The island of Raiatea has a particular influence in French Polynesia but also in the whole South Pacific. The Sacred Island is known as the original land of Polynesian culture. It is from this land that navigators set out to discover the famous Polynesian triangle. The explorers went as far as Hawaii, Easter Island and present-day New Zealand.

From this glorious era, only the oral legends and fantastic tales passed down from generation to generation remain, as well as numerous archaeological remains: the marae. These were the places of civil and religious power. The Taputapuatea marae in Raiatea was the largest of them all, and also the most emblematic. A visit is necessary for all travelers wishing to better understand the Pacific Islands.

What is a Marae?

In pre-colonial times, marae were the basic structures of Polynesian society. They can be found throughout the wider Polynesia, from the Tonga Islands to New Zealand. Depending on their size and location, they could symbolize religious and political powers, and to a lesser extent the organization of the family clan. The marae were above all sacred lands, sometimes sacralized to the point of becoming taboo. They were also the place for celebrations of all kinds: festive, warlike and cultic.

Raiatea Travel Guide - Polynesia Paradise

In French Polynesia, particularly in Raiatea, the marae take the form of a rectangular platform, made of volcanic stones or pieces of coral. Generally, some large standing stones flank this empty surface by at one end. Don’t expect to see anything built, as the structure is now open air. Although these buildings have always given rhythm to religious life, the representation of divine figures on the spot is very discreet or even absent.

The marae are sober, almost austere ensembles, where the essential thing is not to see but to feel. The ancients nurtured this culture of secrecy: the marae were built away from the areas of settlement to better mark the importance of the links uniting their community to the land.

Taputapuatea Marae in Raiatea: The Origins of the Polynesian nation

The marae had various functions and an aura generally limited to the family, the village, the island, but rarely beyond. Only the Taputapuatea marae on Raiatea had an almost international, at least pan-Polynesian, dimension.

The Influence of the Marae on Raiatea

From a historical point of view, the Taputapuatea marae is a thousand-year-old structure. Originally dedicated to the god of creation, it quickly gave itself over to the cult of the god Oro, that of fertility and then of war. The veneration of Oro then spread to the current islands of the Society and even further afield. This extension made the Taputapuatea marae the religious and cultural epicenter of a vast geographical area. Indeed, each newly founded marae was made up in part of sacred stones from the original marae. The link was both organic and spiritual.

The peak of Raiatea

In fact, the Taputapuatea marae became international. In Raiatea, the priests of all the marae from this extension gathered. Military alliances were concluded there, kings were crowned and navigators exchanged their knowledge. Beyond the religious cult, the Taputapuatea marae became the expression of a common cultural identity: the birth of a Polynesian nation.

A Historic Site of Inestimable Value

From this epic, we find marae called Taputapuatea in Moorea, Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands, Hawaii, and many other islands. Even today, many people in extended Polynesia still visit the original land of Raiatea, where it all began. As a result of internal wars and European colonization, the Taputapuatea marae has lost its appeal and the symbolism that surrounded it. Little or not maintained, it benefited from renovation and restoration work in the 1990s. With the support of the French authorities, the site was classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2017. The local cultural association Na Papa E Va’u Raiatea has largely contributed to the development of the site.

At the Taputapuatea marae, more than a thousand years of Polynesian history are inscribed in the stone and coral. Its influence on the settlement of the Pacific Islands and the development of the Maohi culture is considerable. This original land therefore raises questions of heritage and transmission. Moreover, the restored vestiges are authentic. Now protected and benefiting from an exceptional natural setting, a visit to the site is a must.

How to Visit the Marae in Raiatea?

Aerial view of Taputapuatea Marae in Raiatea

The Taputapuatea marae is located on the eastern slope of the southern part of the island. It is quite isolated and away from the residential areas. There are three ways to get there. First of all, the site is accessible by road. All you need is a rental car or a bicycle. The most practical solution is to stay in one of the hotels in Raiatea located in the immediate vicinity, notably the Hotel Atiapiti, just a few hundred meters away. Finally, you can go through the intermediary of private tours and circuits, which organize full-day or half-day outings that include a stop on the classified site.

Despite its Unesco designation, the site has no visitor center or documentation center. Consequently, there is no contact person on site and only a few information panels can inform visitors about the historical importance of the site. The experience remains pleasant and enjoyable. Also note that a marked path leads to a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the site.

Our advice is to have a local guide accompany you. The history of the Taputapuatea marae in Raiatea is mainly oral. It mixes ancient beliefs with family stories. While waiting for a real academic offer from the public authorities, we invite you to contact your hosts in the town’s guesthouses and hotels. They will be happy to guide you through the site.

Discover the Island of Raiatea

An atypical destination, the island of Raiatea offers you to experience Polynesian culture in a way you never imagined. The cultural and natural discoveries are numerous. From canoeing up a river to an introduction to street art in Uturoa, there is no shortage of activities in Raiatea. In addition, you can enhance your stay on the Sacred Island with a visit to Tahaa, the neighboring island with which it shares a lagoon.

Your trip to French Polynesia has just begun. Where will you go after Raiatea? We are here to help you establish your itinerary in the South Pacific islands. Don’t hesitate to contact us today to benefit from our personalized advice.