Mahaiatea was famed for being the biggest marae in Tahiti. It was built between 1766 and 1768 by Teriinui o Tahiti with a stone from the marae Tooarai in Papara at its base, at the request of Purea and Amo, the parents of Teri’irere i outu rau na To’oara’i.
But legend has it that it was the god of the ocean, Ruhatu, who had laid the foundation stone of Mahaiatea after having punished Raiatea in anger. When the inhabitants of Papara asked him who he was, he replied « E atua vau i te maha’i atea » (I am a god of lasting peace).
That’s how the marae got its name Mahaiatea (lasting peace).
Captain James Cook was the first to give a written description of this monument in 1769, writing that it was a « magnificent specimen of Indian architecture ». Indeed, the pyramid form does resemble the architecture of Mayan temples. The second person to describe it was Captain Wilson in 1799, writing: « The marae is a huge pile of stones in the form of a pyramid on a rectangular base, made with a series of ten steps (…). It is an astonishing construction and it must have required an immense effort and much time to fetch all these stones(…) ».
We can well imagine how fascinating the two captains must have found this monument.
With the arrival of Europeans in the 18th century and Christian missionaries in the 19th century , Polynesian culture nearly disappeared, and with it most of the knowledge of Polynesian beliefs. The marae were abandoned to the ravages of nature and ill-treatment by man. The stones of Mahaiatea were used for builing roads and a bridge in the 19th century, the coral was used for lime powder, and over the next century or so the walls were washed away by the sea.
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