Useful Information about Atiu

Atiu History

Atiu Harbour 1907When you look on the South Pacific page in an atlas, with only 27 km² Atiu often appears no larger than a fly dropping right in the centre fold, if it can be found at all. On other maps, it usually has fallen off the edge. For some inhabitants it is all the world they have ever known. And a beautiful world it is as you will see scrolling through this web site.

Brave Polynesian navigators discovered Atiu an undocumented number of centuries ago. According to ancient legends, the first settlers were direct descendants from the gods. There are several variations depending on who tells you the story. One names their leader as Mariri. When Mariri arrived around 1300, he found the island full of insects (potipoti - knowledge of what insects those were has been lost).

So he returned to his home island Avaiki (possibly Savaii in Samoa) and brought back his wife and two birds called Pena and Kura to rid the island of the potipoti. Mariri and his wife then had two sons called Atiu-mua and Atiu-muri (Atiu the Firstborn and Atiu the Lastborn). It is in honour of Atiu-mua that the island was called Atiu. Either of the brothers may then have called the island Enua-manu (Bird Island).

Many visitors followed, some to wage war and conquer the island, others in a friendlier mission. When Captain James Cook approached Atiu with his two sailing vessels Resolution and Discovery in early April 1777, they were greeted by a welcome committee in outrigger canoes, bringing them gifts of food. Due to their Tahitian interpreter's fear that the umu (earth oven) was in preparation for eating them and not for feeding the visitors, the first visit of European explorers under the command of Lieutenant Gore to our shores was a rather short one.

The visitors left behind two memorable gifts: On the high chief's request Atiu received its first dog, a pregnant bitch, and a piece of red fabric. When John Williams of the London Missionary Society arrived on Atiu some 46 years later, this red fabric served as proof that the island that Cook had recorded as "Wateeoo" was, indeed, Atiu.

One of Atiu's high chiefs, Ngamaru Ariki, was prince consort to queen Makea who, for fear of take-over by the French from neighbouring Tahiti, begged Britain for protection in 1888. Her decision changed the course of the nation's and thus our island's fate. Atiu, however, remained closely connected to Tahiti, where an Atiu community was established in the late 1880s by some Atiuans who went there to work on the sugar plantations.

Though the idea of annexation to New Zealand didn't appeal to Makea Ariki, in 1891 the Cook Islands became a New Zealand colony. Even though in 1965 the country was granted self-governing status, until today all Cook Islanders remain New Zealand citizens.

While New Zealand and other nation keep providing financial and practical assistance to many projects that have helped to improve our island, it is thanks to the sense of community, capacity of hard work and self-motivation of our Atiu people that most of these projects could be accomplished. Using the expertise of the New Zealand Army the harbour at Taunganui was completed in 1975.

An airstrip, built in community work and completed in 1976, followed. It became the first airstrip in the outer islands, discounting those built during WW II. When the need arose, the islanders cleared a longer airstrip on the opposite side of the island. In 1983 the current airport was opened.

Today, less than 600 people live on Atiu. 150 of these are students at Enuamanu School. The majority of the parent generation has left the island to work in New Zealand and Australia, sending their children home to live with grandparents and siblings. A large percentage of the remaining population is in their 60s and over.

The few people of the middle generation are either government employees or self employed, some work in the tourism industry. Quite a few of us have several jobs and work very hard to keep up the standard of our island despite its dwindling population. We want to keep our people from leaving and make Atiu a home to return to. Your visit and interest can help us in this endeavour!