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lundi 23 juin 2014

The Society Islands



From Bora Bora to Tahiti via Taha’a, Mopelia and Tupai…

With the islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora, The Archipel de la Société is the most populated and the most known of the whole French Polynesia.

The Archipel de la Société, the most populated of the whole Polynesia
The most westerly archipelago of French Polynesia, the Society Islands, consists in reality of two subsets: Îles-du-Vent (Windward Islands) in the South and Îles-Sous-le-Vent (Leeward Islands) in the Norwest.  Among them, the both islands the most known are: Tahiti and Bora Bora.

Îles-Du-Vent (Winward Islands)
The Windward Islands, consisted of a set of five islands, present a number of peculiarities.
They are the biggest and the highest islands of the whole Polynesia. On the other hand, we find there 75% of the total population of the five archipelagoes.
The four high islands of the set are: Tahiti, Moorea, Maiao and Mehetia. The last one is world-famous because it’s the Tetiaroa Atoll which belonged to Marlon Brando.
Tahiti, which is at the same time the biggest and the most populated island of the five archipelagoes (1042 km2 and 178 173 inhabitants on 240 000 that counts the country), is also the political, administrative and economic capital. We so find here the only international airport of Polynesia, an infrastructure realized to allow the functioning of the Testing Center of the Pacific (CEP), dear to General de Gaulle.
Moorea, so called the sister island of Tahiti, at only 17 km, is separated from it, by a marine channel which may reach down to 1500 meters deep. Covering a land area of 133, 50 square kilometers, it welcomes more than 16 000 inhabitants in about ten villages distributed around the entire circumference of the island.  

At Moorea, the both mythical bays: Oponohu and Cook (on the right).
Much less urbanized than Tahiti, Moorea became a kind of residential suburb of Papeete with which it’s connected by sea and air shuttles.
At around a hundred kilometers east of Tahiti, the island of Mehetia is a part of the municipality of Taiarapu-Est (Tahiti) today. It’s the most easterly island of the Société. Mehetia measures hardly a diameter of 1,5 km and peaks at 435 meters. It was for a long time the grateful stage for ships navigating towards the Tuamotu Archipelago which it was administratively connected. Mehetia is today unhabited.
Maiao, nicknamed “the forbidden island” or “the forgotten island”, is a part of the municipality of Moorea-Maiao whose it’s associated. For hardly nine square kilometers, Maiao account 300 inhabitants. Maiao can be considered unique among all other islands of Polynesia because its rule: it doesn’t accept any “foreigner” (i.e. if he is not native one). It doesn’t permit any person to disembark without official invitation or precise reason (as midwife, doctor, social worker, official person).
The last one of the five Îles-Du-Vent is an atoll, named Tetiaroa. If it was a long time the summer residence of Arri* and Pomare, royal family of Arue, it knew a period of relative quietness for being Marlon Brando’s ownership.

Will the fabulous lagoon of Tetiaroa survive the hotel under development?
Since 2009, a very big luxury hotel is under construction, while number of people wished to see the lagoon, transformed into nature reserve. Nobody knows today what will be the impact of these works. The visits of the atoll are possible only with the authorization of the developer of the project.

Îles-Sous-Le-Vent (Leeward Islands)
In the Northwest of the Îles-Du-Vent, the îles-Sous-le-Vent count nine islands: the most famous one is Bora Bora. Five of them are high islands (Bora Bora, Huahine, Maupiti, Raiatea and Taha’a); four others (Manuae, Maupihaa, Motu One and Tupai) are atolls.

he mythical Bora Bora, side mountain
Made famous by the setting-up of an American military base, Bora Bora became the embodiment of the Polynesian myth. Regrettably, to have bet everything on the tourism, the dream is being transformed into economic and ecological nightmare.
Locked into the same lagoon, Raiatea and Taha’a occupy very different roles.
The first one, also named the sacred island, is, by its economic and administrative importance, the second island of French Polynesia. It also occupies a very particular place in the Polynesian history and cultures. Raiatea counts approximately 12 000 inhabitants for 170km2 and the most important archeological site of Polynesia: the marae Taputapuatea.
Taha’a, said also the vanilla island, is hardly 88 km2 and accounts 5000 inhabitants. If it owes its fame from its production of “the best vanilla of the world”, it’s undoubtedly one of the most charming islands of the whole Polynesia. Not possessing an airport, it’s protected from the anarchic development which so many other Polynesian islands used to know.

The wonderful Taha’a, seen from heights of Raiatea
Huahine, or the memory island, is quite close to Taha’a and Bora Bora. A little more than 5400 people live there on 74 km2. We find on this mesmerizing island, one of the biggest concentrations of Maoh’i vestiges of Polynesia.
With only 13,5 km2 of surface and hardly more than 1 230 inhabitants, Maupiti is one of the last high islands of the Société Archipelago which remained intact. They live there still essentially on the fishing and on the gardening.
Manuae or Scilly is an atoll of hardly 3, 5 km2 where only about fifteen people, very isolated, lives. They depend on the municipality of Maupiti.
Maupihaa or Mopelia is not inhabited any more today than by about ten people of the same family. This atoll of hardly 2, 7 km2 will soon be more than a paradise for the sea birds and the tortoises.
Motu One is much more known under the name of Bellinghaussen. This 3 km2 atoll was never inhabited in a permanent way. Relatively protected, it’s the housing and the usual spawning site of numerous colonies of birds and marine tortoises, what makes it the purpose of frequent scientific expeditions. We find there vestiges of the Japanese military presence.
Connected with the municipality of Bora Bora, the atoll of Tupai (11 km2 and no inhabitant) is a particular case. The place hits the headlines of the Polynesian press to have been transformed into luxury brothel for the distinguished guest of Gaston Flosse’s regime.
The land claims and a very complex legal imbroglio make that the atoll is not ready to be able to find a more normal life.

Lexicon:
*Arii: big leaders in the Polynesian traditional hierarchy.


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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