Ataba was paddling the first canoe to arrive on Nation after the wave. He is an elderly man, a priest of the Water God, who had trained on Nation as a child. His daughter and her children are presumed to have been killed by the wave.
As refugees arrive on Nation from other ravaged islands, they accept Mau as chief in the place. Ataba does too, although he describes Mau as a demon, because he is disturbed by Mau’s refusal to acknowledge the requirements of religion. The demon tag actually works in Mau's favour, as people might not have been happy to follow someone not yet a man, except for the element of uncertainty.
Mau has in his head the nagging voice of the Grandfathers, urging him to reinstate all the rites of the old Nation, and the muttering remonstration of Ataba in person. But it is in relation to the God Anchors that Mau's anger really seems to come out.
The God Anchors were three special white stones taken to represent the presence of the Gods of Air, Fire and Water, and the people of Nation made offerings on them. They had originally come from the lagoon, and were swept back into it by the wave. The voice of the Grandfathers keeps on demanding that they be restored to their place.
Mau cannot stand being told that he ought to be grateful for having been preserved. He cannot understand how the Gods could have let the trusting and obedient people of Nation be destroyed, and does not know why he should have been left behind. He feels betrayed. Ataba has felt the force of the same questions, as have just about all the refugees, but his instincts are the opposite of Mau's. If it were up to Mau, the God Anchors would have stayed in the lagoon, especially that for the God of Water, but he becomes aware that ordinary people want them, because they want to rebuild their lives, and need simple things to hold on to.
As Mau works to recover the anchor of the God of Water from the lagoon, Ataba's beliefs are shaken when it is discovered that there are more of the white stones in the lagoon. What is worse, one of them, embedded in ancient coral, looks as though it might have been carved by Europeans. Ataba tries to destroy it, and needs to be saved from a shark attack by Mau. Afterwards, Mau puts Ataba on the spot, wanting him to admit that he now believes the God Anchors were made by westerners. Ataba puts Mau on the spot, pointing out that in his seething anger with the gods he does not know whether they don't exist, or whether he is blaming them for not existing.
Mau goes into a dark dream from which he is recalled by Daphne, and shortly afterwards Mau, Daphne and Ataba open up the Cave of the Grandfathers. At the end of it they find the "God Pool", a cave with water in it which contains four statues - the gods of Fire, Air, Water, and Imo, the Creator. What had been taken for God Anchors previously were just parts of the pavement which had been broken in the past and washed into the lagoon. Daphne can recognize that the cave was made by people who had made long voyages and had a high degree of scientific knowledge thousands of years before Europe or Asia.
What Ataba sees is that his people had knowledge and dignity, nothing inferior to the all-consuming Europeans, who swallow whole peoples. They are forced to leave the cave by bad air, and come out of it face to face with a British pirate. Hot with his new-found belief, Ataba grabs a spear, which he waves at the white man, who shoots him dead.