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samedi 1 décembre 2012

Maiao, Winward Islands

The island banned to tourists


It is after a bitter memory experience that residents of Maiao have decided not to host visitors and even fewer immigrants.

Located by 17° 39’ 19.89” S and 150° 38’ 3.53” W on the nautical charts, the small island of Maiao is therefore in the Society Archipelago about 63 miles north-west of Tahiti and 47 miles at west from Moorea.


Short story of Maiao Island

For Polynesians, Maiao was originally known under the three names of Tapua’e Manu (litterally called “bird legs footprint”) of Maiao Iti (small Maiao), or yet Teanuanuaiterai (rainbow). This last name was given because of many several rainbows that develop due of the two volcanic lakes it supports.


Maiao Island seen from sky via satellite

The first Westerner to have set foot on this island was the British Captain Samuel Wallis in 1767.
            In 1769, Captain Cook followed him two years later and in 1774, the Spanish navigator Boenecchea who anchored for few days.

The beautiful Maiao seen from a plane flying to Raiatea

At that time, Maiao depended of the monarchy of Huahine, one of the Leeward Islands. When, in 1888, Huahine was annexed to France, Maiao iti had no other choice but to do the same.
In 1904 it was, administratively attached to the district of Tahiti and its dependencies. Today, it is a commune associated to Moorea Island forming the ward of Moorea-Maiao, overall the Windward Islands.
            In the census of 2007, there were 299 inhabitants in Maiao. And it is interesting to notify that this is relatively a young population.
The arrival in Maiao on boat

Here is the story that made Maiao an island closed on itself.
In the 1920s, a british citizen named Eric Trower settled in the Taora O Mere village in Maiao and opened a shop where you could find almost everything, that one you could dream at that time, in the heart of the Pacific.
Using and abusing the taste of islanders for anything that came from outside, he opened credit to all customers… Then one day he threw himself into the recovery of all such claims.
At that time, a few people had cash in these islands and the only wealth they had was their lands. Thereby Eric Trower became the owner of 80% of the island!  
Avarei the dock of Maiao

It took, in 1935, the intervention of the State and the Pastor Moreau issue to solve the problem.
First, the State sold the inhabitants debts with the dishonest merchant and thus became the owner of all lands. The Pastor Moreau pushed people to form a cooperative in order to redeem their lands to the State.
It is this painful episode in their history which made the people of Maiao very suspicious, leading them to impose a very restrictive regulation about the living conditions in their island. So, apart from those with an undeniable reason to stay on the island (medical missions, scientists, etc…) no one has the right to spend the night.
The top of Maiao and a tip of the lake

Similarly, only people from the island can expect permission to settle there. Must still have their application accepted by the community!

Maiao an island like no others

With a covering of just 9 square kilometers Maiao is dominated by a peak of 154 m which does not have name.

Inside Maiao seen from the peak

It is formed by low hills with soft slopes, the rest of the island has two features:
            - Two small lakes of brackish water are trained in the ancient craters Lake Rotoiti (north) and Lake Rotorahi (east), just feet from the summit of the island;
            - A fairly large marshy area occupies a significant portion of the interior of the island, in the northern part.

Maiao, the island forbidden to tourists
The village of Taora O Mere is located in the western part of the island, which is bordered by a vast and very shallow lagoon.
Only one natural fairway giving access to the island opens to the southern head of Maiao, but another opened with explosives in the reef, allows whale-boat and other small skiffs to sail out at sea without having to go to the south fairway.
Maiao from the lagoon side

Unaffected by the "progress" of the modern world, Maiao is certainly one of the Polynesian islands that had the least changed since many decades.
Maiao, the economic isolation
Having refused to play the tourism card to develop itself, the economy of Maiao is based on some food crops, a little coprah, fishing activity almost completely reserved for local consumption, and especially the culture of pandanus.
The wonderful beaches of Maiao reserved for residents only

These are indeed the people of Maiao that produce almost all panels woven pandanus used even today in the manufacture of traditional roofing.
You know as well, these wonderful vegetable covers like hat which be used for the bungalows on piles of the luxury hotels that is what you see on the brochures of travel agencies...
If the “fare” (house) of the island are themselves made of sheet aluminum or zinc, it is only to facilitate of rainwater’s recovery. Because water is a rare and precious commodity in an isolated and flat island as Maiao.  

Returning from a day of fishing in Maiao

No planes to access to this small paradise. The only sea link is from Moorea, it is not regular and can carry only a dozen of passengers at a time in addition to freight.

It also happens that fishermen of Moorea island make the crossing and board some passengers, but it is not common and mostly unpredictable.  

The excellent report by Jerome Lawrence for Thalassa issue
For these main reasons, Maiao does not appear on tourist guides nor frequented by tour operators. Thus for the same reasons, the island deserves much more than we go and visit it, even if we can stay there for a few hours.

For checking too:

 By Julien Gué

Translated from french by Vanaa Teriitehau

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