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That evening the Pearl Beach put on yet another umu feast followed by a powerful performance of Polynesian drumming and dancing. Aitutakians are acknowledged throughout the Cook Islands for their skill in making and playing the slit drums which accompany traditional dancing. From the slow, seductive hip swinging dances of the women in their low-slung grass skirts and coconut shell bras to the frenzied pace of the near-naked male dancers, the theme was unashamedly erotic. We were treated to a virtuoso performance a glimpse of the joyful, exuberant Polynesian culture that has thankfully survived the puritanical strictures of the missionaries.
The next morning not a single cloud was reflected on the glassy blue surface of the lagoon and we set out to explore some of the other islets within the reef. The driver of our 10 person aluminum skiff introduced himself as "Captain Marvelous," fired up the 130 horsepower outboard, and blasted off in the direction of the distant reef. The clear shallow water of the lagoon is dotted with ominous dark coral heads only inches below the surface, any one of them capable of stripping the leg off our motor. "No worry," said Captain M as he threaded his way through them, "I been fishin these waters all m' life."
He put us off on several of the small motus where we were able to escape the searing tropical sun and explore the cool, green jungle behind the fringing row of coconut palms. The ground was littered with "drinking nuts" that offered a refreshing mid-morning snack.
Along the storm-facing southern edge of the atoll, submerged sandbars extend from the reef out into the lagoon. Captain M anchored his boat on the edge of a bar. We stepped out into 18 inches of crystal clear water and were handed the skeletal remains of several yellow-fin tuna, leftovers from yesterday's feast. As soon as these were held in the water fish appeared from nowhere, churning and tugging fighting for every last scrap of meat still clinging to the bony carcasses.