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Cook Islands Travel Guide

Island Night Musicians
Island musicians and choir at an
island night on Aitutaki.

Music and Dance

Among main genres of Cook Islands music and dance are drum dancing ('ura pa'u), choreographed group dancing (kaparima) to string band music, dance dramas (peu tupuna) based on island legends, religious pageants (nuku), formal chants (pe'e), celebratory song/chants ('ute), and polyphonic choral music ('imene tapu) or hymns.

Among the drums used are the small pate or to'ere slit drum used to guide the dancers, the pa'u, a double-headed bass drum that provides the beat, and the upright pa'u mango that accompanies the pa'u. The larger ka'ara slit drum and the conch shell accompany chanting. Tahitian drummers have often copied Cook Island rhythms. String band music is based on the ukulele although guitars are also used.

The top traditional dancing is seen during annual events on Rarotonga when the outer islanders arrive to compete. The drum dancing at hotel shows features the sensuous side-to-side hip movements of the women (differing somewhat from the circular movements seen on Tahiti) and the robust knee snapping of the men. In the Cook Islands the dancers keep their feet apart, while in Tahiti the feet are together. In the hura (equivalent of the Hawaiian hula) the female dancers must keep their feet flat on the ground and shoulders steady as they sway in a stunning display.