More Mysterious Stonework in the Forest

Up in the ‘Opunohu Valley on Mo’orea there is a very intriguing marae complex with a large number of excavated platforms (many with large trees growing inside),

Mo'orea marae

and, if you wander a bit farther away, lots more of what look like unexcavated platforms.

It was obviously an enormous complex back in the day. The valley itself is wide and deep and has a river running through it, so it seems not at all surprising that there would have been a large and powerful population residing here. The platforms are scattered through a glade of mape trees — this is the tree with roots like drapery, sometimes called the Tahitian chestnut — which seems to lie at a certain altitude on the mountainside. As you get up out of the glade, you also leave the marae area behind. The fact that there are large trees growing inside the platforms suggests how long they have been abandoned, but it also made me wonder if these trees grew here in the days when the platforms were in use. They are particularly beautiful, tall and sinuous, with these astonishing roots:

mape tree

As to whether there were such trees on the marae compound 200 hundred years ago, you could probably answer this question by looking at the engravings from the early European expeditions (no copies of which I happen to have with me at the moment). The 18th and early 19th c. explorers had artists with them who recorded — I think remarkably faithfully — the places they saw. I have been struck by how much the coastline in this bay looks like the drawings that were made on Cook’s voyages — in fact this is one of the places he stopped. They also shot the 1984 Mel Gibson/Anthony Hopkins Bounty movie here, which we watched the other night. I thought the scenes with the Tahitian girls were ridiculous (were they instructed to giggle hysterically as they were being hauled by the sailors onto the ship?). It was fun, though, to see the line of the mountains in the movie exactly as it looked off our deck.

And here is a little mystery. Up by the marae Seven and I read about something that was described as an “archery platform.”

archery platform image

This was news to me; I had always understood that bows and arrows never made it to Polynesia. The text at the site suggested that the ancient Polynesians used the bow for contests only, i.e. not for war (and that this was a measure of their good sense). But, if it had been me, I would certainly have used it for hunting. An excellent way to catch the birds they brought with them, which, despite being nominally domesticated, run wild all over the islands, crowing from dawn to dusk. Ah, the sound of Polynesia…

Polynesian rooster

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4 Comments

Filed under adventure, expedition, Oceania, Pacific Islands, Polynesia, Society Islands, South Pacific, Tahiti, travel

4 responses to “More Mysterious Stonework in the Forest

  1. Barbara Matteau

    The trees are astonishing. It was incredible how really like drapes the roots look like.

  2. Brettne

    Are you and Seven going to take up archery?
    Totally loving this travelogue…althought it’s giving me a terrible case of wanderlust!

  3. Gail Cohen

    I wonder what that square is that looks like a sandbox behind the archer. And that looks like a rooster of some sort … I hope you have earplugs if you want to snooze a bit after dawn breaks!

    The mape roots are lovely; they look like rainforest ribbon candy (but I guess the chestnuts of the tree are what’re edible). What were the uses (or reasons for the marae platforms), teacher? I can wait until I read the book if you’d rather … Great pictures 🙂

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