A History of Aitutaki

In the very beginning, there was Te Moana Nui a Kiwa – the great sea of Kiwa – and there were the green and gold islands sprinkled on the face of the great Southern waters,

When the Great South Sea lay brooding and dreaming undiscovered and untroubled by Western Man, my ancestors voyaged the salty wilderness seeking green and bountiful island oases. My people were children of the wind, hardy and strong. They carried with them knowledge of tides, waves and currents, navigating the vast ocean distances in wooden sailing vaka with pandanus sails, guided only by the stars with charts made of sticks and stones. Sailing directions were held safe, locked in memory by chants which gathered the knowledge of generations which had gone before.

A modern version of a Vaka – built to the traditional pattern

Cradled in the arms of Tangaroa, nurtured by Rongo and with their faith to strengthen them, men, women and children ventured bravely into the unknown, horizon after empty horizon, seeking the hidden island worlds that they knew must be there. They were explorers the likes of which the world has never seen.

There were the green and gold islands sprinkled on the face of the great Southern waters, uninhabited, untouched – awaiting the first footprints, the first child’s cry, the first thatched are nikau, built in the shadows of the hill away from the tempestuous and all encompassingsea…………………. over 1000 years ago.

My ancestors made themselves a home in these beautiful islands – set like jewels in an azure sea – creating their own unique civilization in the heart of Polynesia.

I belong to these brave heroic people — they are my fiber, my blood and bone. From them comes my strength and courage, and it is in this ancient world of pandanus, wood and stone that my foundation lies. I am Manarangi Tutai Ariki 0 Vaipaepae 0 Pau — Paramount Chief of Vaipae, Aitutaki.

The discoverer of Aitutaki was Ru-enua. In Havaiki, he noted that the valleys were crowded and the hills were covered with people. With his four wives, four brothers,and twenty unmarried tapairu women of high rank, he set sail in the canoe, Ngapua-Ariki, to seek a new home. As various dangers were encountered, he allayed the fears of his crew by confidently stating, “We shall not die.. Am I not Ru, the man who was girdled with the red belt of chieftainship and who knows the things of the air and the things of the sea.” During a storm, after the sky had been obscured for some time, he thus addressed the Sea-god Tangaroa–.

0 Tangaroa, in the illimitable spaces of the unknown,

Clear away the clouds by day,Clear away the clouds by night,

That Ru may see the stars in the sky, To guide him to the land of his desire,”

On the sixth day of the voyage, and the ootu night of the moon, Ru sailed in through a passage in the reef on the North-East side of the island now known as Aitutaki. The passage was named Ootu, from the night of their landing, It could not have been an easy arrival. One of Ru’s brothers died — he was crushed underneath the canoe as it was being hauled across the coral. A sacred place, or marae, was built and named, Te Hautapu-o-nga-Ariki. The island was named Utataki- enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana. The name was derived from utauta, a cargo, and taki, to lead, It refers to Ru leading the valuable human cargo over the sea. Another name given to the island is Ararau-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana, Ararau is to search for land at sea with a canoe, and the name applied to the island refers to Ru’s search on the ocean. The first name was shortened to Aitutaki, and the second to Araura. Araura should be spelt as Arahura, and it is difficult to see how it is connected with ararau. The meaning of ararau is significant of a period when many voyages of discovery were undertaken. All true Aitutakians trace their descent back to one or other of the twenty tapairu women of high rank who accompanied Ru,

Our oral tradition in chants, legends and geneology trace Ru back to the island of Tubuai in the Australs

There were other arrivals later- first Te Erui and then Ruatapu, but Ru-enua was the first and my lineage traces right back to him, and also to the other canoes that arrived later.

Much of our culture has survived the last 200 years – it is still there for visitors to see and wonder. We still have people with carving skills, men who can fish the old way with line and net and spear, women who collect the shellfish, who weave and sew and make hats

I was crowned as Manarangi Tutai Ariki on 4 September 1997 at Vaipae, Aitutaki— so I have held the title for over 24 years. I acted as “Kauono” ( caretaker) for some years prior to this.

Seated on my Atamira – (throne) with some sub -chiefs

Before 1821, Ariki power was absolute and my predecessors were absolute leaders, lawmakers, both judge and jury. The Ariki’s word was the law. A Tapu imposed by an Ariki was sacred, and was broken under penalty of death. Ariki led the tribe in battle, counseled them in times of peace and in most cases ruled with wisdom and compassion.

Vaipae Carry Their Ariki

Although the Missionaries were welcomed and nurtured by the Ariki, over a short period of time they had usurped a great deal of Ariki power, and imposed their own rule with their own Missionary laws ( the Blue Laws) which remained until British rule was imposed in 1891, which was then transferred to the Dominion of New Zealand by annexation in 1901. Since that time the Ariki, myself included, have had largely ceremonial roles, and some advisory functions, with little real governing power, excepting the power bestowed on us by the respect and the love of our people, and the power of our history.

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