Ati The Underworld

Ati was a farmer who lived on the island of Rarotonga, near the village of Arorangi. He lived alone, with no wife and no children, and spent most of his days carefully tending his plantation, where he grew fruit, vegetables and taro. Ati was a careful and meticulous farmer, and his crops were some of the finest and tastiest on the whole island, but one day just before harvest time, he arrived at his plantation to find most of his plants, vegetables and fruit trees had disappeared. Angrily Ati confronted his neighbours and demanded that they own up to having stolen his crops, but no-one knew anything about the theft.

As he sat looking out across his barren fields, wondering what had happened to his crops, a plan formed in his head. He decided to lie in wait to see if the thief would come back. Night after night Ati slept beside his plantation, waiting for the culprit to appear, but there was no sign of the thief. Then one night, when the moon was high in the sky and Ati had just about given up hope of ever catching the thief, he was awoken by splashing sounds coming from the pond near his taro patch. Crawling forward he saw several pale figures emerging from the water. They were momoke, the legendary creatures of the underworld, almost identical to normal people apart from their bone-white skin. Ati watched angrily as they helped themselves to his remaining crops, and then disappeared back into the pool as dawn broke across the fields.

On the night of the next full moon, Ati lay in wait for the momoke to return, and trapped one of them using a fishing net. Looking closely at his net the next morning, he realised he had caught a beautiful, pale-skinned woman, and decided to make her his wife. Though she was very unhappy at first, and could not go outside because the sunlight hurt her eyes, slowly she grew accustomed to Ati's world and began to love him, eventually bearing him a son. The child had pale skin like his mother, and for a time the family were very happy; but before too long Ati's wife began to long to return to the underworld to see her family, and tell them about her newborn child. Finally Ati agreed, but only if they all went together.

So one night the family went back to the pool and dived into the murky water, but no matter how hard he tried, Ati could only hold his breath for so long before having to return to the surface for air. Eventually on his fourth dive, Ati lost his grip on his wife, and she disappeared into the depths of the pool, never to return. Grieving for his lost love, Ati named

Detail of wooden carving his son 'Ati've' (separation). You can still see Ati've's descendants in the Cook Islands today; if you ever find yourself wondering why some of the islanders have much fairer skin than others, then just remember the tale of Ati and his beautiful pale-skinned wife from the underworld.

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