Taputapuate Marae

Raiatea the Cultural Center

Raitea (pronounced “ray-a-ta-ya”) was considered by the ancient Polynesians as the cradle of their thousand-year-old civilization.  It was a religious and cultural center that was very important throughout the Pacific.  The religious chiefs from other archipelagos gathered at marae Taputapuatea.  In addition, it is said that it was from Raitea that the Polynesian immigrants departed to settle other islands in the Pacific from Cook Islands to New Zealand.  Its original name “Havai’i Nui” means “Big Springing Water” and its current name, Raitea means “Far Away Heaven.”  The island is roughly 92 square miles and has 12k inhabitants and is still considered the cultural center of Polynesia..

There are several “must see” sites on Raitea including an exploration up the only river in French Polynesia, Faaroa River and a visit to the largest marae in Polynesia, the Taputapuatea.  The entire sacred site occupies 2.125 hectares and consists of ancient marae, agricultural terraces, and archaeological remains of houses. This is where inauguration ceremonies, political alliances and international meetings would take place in ancient times.  For a long time, the site was taboo and then it became the headquarters of religious and political powers.  These days, communities of Hawaii, New Zealand, and Cook Islands still meet at this pilgrimage venue, which they consider as the home of their sacred culture.

ARRIVAL TO RAITEA

We had officially arrived in Uturoa (pronounced “ou-to-ro-a”) to get fuel but we only stayed one night at this anchorage.  The next day we moved to Opoa (o-po-a) Bay where we could access the sacred site of Taputapuatea.

There was only one boat in Opoa bay when we arrived.  As we pulled in, he dropped his dinghy, came over and offered to help us with the last mooring which had no painter.  Super nice!  We exchanged pleasantries, thanked him and finished securing Sugar Shack before heading to shore.

Taputapuatea illustrates in an exceptional way of 1,000 years of ma’chi civilization and is a symbol of human and spiritual values of Polynesia.  It is also a testament to the extraordinary navigation skills of this people, sailing long distances across the Great Ocean on double hulled canoes.  These open air temples are majestic and transformative.

Taputapuatea Marae of Raiatea

Taputapuatea Marae of Raiatea

I wish there had been a tour, guide or more explanation in English as we just could not fully appreciate this sacred site.  There was little to no understanding of the extraordinary history.  But what I could piece together is below.

This is a map of the archaeological site which highlights the largest marae and sacred areas.

Map of the Marae Land

Map of the Marae Land

Marae Tau aitu

The first site we visited was on the water’s edge.  I was able to get photos from land and sea of the “Marae Tau aitu.”  From my uneducated eye, it looks like rocks across a huge square space leading up to large boulders by the sea.  Shoot me now for saying something so mundane about such a holy and historical place.

Marae

Marae Tau aitu

Marae Taputapuatea

The largest marae is called Marae Taputapuatea and is the cultural center of the grounds.  It had many “Tira” which are large, metal, sacred masts.  Tira decorated the marae along with tapa barkcloth or brightly colored feathered pennants.  Legend has it that they may have had features that recalled the journey of the dead to the land of the ancestors.  The Taputapuatea has large slabs carved in coral rising up to 3 meters high.

Marae

Marae Taputapuatea

This small marea included “to’o” which is an ethnographic sculpture in stone (or wood).  They represent the local divinities.

Small Marae with

Small Marae with To’o

“Marae Hauviri” has a large platform, a huge To’o and smaller marae toward the sea.  A worker was repairing and restoring the “to’o” as we watched.

Repairing and restoring a marae

Repairing and restoring a marae

My friend Rachel (Adventures of Agape) took this awesome photo of a marae in the water.

Underwater Marae. Photo by Rachel Moore, Adventures of Agape

Underwater Marae. Photo by Rachel Moore, Adventures of Agape

Some pretty photos for you:

We passed this  little “islet” on our way to Opoa bay.

Islet near Raiatea

Islet near Raiatea

Below is a photo of the tip of the Taputapuatea area and a photo of the small town in Opoa bay with a church and tiny charter company.

Opoa bay

Opoa bay

Old photo rendering of a pig offering on Taputapuatea tahua marea near the cultural center.

Rendered photo of pig offering at cultural center

Rendered photo of pig offering at cultural center

In case you are interested, here is some more history:

This legendary marae is famous for its former importance as a meeting place of Polynesian nations and as a starting point for courageous sailing adventures.  Many human sacrifices were offered to the altar of Oro, the god of war.

Fare tupapa’u

This is a temporary structure known as a “ghost house.”   Polynesians made this structure to house the body of a dead person.  However, generally the higher social classes who used them.  It was a small construction at 6 to 8 meters long and was composed of two parts.  The first was a fixed bier and the second was a portable roof which allowed the body to be exposed to the drying sun.  The Fare tupapa’u was situated a distance from the ahu on the marae.

Fare va’a

These are called a canoe house. They were identical in form but had variations in sizes based on the crafts that they held.

Fare ia manaha

This was the most important house to be found upon the marae.  The most important objects were stored here including the sacred images (to’o and ti’i).  In addition, it was to the guardians of the marae.  They had the privilege to cook their food in ovens using wood gathered within the marae area.  This house was erected in one day with the dedicatory human sacrifice placed under the central post of the house.

Fare atua

A god house was very important upon the marae.  Fare atua is siutated in a central position facing faces.  This elongated box is attached to two carrying poles and placed upon four supporting pillars.  They contained the to’o images of actual gods as distinct from those of deified ancestors

Me amazed at my shadow

Nao Nao: A day of relaxing

We headed to a new bay called Nao Nao (pronounced “na-o-na-o”) which is a big sandy islet that is covered with coconut palm trees and a very small hotel.  It provided an unobstructed view of the reef with a light breeze.  We anchored in 2 meters of crystal clear, turquoise water and had a lovely day of relaxing.

What does a day of relaxing consist of when you are unemployed?  Well, let me tell you!  We dropped the hook and ensured we had good holding on the sandy bottom.  Matt blew up the paddle boards and went for a stroll to the islet while I made toffee, banana, rum bread.  It was a new recipe and a strange combination of ingredients, but it was tasty.

Tasty rum, banana bread

Tasty rum, banana bread

As the bread was cooling, Wayne and I jumped in the water and enjoyed a cold beverage on the noodles.  Somewhere in between relaxing and drinking I cleaned the water line – because why not I was already wet.

A few curious visitors came to say hello.  I took these photos from the deck, through the water.  Pretty spectacular!

Friendly visitors under Sugar Shack

Friendly visitors under Sugar Shack

Super fun photo of my shadow dancing on the water in front of Nao nao.

Me amazed at my shadow

Me amazed at my shadow

Evening provided a pretty pink sunset at dinner time

Islet near Raiatea

Islet near Raiatea

We made a note to come back to Nao nao because this was a quick stop (this time).

Taha'a Unique Palm Tree

Taha’a Island Tour

Last week we shared part of our Taha’a Island Tour with Vanilla Tours Taha’a at the organic vanilla farm.  So, let me tell you about the rest of our fabulous day!  If you missed part I visit “The Vanilla Bean Story

QUIZ – WHAT IS THIS?

What do you think this is a photo of?  Think hard…look at the shape and guess.  I will give you a clue, all residents have to go to the Poste to pick up their mail so it is not a mailbox.  See the answer in the photo caption.

Guess what this is used for?

Guess what this is used for?

After our amazing vanilla farm tour, we headed to Noah’s home and headquarters of Vanilla Tours Taha’a.  They have spectacularly lush and colorful botanical garden across their entire property.  It also includes a field of lime, banana, pomplemouse and grapefruit trees.  Check out their open-air kitchen below.

Vanilla Tour Taha'a Property

Vanilla Tour Taha’a Property

Noah showed us a very unusual palm tree – check out the pitch form spread at the top – this is highly unusual

Taha'a Unique Palm Tree

Taha’a Unique Palm Tree

TAHA’A ISLAND VIEWS

Noah stopped along the way to let us take photos of the majestic views and to show us the local flora and fauna.

Beautiful views of Taha'a

Beautiful views of Taha’a

DO IT IF YOU DARE…

We stopped on the side of the road where Noah picked 8 stems with these little purple flowers on it.  The flowers are edible.  So we each, tentatively took a nibble and to our surprise they left a mushroom taste behind.

At another short stop he picked a fern type stem and handed it to each of us.  We found that when you put the leaf on your skin, smacked it hard it left a lovely white tattoo behind.  You have to look hard as it is faint, but it is there…I put it on my leg, but one of our companions put it on his forehead.

Exciting Experiments with Plants

Exciting Experiments with Plants

HEIVA

It is Heiva in French Polynesia which is the annual celebration.  Each island holds different festivals which include dance, music and sporting competitions.  The events include tossing a javelin at a coconut to see who hits the target, outrigger races, coconut shucking and more.  While we were there, they were practicing shucking coconuts and filling baskets with hand shredded coconut meat.  We caught the coconut competition on Taha’a Island.

Heiva Coconut Competition

Heiva Coconut Competition

TAHA’A RHUM DISTILLERY

Taha’a Island has its own distillery as well.  This distillery not only makes rum, but they process sugar cane, tamanu oil, bug spray, coconut oil, vanilla beans (organic small scale), and coconut meat.  We did a small rum tasting as we are not fans of “rhum” which is stronger and a bit bitter.

Taha'a Rhum Distillery

Taha’a Rhum Distillery

We also got to see them process coconut meat using a machine (as opposed to the people at the Heiva festival who were doing it by hand).  See top 2 photos.  Check out the hand drill used in churning the coconut meat (top right picture).  The middle row shows the pure coconut water extracted from the meats.  The bottom photo is their sugarcane processing.  One bundle (bottom left) is about 1.5 tons and it takes 2 tons to fill each container.  They use the sugar cane in their rhum and sell the rest.

There is a “stinky” fruit that we’ve seen in the Gambiers as well.  It is called “NONI” and it is actually a great anti-oxidant.  It boosts your immune system and helps you stay healthy longer.  Locals will take a shot a day for 10 days, then take one week off before repeating the process.  The noni is the 5th largest export from French Polynesia

Noni Stinky but Healthy

Noni Stinky but Healthy

After our tour, we packed up the boat and headed toward Riatea.  Wayne’s clock is ticking and we wanted to show him a few more islands before he left.  We stopped at Uturoa to fuel up and made use of our “duty free” certificate that we got from Tahiti Crew.  Wow, it saved us over $300 in fuel!  Sweet.

We were losing the light so we picked up a mooring ball right outside Uturoa (pronounced “ew-tuh-ew-roa”) for the night.  A beautiful sunset danced across the sky over dinner.