Ofa’i Honu – the Turtle Rock of Bora Bora

BACKGROUND

I had been told that below the cliff-face of Mt Pahia in a spot surrounded by large trees & overlooking the source Vai-ati a huge stone turtle Ofa’i Honu (Rock Turtle) could be found which legend held in a union with the cliffs of Mt Pahia produced Firiamata-o-Vavau.

Firiamata-o-Vavau is the founding ancestor & first arii’i (royal personage) of Bora Bora. Apart from being a great warrior & an outstanding navigator,  he clearly possessed other attributes having fathered children (9 sons) in Raiatea (2 sons), Rarotonga (1 son), New Zealand (2 sons), Tonga (1 son) & the Tuomotus (3 sons). In reality, the alliances formed in his travels served to unify & extend his territory.

The Ofa’i Honu/Firiamata-o-Vavau lineage is the oldest known lineage on Bora Bora & many can trace back their ancestry to Firiamata-0-Vavau.

Ofa’i Honu therefore in symbolising the birth of Firiamata-o-Vavau is the foundation stone of Bora Bora, the stone of fertility & of life, a cultural relic of the upmost importance in the history of Bora Bora.

 

IN SEARCH OF OFA’I HONU

It is said that if you are searching for Ofa’i Honu, then Ofa’i Honu will find you.

I set off from Vaitape heading a little over 2kls south to a cement road on the mountainside opposite a former aqua farm that could be seen from the road. The cement road climbed slightly past a number of houses before turning to dirt – a road constructed by the Americans during WWII to access ammunition stored along its length.

It makes for an excellent outing through some wonderful local farming country offering sensational views of Mts Otemanu & Pahia towering up beside you. Several ammunition depots camouflaged beneath the earth are still visible from the road. Some of these are as much as 20m deep. Large & secure they have been used since the war as places of refuge in the times of cyclones:

Keep bearing right & you’ll pass through a pleasantly wooded section of the road before reaching a less used dirt road leading off on your left. Some 50m up this track to the left of an area where a turning circle has been defined you will find Ofa’i Honu:

It makes for a powerful encounter – the rock of a quite significant size is clearly a turtle from first sight & from every angle. Brilliant!

Be aware & respectful of the fact that you are on private property & are only there due to the kindness of the property owners in permitting access to the site. Ask politely for permission if approached; you may even be lucky enough to get a tour with the site’s owner! I had a bottle of water with me providing an excellent way in which to see the rock-carvings more clearly. There are a number of petroglyphic turtles – the sacred animal, messenger of the gods & protector of the site. Also other petroglyphs held to signify royalty:

When you’ve regained your breath head back to the ‘American built road’ & continue for a further 200m or so past quite authentic current day Tahitian housing & gardens until you reach the large cement road which will take you down back to the main road which circles the island.

Not far from (the site of) Ofa’i Honu, in around 900-1000AD, Firiamata-o-Vavau built Marae Vaiotaha in recognition of his rights over the island. Vaiotaha (later named Naunau) is the most ancient marae of Bora Bora – the land of the gods – & consequently occupies the highest rank of importance in the Society Islands. Marae Marotetini, where King Puni was enthroned in the 18th century was itself established around 1400AD using a (foundation) stone from Marae Vaiotaha. Marae Vaiotaha was destroyed by the missionaries with stones being taken for a nearby cemetery & for use as a base for the island’s principal road. Only 2 stones remain!

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