. Polynesian body art is experiencing extraordinary growth and demand from our overseas visitors. It has become the new tradition.

Rito Hats
Mangaian Adze
Carving intricate patterns on pearl shell
A womens tivaevae group in Aitutaki
Patterns that embrace our heritage
Mamas modeling the traditional muumu dress
Pendants from Mangaian obsidian