The Marsters Dynasty

Palmerston holds a unique place in the Cook Islands—indeed, in all of Polynesia—for its peculiar history It was settled in 1863 by William Marsters, uninhabited at the time of


North America


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South Amanea

Indonesia his arrival. His three Polynesian wives (all cousins) came from Penrhyn to the north, and the families they began were the start of the three Marsters lines, which still populate Palmerston today. William Marsters himself left behind 21 children when he died in 1899; today there are thousands of Marsters living all around New Zealand and the Cook Islands.

Only members of the Marsters family are allowed to live on Palmerston. The island residents share the main island as their home, with each family branch living in one section. They have divided up the smaller islands in the atoll; asking permission to visit or camp on an island that "belongs" to a different family is expected and honored by all. The families share the fishing grounds, and there is a loose rotation system for greeting the arriving boats. A few days into our visit, I asked Edward how it is decided which family hosts which guests, and he responded, "Whoever gets there first," but there was a sly smile on his face, and we could tell that he was in part telling the truth, but also maintaining a bit of the Marsters myth and mystery.

indeed, stories abound regarding the families arguing over visiting yachts. Rivalry between the families has always existed, and violence has been a traditional method of solving conflict. At various points throughout the 20th century, Palmerston has faced the worrisome trend of declining population. Illiteracy has always plagued the residents. And certain

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Fill opportunities like the one presented by the recent debacle over the Marsters Dream—a Norwegian fishing vessel that the islanders were to utilize and share for the benefit and profit of all—have been squandered in the past due to an inability to get past personal differences.

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