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Culture and History

The oral tradition teaches that the first man who came to Aitutaki was Ru, and he arrived from Avaiki on a big double wooden canoe with pandanus sails, looking for a new home for his 4 wises, 4 brothers a 20 unmarried women, guided only by the stars and wind with charts made of sticks and stones. Ru's voyage wasn't easy, but his confidence and faith in Tangaroa - God of the Sea - made him sailing through a passage in the reef on the north side of the island after a long stormy night. One of his brother died and a sacred place - a marae - was built in his honor and memory.

The name Aitutaki comes from utauta, to load, and taki, to lead, and so it refers to Ru leading his precious human cargo in search for land. Now, all local Aitutakians trace their ancestors to one of those 20 women that came along with Ru. A true Polynesian dynasty commenced around 8 centuries before the arrival of Captain Bligh and the crew of HMS Bounty on 11 April 1789, just before the mutiny.

The society that grew before the first known European contact, was a blend of courageous navigators, experienced fishermen, strong warriors, sage chiefs and exceptional dancers. A culture that was never forgotten, even if Aitutaki was the first of the Cooks to accept Christianity after the arrival of the London Missionary Society in 1821. In the modern days, you'll see the same fabulous dancers and drummers of the Island Nights Shows faithfully attending mass each Sunday morning at the local Christian church. After the service, everyone between local families and visitors, will gather together for a big feast of traditional umu - a delicious meal cooked in underground earth oven.

The history of Aitutaki takes an interesting turn during the 1950's becoming the island terminus for the TEAL (Tasman Empire Airlines Ltd) flying boat service and its Coral Route. Two luxurious flying boats connected Auckland, Fiji and Tahiti with refueling stops in Samoa and Aitutaki twice a week, anchoring on motu Akaiami, where the remains of the old wharf are still visible. Many famous passengers, including Marlon Brando, were enchanted by the unique beauty of the atoll and its people. In those days, a visit to Aitutaki was an exclusive travel experience just for few. Aitutaki is now a dream-come-true for travelers from all around the world.