Dance costume Cook Islands style

Dance costume Cook Islands style

For this week’s blog, I have selected this Cook Islands costume, for its beautiful arrangement, and striking colours.
Pareu kiri'au (hula skirt); Te Papa; Gift of Mrs E. M. Paterson, 1954
Pareu kiri’au (hula skirt); Te Papa; Gift of Mrs E. M. Paterson, 1954

This striking 1920s pareu kiri’au (hula skirt) from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, is made from long narrow strips of hibiscus bast fibre. Around the waistband, is blue cloth, with orange and yellow diamonds, which have been machine sewn onto the band. At the base of the waistband, hang red-dyed tassels, each tied with a single puka seed. The base of the pareu has been dipped in red dye, providing a contrast to the natural colour of the pareu. This example combines natural and imported products, with a preference for blue cloth, and red dye. The tassels around the hips, add another layer of movement, once the dancer is in full motion.

Dance costumes are often made to capture the graceful and vigorous movements of the dancer. At times costume makers combine natural materials with imported and manufactured goods. As curators, we look for colour and style to indicate a specific time period, while providing a clue about the wearer, and the maker.

This pareu, collected in the early 1920s, was gifted, along with other items, to the museum by Edith Paterson in 1954. Edith and her husband John worked and travelled intermittently in the Cook Islands during the 1920s, when John helped to build the Avarua wharf in Rarotonga.


  1. Can you teach me how to make a Cook Island Costum

  2. and the head peace too

  3. Hi can you help me on how to make a titi for our cook island group please

  4. can you pleas show me how to make a hula skrit out of flax THE END XOXOXOXOXOX LOL

    1. itz easy just go wif da flow

  5. can you show me how to make a hula skirts out of flax

  6. can you help me..i need to know how coconut fibres are made.. is it called niau blanc?

  7. Kia-orana,
    My name is Hannah and I am living on Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands and I can honestly say that just by seeing this costume makes me proud to be a COOK ISLANDER!!!!!!!

    1. Thank you for visiting the blog Hannah. We hope to continue to share more about the Pacific collection.

  8. Kia Orana,
    I’m hoping you can help me.
    I’m trying to help my aunty, as her girls are putting a cook island dance group together for the school.
    I thing I need help with is, BLUE sacks, so they can make the hula skirts, I have found a place where you can get the sacks, but they only have white and the creamy colour.
    Do you know any one that sells them or can it be dyed and if so what kinfd of dye will we need to get.
    One more thing do you know any one in Auckland) that make the head piece.
    Amd any one that make the titi with blue raffia.

    Thank you

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