What’s Cookin’?

by Marjorie Humphreys and Jeanette Waite Bennett

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    In the Cook Islands, the food is homegrown and the fun is homemade. The rest of the world is distant, but friends are close.

    A Saturday afternoon for many young people might include a trip to the mall or to see a movie. But how would it be if you didn’t even have those options?

    Youth on the small island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific have found other ways to keep busy and happy because their island does not have commercial businesses.

    Yes, you read right—none. They have no stores, laundromats, hair salons, or movies, and very few families have cars because they have to be shipped in from other islands.

    But the youth aren’t complaining.

    “The best part of living on a small, isolated island is that it is great not to have drugs or violence or gangs,” says College Mitiau, 17.

    Yeah, but there’s still got to be some peer pressure, right?

    “What is that?” chorused the 20 young men and women. But they do have some peer pressure: the youth help each other stay active in the Church even though they are the minority on the island. Their small branch has about 90 members, while the island is home to 2,500 people.

    Approximately 20 young people are enrolled in seminary and the program is highly successful—they all have nearly perfect attendance. It’s not always easy to get up each morning, but they know the others will miss them if they don’t go.

    Seminary not only builds their spiritual strength, but also their academic abilities.

    “Seminary stimulated me to want to achieve and gave me the motivation to get it done,” says Elizabeth Parai, who shared top academic honors in the school with Jamie Rajek in 1994.

    Terry Glassie received the Cook Island academic award and has moved to New Zealand to study engineering.

    “The Church helped give me direction in my life,” says Terry.

    But there is one disadvantage that they are working hard to overcome.

    “The downside of living here is being isolated from the resources of the Church,” College says.

    The youth look to the Church for most of their social events, many of which are sports or culture related.

    The Cook Islands have a strong heritage. The first settlers were Polynesians who arrived in 800 A.D. The islands were declared a British protectorate in 1888 and came under New Zealand’s control in 1891. In 1965 they gained independence, but they still retain citizenship rights in New Zealand.

    The first missionaries arrived in the Cook Islands in 1950 and soon established the branch that still operates today. Although missionary work is slow, the members are setting good examples to their neighbors. The members are especially known for their hard work.

    The families grow all their own food, and each family member shares in the work. Their diet includes breadfruit, taro, kumura, papaya, mango, coconut, and many vegetables.

    When asked what her favorite food was, Angeline Mitiau said “junk food.” Everyone smiled because they rarely see any on the island. Some of them go months without eating any “junk.”

    While they may not have the entertainment options that many young men and women are used to, the youth on Aitutaki Island are perfectly content. They have the gospel even if they don’t have movies and malls.

    Photography by Phillip K. Humphreys