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Marae Taputapuatea: The Sacred Center of Polynesia

On one of the finger-like peninsulas jutting from Ra'iatea's southeastern coast, an ancient marae bears witness to more than a millennium of sacred gatherings. A touchstone for Polynesian spirituality and culture for thousands of miles, Marae Taputapuatea sits in the middle of the "Polynesian Triangle," which reaches from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand and Easter Island at the bottom of the triangle, with Tahiti, the Marquesas, Tonga, and Samoa all inside.  Get Inspired By Photos, Videos, Webinars, Stories, And Exclusive Offers. Sign Up

 

Taputapuatea translates to “sacrifices from abroad. Chiefs, priests, and warriors traveled long distances from other island nations to meet at the renowned site, which was dedicated to the god of war, Oro. Taputapuatea has long had far-reaching importance and even if voyagers were just passing by, it was tradition to stop there to pay their respects. Marae on other islands were even built from Taputapuatea’s sacred stones. 

 

The role of marae in Polynesian culture

According to Polynesian beliefs, order in the universe could not occur until humans and gods could interact. When Maohi (indigenous Polynesians) prayed at marae and presented offerings, these paved rectangular courtyards outlined by stone walls and containing altars called ahubecame conduits to their gods and their ancestors. 

 

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The region’s most important location for religious and cultural events, Marae Taputapuatea was a pilgrimage site where chiefs were initiated, where Maohi communicated with their gods and consulted with their ancestors, and where, when the drum of Ta’imoana sounded, human or animal sacrifices were offered. There are three distinct sacred areas at the complex: Marae Taputapuatea, Marae Tauraa, and Marae Hauviri, each serving different roles. (Ra'iatea is still sometimes referred to as the sacred island of Havai'i or Havaiki, the ancestral home of all Polynesians).

 

Descendants of the gods

According to local tradition, Taputapuatea is the mythical birthplace of Oro who was the son of Ta’aroa, creator of the world and god of the sea; and Hina-tu-a-uta, an archetype of strong female energy. The noble class of Ra'iatea, called ariki, is said to be direct descendants of Ta’aroa; and the secret society of nobles called Arioi are Oro’s descendants. The two sacred pigs that are the Arioi’s patron gods are the animal incarnations of Oro’s sons.

Polynesian gods are usually incarnated as ata, something found in nature, and/or as to’o, something made by humans. Oro’s ata was a bird that was either light yellow or red-green, while his to’o was a club covered with yellow and red feathers.

 

Positioned for the next millennium

Today, Marae Taputapuatea is a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognized for being both a sacred place and the ancestral homeland of Polynesian culture, symbolizing the origins of the Maohi people and connecting them with their ancestors.

 

To assist in interpreting this important site, Lindblad Expeditions invites local experts to discuss Polynesian traditions and the specific role of this influential marae. These critical perspectives have come from Tua Pittman, a Polynesian navigator and head of the Cook Islands Voyaging Society, as well as local priest, Papa Heimau.

Marae Taputapuatea has been restored, ensuring continuation of its central cultural role for the entire region. Still today, voyaging canoes stop and pay tribute as a symbol of the shared heritage of the peoples inhabiting distant islands across the Pacific Ocean.

Visiting Marae Taputaputea is a highlight of many of our 2022 French Polynesia programs, like Pearls of the Pacific: Exploring the Society and Tuamotu Islands and Wild Polynesian Escape: Tahiti to Bora Bora.