The Rarotongan component of the Cook Islands Dictionary comprises digital versions of three Rarotongan Dictionaries – 

  1. The Eastman Rarotongan Dictionary, 1917 (IN PROGRESS)
  2. The Stephen Savage Dictionary, 1965 (IN PROGRESS)
  3. The Buse Taringa Cook Islands Dictionary (edited by Bruce Biggs and Rangi Moeka‘a), 1995 


The Eastman Rarotongan Dictionary is an annotated typescript of 323 pages entitled 

A Rarotongan-English dictionary: with which are included numerous words of the dialects in use in other parts of the Cook Islands, South Pacific, with introductory notes and appendices - compiled by Rev. G.H. Eastman of the London Missionary Society. (To be) Published by the Cook Islands Administration, Rarotonga, Cook Islands, 1918.”

The Dictionary’s compiler, Rev. George Herbert Eastman (1881-1974) was a missionary of the London Missionary Society and the dictionary was developed during Eastman’s five years residence in Rarotonga (1913 – 18).

Eastman acknowledges inclusion of vocabularies collected by his predecessors Rev. John Joseph Knight Hutchin and Rev. William Wyatt Gill; the New Zealand colonial administrator Major J.M. Large “who soon after my arrival in the Group kindly lent me his vocabulary of some 2,000 words”; the Chief Medical Officer of the Cook Islands, Dr. R.S.Trotter, and the Rev. Aaron Buzacott’s language primer  “Te Akataka Reo Rarotonga” (1878).

According to Eastman, the majority of words in his Dictionary were “in ordinary use” at the time of collection. “There are doubtless a number of rare words, and some which are becoming archaic, which will not be found in this collection.”  

It had been the intention of the then Resident Commissioner of the Cook Islands, F.W. Platts to have the Dictionary typescript published. However, in 1921, Platts was removed from office, and the Dictionary was never published. 


Stephen Savage Stephen Savage

The Stephen Savage Dictionary – The Dictionary’s compiler, Stephen Savage, was born in New Zealand in 1875 and came to Rarotonga in 1894. He was part New Zealand Maori, from the Whanau Apanui Tribe in the Bay of Plenty. He was Registrar of the Native Land Court of the Cook Islands and a translator for the Cook Islands Administration until his death in 1941.  Savage’s notes show that he began compiling words for a dictionary in the early 1900s. This original dictionary was lost in a house fire.

Savage died before completing his dictionary.  The manuscript was purchased from his estate by the New Zealand Government in 1950 and published by the Department of Islands Territories, Wellington in 1962.  In 1980, it was reprinted by the University of the South Pacific and in 2103 for a third time by the Cook Islands Library & Museum Society Incorporated.


The Buse-Taringa Dictionary 

Dr Jasper Buse, a linguist at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, commenced his study of the Rarotonga language in 1957.  In the same year, Mr Raututi Taringa was commissioned by the University of London to assist in the compilation of the dictionary, and continued in this role until 1959.  In 1960, Dr Buse spent some time in Rarotonga working with a Language Advisory Committee, subsequently publishing four important papers on the structure of the Rarotonga language (see Resources page). When Dr Buse died in 1985, the dictionary had been completed up to the letter ‘K’, the remainder comprising draft typescripts.  

Subsequently, at the invitation of the Publications Committee of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Professor Bruce Biggs, commenced editing and preparing the typescripts for publication.  The transfer to computer files was completed in Auckland in 1987.  Biggs then visited Rarotonga to consult with the Minister of Education and obtain the assistance of Mr Rangi Moeka‘a, a recognised authority on the language.  Much of the editing was coordinated from Auckland through the Centre of Pacific Studies with the support of the Director, Dr. Marjorie Crocombe.  

The editors of the print version acknowledge the assistance of the following in compilation of the original print dictionary – Hon. Ngereteina Puna (then Minister of Education), Mr. Tuingariki Short (then Secretary of Education); Professor Ron Crocombe (USP); Mr Gerald McCormack, Cook Islands Natural Heritage (scientific identification for plants, birds and terrestrial fauna), Ms Judith Kunzle (illustrations), Dr Ross Clark, University of Auckland (Greek & Hebrew etymologies), Dr Rangiau Fariu (biblical references), Koringo Pierre and Pipi Utanga Elia (transfer of transcript to computer files), Dr Tom  Dutton, Pacific Linguistics (copy editing of manuscript) and the following members of the Language Advisory Committee – Mr Charlie Cowan, Dr. Marjorie Crocombe, Father Damien, Father Floribert Van Lier, Mr David Hosking, Mr Kapi Kapi, Mr Tuatakiri Pittman, Mr Taira Rere, Hon. Tangata Simiona, Hon. Mana Strickland, Mr Vainerere Tangatapoto and Mr Joseph Vati.  

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