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Bora Bora (Leeward Islands, French Polynesia)


Last modified: 2009-03-21 by ivan sache
Keywords: bora bora | vavau | leeward islands |
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[Bora Bora flag]

Flag of Bora Bora - Image by Ivan Sache, 20 August 2005

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Presentation of Bora Bora

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

This member of the Leeward Islands is located 280 kilometers northwest of the island of Tahiti at 16º30'S and 151º45'W. The 1996 census found a population of 5,767 persons. The name Bora Bora became as famous as that of Tahiti after visiting French yachtsman Alain Gerbault and American soldiers based there during World War II boasted of Bora Bora's beauty and charm.
Bora Bora is a small island that covers only 38 square kilometers. It is part of a small basaltic chain whose tallest point is Mt. Otemanu, with its height of 727 meters. Otemanu, means bird, or, "the sea bird", according to Teuira Henry, author of "Ancient Tahiti". This massive mountain of basalt that dominates the center of the island was, according to legend, the place where phaetons gathered. As on neighboring Mt. Pahia, "during the incubating period the people, aided by jagged points protruding from the rock, surprised the phaetons in their nests and removed their beautiful red feathers", Jules Dumont d'Urville wrote in his book Voyage autour du monde (Voyage Around the World).
The west coast of the island is broken up by two deep bays, Faanui and Poofai, which is opposite Motu Toopua, all that is left of the ancient edge of a volcanic crater.
Bora Bora was formed after many volcanic eruptions that began four million years ago and continued over hundreds of thousands of years. Since then, the island has undergone a slow sinking movement. Its lagoon is encircled by a wide coral reef that encloses several big motus with sand beaches. They are Tevairoa, Motu One, Motu Mute and Motu Piti Aau. There is only one pass from the ocean through the reef into the lagoon. It is the Teavanui Pass on the west side of the island.

No archaeological study has been able to determine how long humans have lived on Bora Bora. But the first Polynesians probably arrived around 900 AD shortly after having settled on the island of Raiatea. According to Polynesian mythology, Bora Bora (or Pora Pora), which stands for "first-born", was the first island drawn out of the ocean after the creation of Havai'i (Raiatea).
Archeologist Kenneth Emory of Hawaii listed 42 marae on Bora Bora. Like in the other Leeward Islands, Bora Bora's marae are not enclosed, and their big ahu, or altars, are raised and smooth coral platforms. The exceptions are the ahu of the Fare Opu marae, which are decorated with turtle petroglyphs. The Vaiotaha marae is the most important of all the marae. The chiefs who received their investiture at this marae wore maro tea around their heads. They were undoubtedly the most powerful among the Leeward Islands, but, according to tradition, they had to bow before the kings of Raiatea who wore the maro'ura. They also were exposed to the rivalry among the kings of Nunue and Anau, whose marae was named Marotetini or Farerua.
Yet, Bora Bora regained its supremacy during the 18th century, thanks to the arrival in 1769 of the great chief Puni. But during this period power was already in the hands of his nephew, Tapoa I, who, with Tamatoa, the chief of Raiatea, helped Pomare II during the battle of Fe'i Pi in 1815. An independent kingdom followed successively from Tapoa II to Teriimaevarua I and Teriimaevarua II, leading up to French annexation of Bora Bora in 1888.

Meanwhile, the people of Bora Bora were converted to Protestantism and their church was organized by the Reverend John Orsmond in 1818. The way of life for Bora Bora's population remained traditional all during the 19th century, not much disturbed by the development of the two export crops of copra and vanilla. "Jack London, Alain Gerbault, Bernard Villaret knew Bora Bora before the last world war, which brutally put the island in contact with the world and forced upon it the presence of an American base", Cl. Robineau wrote in his work Bora-Bora.
Operation Bobcat brought 5,000 American soldiers to the island in December 1942. An aviation runway 2,000 meters (6,562 ft.) long was built, eight artillery guns were installed and 30 fuel storage facilities were built. But the retreat of the Japanese left Bora Bora free from combat and the Americans left the island in June 1946.

Ivan Sache, 17 August 2005

Flag of Bora Bora

The flag of Bora Bora, as seen opposite the main harbour of the island, Vaitape, and beside the two official flags of France and French Polynesia, has five horizontal stripes red-white-red-white-red.

Gunter Zibell, translated by Santiago Dotor, 23 January 2001

This flag was the flag of the Kingdom of Bora Bora, 1847-1888, as shown on the Flags of Paradise chart [brt96].

Ivan Sache, 19 August 1998

Mistaken flag of Bora Bora, 1879

[Mistaken Bora Bora flag]

Mistaken flag of Bora Bora, 1879 - Image by Ivan Sache, 20 August 2005

An incident occurred in the last century when many national flags were still known only locally. At that time the Flag Book issued to Royal Navy ships contained forms so that unrecorded national flags could be reported to the Admiralty. In January 1879 Captain Robinson of HMS Opal, Senior Naval Officer in the Sandwich Islands, reported the national flags of Nuaheine, Raiatea and Borabora in the Society Islands, "which I send as certain vessels belonging to foreign firms at Tahiti sail from there to Valparaiso and other ports under Boraborain flags". He drew the Bora Bora flag as a white flag with three red horizontal stripes. His despatch reached Rear Admiral Horsey, C-in-C Pacific Station, on HMS Triumph at Acapulco, who passed it on to London, adding, "recommend these national flags be inserted in Admiralty Flag Book it being desirable to mark as far as circumstances admit, the fact of the islands of Nuaheine, Raiatea and Borabora being independent of the French Protectorate of Otaheite."

However in May 1880, Rear Admiral Stirling on HMS Osprey reported from Tahiti that the Bora Bora flag drawn by Captain Robinson, "was the flag of treason and was used only a short time by the hand of the rebellion in the island of Maupiti, when that place was in revolt about three years ago". The correct flag was "red with two white stripes submitted by the chiefs in 1847".

Source: ADM 116/185, Public Records Office, Kew.

David Prothero, 21 August 1998