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The history of Mitiaro (traditionally known as Nukuroa) is bound up with nearby 'Atiu and its warlike ways. Like Ma'uke, the island was repeatedly raided by 'Atiuan warriors, but there are two particular battles which are important in this island's history. The first involves the arrival of an 'Atiuan war party led by the legendary warrior Maui. In order to avoid bloodshed, the Mitiaroans threw a great feast to which the 'Atiuan warriors were invited, but the Mitiaroans betrayed their guests and killed them while they were grating coconuts for the feast. The only survivor of the massacre was Maui, who escaped the island and fled back to 'Atiu.

Fearing bloody retribution, the Mitiaroan warrior Maaro constructed a stronghold deep in the razor-sharp makatea - the fort of Te Pare. Before long a huge war party from 'Atiu arrived, led by the great ariki (chief) Rongomatane, and though the fort initially proved a challenging obstacle for the 'Atiuans, Mitiaro's warriors were eventually overcome. The small and declining population on Mitiaro today is thought to be almost entirely descended from raiding 'Atiuan warriors.

The Reverend John Williams arrived on Mitiaro on 29 July 1823 accompanied by Rongomatane and the island was soon converted to Christianity, and 'Atiu officially remained in control of Mitiaro until 1902, when New Zealand established the Cook Islands as an overseas protectorate.

Before Christianity arrived in Mitiaro, the people lived in inland villages - Taurangi, Atai, Auta, Mangarei and Takaue. As occurred on Rarotonga, when the missionaries came they moved the people out to the coast, where they built a village around the church. The old village sites are now the plantation areas where the food is grown.