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Cook Islands Travel Guide

a bush beer school or tumunu on Atiu


Tennis and volleyball are popular on Atiu and village rivalry has produced no fewer than nine tennis courts (for under 650 people). As each village constructed its tennis court it was made a little bigger than the last. The first village had a single netball court; the fourth built two tennis courts, two netball courts, and erected floodlights. The fifth village said it was "all too hard" and gave up.

Atiu won the Constitution Day dancing competitions on Rarotonga in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1992, 1993, and 1998, so ask where you can see them practicing. Special performances are held on Gospel Day and Christmas Day.

Bush Beer

Venerable institutions of note are the bush beer schools, of which there are seven on Atiu. Bush beer is a local moonshine made from imported yeast, malt, hops, and sugar. The concoction is fermented in a tumunu, a hollowed-out coconut tree stump about a meter high. Orange-flavored "jungle juice" is also made. The mixing usually begins on Wednesday, and the resulting brew ferments for two days and is ready to drink on the weekend. A single batch will last three or four nights; the longer it's kept, the stronger it gets.

Gatherings at a school resemble the kava ceremonies of Fiji and the practice clearly dates back to the days before early missionaries banned kava drinking. Only the barman is permitted to ladle bush beer out of the tumunu in a half-coconut-shell cup and the potent contents of the cup must be swallowed in one hearty gulp. Those who've developed a taste for the stuff usually refer to regular beer as "lemonade." The village men come together at dusk, and after a few rounds, the barman calls them to order by tapping a cup on the side of the tumunu. A prayer is said. Announcements are made by various members, and work details assigned to earn money to buy the ingredients for the next brew. After the announcements, guitars and ukuleles appear, and the group resumes drinking, dancing, and singing for as long as they can. The barman, responsible for maintaining order, controls how much brew each participant gets.

Nonmembers visiting a school are expected to bring along a kilo of sugar or to put some money on the table as their contribution. The two best-established bush beer establishments are the Aretou Tumunu ("Sam and the boys"), down in the bush east of Areora, and the more commercial Teponui Tumunu in Mapumai.