There's one very special place on Raiatea I'd like to show you: it's located in the village of Tevaitoa on the west coast. This village has a place that can perfectly symbolize 3 important moments of the history of Raiatea and Polynesia. On the same place you can find a marae, a protestant church and a battlefield of and ultimate fight against the french army in 1897...
This place called Tevaitoa is originally a traditional marae, that means a sacred religious/social/political place of the traditional Polynesian culture (for more details about what is a marae, see my previous location about the marae of Taputapuatea). At the end of the 18th century, the first protestant missionaries settled down in Polynesia and began to spread the christian message to what they called these-savage-tribes-who-lived-in-sin-without-knowing-the-christian-bible….
And of course, they couldn’t accept that these Polynesian people still had their traditional rites and ceremonies, and made all their best to forbid and make disappear the old traditional habits….
And that’s why they took as a rule that all churches must be built on the old marae’s and sacred place of this old culture. If you don’t want the people to go to the marae for their ceremonies, just build the church on it, so they have no choice and must convert themselves to protestantism!
The church of Tevaitoa is a perfect example of this, as this religious building was presumed to be built in the first half of the 19th century (That’s what I was told but nobody could give me more information about the exact date and the particularity of it’s architectural style, and I couldn’t find any information’s by myself neither….) on the exact place of the marae of Tainuu, and the only purpose was to erase it!
The architecture of the church is really surprising and very “modern style” for a 19th century building, with lovely and harmonic curves and very few edges, and totally different from all the other christian churches from Polynesia, who are always in the same standard church style…
Well, you can still see today some parts of this previous marae as there’s a stone wall behind the church which belonged to the old marae. But the church took almost all the place and attracted the beliefs of the Polynesian people of the place. But in fact, as it was exactly at the same place as the former Polynesian sacred place, they thought that it was exactly the same as before but with a different building…. And still today, it’s a place of Christianity but the people mix it easily with all traditional beliefs who didn’t disappear at all…. In a way it’s just a kind of adaption of the people from their old religion to the new one, the form and names changes, but the spirit is almost the same….
But the marae and the church are not the only interest of the place. There’s another part of history floating in the air of Tevaitoa….
Even if the christian missionaries were on the island since 1797, the french authority didn’t have an official claim of territorial possession of Raiatea until 1888. But at this time of frenetic colonization race and the will to possess as much territories as possible, and to avoid the beginning of a German colonization on Raiatea, the french army came on the island to possess her. The raiatean people, of course, were fighting with much power and will against the french invader…. This “War of Raiatea” lasted for almost 10 years, until the 16th of February 1897. A ultimate battle between the raiatean warriors and the french army took place on the field of Tevaitoa, just in front of the church and former Polynesian marae, as if the religious battle of Christianity against Polynesian tradition should have been completed by a military battle. To dominate people, you must take control over their bodies and soul, over their beliefs and their land….
This battle was the turning point of Raiatean history: the french won this battle, the raiatean war leaders were arrested and deported to other islands (often thousands of km far away to avoid any come back…) and Raiatea became officially a french island. In memory of this difficult moment in the french history of Polynesia, the Polynesian authority, in accordance with the french government, built a memorial to the raiatean victims of the battle and honor the memory of the old Polynesian culture. It’s a big stone pointing to the sky, a bit like the “central stone of the gods” you could found on the old Polynesian marae’s…..
A place like this can’t be missed! :)