The land in the Cook Islands cannot be sold to outsiders it can only be leased out by a family. In other words only locals can own land and that is by dint of been born into an Island family therefore being able to trace back your linage.
The land is set out in strips, starting at the reef and working back to the mountains. This way all have fair and equal access to the various wealth bearing parts of the land. The reef, lagoon and beach give access to fishing and shellfish. The flat sandy part going back to the uplands was considered the least important until White man came; you couldn’t grow much in the sandy soil except coconuts. Next comes the swampy part, good for growing Taro the islands staple food. Then the upland (hillside) has the very fertile land for other crops and fruits plus good building area away from flooding caused by hurricanes, tsunami and alike. It is ironic however that now the wealth of the land is the sandy flat land because tourists want to be close to the lagoon, so leasing this part of the family property is the new wealth.
Families had fought and defended their land for hundreds of years before white man came so there is a real tangible connection to the land and its use by the subsequent generations.
Because the land will always be part of the family… family members are buried on it so when you walk out your back door, grandfather, grandmother, aunts, uncles, etc, are there to be remembered. Of course there are cemeteries like in any other society but this closeness to family and the land is still prevalent today.
I have included a shot of family members entombed on Danny’s mothers land along with a seaside cemetery and even my own mothers ashes enshrined on Danny’s land between the main house and where I stay. It was nice to be able to sit, talk and meditate with mum every day. We could even have family funs times next to mum. Family still rules in Rarotonga.