On November 8, members of a Native Tahitian Organization from Papeno’o, Tahiti by the name of Haururu visited the Kalaeloa Heritage Park. Facilitating the visit was both Matahiarii Tutavae and Yohann Bouit.
Haururu is a private non-profit organization, established in 1994 to protect, restore and share every aspect of the heritage of the Papenoʻo Valley. This is the mission of Haururu. Papeno’o is one of the deepest and most remote valleys in Tahiti and for a longest time few ventured into its pristine forest. It became obvious to members of Haururu that many ancient Tahitians had at one time lived within the inner recesses of this valley by the numbers of ancient house sites and cultural structures only recently discovered. In the late 1800s people abandoned Papeno’o Valley when Christian missionaries established a village center along the coastline fronting this valley. The discovery of this ancient Tahitian village established an interest and motivation of a number of Tahitians to work toward the preservation of these ancient sites to include marae, archery platforms, house foundations, and other agricultural and communal structures. This is Haururu. The name Haururu was taken from one of the valley’s old place names meaning a place of peace and gathering. Haururu was a place of refuge where people could come and seek protection. The Native Tahitian Organization Haururu takes care of several sites, throughout the Papeno’o Valley, the main one being the village of Fare Hape in the center of the island. Fare Hape translates to “the house of the caterpillar”. It is related to the story of Pele. It was a place of learning, and according to archeological surveys there once lived 10,000 people within Fare Hape.
In the late 1980ʻs when Tahiti developed hydroelectric dams a trail leading to the center of the island was built to allow trucks and later cars, to access the many sites that have been covered in vegetation for centuries. It was during this period that people from Papenoʻo started to become more concerned about the many changes taking place and the destruction of their ancient sites that they decided to stand up to protect the valley. It was during this time that they started to learn more about Papeno’o and its history. Much like here in Hawaii that history in part came from families that possessed the stories of that ancient past.
It was in the year 2000 when Haururu hosted over 300 people in the valley, including Hawaiians in an effort to share the colorful past of Papeno’o. In keeping with Tahitian traditions they conducted the first awa ceremony in well over several hundreds of years. They learned about the origins of Pele who they also call Teʻura vahine. They identify these ancient cultural platforms as a place where Pele once danced upon.
Since then Fare Hape has also hosted over 10,000 people per year, including school children and university students. One of their main efforts as part of their interpretive program is their cycle of time with respect to the natural world and how it relates to traditional protocols and land management practices. Many taro terraces have been restored through the efforts of volunteers growing food, and native plants as a way to teach. All with respect to the rising and setting of the sun and seasonal changes.
Much like here in Hawaiʻi and Aotearoa, the pleiades (Matarii) is the main marker of time dividing their year into 2 main seasons. Since 2000, Haururu managed to bring this awareness on time into schools from elementary to high schools.
This perhaps was one of the most interesting visits by a cultural organization. What made this visit by members of Haururu to the Kalaeloa Heritage Park so interesting to me was the many similarities, not just in cultural thought and beliefs, but the similarity in the construction and natural resources of our cultural structures to theirs. Their preservation work is within a forested region of Tahiti. Their ancient past was also shaped by geology. Their mountainous regions, dry coastal shorelines and arid plains are similar to ours. These different regions shaped a different subsistence lifestyle and the resources used in the construction of their house sites, agricultural, religious and burial practices. Their dry coast regions of low coral plains have no surface fresh water. Their water travels underground within a karst much like Kalaeloa. Their water and agricultural sinkholes are built in the same manner as those in the Kalaeloa Heritage Park. One elderly Tahitian went so far as to say that their agricultural sinkhole grew sugar cane anciently. Coral is used in the construction of the walls around their sinkholes and upright stones are integrated into their construction.
At the end of the day I came away from this site tour having learned much more than I think I shared with them. Although we are separated by some 5,000 miles of water we are not that far apart. We finished the day with each of us taking turns braiding 3 strands of hau from Papeno’o. It was then placed on the crypt. It symbolized our connection with each other with those of the past and those children yet unborn.
By Shad Kane