Most of the islands in French Polynesia have marae created and left behind by the local’s ancestors. These marae are ancient open air sacred temples where many tikis are located which are personifications of divinities and heroes. However, some islands have a great number of marae and tikis than others. Some islands were cultural centers where elders and leaders gathered to hold ceremonies.
The Marquesas reveal their beauty and transport their visitors in a voyage out of time. Discover these treasures at the end of the world !
Nuku Hiva has a several ceremonial areas with many marae located around the grounds. One of the biggest areas is in the main bay of Taiohae which is where we anchored while we waited for our parts to arrive. The overall grounds are about the size of a football field. To the far right is a covered area with a thatched roof being held up by hand-carved tikis.
In the back and behind the covered area are several large stones waiting to be carved. I wonder if they are waiting for the next cultural festival? You can imagine what shapes they may become, for instance the one on the lower right could be a great turtle and the one on the upper left would make a great tiki family. The center photo probably was a light warning of hazardous waters (shallow and rocky).
Carvings Tell a Story
I wish the marae site had signs explaining their significance. Unfortunately, there is no literature or information on them. I do know that each carving tells a story and shares the history and culture of the local population. The top photo depicts a family, the lower left looks like a warrior and the bottom right their food source, fish.
Marae house, fish, tiki
This little guy is well balanced and has two designs. One on each side. I think he is my favorite because he is so unusual.
Love this marae
The warrior tikis protect the bay around this marae. Then I found two bowl type carvings with lots of little tikis around the center bowl. Super cool, maybe a baptism area? Ha, no!
More beautiful marae
In the corner of the site is a large tiki with a book in its mouth. The book had carvings in Marquesan.
Large marea with bible in mouth
Another large marae was located in the center, on a platform. It looked like a chief or leader flanked by guards.
Marea of leader
Despite the amazing beauty of the tikis and marae, many people just walk right on by. However, many cruisers have stopped to relish in the history.
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
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
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 Tau aitu
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.
This small marea included “to’o” which is an ethnographic sculpture in stone (or wood). They represent the local divinities.
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
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
Some pretty photos for you:
We passed this little “islet” on our way to Opoa bay.
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.
Old photo rendering of a pig offering on Taputapuatea tahua marea near the 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.
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.
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.
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
A deep crystal-clear lagoon surrounds the two islands that comprise Huahine. On shore you will find lush forests, untamed landscape, and eight quaint villages. Green vibrant mountains are met by white sandy beaches at each of the numerous bays. The interior offers a variety of cultivated fields including watermelon, vanilla, bananas, and cucumbers. Huahine offers the true authentic Polynesia experience. Huahine is pronounced “way-a-hee-knee.”
There are four villages or districts on the big island of Huahine Nui and four on the small island of Huahine Iti. Most of the inhabitants live a rural life growing melons and seasonal fruits. The first evidence of colonization appears to be 850 AD. The original name of the island was “Matairea” or “Happy Wind” and nobody seems to know what the name was changed. Huahine is translates to “Hua” means “sex” and “hine” means “woman” in Tahitian. This island pays homage to women as one of the mountains looks like a pregnant woman laying on her side.
Formation of Huahine
Thee distinct volcanic eruptions formed Huahine. However, there are two legends that dispute this finding. The first powerful legend asserts that the god Hiro cut the island in half with his canoe. Whereas the second prevailing legend states that Mt. Moua Puta (on Mo’orea) was pierced by spears during a contest among gods. The pieces of the mountain then sailed 100 miles where it split Huahine in two.
Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti
There is a certain aurora on the island that exudes mystery and intrigue. It is exceptionally beautiful and green, even on a hazy, stormy day. We hunkered down a lot because we are still immersed in the “maramu.” However, we did rent a car to drive around the island. We preferred to rent bikes or scooters but the weather was such that those modes of transport would be no fun. Our first stop was the town of Maeva to see the archaeological ruins called “marae”.
Stone Temple Mecca
The famous archaeological sites near the village of Maeva include the largest concentration of pre-European marae (stone temples) in Polynesia. There are more than 200 archeological stone structures that have survived for centuries. They include marae of island chieftains, dwellings, horticultural developments, and religious and ceremonial monuments.
In the center of the village is the “Fare Pote’e” which means “oval house”. The chief lived here and held community meetings. Fare Pote’e was originally built in the town of Fare. But when the missionaries came they destroyed it. The locals rebuilt it in the neighboring village of Maeve in 1972. They had to rebuild the Fare Pote’e in 1996 after a cyclone destroyed it. The roof is reconstructed every eight years using local trees. It takes the town a month to rebuild the roof each time. The floors are woven into an intricate pattern out of bamboo that is soft on your feet.
Fare Pote’e and Marae in Huahine
As you can tell from the photos, we have had a lot of rain and wind from the maramu. I am sure this is stunningly beautiful on a normal Polynesian day. There were lots of “marae” surrounding the Fare Pote’e but we could not access them due to the surrounding water (that is not normally there).
Marae flooded due to Maramu
Stay tuned for more adventures on Huahine as we feed the sacred eels, brave the maramu destruction and visit a distillery. H