This is a post I wrote on Facebook just after returning from Rai'ātea in October for the Ono'u Festival 2016. Such a special experience.
Last week we had the honour of being invited to Rai'ātea to create the largest mural there for the finale of the 2 week Onou Tahiti. For Māori Rai'ātea is referred to as Rāngiatea or Hawaiki and is understood to be the centre of the Polynesian triangle and the cradle of Polynesian civilisation. It is from Fa'aroa in Rai'ātea that the navigator Kupe set off to discover New Zealand around 900AD, following the Koekoea's (Pacific Long Tailed Cuckoo) migration. Kupe's wife Kuramarotini gave this newly discovered land the name Aotearoa - 'Land of the Long White Cloud'.
Dame Anne Salmond's book 'Trial Of The Cannibal Dog' about Captain Cooks three journeys through the Pacific speaks in depth about the role another pivotal figure from Rai'ātea played in navigating the Endeavour to New Zealand in 1769. That person was Tupaia, the Arioi (priest, artist and navigator).
Ahead of time Askew One asked if any of his living descendants would be open to spending time with us to speak, to be photographed and painted on the wall.
Air Tahiti Nui has an excellent Pacific documentary selection and thankfully they are currently screening a fantastic documentary about Tupaia featuring Michel Tuffery's journey to Rai'ātea last year. We learned so much more from watching this and also saw Viriamu Tupaia interviewed - we were hoping he would be the descendant we would get to meet and as it eventuated, he was.
On our first full day there we realised we were staying right at the mouth of Fa'aroa where Kupe departed from. Then that morning we got to visit Taputapuatea Marae. It was a powerful experience to stand in such a significant location, to feel the Wairua (life force or energy) of that place and consider the incredible foresight and vision of the explorers that left from there. At the Marae there were various offerings left by visitors including an Unu - like a totem pole or a Māori Pou Whenua. Typically Unu featured significant birds and symbols that told the stories of migration - very few from before colonisation exist in museum collections today but there are a few illustrations of them. The Unu also became a significant point of inspiration for the wall.
On first visiting the wall it struck Charles & Janine Williams that it had the shape of a Wharenui (Māori meeting house) and the vacant lot in relation was like the grounds of a Marae. Charles had the idea to take the Māori proverb featured in the Tupaia documentary which was ‘He kakano ahau, ruia mai I Rāngiatea’ or ‘I am a seed scattered from Rai’ātea’ in english. After consulting with Viliamu we got the Maohi (Tahitian) translation which read ‘E heuro puehu vau no te fenua Rai’ātea” and then after further advice from many locals we changed Rai’ātea to Havai’i - the islands original name. Janine took on the task of painting the text onto the wall. Charles painted Three Unu onto the wall, representing the navigational story of Kupe from Raiatea to Aotearoa. He also noticed by coincidence that three fence posts stood at the entrance to the lot, mirroring the three Unu on the wall. The posts were all that was left of the old lady Jeanne who runs her Vanilla operation from that sites house, which had been demolished some time earlier. Charles decided to transform those into Unu as well, featuring three birds - two from Rai’ātea the U’upa or Fruit Dove, the Otatare or chattering Kingfisher and the Koekoea which migrates between the two islands Raiatea and Aotearoa.
The last component to add was the portrait of Viriamu which Askew painted over the final two days, finishing moments before a blessing ceremony was held in front of the wall. Viriamu Tupaia attended, viewing his portrait for the first time. As it happened it was his 73rd birthday the following day so the ceremony was concluded with the birthday song.
What an incredible journey - we’d like to thank the whole Ono’u team, the Roopinia family, the Tupaia family, the Mayor and all the incredible staff at City Hall that helped out, Prushane the building owner, Jeanne who owned the section we were working on, our lift guys and of course everyone from the community in Uturoa, Rai’ātea! Nga Mihi Nui!