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9

From volcano to atoll

In the meantime, I have learnt that all Polynesian islands were created by a series of violent,

underwater volcanic eruptions. Millions of years ago, Tetiaroa, alongside its neighbouring

islands Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and others, was a volcano that arose in a stately manner

from the ocean floor. But through the centuries, the lava mass pressed down so heavily

on the ocean floor that the volcano more or less disappeared under its own weight, and

eventually sank completely under the surface of the water. A shame for the volcano, but

luckily one natural miracle seamlessly transformed into another. The downfall of the vol-

cano resulted in the birth of one of nature’s most beautiful creations: an atoll. An island,

only just raised above sea level, surrounded by a barrier reef. This means that what I can

see from the air is no more than one percent of a gigantic underlying geological structure.

A mythical past

Tetiaroa may be tiny, but nevertheless it can boast of a rich history. The first people to

land on its shores were the Ma'ohi, South-east Asian tribes, who set out to find new lands

some 3000 years B.C. These intrepid sailors travelled thousands of miles in their wooden

canoes, eventually settling on the idyllic islands in the Pacific. With them came coconuts,

bananas, breadfruit, chickens, pigs and numerous deities. The fact that these migrants

managed to travel so far in that era, was down to their excellent knowledge of the wind,

the currents and the stars. Right from the start, The Ma'ohi elected Tetiaroa as a sacred

place, because of its exceptional beauty. For them it was clear that this was the place

where the gods descended from the heavens and where the ancestors kept watch over

the new generations. Here they built temples, and organised numerous ceremonies. A visit

to Tetiaroa was a privilege awarded only to the upper classes; first to the clan elders of

the Ma'ohi, later to the royal members of the Pomare dynasty. The Pomare queens found

a cooling breeze here during the hot summers. They filled their days by honouring their

gods and letting themselves be pampered with age-old beauty rituals in which the soothing

mono'i-oil flowed readily.

And how about the Europeans?

Not until the 18th century did the first Europeans arrive in French Polynesia. In this case,

it did not form part of a journey to settle on new land, but a quest for knowledge about

the world. Englishman Samuel Wallis is generally regarded as the discoverer of Tahiti. He

set foot on land there in 1767. Two years later, the illustrious captain Cook also visited

Tahiti and some of the surrounding islands. However, it was captain Edward Edwards who,

in 1793, first set foot on Tetiaroa, during his hunt for the audacious mutineers who had

unscrupulously banished a certain captain William Bligh from his ship the Bounty. He wrote

in his logbook that the Island was a place that, once visited, one never wanted to leave.

Tetiaroa