the chorus in the coral church

COOK ISLANDS Under the heading Climate in the Cook Islands Visitor Guide it says: “Warm and sunny all year round” The dry season is…

COOK ISLANDS

Under the heading Climate in the Cook Islands Visitor Guide it says: “Warm and sunny all year round”

The dry season is April through November, with average temperatures between 20 and 25C.

The islands were enjoying a week of slightly warmer weather.

Relaxing under a rustling palm tree one particularly fine evening, the air was suddenly filled with music.

It was the beautiful sound of the voices of a church choir carried from across the road on the breeze.

The first missionaries arrived on the island of Aitutaki in 1821, and since that time have had a strong influence on Cook Islands society.

Approximately 65 per cent of locals belong to the Cook Islands Christian Church, and many other religions are also represented here.

Island visitors are warmly invited to attend services.

The choir was rehearsing in the CICC in the village of Titikaveka.

This particular church was built in 1841 from coral slabs cut by hand from the reef and chain-handled to the building site.

It is a large square building, the four even sides representing the equality of all people.

Panels of stained glass in several bright colours decorate the many tall, thin windows.

On Sunday morning the enthusiastic ringing of the church bell announced that the 10 a.m. service was about to begin.

An official of the church, a tall man in a white summer suit, greeted everyone who arrived with a smile, shaking hands, recognizing those papa’a who were visitors and welcoming them.

The large double doors on three sides of the building were all wide open, allowing the tropical breezes through.

Glass vases full of colourful, exotic cut flowers and large pots of tropical flowering plants literally covered the large altar.

One of the bass singers was the proprietor of the produce stand right across the road.

The national flower of the Cook Islands is the tiare or gardenia.

Four women, dressed in four different styles of dress sewn from the same bright yellow hibiscus-pattern fabric, were among those who wore tiare leis in their hair. Others wore a single hibiscus or frangipani bloom tucked behind an ear.

The air carried a lovely perfume.

The service was conducted in a mixture of Cook Islands Maori and English, and the choir sang often.

The hymns carried the sound of the islands in them. Singers and congregation alike swayed to the music of the strong voices.

It was easy to understand why Cook Islanders are renowned for their singing.

At the end of the service everyone in attendance was invited to stay for refreshments and conversation.

Hospitality and friendliness are extended every day of the week.

Strangers nod and say hello while out walking along the beach, or strike up a conversation in a shop or on the bus.

It’s as relaxing as sitting under a rustling palm tree on a particularly fine evening.

Catherine Miller is a Whitehorse-based writer on a months-long tour of far-flung places. Her chronicle appears here every Monday.