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Aitutaki: Beyond the fire dances

19th September 2017

Aitutaki: Beyond the fire dances

By Peter De Graaf

Photography by Peter De Graaf

"If you don't know yourself or your past, you won't know the way to the future. You will be a lost person" says, Nga Pureariki.

You have to hand it to the missionaries who arrived on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands in the early 1800s. They did a remarkably thorough job.

John Williams, of the London Missionary Society, wrote this account in his journal in 1821:

"Our friend from Aitutaki was so full of zeal for the conversion of his brother chieftain, that, as soon as he reached the deck, he led him away from us, and commenced his work by informing him that the maraes of Aitutaki were demolished, the great idols burnt, and the smaller ones were on board the ship, to be conveyed to Raiatea, the island from which the teachers came who had instructed him."

If you ride a scooter around Aitutaki today you'll see churches of every denomination, the oldest built of white-washed coral and surrounded by graveyards of stone crosses. If you arrive on a Sunday you'll see villagers walking to church wearing their finest clothes and brightly coloured 'ei (flower garlands) around their heads.

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