anihiki, located in the 'Northern Group' of the Cook Islands is the center of Black Pearl farming in the Cooks. The 2.5 mile wide lagoon is surrounded by 40 “islets,” or small islands, called “motu.” The many light colored specks visible across the lagoon are raised coral heads that rise from the lagoon floor. Pearl farmers build small structures on them to conduct their farm operations. Because of Manihiki’s remote location, and the expense of importing modern building materials, many villagers still build pole framed houses with palm frond roofs just as their ancestors did. Villagers fish & harvest coconuts (their primary foods) as they have done for hundreds of years.

There are two villages on Manihiki. (photo above right). All the other islets are uninhabited. Today most families have a TV and telephone. Electric power is available 'part of each day' from a small diesel generator in each village. Atoll population is around a couple hundred. Each week a small plane brings recorded TV programs up from Rarotonga, the main island in the 'Southern Group', 750 miles to the south. Programs are then rebroadcast to villagers via a low power transmitter. Telephone service to the outside world is via satellite uplink at the village Telecom station. Radio programs may only be heard by shortwave radio if a family is fortunate to own that type of radio. Villagers supplement their primary diet of fish with imported goods, e.g., rice, flour, sugar & canned goods purchased at several  ‘shops’ as villagers call them... more like a room attached to the side of a house. Major supplies are shipped to Manihki every month or so on a small freighter which ‘stands off’ in the ocean (outside the reef) while cargo is offloaded onto small boats and taken ashore.

In November 1997 hurricane Martin completely devastated this atoll killing 19 people, destroying most of the buildings and pearl farms. Recovery from Martin continues to this day. Many farms have been restarted and homes rebuilt as villagers work to reclaim their beautiful atoll in the South Pacific.

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Photo: Ewan Smith