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Papara (Municipality, Tahiti, French Polynesia)

Last modified: 2018-01-25 by ivan sache
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Flag of Papara - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 25 August 2018


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Presentation of Papara

The municipality of Papara (11,143 inhabitants in 2012; 9,300 ha) is located south of Papeete.

Olivier Touzeau, 25 August 2018


Flag of Papara

The flag of Papara (photo, photo, photo) is dark yellow with two thin dark blue stripes at the upper and lower sides (about 1:10:1) and the emblem of the municipality in the center.
The emblem features the Maharatee marae, as represented on drawings made by visitors in the 17th century. The mountain in the background must be Mou’a Tamaiti.

The marae was erected in 1766-1768 on Manomano Point by King Purea and Queen Amo for the consecration of their son, Teri’irere i outu rau na To’oara’i. The marae was dedicated to god Oro; when warriors from Bora Bora sacked the Tapuapuatea maraea in Raiatea, the god's sacred image was saved by Grand Priests Tupaia and Maraea, who transported it on their pirogue. Tupai soon became the lover of Queen Purea. The tradition says that the cornerstone of the marae was laid down by Ruahatou, the sea god, after the Deluge. When asked by people who he was, the god answered, "I am the god of extended pacification", in Tahitian "Eatua vau i te maha’i atea", therefore the name given to the marae.
Like other Tahitian royal marae, the Mahiatea marae was erected on a promontory entering the sea. Manomano Point is so narrow that the marae was hit by the waves during storms.

Captain James Cook described in 1769 the Mahaiatea marae as "a wonderful specimen of Indian architecture... It is a rectangular pyramid whose base is 81 m on 26.50 m, the top step being 54 m on 2.13 m. The 11 steps, each of 1.20 m, have an overall height of 13.50 m. Each step is made of a row of coral stones, thoroughly cut, on which are placed other rounded-off stones uniformly cut. The sacred images were placed on the altar during religious ceremonies. The paved yard, 88 m on 81 m, was surrounded by a low stone wall.
Captain James Wilson further described the marae, in 1799 as "a huge stack of stones in pyramidal shape on a rectangular araa, made of a series of 10 steps [...] It is a stunning building and it took them tremendous effort and a very long time to bring all the stones, and to cut the coral flagstones with the devices of the time.
Long after having been converted to the Christian religion, the locals still respected the marae as the sacred place and feared the powers of the ancient gods. William Stewart, the "Cotton King" of Atimaono, ordered his Chinese workers to use the marae as a stone quarry when building new roads or workshops. The marae was further ruined in 1909 when a lime kiln was establish there during the building of the Taharuu and Vairahaeaha bridges.
[Tahiti Heritage]

The rehabilitation of the sacred site was initiated in December 2016. under the guidance of Mark Eddowes, a New Zealander archeologist working at the Department of Culture of French Polynesia. Eddowes has been living since 1982 in French Polynesia; he directed several marae excavation campaign in the Asutral Islands and in Moorea.
The project aims at retrieving the foundations of the marae and "to show to tourists and children of Papara the remains of the marae".
[La Dépêche de Tahiti, 23 January 2017]

Mou'a Tamaiti (1,474 m), the Teva sacred mountain, forms the limit of the Papara and Te Piha ia Teta, in the upper Papenoo valley.
Mou'a Tamaiti is traditionally recalled as a diving board used by giants, who dived into a shallow lake, sometimes loosing their life. The most famous of them, Honoura i te pii marina, dived from Mou'a Tamaiti after his heroic struggle with the swordfish Auroa, which had stuck its rostrum into the mountain.
[Tahiti Heritage]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 10 December 2017