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samedi 6 juillet 2013

Tetiaroa, Marlon Brando’s atoll

Another murdered island

Tetiaroa, Marlon Brando’s private islet, a paradisiac striking pattern with a unique destiny, is it condemned by the promoters and the unreliable politicians?

Here is the outstanding story of the dream atoll of an ace Star…

Tetiaroa is the only atoll of the Windward Islands (the Eastern Society Islands). In good weather, we guess outlines since the heights of Tahiti, situated about fifty kilometers further the South. These 6km2 emerged lands are linked with the municipality of Arue* for a long time.

Tetiaroa is a full charming closed atoll
It’s a closed atoll, i.e. no pass floods into the lagoon. With 7 km in diameter and a maximal depth of up to 30 meters, it’s encircled by 13 motu*.

This atoll of rare beauty and outstandingly preserved until these last years, is doubtless condemned.


History of an island not as the others
For the pre-European period, the atoll was called Teturoa or Tetuaroa. Its great prettiness and its closeness with Tahiti made it, very early, Arii*’s and royal family of Arue Pomare’s summer residence. Queen Pomare IV discards it at the end of her reign, by 1870.

Aimata, Queen Pomare IV
 The first European who discovered the atoll is the most famous British Capitaine William Blighin 1789, while he looked for mutineers deserters of his ship, “The Bounty”.

In 1904, the royal family of Arue offers the atoll to Dr. Johnston Walter Williams. This Englishman was… the only dentist of Polynesia!

Tetiaroa and Marlon Brando
The history of the atoll is going to change course in the beginning of 1960s with the shooting of the film “Mutiny on The Bounty” on Tetiaroa. Marlon Brando, star of the movie, falls in love with the place and with Tarita, a young Polynesian who matches him in the film and became his wife.

Marlon and Tarita Brando: mythical couple of cinema
In 1965, he negotiates a long lease and thus becomes “owner” of Tetiaroa for 99 years.

He makes lay a small airstrip on the motu Onetahi, then a hotel the management of which is confided to beautiful Tarita. Later, their son takes over from her.

The original poster of a mythical film
 The going gets tough at the Star’s death (on July 1st, 2004). Between the creditors of the almost ruined actor, the conflicts between heirs and the Polynesian political authorities eager to get back this small marvel, the succession isn’t simple to settle.

Almost immediately, diverse real estate luxury projects bloom. The heirs, as the associations of environmental protection are against. The civil aviation, doubtless under Gaston Flosse’s pressure, then president of the country, decides to close the runway, condemning de facto the hotel for the closure…

Brando family on Tetiaroa: the happiness years
A long period of conflicts about this paradisiac atoll begins then.

Tetiaroa or the reality of the Polynesian myth
            Only just some nautical miles from Tahiti, Tetiaroa had stayed the same until the beginning of the 60s. No pollution; very few piece of built land, because the hotel and its dependences, the only buildings of the island, were constructions very close to the traditional housing environment; and above all a perfectly protected lagoon, quite as the flora and fauna, for both terrestrial and aquatic.

In front of this exceptional preservation, the defenders of the environment in Polynesia militate for transforming the atoll into a protected natural reserve.

Tetiaroa: ”an island between Heaven and Wave…
Unfortunately, the project collides at first with the Tahitian fishermen who are used to exploiting this lagoon for a very long time.

The other more significant threat is: a promoter and a hotel chain intend to build there a very high standing hotel aimed to an upscale clientele of hand-picked millionaires. It’s, regrettably, the latter ones who win the battle…

Polynesian elected representatives’ greed being that as it may, it’s indeed this solution which will be applied.

Tetiaroa, a condemned atoll ?
            In spite of numerous protest movements, the work had begun… and with them the problems and the concerns.

The airfield of Tetiaroa in Marlon Brando family‘s times
The runway is extended. Works attacked the coral reef to build a landing stage, putting in great danger the very fragile ecological balance of this closed lagoon.

The atoll access, nevertheless a property of the territory, is forbidden from now to anyone other than a member belonging to the working site, including the fishers. The only exception is the Bird Motu.

And when we consider everywhere else the ecological impact of such a hotel unit, we can be worried for the future of this Polynesian paradise. More so as it’s impossible to improve how the works are made and to know how the establishment will be exploited.

The works would have no impact on the environment of the atoll! …
Indeed, to be able to master totally the flow of the information, the promoter created himself an independent so-called association the role of which is to check the progress of the works and their impact on the environment. Association all the members of which are chosen by the also known promoter…


Tetiaroa, Marlon Brando’s dream atoll
Once more, the local authorities have favored the particular interests to the detriment of the collective interest. Because when we know the situation of the tourism in Polynesia since the beginning of 2000s, we are entitled to wonder how this hotel can be profitable and especially: what it will provide to the Polynesians…


Lexicon :
*Arue : one of the former kingdoms of Tahiti and today one of the municipalities of the urban conglomeration of Papeete.
*Arii : big chiefs in the Polynesian traditional hierarchy.
*Motu : islet, emerged land on the coral reef of an atoll.


An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak


See also:
The Brando Apocalypse now, the Facebook page that tells you all about what happens in Tetiaroa

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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