For the last day on Moorea we rented a car – hugely expensive – and drove round the island. First however I wanted to do some archaeology, so we took the only road that leads into the centre of the island, to the Belvedere, to see a group of the so-called Marae.
The Marai are the prehistoric temples or ritual sites of the Polynesian islands. The earliest of them date back to AD 900 or so, but many were still in use in the 19th century when they were shut down by the Christian missionaries. What a pity that they could not have remained in operation a little bit longer so they could have been properly investigated by anthropologists and archaeologists!
They are particularly interesting in showing considerable similarities to the better-known statue arrangements on Easter Island: they might be said to be forerunners, but they probably developed more or less simultaneously in isolation from a common source.
We visited a group that lies halfway up the track to the Belvedere. There are apparently half a dozen to be seen, but we only saw two of them before we got lost in the jungle
The first, which I think is called Titiroa, lies just by the road where there is a large information board from which I have copied a number of the interesting plans
This is Titiroa, and consists of a rectangular enclosure. At the near end can be seen a low platform
Here is a close-up of the platform. It was not as in Western religions, an altar where food is sacrificed to the gods, but rather a seating for the gods. The most interesting aspects are the upright stones inserted into the front. These are presumably the forerunners of the Easter Island statues. The Easter Island statues are all set on low platforms just like this, but the upright stones become enlarged into the huge statues, of ancestors, or gods.
This is a view from the other end showing the subdivision of the enclosure
And here is a picture of me standing proudly by the enclosure telling my wife that I had discovered it
And this is a photo I took of the diagram given on the information panel, — sorry if it is a little distorted but I tried to make it as clear as possible. The key to the numbers is given below
I am not certain how far it is meant to be a plan of this marae, Titiroa, but I rather suspect it is meant to be an idealised, generalised plan of what a marae should look like. (Double click to enlarge it)
Many features are of great interest. Outside the enclosure, top right, is the boat shed, though it would be quite impractical to get a boat up here to Titiroa. Bottom right is the exposure platform for the dead, something English archaeologists hypothesise about, but here they really existed. Bottom left is the house where the sacred objects were kept.
In the enclosure itself, there is the long platform at one end with the upright stones, but notice the upright symbols throughout the enclosure, the upturned paddles, the sacred drums, the symbolic birds, and the two altars for sacrifice, one for big sacrifices one for smaller offerings.
And here is the key to the lettering on the information panel shown above, in both French and English
Finally here is the plan of the Marai in the vicinity. We manage to find Ahu O Mahine, which is the one marked ‘council platform’, but then we got lost and we failed to find the others.
Ahu O Mahine is the last and finest of the great Marae built in the second half of the 18th century. It is called the Ahui O Mahine, or the Temple of Mahine, Mahine being the great chief of Moorea. Capt Cook visited Moorea in his second voyage and recorded that a flotilla of more than 200 vessels was setting out from Tahiti to launch an attack on Moorea. However when he returned on his third visit in 1777, it was clear that the people of Moorea under their leader the famous warrior Mahine had repelled the attack, and Mahine provided hospitality to Capt Cook. This Ahu is named after him.
We should remember that though we sometimes regret that Christianity suppressed and destroyed the exotic religions about which we would like to know more, yet the societies that existed were highly unstable and were always fighting each other, and Christianity brought peace and stability.
This is the platform at the far end which seems to have been built in three stages, but some upright stones were apparently included in it.
This is the court of Ahu O Mahine where two backrest stones and ten uprights can be seen. The courtyard is paved with carefully chosen stones.