TAHITI
 
THE FORTRESS OF RA'IVAVAE
 
           
 

One interesting aspect of Ra'ivavae was the report that the island once had sanctuaries, those places to which those who had offended society or had been defeated in war might retreat.

 

An expedition to discover the sanctuaries of Ra'ivavae travelled along the steep ridges on the southern side of the island and discovered on the steep hillside where no one now lives or works that the entire face of the hillside had been artificially terraced. The cuts were not suitable for agriculture and there were no references to them in the folk tales or traditional history of Ra'ivavae.

 

It was discovered that this particular sanctuary was on Mount Hatuturi which was then explored after one of the village elders said that Hatuturi was only one of several mountain fortresses on Ra'ivavae. These fortresses were actually homes for defeated clans where they would be safe from enemy warriors with a plentiful supply of water.

That these fortresses were difficult to approach became obvious when the search party found the outline foothill to be exhausting to climb due to the crumbling rock outcrops and the decaying boulders and pebbles providing insecure footing.

The party moved slowly up the hillside ascending what seems to be a steep path on the very forward edge of the knifelike ridge. From here, they could check the terraces which were invariably the same, comprising stone-paved areas, cut back two or three feet into the hillside and being several feet in length. They proved to be hard to approach as they were interspersed here and there with small shrines or temples complete with paving and upright tara.

Reaching the top of the flattened ridge, the third party located on a horizontal ridge which had been completely levelled off, a series of miniature marae. These were stretched out longitudinally so that the search party can see the altar, the upright columns and the red stone curbing. From the background of this temple could be seen all the slopes below including the terraces which appeared to be used as fighting platforms.

Moving ahead, the search party climbed an almost vertical slope with towering crags forming either side of it. From the top, there was a 360 degree view from an area which had been levelled and paved with flat stones. This was the impregnable fortress of Ra'ivavae. 

Source: Ra'ivavae
By Donald Marshall
Doubleday & Company, New York, 1962

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