When I arrived on Raiatea last summer and asked people what could be interesting to visit on this island, all told me "marae of Taputapuatea".... sorry, but "mara-what of Tapauatatu what????" Didn't absolutely understand what was the name of this place and what it could be.... Curious to know more about this strange place? Don't worry, I'll explain it to you :)
First of all, you should know that French Polynesia had a very rich traditional culture before the discovery by European explorers (The English sea-commanders James Cook and Samuel Wallis, along with the French Antoine de Bougainville, discovered this Island almost at the same time in 1767 – 1768 without knowing of each other). And of course, when the Europeans began to colonize this place, they changed the culture of these people and specially in matter of religion and beliefs of the society.
The 5th of march 1797, the first Protestant missionaries of the London Missionary Society (LMS) settled down on Society islands (Thaiti, Moorea, Raitea – Taha’a, Huahine and Bora Bora) and made it the official date of the arrival of the Bible among the savage tribes of Polynesia as if they’d never had known any religion…
But in fact, the Polynesian people had a very organized and structured social/religious composition. A mythologies of many Gods with different characteristics and covering the whole questions and matters of human life. And regularly they organized big ceremonies and sacrifices to satisfy the gods and have a better life. These ceremonies found always place on what is called a MARAE, that means the most sacred and holy place of the traditional Polynesian culture.
So, that’s the first part of the explanation about what is a marae….
The marae of Taputapuatea is the most important of all marae’s you can find on all Polynesian islands, because it’s simply the very first (some archeologists give the date of year 1000 AD for it’s construction) and biggest one of this kind in whole Society archipelago in Polynesia. The Polynesian mythologies says that the God of war called Oro, was born in the bay of Opoa and soon became very powerful and dominated all the other islands. He became the first of all Gods. And that’s why the marae was created there as the place where was born and lived the God Oro. the word Taputapuatea means literally translated the great (=atea) most sacred (=Taputapu) place.
And true, it’s a very special place, very impressing by it’s size (3 great volcanic stone platforms) but also by the special mood and sensations you can find on this place. On one side of the platforms is a stone wall where you can find the wooden sculptures symbolizing every clan/tribe of the island and which participated to the ceremonies led by a great priest. And there’s also a big stone in the middle of the platform showing the exact place where the power of Oro is coming out of the earth.
And in the same time, even if you feel that you’re on a special and sacred place, it’s also a nice park along the lagoon, where you can have a nice walk. And there’s no entry fee at all! It’s in the south part of the island, from the city of Uturoa you just need to follow the east road and about 30km later you’re approaching the village of Opoa, and here you are…
Well, a place to see! :)