New book on the Cook Islands Last Colonial Era

Following the popularity of Polynesian Ancestors – Te Ui Tupuna – Voyages Through the Ages - world-renowned eczema specialist and Pacific historian Dr Joseph Williams has published Memoirs on the Last Colonial Era in the Cook Islands.



The book covers events from the Cook Islands’ final years of the Colonial Era, which ended in 1965 when it gained autonomy and became independent as a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand.


Dr Williams describes significant developments during the early Self-Government era and his early years studying medical degrees at the University of Otago (MB,CHB) in New Zealand before practising at Dannevirke and Napier Hospital.


Dr Williams’ training in medicine encouraged him to return from New Zealand to his homeland in the Cook Islands to practice. But what he faced was working in an old colonial-style home that had been converted to a hospital.


“It was old and in need of repairs, quite unlike what I was used to in New Zealand,” he recalls.


“Although the hospital was old, the wards and the operating theatre were kept meticulously clean and tidy.”


Dr Williams was recruited from New Zealand as the Medical Superintendent at the hospital in the Cook Islands, despite having no experience in hospital administration. But he felt humbled by the knowledge he was among the new country’s first medical pioneers. Many were also relatives and connected with many doctors, including those on the outer islands.


“I learned very quickly that the disease profile of the Cook Islands was predominantly tropical diseases, quite unlike what I was used to in New Zealand,” he writes.


He initially had thoughts of quickly returning to New Zealand, but his stubborn ‘Aitutaki pito’ would not allow him.


Dr Williams decided if he was to be of any use as a doctor, he had to learn all there is to know about tropical diseases as soon as possible by doing crash courses in tropical diseases from books he ordered along with articles and reports obtained from the South Pacific Commission and Island territories in NZ.


“More importantly, I talked to the medical pioneers of health who were experts in their chosen fields of interest.”


Dr Williams compiled knowledge on leprosy, tuberculosis, tropical pulmonary eosinophilia (Loeffler’s Syndrome), intestinal helminthiasis and the infant diarrhoeas, respiratory infections and malnutrition.


The Cook Islands’ infant mortality rate plummeted from 149 in 1956 to an annual average of six by 1973. Dr Williams writes of the challenges and takes pride in the medical advances, improvement in health services and facilities and the elimination of TB, Leprosy Intestinal Helminthiasis, Eosinopholic Meningo-Enciphalitis, Tropical Plumonary Eosinophilic and Filariasis.


In 2004 the WHO (World Health Organisation) adopted the Aitutaki Filariasis MDA as a model for the WHO model for the Global Programme for the Elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis’ PELF as “the Cook Islands greatest contribution to global public health”.


• For copies of Memoirs on the Last Colonial Era in the Cook Islands contact Toka Bates on 276 8640 at the Mt Wellington Integrated Healthcare in Auckland