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Discoverers of the Cook Islands and the Names They Gave

2. Atiu

page 12

2. Atiu

A black and white sketch of the island Aitu.

A raised-reef island, described as quadrilateral in shape or roughly circular, reflecting the shape of the submerge volcano.

Area: 26.9 km2. Circumference: 20.12 km. Diameter: 7.2km N-S, 4.8 km E-W.

The centre is a flat-topped hill of volcanic rock: 5 km2; c. 70 m high; maximum altitude: 71.63 m. At the S-W edge of the plateau is a lake.

The central plateau is surrounded by a depression (swamp) 182 m wide; 6 to 9m above sea level.

The plateau and swamp are surrounded by a makatea: 1,000 wide; 3 to 6 m high at the sea side; 30 m at inland side. A coral reef, 90 m wide, surrounds the island, 45 to 90 m from the shore, except for about 800 m at Pari Aniu. Depth of ocean floor: 4,500 m.

Position: 19°58′45″S, 158°08′00″W. Population: 1966: 1,32 1971: 1,455, 1975: 1,429.

Atiu to Rarotonga: 214 km, to Mangaia: 214 km, to Aitutak 209 km.


The island of the “meek-faced”, or literally “woman-faced” Atiuans (1) must have witnessed the landfall of several canoes. Indications of it are the names of different tribes and different myths of origin.

The ancient name of the island was Enua-Manu (2). This name is usually translated as “Land of Birds” (3). The word “manu”, however, is a general name for any living thing moving on the earth or through the air (4). An informant told Sir Peter Buck that the “manu” found by the first human settlers were “potipoti [gap — reason: illegible] rangaua”, translated by Buck as “moths and beetles”. In which case the correct translation of Enua-Manu would be “Land of Insects” (5).

Later the island was named Atiu in honour of one of the earliest ancestors, Atiu-mua, which means “Eldest-born” (6).


Gill recorded the following myth: “Atiu is said to be the name of the first man on the island. A pigeon sped hither from spirit-land and rested awhile in a grotto still known as “The Pigeon's Fountain”. Big drops of water kept falling from the stony roof, producing little addies in the transparent water beneath. As the pigeon was refreshing itself by sipping the cool liquid, it noticed a female shadow of great beauty in the fountain. Now the pigeon of Tangeroa was in reality one of the gods, and therefore readily embraced the lovely shadow, and then returned to its home in the nether-land. The child thus originated was named Atiu, that is “First-fruit”, or “Eldest-born”. Because of the divine origin of its ancestor the island was called “Land of Gods”, that is: Enua O Te Au Atua (7). This name was heard by (0-) Mai, the Tahitian who accompanied Cook on his third voyage. Cook wrote it down as Wenua No Eatua (8).


Another tradition calls Te Ariki-Mou-Taua the first man who came to Atiu from Avaiki. He arrived with his wife, Tepurui-Noo-ki-Tua, and his two daughters, Ina-Toko-Aikura and Inaina-Avai-Poa. Leaving his wife at the beach, page 13 Te Ariki brought his daughters inland, and told them to stay there, while he and his wife went to Tahiti . During the absence of the parents, Tangaroa came to the island in the image of a pigeon (rupe), and slept with the girls. As a result Ina-Toko gave birth to a son, whom she named Atiu, and Inaina became the mother of Mariri. As both conceived their children by a bird (manu), the island was called Enua-Manu (9).


A third tradition attributes the discovery of Atiu to Mariri and his younger brothers Atiu-mua and Atiu-muri. They came from Avaiki at about 1300. Their father was Tangaroa-Pu-Metua-Kore, or Tangaroa-Tumu-Metua-Kore, that is Tangaroa-the Source-without-a-father. This name implies the divine origin of these three ancestors (10).

A slightly different account calls Atiu-mua and Atiu-muri the sons of Mariri. At his arrival Mariri was hampered by so many “manu”, called “putiputi”, that he could not kill them all. He returned to Avaiki for help, and came back to Atiu with two “manu”, called Pena and Kura, which he let loose to destroy the “putiputi”. Mariri, then, went once more to Avaiki to find a wife. On return he landed first on Takutea (11). Either Mariri or Atiu-mua called the island Enua-Manu (12).


A fourth tradition says that Nuku-kere-i-manu was the first ariki of Atiu. He was the sixth in descent from Te Tumu, the great original first cause (god-ancestor) of the island. The inhabitants of the island in those days were birds, and so the island was called Enua-Manu. Inakoia-Kura, an aunt of Nuku-kere, became the wife of the god Tangaroa, and their first born son was Atiumua, whose name was given to the island. The meaning of this name is a “tiutiu”, signifying the flight of Tangaroa to heaven. When Nuku-kere died, Mariri became ariki. He was a descendant too of Tangaroa, and as he belonged to a senior branch, he took precedence over Atiu-mua (13).


The land of origin of Atiu's ancestors, Avaiki, might be Samoa, for there was a belief that they (or some?) had come from Manuka (Manu'a in Samoa) (14). An old chief, Mana, claimed to be from the Makea-Karika family, but of a younger branch. The law of primogeniture induced the first chief of Atiu to seek a home elsewhere (15). Whether that first chief came directly from Manu'a the original home of Karika, or from Rarotonga, the story does not tell. The principal god of the island must have been Tangaroa, as the Atiuans trace the descent of their ancestors to him. A very important focus of tribal activity, however, was the marae of Rongo, close to the Taunganui landing place (16). Gill told us that the natives of Atiu lived in dread of Tane-mei-tai, Tane-out-of-the-ocean (17).

Several famous Polynesian navigators called at Atiu. Tangiia-nui of Rarotonga built a marae, called Taputapuatea (18). Ruatapu of Aitutaki paid a visit too (19). Descendants of Rata are said to live on the island (20).


A later invasion brought Utataki-enua, a great-great-grandson of Te Erui (of Aitutaki?) to the island with his friend Tara. After a short stay they went to Mauke, and then returned to Atiu. Tatuaivi, the ruler at that time, fled to Rarotonga, and Utataki-enua killed the ancient people, the Ngaatua, and established his rule, called Te Au-o-Mokoero, as he lived at Mokoero (21). The Mokoero clan was also known as the Utavarau (22).

Another tribe, Ngati Tinorau, was destroyed by the Mokoero people, Ngati Tama- page 14 tou, under the leadership of Te Maua. However, a certain Ngurau escaped, and later killed Te Maua. Ngurau became ariki, and the ancient people regained ascendancy (23).

Two warriors, Arai and Toanui, are said to have defeated the Ngati Uru (24). Akatauira or Te Ariki-tara-are of the Vakapora family of Rarotonga, stole a vessel and with his people sailed away to Enua-manu (Atiu), and remained there (c. 1400). He is the ancestor of the Ngamaru-ariki line. From him the tribe of Ngati Te Akatau-ira received its name (25).

A descendant of Ruatapu, Maro-una, called at Atiu in quest of warriors to make war on the Aitu people, who had invaded Aitutaki, and ousted his grand-father, Maevakura. Marouna obtained from Atiu a warrior, called Tara-Apai (26). Another account tells about a great warrior, Tara-Apai-Toa, who went to Mauke at about 1455, where he became an ancestor of the two Maukean ariki (27).


The tenth in descent from Utataki-enua was Tukuata, who married Papauite-Eiau, a descendant of Mariri. Their son, Te Ruaautu, defeated Te Ranginui, and finally united Atiu under Te Au-o-Mokoero. He was a good ariki and the island enjoyed profound peace (28).

Until late in the 18th century the island was divided into seven groups, six of which were ruled by a mataiapo, and the seventh by the chief of Mokoero (Ngati Arua). At about 1760 the chief of Mokoero was elevated to the ariki title of Ngamaru. The Ngatangi district objected and together with Te'enui and Mapumai created the ariki title of Rongo-ma-tane. Before the arrival of the Gospel a third ariki title had been created, that of Parua-nui, now associated with Mapumai (29).

The grandson of Te Ruaautu, Rongomatane Ngaakaara, led the Atiuans in their murderous cannibal raids on Mitiaro and Mauke, and established the Atiuan lordship over these two islands. Rongomatane became the first convert to Christianity after the arrival of John Williams, and he induced the people of the three islands to denounce their idols. He also showed John Williams the starting point to reach Rarotonga (30).


On his third voyage Captain Cook sighted the island on March 31, 1777. The next day they were close enough to lower some boats to look for a place to anchor and to land. Several outrigger canoes came towards the ships, and one man was persuaded to come on board, soon followed by two others. Another man brought a bunch of bananas as a present from the head chief of the island. In return Cook sent him an axe and a piece of red cloth. Still later a double canoe with twelve men in it approached Cook's ship, and the natives came aboard. They wore pieces of fine matting around their waists. Their hair was tied on top of the head or flowing loose on the shoulders. The lobes of their ears were bored, not slit, and they were tattooed on the legs. They seemed to be cheerful and good natured to Cook. On April 2 a canoe brought a pig and some bananas, for which the people wanted a dog in return. That day Lieutenant Gore went ashore with Omai, Anderson and Burney. They were presented to three chiefs, Atirau, Taroa and Atauira. An umukai was prepared for the visitors, and it was not until just before sunset that they were allowed to return to their ships (31).


During the first half of 1823 the missionary of Borabora, J.M. Orsmond, page 15 probably en route to Australia, set ashore two native teachers. They had not made any convert, when John Williams arrived in June of that year. The two teachers had been robbed of all their possessions, and were nearly starved (32). The population at that time was under the 2,000 (33).


Captain Bourke of H.M.S “Hyacinth” hoisted the Union Jack on Oct. 30,1888 (34). Through the Atiuan ariki, Ngamaru, husband of Makea Takau of Rarotonga, Atiu, Mauke, Mitiaro, and Takutea became part of the Cook Islands Federation (35) until it was included within the boundaries of New Zealand in 1901. In 1902 the population of the island was 918 (36).

Cook spelt the name of Atiu as Wautieu (37), Anderson as Wateeoo (38), and Samwell as Watdu (39). Thomas Edgar of the “Discovery” wrote Whatdew (40). Other spellings were Vatiu (41), Watiu (42), Atien (43), Watiou, L'Atoui, Katutia, Atui (44), Atiou (45). Enua-manu was spelt by Anderson as Fenooa Manoo (46). The following names in the Tahitian lists of islands (may) refer to Atiu: Temanno, Te-Manno (47), Oaiyu (48), and Oateeu (49).


196:43; 198:260


230:64, 70


192:17; 195:16-17




115:12; 20:60


192:17; 195:189; 20:111


195:188–189; 198:262–263






115:12; 20:111




20:60, 111


242:74; 95:I294
















242:68, 70; 95:I295














242:68, 70


236:97; 237:45


242:73–74; 1:363


9b:81–88; 9c:831–843; 9d:1004–1009; 195:186–190; 198:259–264; 113:32–54


218:84–87; 204:259




















61:214; 73:65






451:I 153









Coconut grater (kana)

Coconut grater (kana)