We have to start this blog by introducing the Captain, crew and the participants of this voyage.
First is our captain, Titaua, since he is “ the man who can smell the islands”
Titaua has been a member of the Tahitian Voyaging Society since the very beginning. I had met him and his lovely wife back in 2012 and it was an honor to have him as our captain. His knowledge of the Tahitian culture is extensive and listening to he old Tahitian stories about Gods and Goddesses were highlights during the voyage, however, the best story of them all in my opinion was a recollection of personal events during a very important voyage in the Tuamotu archipelago.
I will get back to this story later, let’s introduce the crew.
The crew; Titaua, Tania, Ian, Matahi, Matani aka, George, Moana, Orama, Josie and our special guest and Faafaite official photographer Danee Hazama
Our guest; Diana and Aura who came from Florida, Patricia from Mexico City, Maja came from Switzerland, Selket, Sunny, Assaiah and myself all traveled from Maui. A quick five and a half hour flight from Honolulu.
Raiatea is home of the biggest and most important navigational Marae in Polynesia. Taputapuatea. This is where everything started, the origins of the culture. This is the piko/ pito, the belly button, the spirit of Polynesia and the epicenter for the ancient art celestial navigation.
Navigators from all over Polynesia would gather there to learn, high chiefs were initiated there, important community discussions were held, human and animal sacrifices were offered there and long voyages began and ended there. Taputapu connects the people to their ancestors and their spirituality. Is the home of Oro, son of Ta’aroa creator of the world, God of the sea.
With that said, I shall add that there’s important protocol that must occur before we start our adventure there. Before we enter its waters and touch the land. Offerings were given to Ta’aroa before we entered the pass. Flowers, plants and even a little Awa for the Gods. These items went in to the sea to symbolize our gratitude and reverence to them.
The crossing from Huahine to Raiatea took us a little over three hours. We had some good wind and it was still sunny. We were all in great spirts. We all helped clean up the Wa’a after our departure ceremony and we got ready to enter the sacred waters of Raiatea. The Wa’a has to look sharp. Nothing but Ti adorning her.
Entering the waters in Raiatea was surreal. All of the sudden the skies started to change colors and the light was filtering trough the clouds bathing the mountains with golden sun rays. Titaua stood on the wooden railing and pointed at the Marae area were we were heading. The tall coconut trees looked like giants in the distance, standing before the mountain defending the sacredness of their home.
A small three man canoe appeared out of nowhere under the golden skies. It was fun to watch the men and cheer them on from the Wa’a. Another beautiful island stood in the back, full of rugged mountains and thousands of legends and stories.
At the pier, another small group of people awaited to greet us however it was a different feeling that in Huahine. It was a calming and solemn feeling. It felt peaceful. The weather was slowly turning and the rain was on the way. You could feel the air getting colder.
Matahi, one of the crew members is from Raiatea and his beautiful wife and daughters along with others, greeted us with long Ti leaf leis with flowers in them. They brought delicious local food to share at dinner time. We were meeting more family members. People we will never forget.
This important Marae has a Kahu or guardian, his name is Mr. Matora’i. He was amongst the people who greeted us at our arrival. He also kindly allowed us to use the shower and bathroom facilities at his house which is a few hundred feet from the dock and a ten minute walk to Tatputapuatea.
His house is the closest to the Marae. It was so nice to feel the help from the community on every island. The amount of work and coordination that went in to making this experience happen was tremendous. The president of the association, Hinatea, the treasurer Moerii and many crew members that did not join the voyage all worked very hard with the logistics.
I felt grateful for Faafaite and the strong humans behind it. I felt grateful and honored to be standing in the heart of the octopus, Havaiki.
After meeting everyone who came to greet us we headed to the precious fresh water showers at Mr Matora’i’s home. Right at the entrance of his house you can see many different types of traditional Tahitian drums. Very large ones, medium ones, some small ones. There was many large Tariparau or Pahu, To’ere of all sizes! All together, sleeping. As the girl who carted a cajon inside a box from Maui to Tahiti, and have tremendous love for drumming, my jaw dropped when I saw all the drums. I could only think about the sounds of all these drums being played together. What would it sound like. How strong the energy would be. How many hours could I dance to the different beats.
Dinner was fabulous as usual and the stars were out. Because we were in the Southern Hemisphere the stars that we see there are not the same ones we see in Hawaii, Northern Hemisphere. The pointers and the southern cross are always present. In that part of the southern hemisphere the southern cross is circumpolar. It is always above the horizon, as it circles the sky close to the celestial pole. I asked Matani’s older daughter where the souther cross would be and she quickly made herself like a bird spreading her arms out facing north and there it was. I could see the pointers. The rolling clouds were covering the cross at that moment. How beautiful it is to see our youth interested in the ways of the past. No app needed, she knew where she stood and could share with others with confidence.
The next morning we all woke up at different times and we each did our own pilgrimage to Taputapu at different times. Some of us did several trips since the proximity of the Marae to the Wa’a was minimum. Its a magnetic place to say the least.
Maja mentioned that when she stood there and closed her eyes she saw hundreds of people, a very busy place. A learning center a place of gathering and decision making. A place to speak and a place to be heard.
Later that afternoon we went to the Marae with Titaua and Mr Matora’i and we had a proper tour of the Marae. Titaua explained simple things that had puzzled me in the past like, why were some flat stones placed in an angle on the ground? Well that’s where the Ari’i or chiefs sat to listen to the items in the agenda for the day. Titaua stopped by a banyan tree and reminded us about the story he had told us previously while on the Wa’a, the story about Hina and the Puhi/fresh water eel. This tree symbolized the original tree in which she ascended to the heavens. We were allowed to go inside the Marae and listen to Mr Matora’i call his ancestors and ask permission to enter as well as show gratitude to his ancestors for the opportunity to honor them one more time on this sacred place.
He showed us the very large rock in which humans sacrifices were performed and he even explained how it was done. His family has been living near the Marae for centuries. Sacred knowledge was been passed down orally to him from his ancestors. After all, he is the Kahu of Taputapuatea.
Snorkeling around the docking area was fun. Diana got to rescue some silver ware from the shallows around the Wa’a and Ian rescued Matahi’s sun glasses at an easy 50 feet depth. There was even an octopus showing himself to us. Quite proper for the occasion. Maybe he’s someone’s aumakua ( family spirit guardian ) also enjoying the special occasion. Later that afternoon we went holoholo ( cruising ) to the nearest town. We were allowed to use Mr. Matora’i’s truck and Maja drove us all. Sitting on the back seat felt nice. The mountains were nice and green, the air was cool. Perfect weather.
The next day we headed to one of Raiatea’s many Motu’s for a snorkel. It was great! Sailing there was fun and we got to see more of the beauty of the island scenery. We were going to spend the night at the Motu but decided to go back to our spot at the dock near the Marae. It felt so good there.
That night, dinner was one of my favorite ones. So many different traditional dishes! An unforgettable buffet by Tania with the help of the crew. After eating we sat on the pier by the Wa’a and talked for many hours. We played games and asked each others questions that helped us know each other a little better.
We talked about culture. How to preserve it and how to protect it.
Time flew by and it was already time to leave Raiatea and Taputapu for Taha’a. The rain started to pour and it was fine! We had such a wonderful cultural experience. We were ready for more. Under the rain or the sun, it didn’t really matter its all a part of the experience.
We stopped in Raiatea’s main town, Uturoa to provision and have a quick peek at it. This town is much larger than Fare with many retail shops and restaurants. You can definitely feel a more modern vibe there. The ferry now going all the way to Bora Bora makes a stop there as well as in Taha’a and Huahine.
The trip from Bora to Papeete takes approximately 8 hours.
Now my friends, it’s time for me to share the story about our captain Titaua. Pay attention cause this is good !!
Titaua and his wife were given a task or exam in order to receive a Traditional Polynesian navigator/captains rank. In other words, Titaua and his wife had to pass this test and prove that they were capable to guide/drive the Wa’a ( and the people on it ) to any location on earth with out the use of modern contemporary navigation instruments such as a compass or a GPS.
They embark on a voyage and the task is to find a specific island, a very tiny atoll in the southern part of the Tuamotu Archipelago. The islands are like strings of pearls, yes there are many however some are so small that they go unseen as you sail due to swells or weather. This was not an easy task, remember no compass no GPS?
They began their journey in Papeete and went pass the tiny atoll. They were being watched or graded by a higher rank navigator from Aotearoa. Like a teacher, the navigator was watching the students perform a very hard final exam.
They had to pass this test. They wanted to pass this test.
This navigator had given them a set of tablets with information to make calculations in order to reach the chosen island. On the way down, near the island they were looking for, Titaua observed many birds in one area. He thought that for sure this island has to be close, here are the birds. This is close to the area where the island is located but the calculations on the tablet were saying that the island was not in that area. So he ignored his natural insctinct and went on using the tablets and calculation methods given to him by the navigator from Aotearoa.
They followed the instructions and calculations and as I mentioned they went too far down and did not find the island.
Titaua and his wife then decided to give it another try on their way back to Tahiti island where the voyage began. They decided to zig zag back and fourth in hopes of finding the tiny atoll. This was important to them.
The voyage back to Tahiti had started and one morning as Titaua is sat on the navigators seat looking at the ocean he gets a a woof, yes a “woof” of a very familiar smell, a smell he grew up with. The smell of trees you’ll find living in atolls like the one he grew up in Raivavae. The smell of HOME.
Titaua then stands up excitingly and asks the crew around him, guys did you smell that?? The nearest crew who were standing next to some freshly washed clothes hanging on the line said, smell what? I smell laundry detergent.
He walked a little more and asked the other crew members, hey, did you smell that?? Nope, no one had. The navigator from Aotearoa then comes out of the fare and asks him: How far do you think that “island you smelled’ is?
Titaua thinks about it and answers… maybe 25 miles?
The Wa’a went back to Tahiti with out “finding the island” . A few months later Titaua and wife are called to Aotearoa One of the first questions he was asked after being greeted by colleagues in Aotearoa was: Hey, are you the man that can smell the island?
Turns out that the “island” was literally 27 miles from where Titaua smelled it.
The master navigator had already spread the amazing news about this man… who smelled the island 27 miles away from it.
Titaua and his wife BOTH passed the exam and are both captains and navigators for Faa’faite. The are Polynesian Navigators.
They are Way Finders.
All photos by Danee Hazama
Taputapuatea at sunrise
Titaua and Matahi’s youngest daughter calling the crowds.