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Maupiti played a culturally important role in ancient Polynesian traditions, with chiefs from other islands coming here for ceremonial purposes. Archaeological investigations on Motu Paeao, one of the oldest archaeological sites in the Society Islands, have revealed fish-hooks and other items that date back to around AD 850. The similarity between these objects and others discovered in New Zealand has played a factor in theories about the great Polynesian migration.

Dutch explorer Roggeveen is credited with the European 'discovery' of Maupiti in 1722, nearly 50 years before Wallis, Bougainville and Cook made their important landfalls on Tahiti. European missionaries were quick to follow, eventually succeeding in installing Protestantism as the major religion. Today the church still plays an important role in local life. On Sunday the village roads are clogged with men in pressed but faded suits, gaily dressed families and women in broad straw hats all making their way to the village church.

Bora Bora began to assert influence over Maupiti in the early 19th century; the power struggles continued throughout the century. French influence also reached the island during this period; missionaries and local chiefs continued to wield the most power until after WWII, when the French took over.

Maupiti has changed little over the last century; watermelons grown on the motu or pearl oysters produced on Mopelia are still major sources of income for the islanders. Copra production, heavily subsidised by the government, also remains important.

The devastating cyclone Oséa ravaged the island in late 1997 and many houses have been replaced by new buildings, which, although dull to look at, have the virtue of being built to withstand winds of 200km/h.