"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.
Wavescan N393, September 4, 2016
The Island with 1,000 Descendants: Cook Islands Radio Tour - 2
We begin our radio tour of the northern Cook Islands in the exotic South Pacific with a quick visit to Palmerston Island. Strictly speaking, Palmerston Island forms part of the southern Cook Islands, though it is somewhat isolated from all of the other islands in the southern cluster.
Like so many of the Cook Islands, the modern history of Palmerston Island begins with its discovery by Captain James Cook in 1774, though he never went ashore until his return visit three years later. Cook named this island in honor of Viscount Palmerston who was Lord of the Admiralty in England at the time. Captain Cook wrote in his journal that the island was uninhabited, though he did see some graves, thus indicating some form of an earlier inhabitation.
Palmerston Island, like so many other islands out there, is the top of a large underwater mountain surrounded by a coral reef, inset with a series of small islets. The main lagoon is 7 miles across; the highest point is just 13 feet above sea level; and the original Maori name was Avarua, meaning 200 harbor entrances.
This island has no airport, though it is visited by cargo ships on just a few occasions each year. Interestingly, Captain Cook misplaced the location of Palmerston Island on his maps by 10 miles, and this geographic error was not corrected until the year 1969 when satellite mapping became available.
In 1863, William Marsters, an Englishman who had deserted his wife and two children, settled on Palmerston Island with ultimately, four Polynesian wives, at least three of whom were closely related to each other. He annexed the island from Great Britain, and nearly a century later, the family was granted full ownership of the island, though under the legal oversight of New Zealand. Since independence for the Cook Islands, Palmerston is acknowledged as under the Cook Islands administration; and it is the only island in this nation where English is the native languages, though quite a quaint accent is still evident.
Marsters fathered at least 23 children; and in 1973 at the time of the death of his youngest daughter, Titana Tangi, he had more than 1,000 descendants. Members of this scattered "tribe" are these days living in Rarotonga, New Zealand, Australia and the United States, with just 59 currently resident on their home island, Palmerston. The highest population on Palmerston was in the mid 1900s, with a count of around 300 people. Christianity was brought to the island quite early, and the church still forms an integral part of their lives and social culture.
On the radio scene, it is reported that there was a small shortwave station, in use in 1975 on this island of a thousand descendants, for communication with the national capital on Rarotonga Island. Then, apparently there was subsequently a low powered mediumwave station on the air with a relay via shortwave from Radio Cook Islands; and that was supplanted by a low power FM station with programming via a satellite link. This unit was first listed in the WRTVHB in 2009.
As we travel northwards in this radio tour of the Cook Islands, we come to Suwarrow Island, which was discovered by the Russian ship Suvarov; hence the anglicized name of the island. It was inhabited by Polynesian peoples, at least during some eras of its pre-history; and in recent years, a few isolated people have lived, or maybe survived, on the island; people such as a caretaker and adventurers and travelers. In 1942, a strong hurricane washed away 16 of the 22 small motu-islets in the Suwarrow Atoll.
During the Pacific War, coast watcher Robert D. Frisbie served on Anchorage Islet in the Suwarrow Atoll, along with ten other coast watchers on other islands in the Cook archipelago. Frisbie had previously lived a short while on Pukapuka Island where he married a local girl whose English name was Desire. She gave birth to 5 children but died soon afterwards from disease.
Frisbie took his now motherless family to Suwarrow Island where they lived in isolation and where he served as a coast watcher on behalf of the New Zealand government. At the height of the Pacific War, New Zealanders were serving as coast watchers on more than 60 different islands throughout the Central and South Pacific.
Next in our radio tour, we move to Nassau Island, an island that has been given many names in its earlier eras. However, it was given its final name in 1835 by the American John Sampson who named the island in honor of his own whaling ship, the Nassau. There are just two substantial concrete buildings on the island, the Government Office and the Church building.
In 1988, the cargo ship Manuvai was wrecked against the island early one morning while the crew was fast asleep. Then soon afterwards, the ship was picked up by a cyclonic wind storm and deposited in the center of the island where it still lies to this day.
Occupation of Nassau Island began in the 1900s and the total number of inhabitants stands at around 100. For a couple of months each mid year, the entire population of Nassau is taken by boat to Rarotonga for national celebrations and events, and during this time their entire home island is boarded up for safety and protection.
The island of Nassau also has a dedicated FM station on 93.8 MHz, a slave relay of Radio Cook Islands by satellite.
Our next visit is to Pukapuka Island, the original home of Desire Frisbie. This island seems to have been the earliest island in the Cook Islands for Polynesian settlers, maybe more than 2000 years ago.
In addition, Pukapuka was the first of the Cook Islands to be sighted by a European explorer. On August 20, 1595, the Spanish navigator, Alvara de Mandana, visited Pukapuka, though he named it San Bernado.
Around 400 years ago, there was a horrendous cyclone and tsunami that struck the island of Pukapuka, destroying many of the Polynesian structures and killing most of the people. It is understood that just 17 men, 2 women and a few children survived, from whom all modern day Pukapukans are descendant. The Pukapukan people speak their own version of Cook Islands Maori.
In 1938, a small 5 watt battery operated radio transmitter was installed on Pukapuka Island. In 2003, a small two way radio was in use for communication with Nassau Island and with the Cook Islands government on Rarotonga. Then in 2009, a small FM transmitter replaced a small mediumwave transmitter for the relay of radio programming from Radio Cook Islands on Rarotonga.
More on the radio scene in the Cook Islands next time.