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mercredi 31 juillet 2013

Raiatea, the Sacred Island

Historical heart of Polynesia

As the cradle of Polynesian civilization, Raiatea is the biggest of the Leeward Islands (The Western Society Islands). It holds the most beautiful and the most important marae of Polynesia.

Between Huahine and Bora Bora, 210 km (West-North-East) from Tahiti, Raiatea shares the same lagoon with Taha’a Island.

Raiatea and Taha’a: two islands within the same lagoon
The sacred Island is at the root in more ways than one. At first, for its central historic role in the setting-up and the deployment of Ma’ohi people on all the archipelagoes which now make up French Polynesia.

Then, and above all, for its fundamental importance in the mythology and the Polynesian traditional religion

Geography of the Sacred Island
Raiatea is one of the three largest islands of French Polynesia. It has a population of just over 12 500 inhabitants (census of 2007).

Enclosed into the same lagoon as Taha’a Island, the sacred island is overhung by several very steep summits among which the highest peak, Mount Toomaru, is 1017 meters.

Dominating Uturoa, Mount Tapioi
 In the core of the island, Mount Temehani shelters the emblem of the “sacred island”, a worldwide unique flower: the tiare apetahi.

The population is rather fairly distributed on the edge of the island, that’s about hundred kilometers.

The coastline, jagged by deep and beautiful well protected bays, is fringed by lush vegetation.

A side road allows connecting the bay Faatemu with the bay Faaroa, in passing down the impressive flanks of the Mount Oropiro.

Uturoa, seen from Mount Tapioi
Today, Raiatea Island is the second Polynesian economic pole after Tahiti. We find the only hospital center and the only high school of the islands beyond Tahiti. It also welcomes the main center of nautical tourism of the whole Polynesian territory.

Raiatea Island and the history
This island of The Society Archipelago was chosen by the first people to settle down, more than thousand years ago. As such, it’s considered by all the Polynesians as the cradle of Ma’ohi civilization.

 In raromatai, the language of Leeward Islands, Raiatea was originally called Havai’i Nui, what would mean approximately Big Gushing Water.

Two years after Wallis discovered Tahiti in 1769, James Cook casts anchor in the bay of Uturoa, become the main harbor of the island.

The inside of a secret island
At that time, Raiatea and its neighbor Taha’a were submitted to ceaseless power reversals, consequences of the fighting which the royal Tapoa and Tamatoa families led against each other. The colonization is going to turn out at least delicate, because enameled by fratricide wars.

At the end of the 18th century, the reigning families of Bora Bora take power on both islands. But it will be necessary to wait for Tamatoa III’s reign, at the very beginning of the 19th century, and see both islands of Raiatea and Taha’a, although enclosed for a long time into the same lagoon, finally united.

Disproportionate the Port of Uturoa
 Converted to the Christianity, Tamatoa III sets up a Code of missionary obedience. With its twenty five articles it’s applied on Raiatea from May 12th, 1820. Then, it’s applied on all the Leeward Islands until 1866. This same year it’s replaced by French code civil.

Tamatoa IV’s accession to the throne marks the seizure of power by Pomare royal family. The situation doesn’t change any more until 1847. In that year, France recognizes the independence of Leeward Islands.

But forty years later, the annexation of the archipelago by Governor Lacascade causes a bloody insurrectionary war which is going to last ten years.

The conflict ceases in 1897 when the rebel leader, Teraupo, is arrested.
Discover the Sacred Island
            At first, from the urban area of Uturoa, hike to the top of Mount Tapioi to discover a fabulous point of view on Taha’a enclosed into the same lagoon.

Another walking tour is imperative, even if it requires a full day and a guide. It leads to Mount Temehani and allows the discovery of the emblem of the sacred island: the tiare apetahi.

Raiatea, the sacred island
By car, the tour of the sacred island allows you to discover a multitude of sites all more surprising some than the others: wild and steep coasts or beaches of an infinite sweetness. The whole splendor of Polynesia and its lagoons is yours to find out, according to your mood and your desires!

This excursion couldn’t do without some kilometers of cross road which connects the bay Faatemu with the bay Faaroa by slipping at the foot of Mount Oropiro.

This day also owes be interrupted by a long resting place on the site of marae* Taputapuatea, a holy set between all and by far, the most impressing of all the Polynesian marae.

The inescapable marae Taputapuatea
Around lagoon, Raiatea will satisfy as much the scuba divers as sunbathers on magnificent motu outstandingly preserved. Motu Oatara, as for it, will delight the bird lovers.

On the other side of the reef, on ocean side, numerous very renowned surfing spots as well as sites of deep diving along the falling of the coral reef are there to satisfy the amateurs of strong sensations.

In half an hour only, lagoon shuttles allow to surrender to Taha’a, the Vanilla Isle, enclosed into the same lagoon.

From a bungalow of Hawaiki Nui hotel”
From luxury hotels to guest houses, numerous solutions of hosting spread around by the holy island allow everyone to choose the ideal place as a dream stay.

The multi-daily air connections with Tahiti, Bora Bora, Huahine and Tuamotu Archipelago make Raiatea a magnificent moving plate to discover French Polynesia.

*Marae: holy  and religious site of the Polynesian traditional religions

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

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