Discovering the Marquesas archipelago (part 3): Hiva Oa


Hiva Oa is another stunning island of the Marquesas archipelago and has something very special: 2 worldwide known european artists decided to live their last years on this island and today they’re buried side by side in the cemetary of Atuona. I’m talking about the famous painter Paul Gauguin and the fascinating poet and singer Jacques Brel…

If you never heard about Paul Gauguin or Jacques Brel, you really should inform yourself about these 2 amazing artists. And even if their art and career isn’t related in any sense, they spent their last years on the same island and are now lying for eternity in the same graveyard on Hiva Oa island.

Paul Gauguin discovered Tahiti in 1892 and found there a true natural paradise he was always looking for. He didn’t want to live in the european civilisation anymore, he wanted to get rid of this kind of life and find a new inspiration for his art. He spent 2 years on Tahiti (1892-1893) and was forced to come back to France as he had no more money, was ill and needed to sell some of his paintings to live. But as soon as he had some money again, he travelled back to Tahiti, promising himself to never come back. And indeed, from 1895 to 1903, he spent his last years in Polynesia. But he discovered Hiva Oa island only in 1901, running away from Tahiti where he didn’t feel well anymore as he thought that the “civilization” has corrupted this island. And as he was ill and knew he hadn’t a long time to live, he decided to go far away, to the Marquesas where the “true savage” life was still a reality. And he fiinally died there 1903. If you want to read more about his story, I can highly recommend you to read the fantastic book by Mario Vargas Llosa called
“The way to Paradise (El Paraiso en la otra esquina)” about Paul Gauguin’s last years and his quest for paradise…

Jacques Brel made a bit the same kind of travel. He was a successful and worldwide known singer from the 1960’s to the mid 1970’s, and when he discovered 1974 that he had cancer he decided to leave Europe with his wife for a world travel on his sailboat. In november 1975 they arrived on Hiva Oa island, and he knew that was the place where he wanted to live his last years. He was seduced by the savage beauty of the place and the simplicity of the people who didn’t knew who he was! Nobody asked him to sign autographs and to sing some of his songs, he was just himself. He involved himself in the life of the island, bought a little plane to help the people from Hiva Oa to go from one island to another, built a little movie theatre and organized some memorable parties with great food (he was also a great cook) and a lot of music (Brel sang a beautiful song about the Marquesas islands called “Les Marquises”, you can easily find it on youtube…).
Well he lived his last years in happiness and finally died of cancer in october 1978. Today, there are some people on the island who met him and they’re still very touched when they speak about him.

Well, when you know and admire these 2 great artists, you feel something very emotional and moving on this island, when you visit their homes (now transformed in museums) and see their graveyards.

But of course, Hiva Oa is not only the place of Gauguin and Brel, it’s also a stunning island, very different from Nuku Hiva with amazing landscapes, mountains and beaches. Like in Nuku Hiva we made again a whole car tour of the island and went through some beautiful little villages and met some very nice and friendly people.

And there’s also a very impressing “pae-pae” (a sacred place) with the biggest “tiki” (statue) of Polynesia. In the east of the island is the archeological site of Iipona with some very impressing and huge statues. The biggest one is 2.67 meters high and there are 5 different of these huge tiki’s to see on this site. And if you walk a bit deeper in the forest you’ll discover the very surprising “smiling tiki”. He’s not easy to find, but once you’re in front of him he’s very surprising! The visit is really worth of it and costs almost nothing. A local guide can explain you all the legends and mysteries about these tiki’s.

Well, Hiva Oa is really another stunning island. After only 2 days there, we already took the plane again to visit the last island of our trip: the mysterious and savage Ua Huka……

To be continued….

written by vicuna on 2010-04-16 #places #people #culture #travel #history #island #landscape #view #discovery #amazing #wild #beautiful #bay #location #pacific-ocean #grave #cemetary #jacques-brel #marquesas-archipelago #marquesas #paul-gauguin


  1. kylethefrench
    kylethefrench ·

    i can't even handle the joy of vicuna

  2. stouf
    stouf ·

    A masterpiece of lomolocations. A great text about the fascinating story of two great men, and insights about the island too. And splendid galleries... Bravo l'ami !

  3. superlighter
    superlighter ·

    never finish to say thank you dear vicuna for sharing your incredible experience with all of us!

  4. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    Thanks guys! :)) And part 4 of the travel is already written, will be published soon I hope ;)

  5. azurblue
    azurblue ·

    Once again, a great lomolocation ! Thank you stephane for sharing this. It looks like a dream.

  6. -a-l-b-e-r-t-o-
    -a-l-b-e-r-t-o- ·

    thanks for the trip

  7. milkie
    milkie ·

    Thanks for this wonderful travel!!!

  8. blueskyandhardrock
    blueskyandhardrock ·


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