French Polynesia / Huahine, Raiatea and Tahiti Nui
May 19 – June 2, 2018
A Report for the Aurora Foundation
In March 1995 The Tracking Project took part in a ceremony on the Big Island called Na ‘Ohana Holo Moana: Gathering of Eight Voyaging Canoes at Taputapuatea. The ceremony in Hilo marked the departure of three Hawaiian voyaging canoes — Hokule‘a, Hawai‘i Loa and Makali‘i — to join canoes from other Polynesian nations to inaugurate and re-open the great marae, Taputapuatea on the island of Raiatea. From this ceremony and the years of planning that led up to it, we have felt very connected to the marae. In May / June 2018 Lisa Bennett Matkin and I traveled to the islands of Tahiti Nui, Huahine and Raiatea to answer the call and finally meet this sacred site.
This year’s work represents a continuation of The Tracking Project’s Nurturing the Roots mentor outreach program which arose from a series of conversations between Jeffrey Bronfman of the Aurora Foundation and John Stokes in 2003. At that time, we envisioned a series of cultural“journeys” which would take place within the vast triangle formed by Hawai‘i, Tahiti and Brasil. From 2003 – 2012, John and his family visited French Polynesia annually, especially the islands of Huahine and Tahiti Nui, meeting local cultural practitioners and visiting many of the sacred traditional/ cultural sites.
From 2012 – 2017 we did not visit Tahiti, but The Tracking Project continued its work in Hawa‘i and Brasil, adding a fascinating series of visits, trainings and ceremonies with the Elders (the People of the Earth) from La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia. The ceremonies conducted with the Colombian Elders reinforced the importance of our work with sacred sites around the world and the recovery of the knowledge which the sites retain.
Work with the people and marae on Huahine
On May 19 Lisa and I met up in Los Angeles and continued on to Papeete together. From the first day, we found ourselves plugged into the cultural network. On the first morning in the airport at Faaa on our way to Huahine, we bumped into Dorothy Levy, an old friend from the island who had been the Director of the cultural center known as Fare Potee when we first visited Huahine. She was looking for her friend, Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa (well-known Hawaiian historian and professor from University of Hawai‘i’s Hawaiian Studies program.) It seems Lilikala had taken a group of Hawaiian students to do some prayers and ceremonies at Marae Taputapuatea. (We later found that the pension where we stayed on Raiatea next to the marae was the same pension where the Hawaiian group had stayed.)
We spent a week on Huahine, re-connecting with many old friends, who coincidently were working at the pension where we stayed. We went fishing with Damas Tuhei Faahu, his wife Heiranie and some children on the motu near the south end of the island and spent many other sessions with them. Damas, who is a champion surfer / paddler /runner on Huahine and Heiranie would be two of the young Tahitians we would invite in the future for meetings at HAPI.
Huahine has more than 200 wahi pana (sacred sites ) and we spent much of our time visiting these sites, especially Marae Anini,which was the major ceremonial center for Huahine Iti in the south and the marae complex at Maeva in the north. Huahine is the island where reknowned researcher Professor Sinoto from the Bishop Museum found the ruins of a great canoe in the mud which contained objects from Aotearoa which proved that the Polynesians had the skills for inter-island navigation. We shared our prayers and offerings with Damas and Heiranie who were very moved by our intent.
Raiatea / Marae Taputapuatea
For the second week of our trip we flew the short distance from Huahine to Raiatea, home of the international marae Taputapuatea. We stayed at the Hotel Atiapiti whose grounds are directly adjacent to the marae. One of our Hawaiian mentor group — Julie Rogers — had stayed there when she joined the canoe Hokule‘a at the conclusion of their four year round-the world voyage. (It turns out that the status of the marae is so great that Hokule‘a paid their respects both at the beginning and the end of their great voyage.)
The ancient name for Raiatea was “Havai‘i.” Taputapuatea in Tahitian means “Sacrifices from Abroad” and it is considered to be an international marae where navigators from all over the Pacific region had gathered in the past. It is also considered to be a “mother marae,” meaning that if a new marae for navigation was planned, a stone from Taputapuatea had to be included in its foundation. The marae is actually a marvelous complex of smaIler platforms with a unique position to the sun, the ocean, the surrounding islands… and there is a large bay where a vast array of canoes could moor.
Na ‘Ohana Holo Moana: Gathering of Eight Voyaging Canoes at Taputapuatea, March 1995
Some time around 1991/1992 Parley became very involved in the planning of the ceremony from the Hawaiian side, including the search for suitable trees for the hulls of new canoes, ceremonial work with the potential crew members and other functions. “Can you chip a blade?” he asked me. “Yes, what for?” “To make an adze.” “What for?” “To fell a tree.” “What for?” “To build a canoe.” So, we drove around Hana in his Jeep looking for stones that we could use to make an adze. (The hulls of Hawai‘i Loa were eventually made from trees donated by the Tlingit and Haida nations when the search for trees in the koa forests of Hawai‘i found no trees large enough for use). I was also told that another part of the ceremony would be to lift a kapu on inter-island voyaging that had been placed several hundred years before.
Eventually three canoes sailed from Hawaii and two others from the Cook Islands. They rendezvoused in the Society Islands with a New Zealand canoe and two Tahitian canoes. After meeting up in the harbor at Fare, Huahine, the canoes traveled to Raiatea on March 17 for the inauguration and re-opening of marae Taputapuatea.
When the Hawaiian canoes left from the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo bound for Raiatea, my family and I were there to send the boats off. My friend, Brad Cooper, a teacher at Kamehameha Middle School, was sailing as crew and I gave him a piece of our fossilized black turtle shell to place on the altar in Raiatea. Brad told me that because most of the navigators had an affinity with the turtle (honu), the gathering was being called “A Coming Together of the Turtle Clan.”
Lisa and I visited the Taputapuatea complex twice a day for the entire time we were there, sharing our prayers and offerings to strengthen the site. We were well-received by the spirits of the marae and experienced many positive signs and dreams. We were able to go for a special visit on the night of the full moon, mahealani.
Like nearly all cultural sites in Polynesia, Taputapuatea has no fence, no admission charge, no guards — as a matter of fact, the main road for the island goes right through the site. This world cultural heritage site is acknowledged as the cultural center of Polynesia and it is often pictured as a great Fe‘e (octopus) named Taumata Fe‘e and Tumu Ra‘i Fenua, whose head is situated in Ra‘iatea [Havai‘i] and whose tentacles extend to Moana Nui a Hiva, tracing the routes of the canoes to the various islands of the Great Ocean:
to the north, Hawai’i;
to the northeast, the Marquesas;
to the east, Rapa Nui (Easter Island);
to the southeast, Rapa;
to the south, the Australs;
to the southwest, Aotearoa (New Zealand);
to the west, Samoa and Tonga;
to the northwest, the Gilbert and Solomon islands.
Each of these routes corresponds to a star path in the sky.
Marie, our hostess at Atiapiti, is extremely well-versed in the Tahitian culture and she was very helpful during our visit. She knows the sites on Raiatea and has been an activist with the locals in defense of the island from development, nuclear waste and other issues. She assisted with lots of small, practical details about the marae and on the last day took us up into the moutains to see a small, hidden marae. While there, a man on a scooter arrived and we were introduced to Matoré, a good friend of hers and one of the cultural keepers of Taputapuatea.
Rendezvous with Tihoti Tattau on Taha’a
Our planned rendezvous with Tihoti did not take place, as he had gone to Spain on behalf of the government of Taha’a to promote his island. Tihoti is a famous tattoo artist who did my tattoos in 2002 and 2003. He lives on the nearby island of Taha’a and we stay in touch through Facebook. Tihoti is a national and international cultural figure and a very knowledgeable practitioner of Tahitian culture. We will keep him in the loop regarding our work on Raiatea.
Sacred Sites — Na Wahi Pana
I became acquainted with sacred sites at the beginning of my time with the Aboriginal Community College in 1978. The College was a gathering place and a focal point for activities associated with land rights for the Pitjantjatjara people, especially the grand sacred site known as Uluru. In the years following I was not only taken to Aboriginal sacred sites, but I was shown different protocols for identifying the sites, approaching them and working with them.
When I first traveled to Hawai‘i with Winona la Duke in 1985 and met Mililani Trask, I would often drive around O‘ahu with Mili, locating and noting various wahi pana which at that time were not acknowledged or protected. I became very attached to this work, knowing the importance of caring for these “special places,” and Mililani would often tell how much she respected the way I moved around the islands, locating, caring for the sites and reporting their status to her. My business card at this time carried the phrase: “Protect the sacred sites with songs.”
The work with sacred sites of all kinds has continued to this day, including sites in the lands of the Iroquois that were important to the Journey of the Great Peacemaker, sites in Brasil, sites in French Polynesia and sites in Colombia in association with the Elders of the People of the Earth.
Where can we store the knowledge?
I first heard the stories from living Aboriginal people in Australia who told me that when the first contact was made with the Europeans, the elders saw that their ways were going to vanish and they quickly realized that somehow, the vast knowledge they possessed needed to be stored somewhere where it would not be lost. Not having libraries or computers, they decided to hide it in the rocks and in the earth, for a time in the future when it might be located and brought out once again.
Between the diseases and the concerted efforts of the missionaries, the traditional knowledge in French Polynesia dissipated quickly after the arrival of the Europeans.
The following story from the first pages of Ancient Tahiti shows that the people had some prophetic signs prior to the arrival:
At Opoa, at one of the last great gatherings of the Hau-pahu-nui, for idolatrous worship, before the arrival of European ships, a strange thing happened during our solemn festivity. Just at the close of the pa‘i atua ceremony, there came a whirlwind which plucked off the head of a tall spreading tamanu tree, names Paruru-mata‘i-i-‘a‘ana (Screen-from-wind-of-aggravating-crime), leaving the bare trunk standing. This was very remarkable, as tamanu wood is very hard and close-grained. Awe struck the hearts of all present. The representatives of each people looked at those of the other in silence for some time, until at last a priest of Opoa named Vaitá (Smitten-water) exclaimed, “Friends, upon what are you meditating?” “We are wondering what the breaking of this tree may be ominous of: such a thing has not happened to our trees from the remotest ages,” the people replied.
Then Vaitá feeling inspired to tell the meaning of this strange event: “I see before me the meaning of this strange event! There are coming the glorious children of the Trunk (God) who will see these trees here in Taputapuatea. In person, they differ from us, yet they are the same as we, from the Trunk, and they will possess this land. There will be an end to our present customs, and the sacred birds of sea and land will come to mourn over what this tree that is severed teaches.”
From: Ancient Tahiti, by Teuira Henry, Bishop Museum, Bulletin 48, 1928 (Kraus Reprint, 1985)
We feel that our work with the people and the sites in French Polynesia is a part of the remembrance and renaissance of this valuable traditional knowledge.
The Dreams — “Feeding the ‘Aumakua”
The dreams I had in 2002 when I first traveled to Tahiti are attached to this report. The images of the giant horse, the broken turtle shell, the fierce red dog who became a kahuna and the man pulling the energies from the rocks remain central to the work. On the first night we arrived in Papeete, I had a strong dream with a simple, memorable soundtrack.
“Feeding the ‘Aumakua”
I am running through the forest, passing through many doors. They are all different textures and opacities. Some are thresholds, some are hanging fabrics of a beautiful, artistic fashion.
Then a door appears and there are two dogs leaping at me. I am feeding them some substance that I have in a bowl, feeding them with my right hand.
This simple, direct dream reinforced an important point I have often heard — the importance of “feeding the ‘aumakua,” feeding the guardian spirits so that when we called on them for assistance, we already had a good friendly relationship with them.
On each island, I was greeted by a “fierce red dog” who became my constant companion for the time we were there. And our feeding of the ‘aumakua was not only for these dogs, but also for the honu, the puhi, the iwa, the onça (?) and other natural entities with whom we have relationships.
The importance of the fossilized black turtle shell
One of the gifts we have shared with the sacred sites around the world has been the fossilized black turtle shell from the Gulf Coast of Florida. This trip was no different. When I was asked to bring “non-commercial” gifts for the Elders in Colombia, I chose to give them pieces of turtle shell. We I presented it to the Mamas, they asked me when in my life I had gathered it. I told them that I had done it over many years beginning when I was 13 years old. “Then, this is when you started to prepare yourself for this work,” they told me.
We offered pieces of the black shell to each island and to each marae. These small pieces of Pleistocene era turtle shell are a small, but important part of our work.
“Bringing the Pieces Together Again.”
“Finding Religion: John Stokes among the ancient stones.”
As far as signs from our work go, it was just one month after we returned home that Julie Rogers sent me the cover from the most recent Hawaiian Airlines magazine featuring a story: “Finding Religion: John Stokes among the ancient stones.” The article (included here) tells of an Australian named John F.G. Stokes who has hired by the Bishop Museum to research the heiau of Hawai‘i back in the early 1900’s. One of the main places Stokes did his research was at the heiau known as Waha Ula (Red mouth) on the southern shore of the Big Island. This site, built by the famous Tahitian chief Pa‘ao, is now covered by lava from the Pu‘u O‘o flow in 1997. Prior to that time, it was one of my favorite sacred sites in the islands.
We are very pleased with this journey and what we were able to accomplish in the short time we were in the islands. We feel that our friends from French Polynesia — Damas and Heiranie on Huahine, Tihoti on Tahaa — would be excellent candidates to join us on Maui for future gatherings.
We send our deepest thanks and our warmest Aloha to you, Jeffrey, and to the Aurora Foundation for making this important and deeply sacred work possible.
John Stokes / Director