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Tentative List Submission Format Annex 2



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Name of property : The sacred complex Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō, Ō-po-ä Valley

State, Province or Region : France, French Polynesia, Leeward Islands, Ra’i-ātea

Latitude and Longitude, or UTM coordinates : 160 50’ S 1510 25’ W


The grand marae (stone platforms) Tapu-tapu-ātea (« sacrifices from abroad») is at the heart
of a ceremonial complex on the island of de Ra’i-ātea. This island is reknown as the sacred
island of the Society island, Havai’i, a toponym extremely important that we find in most of
Polynesian archipelagos.
The Society Islands is at the heart of the eastern Polynesia, area we often name the
“Polynesian triangle”, a wide geographic and cultural zone of the Pacific, which extends to
Hawai’i, Easter Island and New Zealand.
The process of human colonization of these extreme region is not yet well known, but
scientist agree on the fact that it is one of the last areas of the world to be occupied by a
population of navigators, Polynesians, who came from the western Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga),
1,500 years ago.
The various remote archipelagos, once populated, we know by archaeology that inter-islands
exchanges over long distances existed over several centuries, to finally become scarce from
the 15th century A.D. At this time, the inhabitants of Society Islands seem to have gone
through important social and political changes, which most of the oral traditions attribute this
origin to Ra’i-ātea, formerly called Havai’i, in the Chiefdom of Ō-po-ä. These changes are
evident by the emergence of major lineages of chiefs, ari'i hui, associated with the
development of religious worship of the god Ta'aroa, then the god Oro, whose cult was
centered at Tapu-tapu-ātea. They then extend their influence not only throughout the
archipelago, but on remote islands: Cook Islands, Austral, Tuamotu, and probably to Hawaii
until the late 18th century (when the Europeans arrived in the archipelago). Thus the marae
Tapu-tapu-ātea were founded on these islands, from the marae strain O-po-ä.
The marae Tapu-tapu-ātea was the center of this political and religious power, located in the
southeastern part of the island Ra’i-ātea (sky where the goddess Atea remains), known as a

sacred island, formerly called Havai’I nui (the grand Havai’i). The marae was built in a place
named Te Pō (« World of ancestors and gods »), kingdom of “tapu” or sacred, where
Polynesian gods are present. “Te Pō” is located on the Point “Matahirä-i-te-ra'i”(the first
effigy of marae exempt of stain and raised towards the sky) , in front of the sacred pass “Te
Ava Mo'a” (« the sacred pass »).
The marae, the open air temples, constituted a major hub of the ancient Tahitian society,
playing an important socio-political role in their relation to the genealogies and their land. A
marae was linked to a genealogy, a title and a place, the earth. It was dedicated to a deified
ancestor, or one of the many gods of the Polynesian pantheon. Thus was assured the link
between the people living in the visible world (Ao) and in the invisible (PO).These
monuments were constructed of lithic platforms in basalts or in corals. These These
assembled three essentiel elements, present every where in Polynesia under various forms :
the court, the open space which is in general rectangular where ceremonies took place, the
ahu, a platform, a highly sacred plassed, and dressed stones where the gods came incarnated
during the ceremonies. were sacred areas assuring the links between the visible world (Ao)
and the invisible world (Pō). The foundation of a new marae was done from a stone brought
from an ancient marae.
The archaeological complex itself includes several marae, the largest which is named Tapu-
tapu-atea. According to oral traditions of Ra’i-ātea, it was founded from the marae Vaeara'i
(heavenly foot) of O-po-a, where the god Ta'aroa ("infinite knowledge"), the creator god of all
things, put his foot for the first time. This marae measures about sixty meters long and 45
meters wide. At one end, is built an ahu, the most sacred space of the marae, a platform
constructed of large slabs of coral reaching over three meters in height. It is adjacent to the
small marae of Hiro, Polynesian god of the pantheon, also founding ancestor of the lineage of
chiefs of O-po-ä.
Among the other most important monuments, are the marae Hauviri, was the family temple of
the line Tamatoa. It contains in his court the great stone called Te-Papa-tea-o-Ruea, brought
by Hiro to mark the founding of ari'I (« chiefs ») on the island of Ra’i-ātea. It was used for
the investiture of chiefs. On the land adjacent to Hititai, is a marae and various platforms and
stone. These marae were once shaded by many sacred trees and occupied by numerous
wooden constructions, houses for priests and to receive objects for the cult.
The entire site is bounded by natural features of the landscape, which had an important
symbolic meaning: in the east, the crest of the hill Matarepeta, which extends into the sea by
the rock Te Tupa’i ‘Ofa’i, to the west by a basalt cliff called Tuiamarafea. The tapu (sacred)
area was prolonged up to the pass.
The sacred site is part of the Ō-po-ä (« who entered in the world of Pö ») Valley located the
extremity of the bay "To'ahiva" (« rocks of the warrior chief »), which encompasses dwellings
and complex of marae dominated by the mountain Te-a’e-tapu, and the mount Rohutu, known
to be the area of residence of the spirits of deceased in the Pō.

The complex of elements constituting the landscape of the property, from the dominating
mountain peaks to the open reef, is recited in a "paripari fenua" (toponimic chant of
glorification dedicated to a particular chiefdom through its natural borders), or traditional
oratorical declamation passed from generation to generation from immemorial times. The
paripari fenua gathers intrinsically the whole natural elements of the marae to make an unique
and indivisble sacred landscape.
The sacred site of Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō, Ō-po-ä Valley, was the centre of a inter-island
Alliance, uniting the chiefdoms of the Society Islands, Rarotonga (Cook Islands) Rotuma
(western Pacific) and Communities of New Zealand.The sacred pass of Ō-po-ä was once
crossed by oceanic canoes leaving for long journeys and those who today come to pay tribute

to ceremonies, rituals and cultural events on the marae Tapu-tapu-ātea. It is through this pass
of Ō-po-ä, that once between the XIV and XVIII century, polynesian canoes undertook long
journeys to reach the islands as far away as Ao-tea-roa (« the country of the long white
cloud », New Zealand) and Hawai'i (« the grand »).

Statement of Outstanding Universal Value :

The sacred site of Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō, Valley of Ō-po-ä is an outsanding example eastern
Polynesian cultural landscape, where each natural elements had their symbolic signfication.
The site is characterized by monumental structures of stones and of corals forming one of the
largest complexes of marae of the Polynesian world. The ancestral function of this site
illustrates the art of traditional navigation by the stars in the Polynesian triangle. The
established exchanges by means of this art over the centuries, covers thousands of kilometres
and demonstrate the extraordinary qualities of navigators, the boldness of Polynesian
seafarers, their knowledge of the stars, oceans, seasons and weather conditions.

This reknown religious temple was the symbol of the ceremonial and political supremacy of a
chiefdom, that characterized the Polynesian social organization during the pre-European
times, marked by important social and political stratification, which influenced the fate of
neighboring islands.
Tapu-tapu-ātea was considered as the unique “international” marae, which means that its
important extended beyond Ra’i-ātea and the Society Islands. Indeed, the district of Ō-po-ä
and its marae Tapu-tapu-ātea was the center of an inter-island alliance named “Hau faatau
aroha”, or “chiefdoms which establish alliances”. The Alliance brought together two groups
of islands: the East coast Ra’i-ātea including Ō-po-ä, the peninsula of Huahine and Tahiti,
were part of the “Dark world” (Te-ao-uri) while the west coast of Ra’i-ātea and other Society
Islands as well as Rarotonga (Cook islands), Rotuma and Aotearoa-New Zealand were
designated as part of the alliance of the “Light world” (Te-ao-tea). The representatives of
these islands would gather at Ō-po-ä on occasions of periodical events, the days of the
meeting were specified according to a traditional calender based on stars and seasons.

According to oral traditions, Ta'aroa (« the infinite wisdom ») father of polynesians gods and
creator of all things, came first on earth by the Ō-po-ä Valley to create Havai'i, the
Polynesian ancestral homeland. So we called Ra’iātea, the acknowledged spiritual homeland
of the Polynesian communities of Hawai'i, the Cook Islands, up to Aotearoa-New Zealand,
and the common place of return of the Polynesians spirits after death.
In a more recent time, probably from the XVII century, the marae Tapu-tapu-ātea was
dedicated to one of the sons of the god Ta’aroa, 'Oro, the Polynesian god of beauty, of
fertility and of war. This site also became the ritual centre of the society Arioi, member of a
fraternity, worshipers of the god 'Oro. The Arioi propagated the cult of ‘Oro from island to
island throughout the eastern Polynesia, bringing with them new values and new socio-
political organization.
Although ancient religious practices have not survived until today, the local communities of
the Polynesian triangle have maintained or found a strong spiritual attachment with the site of
Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō. This phenomenon related to identity issues, is at the origin of cultural
gatherings at the site, which reinforce the historical and cultural links between the Polynesian

Thus, the site of the marae Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Po is an outstanding example of a Polynesian

cultural landscape ; it is unique in its role of "international" marae within the Polynesian

triangle, which today, still brings together the different Polynesian communities.

Criteria met :

(i) (ii) (iii) √ (iv) √ (v) √ (vi) √ (vii) (viii) (ix) (x)

(iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a

civilization which is living or which has disappeared;

Based on oral traditions, from the 16th century, the site of Tapu-tapu-ātea became a powerful
political and religious centre dedicated to the cult of 'Oro, god of war and fertility. It was also
the centre of rituals of Arioi, large society of followers of the god 'Oro, a secular form of
worship of this god, a fraternity composed of priests, warriors, artists, dancers, musicians of
young people who travelled in fleet of canoes in order to entertain people and take part in
splendorous and religious ceremonies. The Arioi carried effigies of the god 'Oro and stones
from the marae Tapu-tapu-ātea of Ō-po-ä to propagate the cult of ‘Oro from island to island.
According to the testimony of the traditions of these islands, this phenomenon has been
accompanied by transformations of worship and local social organizations, on the model of
O-po-ä. That is how we find several Tapu-tapu-ātea marae in Tahiti and Moorea, built around
a foundation stone taken from the main marae of Ra’i-ātea ; we find them also in Fakarava
(Tuamotu Islands), Tubuai (Austral Islands), Rarotonga (Cook) and maybe on O'ahu and
Molokai (Hawaii). Furthermore, in Aotearoa-New Zealand, we find various cultural places
where stones of the site were placed by navigators (Otaki church, Kawhia, etc. ,...). In a
archipelago as far as Hawai’I, we find three heiau (hawaiien temples) called kapukapuakea,
on the islands of O’ahu, Kaua’i and Molokai. In New Zeland, the National Park of Tongariro
has been inscribed on the World Heritage List. Once, the property is traced back to the priest
Maori Ngatoroirangi, who came from Ra'iatea aboard the canoe Te Arawa. This site thus
possess a genealogical link with the site Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō. The indigenous communities
of the two sites have also retied the relationship that once existed during the period of the
friendly Alliance.

The importance of the Tapu-tapu-ātea as symbol of origin of political and religious

transformations that experienced the polynesian society during their history is perceptible in
the the transmission of the name of this marae to other regional sites.

(iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological

ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;

The marae Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō, valley of Ō-po-ä , was known at the end of the XVIII
century as the largest and oldest of the royal marae in the Society Islands. By this, the marae
is representative of the monumental architecture of the Society Islands during Protohistoric
The marae Tapu-tapu-ātea is part of a system of ancient representations specific to eastern
Polynesia but vivacious in which the cosmogony holds an essential role. The relation of
Polynesians to their environment is expressed fully in the paripari fenua, that identified and
glorified the natural limits of the territory.
The architecture of the marae Tapu-tapu-ātea is outstanding by its monumentality and the use
of large slabs of coral limestone cut in the reef. And it is possible that the reputation of the
marae has influenced the construction of new marae on this model in the Society Islands.

The construction of the marae obeys to an orientation defined by the stellar or solar axes : its
ahu (the sacred platform), was oriented along an east-west axe, so that the sun rose behind the

(v) to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use

which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the
environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible

In these Polynesian societies scattered across the Pacific Ocean, the sea had a symbolic and
religious importance. These islands were discovered and populated by the sea, have
maintained contact with each other, sometimes on very long distances, by the exceptional
traditional sailing skills without instruments.
At the time of the Alliances of chiefdoms Hau fa’atau aroha, the grand marae Tapu-tapu-
ātea, represented a preferred destination of circuits navigation. It is through the sacred pass
(Te-Ava-mo’a) that arrived canoes coming from other Polynesian islands.. The navigators
followed the paths of stars (avei'a), read the constellations for the road to take, interpreted the
changes in waves and currents, and the position of the sun in order to arrive at their
The inter-island trips were done on large canoes, their constructions were strictly regulated by
religious rituals which were stored near the marae. The importance of the canoe (va’a) is
found in the analogy between the canoe and the marae. Thus the marae themselves can be
regarded as a representation of canoes (va’a) pulled on earth, once they have arrived on their
final destination. Vocabularies designating different parts of the marae can be found in the
vocabularies of canoes (tira, ava’a, to’o…). The to'o (effigies representing the gods,
especially ‘Oro) were kept in house of gods, built on stilts which roofs were shaped like an
inverted canoe. The Ocean itself was considered as the supreme marae, where travellers could
dedicate their worship to their ancestors when they were far away from their family’s marae.

(vi) to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with
beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The
Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other

The sacred complex Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō became the main place for the expression of
Polynesians identity, where cultural representatives from islands of the Polynesian triangle
gather regularly, whose ancestors, according to tradition, left Hava’i Nui which became
Ra’iātea to populate other remote islands such as Hawaii or New Zealand.
Following the Christianization and oblivion of the ancient gods, the Marae Tapu-tapu-atea has
lost its religious function, but it retained its aura of mana (spiritual power).The grand marae
Tapu-tapu-ātea kept over time its function as a place of resourcement of spirituality, as
symbol of a common origine, for the Polynesian communities today separated by borders.
This place of spiritual resourcement and identity is now attended by the regional cultural and
political personalities pleased to find their roots here, and eager to reclaim the old ties that
existed between people dispersed on the Ocean. The spiritual, cultural role of the marae
Tapu-tapu-ātea within the oceanic world isat this point of view, outstanding.
Locally, the Marae Tapu-tapu-atea retained considerable symbolic importance for the
inhabitants of the island and the archipelago of Society Islands. It became an unavoidable
touristic spot of the island, it represents primarily a real cultural and heritage challenge for

population of the island. For example, the village of Tapu-tapu-ātea of the island of Raiatea,
took and kept the name of the marae till today.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The sacred complex Tapu-tapu-ātea has been observed and described during its apogee by the
first Europeans at the end of the XVIII century. It was studied for the first time by the
archaeolgist K.P. Emory in 1920, who also directed a collection of oral traditions and
genealogies that he heard from the seniors of the islands. This work allows us to know its
original state. The site has been subject of several archaeological fieldworks and a first
restoration in 1994. In addition to this researches, many oral traditions, puta tupuna (book of
ancestors) and various accounts dating from the XVIII, XIX and XX century, complete our
knowledge of the site.
The Marae Tapu-tapu-ātea was listed in 1952, it is protected by regulations of French
Polynesia. The listing as well as the respect of the site itself allowed its proper preservation to
this day.
The grand site is currently under the direct responsibility of French Polynesian government,
and its Department of Culture and Heritage and the Department of Land Affairs. It is
managed by the Service of culture and heritage.
A management plan for the entire property, including the sacred site Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō up
to the reef, and the Ō-po-ä Valley, should be established in close consultation with the
residents of the village of Tapu-tapu-ātea. For this a management committee of the site Tapu-
tapu-ātea/Te Pō was established in 2009, in accordance with the guidelines of the UNESCO
2010-2015 Action Plan of the Pacific. This management Comity is composed of the
municipality, the descendants of the great Tamatoa lineage, the delegated of the civil society,
and local cultural association.
Today, a local cultural association « Nä Papa e Va’u », (« the Eight Stones of Foundation»)
composed in majority of the local population of Ō-po-ä , especially created for the
preservation of the sacred complex Tapu-tapu-ātea / Te Pō in May 2006, carries the project of
nomination on the World Heritage List since 2006 and ensures the involvement of the local

Comparison with other similar properties

There are still millions stone-built marae in French Polynesia, in Cook Islands, under
different designation and different forms, religious structures in Hawaii, New Zealand and in
Easter Island. However none has the fame of the Tapu-tapu-ātea site.

The Rapa Nui National Park, inscribed in the World heritage list and famous for its
architectural complex of stone monuments (ahu) and stone structures (mo’ai) that represented
most important ancestors. However the monuments have long been abandoned at the moment
of Contact with the Europeans. The cults have long been replaced by a new social and
political order based on the the cult of the birdman. The extreme geographic isolation of
Easter Island, and its degradation of weather and environment, became one of the factors of
vulnerability for the Rapanui society that has gradually seen the disappearance of the
association between the ahu and their traditions and genealogies. In XIX century, the dramatic
depopulation of almost all the inhabitants of the island has been an important factor of
oblivion of most of the ancient traditions. In contrary, in Ra’iatea et à Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō,
has preserved its traditions genealogies related to the site, which prevented to fall into


The marine sanctuary Papahanaumokuakea in Hawaii islands recently inscribed under the
mixed criteria in the World Heritage list and the sacred site of Tapu-tapu-ātea present
common points by their beliefs and cultural traditions which survived to this day and by their
regard of the ancient art of traditional navigation. As in Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō, stone
monuments on the island of Mokumanamana were built according to astronomical
configurations; the uprights are aligned with the axis of the sun at summer solstice. The rituals
that were conducted were also linked to Hawaiian cosmogony.

To these examples we can add the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, on the Island of Hilo,
where stands the crater still in activity of the mount Kila’wea, is traditionaly known to be the
place of last refuge of the goddess Pele. This goddess was originally from the Society Islands,
Havai’i Nui (Ra’iatea). The legend of her mythical traval extends up to Rotorua then Taupö
(Aotearoa-New Zealand) passing by the island of Fakarava in the Tuamotu archipelago
(where is found a marae Taputapuatea). With this site already listed in World Heritage list we
can cite the cultural sites in the Cook Islands proposed for a transnational nomination.

On the World Heritage List, 60 sites are currently listed as a cultural landscape. The site of
Tapu-tapu-ātea /Te Pō, Ō-po-ä Valley is a cultural sacred landscape, an outstanding example
of the symbiosis between man and its environment.
The World Heritage List has several sacred landscapes as the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests
site in Kenya. This site consists of 11 separate forest sites, and contains the remains of
numerous fortified villages ; these forests were occupied by the Mijikenda until the 1940s.
During the occupation, the tribes coexisted harmoniously through traditions and cultural
practices closely related to the environment of the forest.
Today Kayas are revered repositories of spiritual beliefs of the Mijikenda people and are seen
as the sacred abode of their ancestors. They became an important feature of the Mijikenda
The sacred site Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō and the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forest, both offer an
outstanding testimony of a living cultural tradition related to a sacred landscape.

The site Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō represents also considerable exchange of influences, on a

important geographical extent, extending throughout the eastern Polynesia.

The Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain of Kyrgyzstan is also a sacred cultural landscape,

dominates the Fergana Valley and forms the backdrop to the city of Osh, the crossroads of
important routes of the Central Asian Silk Roads. For over 1,500 years, the mountain was not
only a landmark for travelers, but also a sacred place containing numerous places of worship
and caves with petroglyphs. Later, two mosques were constructed on the mountain.
The sacred site Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō as the Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain, offer an
exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition inserted in a vast geographical area, namely
Central Asia and the Eastern Polynesian ocean. The dramatic form of Sulaiman-Too
reinforces the image of this sacred mountain in Central Asia dominating the surrounding
plain. Similarly, the landscape of the Valley of Ō-po-ä , its dominating mountains and the
area of Pô where go the spirits of the deaceased of the Society Islands, all its natural and
sacred elements contribute in the sacredness and majesty of places surrounding Tapu-tapu-

In addition to the sacredness of the landscape context of expression of ancient beliefs, values

common to all three sites, Tapu-tapu-ātea/Te Pō offers an additional feature through its
monumentality and architecture and temples.
The Tapu-tapu-ātea sacred complex is an outstanding example of monument constructed in
stone and coral, as it exists elsewhere in the Pacific. The marae, the support of the old
Polynesian society, is an exceptional testimony of a lithic architecture which like the famous
site of Stonehenge in England, demonstrates the vitality of the Polynesians to build
monuments dedicated to gods and to the glory of their chiefs.

This application, which highlights the meaning and the value of community and identity of
marae may only reinforce other applications in the Pacific, such as those of the Marquesas
Islands or Cook Islands, particularly concerned with this issue.

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