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Raiatea (Leeward Islands, French Polynesia)


Last modified: 2019-01-13 by ivan sache
Keywords: raiatea | taputapuatea | tumaraa | uturoa |
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Flag of Raiatea - Image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 11 March 2018

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Presentation of Raiatea

Quoting the website of the Presidency of French Polynesia (page no longer online):

Raiatea is located in the southern part of the Leeward Islands. Its huge lagoon also incorporates the island of Tahaa.
Raiatea has an area of 238 square kilometers. That makes it the fourth largest island in French Polynesia in terms of area. Raiatea is shaped like an isosceles triangle with a base of 14 kilometers and a height of 20 kilometers. The island is an old former volcanic mass, the last lava having flowed some 2.5 million years ago. Raiatea's tallest point is in the south, where Mt. Tefatoaiti reaches an altitude of 1,017 meters. In the north there is the Temehani volcanic rock plateau, which rises to 792 meters and is decorated by historic peaks. Several big valleys cut deeply into the edges of this high island, creating some of the most favorable places for populations to settle. They include six bays. Alluvial fans - deposits of streams coming from a gorge upon a plain - have partially filled in the bays, offering flat land that helps compensate for the narrowness of the coastal plains.

Raiatea has the reputation of being the cradle of Polynesian civilizations. In ancient times, the island was known as Havai'i fanau'ra fenua, which means "Havai'i, the cradle". Furthermore, famous ethnologist Pearl Buck wrote that according to Polynesian mythology fragments of Havai'i broke off to create other islands, swimming like a fish to become the Windward Islands of Tahiti, Moorea, Maiao, Mehetia and Tetiaroa.
Raiatea also played the role of a religious center beginning in the 16th century. The large Taputapuatea marae was built at Opoa in the southeastern part of the island and was dedicated to Oro, the Polynesian god of war. The Oro cult later spread to the Windward Islands, resulting in the construction of maraes on Moorea and Tahiti. Unlike Tahiti, the "sacred" Raiatea has conserved many stone structures among which are the Tainuu and Taputapuatea international marae, where in ancient times priests came from Polynesian islands throughout the Pacific.
At the political level, Raiatea was traditionally divided into nine districts, with Opoa dominating two groups of four chiefdoms each. Originating from Opoa, the Tamatoa dynasty was linked to most of the other ruling families in the Society Islands, particularly the Tapoa and Pomare families. When Lt. James Cook became the first European to discover Raiatea in 1769, both Raiatea and Tahaa were ruled by King Puni of Bora Bora. But due to the frequent reversals that occurred during this period, the Tapoa and Tamatoa families succeeded each other as leaders of Raiatea and refused to let the island become a French Protectorate. In fact, Raiatea offered the greatest resistance to the French Protectorate in 1888. Chief Teraupo withdrew to Avera Valley, refusing all negotiation for many years. As leader of his men, he tried to oppose the progress of troops who came from Nouméa (New Caledonia), but he was taken prisoner on 16 February 1897 after a series of battles around Tevaitoa.

William Ellis and Teuira Henry reported the existence of two stories of floods, handed down orally in the Polynesian tradition. One flood occurred on Tahiti, the other on Raiatea. The story of the Raiatea flood gives a traditional version that makes an analogy with a biblical story, even though, according to missionaries, this version was widespread before their arrival. Ruahatu, god of the sea in Polynesian mythology, had a man's body with the tail of a swordfish. This god of the ocean, disturbed by a fisherman in his coral home, decided to cause the flooding of all the islands until Temehani was flooded. The only survivors were the fisherman, his friend, his wife and child and some animals that went to the Toa-Marama islet, the preferred place of the god of the sea. The sea rumbled, rising over the land and sweeping away everything, trees, houses, birds, animals and fish, as well as all humans who had not believed the fisherman's message. But like Noah of the Bible, the family was saved, along with a dog, a pig and a couple of chickens. The island of Raiatea was later repopulated little by little. The islanders offer as proof of what they say the presence of farere, coral and shells at the tops of their highest mountains.

The 1996 census reported a population of 10,063 persons on Raiatea. The islanders were divided among three districts, Uturoa (3,421), Taputapuatea (3,625) and Tumaraa (3,017). Farming and cattle raising (1,200 heads) have been particularly developed on the east coast. On the west side of the island, the lack of adequate plains hampered farming activities and prompted the people to turn their attention to the taking advantage of the ocean. In 1996, Raiatea had 51 self-employed fishermen who caught 210 tons of fish a year. Uturoa's marsh area was once used for breeding mussels, but the effort was later abandoned. Compared with Bora Bora, Raiatea's tourism is modest for an island with no beaches. Its airport experienced regularly traffic growth from 1990 onward, reaching 98,362 passengers in 1966.

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2005

Flag of Raiatea

The flag of Raiatea, horizontally divided white-red-white-red-white, was hoisted on 1 April 2010 in the port of Uturoa to celebrate the "return of the King", here the first mooring of the ferry King Tamatoa, operated by the Raromatia Ferry company (Les Nouvelles de Tahiti, 1 April 2010). Unfortunately, the company bankrupted and the service was stopped on 7 June 2010 after 19 journeys. This was the sixth failed attempt since 1994 to open a scheduled line between Tahiti and the Leeward Islands.
The flag is captioned "the Raromatai flag of the inhabitants of Raiatea", Raromatai being the Polynesian name of the Leeward Islands (Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora).

As shown onthe Flags of Paradise chart [brt96], this is the historical flag of the Kingdom of Raiatea (photo), used in 1847-1880, before the establishment of the French Protectorate.

Ivan Sache & Olivier Touzeau, 12 March 2018

French Protectorate of Raiatea (1880-1888)

[Flag]         [Flag]

Flag of the Protectorate of Raiatea - Images by Ivan Sache, 31 December 2011
Left, from a photo of the time;
Right, as shown on the Flags of Paradise chart.

A photo credited to J. Agostini, portrays the Raiatea Royal family, with, in the background, Teraupo hoisting the Protectorate flag. Teraupo does not look amused, which is not surprising, since he was the main leader of the struggle for autonomy.
Teraupo (c. 1855- c. 1910, biography) revolted against the Protectorate imposed by France to Raiatea in 1880 and the subsequent annexation of the island to France in 1888. As the chief of the Avera District, he challenged the power of the last Tamatoa kings and of chiefs Tahitoe and Tavana, who had accepted the French rule. Supported by half of the local chiefs and by the British pastors, Teraupo was considered by the French administration as an English agent. Taraupo, withdrawn to Avera with 600 members of his clan, refused all negotiation with French envoys and raised the inhabitants of the neighboring districts of Tevaitoa and Vaitoare. The French rulers first played for time, hoping that support to Teraupo would vanish with time, to no avail. On 2 January 1897, the French Army attacked Avera; Taraupo, betrayed by the fire's smoke escaping from the cave where he hid, was captured on 16 February 1897, which ended the revolt. Deported to Nouméa (New Caledonia), Teraupo was repatriated to Raiatea in 1905, being since then considered as the hero of the Polynesian independence.

The flag reconstructed from the photo would be horizontally divided white-red-white-red-white with the French tricolore in canton, square and covering one half of the flag's hoist. The French tricolore is separated from the flag main's field by a white fimbriation of width 1/10th of the flag's hoist (or, equally, one half of the height of a stripe).
The Flags of Paradise chart [brt96], shows the flag with a rectangular French flag in canton.

On 16 March 1888, Governor Lacascade, on board of the Decrès cruiser, issued a Proclamation "placing the Raiatea-Tahaa, Huahine, Borabora and Dependencies islands under the full and entire sovereignty of France" (Journal des Établissements français de l'Océanie, 26 March 1888, French-Polynesian bilingial text).

Article 2.
The national flag of France should be the only flag hoisted there, as of today, in the presence of the civil and military authorities, of the indigenous civil servants and of the Army and Navy troops, which shall present the arms when the flag is raised.

Paraskevas Renesis & Ivan Sache, 31 December 2011

Raiatea sports flag


Sports flag of Raiatea - Image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 1 December 2017

The flag of Raiatea used by the Tahitian Football Federation is orange with two tiare 'apetahi flowers and the text "ISLV" (for "Îles sous le vent", Leeward Islands) and "RAIATEA".

Tiare 'apetahi (Apetahia raiatensis Baill.), the emblem of Raiatea, is a shrub endemic to the island. It grows only in Te mehani, a mountain area located in the center of the island. Attempts of transplantation to other parts of Raiatea or to other islands have all failed.
A survey of tiare 'apetahi showed that 75% of the plants have disappeared within ten years, mostly because of destruction by rats and abusive harvesting. Phytophagous insects, feral pigs, and invasive plants are also involved in the. Accordingly, Tiare 'apetahi is under critical threat of extinction.
[F.A. Jacq & J.Y. Meyer. 2012. Taux de mortalité et causes de disparition de Apetahia raiateensis (Campanulaceae), une plante endémique de l'île de Raiatea (Polynésie française). Revue d'Écologie (La Terre et la Vie), Suppl, 11, 57-72; National Survey of Natural Heritage]

The hand-shaped flower of tiare 'apetahi is the matter of several local legends. One of them says that Apetahi, after a dispute with her husband, climbed on Te mehani. Before claiming her own life, she cut one of her arms and stuck it into a hole, the hand upwards. The next morning, the mountain was covered with white hand-shaped flowers.
The name of the plant means "on a single side" in Tahitian, refering to the five petals located on only one side of the flower, forming a semi-corolla.
[Polynésie 1ere, 22 April 2017]

Apetahia raiatensis is inscribed on the list of protected species, category A (granted integral legal protection), per Article A.121-1 of the Code of Environment, as prescribed in Decree No. 306 CM, issued on 20 February 2008 and published on 28 February 2008 in the official gazette of French Polynesia, No. 9, pp. 829-839 (text).

Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán & Ivan Sache, 1 December 2017



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Flag of Taputapuatea used in the Raromatai festival; Llft, 2017, right, 2013 - Images by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 11 March 2018

Taputapuatea uses probably unofficial flags in the Raromatai festival. In 2017, the flag was white with the municipal seal over all the center. In 2013, the flag was horizontally divided red-white with the seal in upper fly and the municipality's name written in black in the white stripe.

Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 11 March 2018


[Flag]         [Flag]

Flag of Tumaraa used in the Raromatai festival; Llft, 2017, right, 2013 - Images by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 11 March 2018

Taputapuatea uses probably unofficial flags in the Raromatai festival. In 2017, the flag was plain blue. In 2013, the flag was blue with the municipal seal.

Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 11 March 2018



Flag of Uturoa used in the Raromatai festival - Image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 11 March 2018

Taputapuatea uses a probably unofficial flag in the Raromatai festival, red with the municipal emblem in white.

Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 11 March 2018