Activity for ‘Legends of the Cook Islands’

Legends of the Cook Islands

by Shona Hopkins

This book is a collection of eight Cook Island myths, which are accompanied by striking illustrations showing clear Pasifika images including flora, fauna and beach landscapes. The Pearls of the South Seas tells the story of how Rongo, the most powerful god, created the Cook Islands, and of how his tears formed pearls, so that he was able to see his beautiful creation at night – a gift from Rangi (the sky) to Moana (the sea). Tangaroa – God of the Sea tells of the might and power of the ocean, and the importance of respecting this powerful resource. Ati and the Water Fairies tells the love story of Ati and his fairy wife Vaine. Together they have a son, Tau, however Vaine wants to return to her underwater home and so leaves her husband and son on the land. According to the myth, all fair skinned Cook Islanders are descendents of Ati and Vaine. The Legend of the Drum tells of the great battle between Rarotonga and Ra’iatea to find the ‘best drummers’ – as judged by the gods, and the legend goes on to explain why the islands are situated as they are today. In Tangiia and the Sea Turtle, the onu – green sea turtle, believed to be navigator of the seas, guides Tangiia from Tahiti to Rarotonga. Here he becomes a great leader of the people, and it is believed that Tangiia’s spirit lives on in the onu today. Ina and the Shark tells of the great love between Tinirau and Ina, and of how they came to be together with the help of Tekea, king of all the sharks. The story tells how sharks came to be known as kings of all the ocean, and of why they have a bump on their heads to this day. In The Stolen Mountain, the people of Aitutaki steal Rarotonga’s magnificent mountain, Maru. The Legend of Paikea tells the story of the great fisherman Paikea, who is one day lost at sea and is never to return to his island of Mauke. He travels instead to the far away land of Aotearoa, where he often dreams of returning home on the back of a whale, to his beloved wife Kea. And Kea never stops looking out to sea as she waits for her husbands return – her coral grave is believed to be still on the island of Mauke today.

This book was nominated for the collection for its beautiful artwork as well as its focus on the oral tradition of passing legends down through generations.

Activity: ILLUSTRATION (The Arts)

Curriculum Level 1, 2 & 3(see curriculum links at the end of the activity)

NZC Key Competencies

  • thinking
  • using language, symbols and text
  • relating to others
  • managing self


The collection of stories in this book have been beautifully illustrated by Bruce Potter using water colour paints. Students can use his painting style as inspiration for their own illustrations for one of the legends from the book.

1. Enjoy reading the stories together, over a couple of sessions.

2. When the students have heard all stories, ask them to choose one which they would like to illustrate.

  • At Level 1, it may be more appropriate to choose one legend to focus on as a whole class.

3. When students have decided on their chosen legend, organise them into groups, so that they can discuss ideas for illustration. Give students a copy of the legend to re-read together, and a copy of Bruce Potters illustration to examine.

Share and discuss ideas, and each student should decide on the part they wish to illustrate.

4. Use pencil to sketch a basic idea for illustration. Share with a buddy and make changes as necessary.

5. When students have their basic outline planned, look carefully at the water colour style used by Bruce Potter. Talk about his use of

  • brush stroke
  • colour
  • outline
  • background

It may be appropriate to look at other water colour illustration by Bruce Potter at this time.

  • See links to other PPBC books for other examples of his work.

6. Allow children time to experiment with using water colour paints on rough paper. Try different brush strokes, as well as blending and mixing colours.

7. When students feel confident, they should begin their illustration. Use pencil again to create outlines, and then begin painting with water colour, starting with the background.

8. When painting is completed, share with the class, and see if other students can identify which legend is represented!


  • paper
  • pencils
  • water colour paints
  • brushes

Curriculum Links

The Arts Visual Art

  • share ideas about how and why their own and others’ works are made, and their purpose, value and context (Level 1 & 2)
  • explore a variety of materials and tools and discover elements and selected principles (Level 1 & 2)
  • investigate visual ideas in response to a variety of motivations, observation and imagination (Level 1)
  • share the ideas, feelings, and stories communicated by their own and others’ objects and images (Level 1 & 2)
  • investigate and develop visual ideas in response to a variety of motivations, observation and imagination (Level 2)
  • explore some art-making conventions, applying knowledge of elements and selected principles through the use of materials and processes (Level 3)
  • develop and revisit visual ideas, in response to a variety of motivations, observation, and imagination, supported by the study of artists works (Level 3)
  • describe the ideas which their own and others’ objects and images communicate (Level 3)


Links to other books in the PPBC

The Pipi Swing by Sarona Aiono-Iosefa; Papa’s Donuts by Kate Moetaua;

Papa’s Jandals by Kate Moetaua;

Grandad by Aileen Pereira;

The Stuck There Forever Boat by Gillian Torckler

– all of these books have been illustrated by Bruce Potter in water colour paint

Other Ideas

  • Use a different medium to create a story illustration, e.g., pastel/ crayon, print, oil or acrylic paint (Visual Art)
  • Retell a story from the collection using Drama (Drama)
  • Find out about other traditional myths and legends from the Pacific Islands (English)
  • Use the stories from this collection as inspiration for writing their own legend (English)