MATIRA – What’s in a Name

Matira Beach is staggeringly beautiful – this paradisiacal stretch of powdery white sand meeting absolutely stunning waters of ever changing patterns of turquoise blue deserves its reputation as “the most beautiful beach in the world”.

Possessed of a unique natural beauty, set in the world’s most stunning lagoon, sitting at the foot of the mystical Mt Otemanu where god is held to have descended on Bora Bora atop a rainbow, & fringed by the swaying of coconuts & more distant enticing motus (atolls) people who live here speak of the island’s compelling energy in insisting that there is no other place like it on earth!

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Yet the derivation of the name “Matira” is shrouded in mystery & intrigue. Polynesian is an oral culture & the way forward to find the truth is always to talk with the island’s ‘not so young’ – it is here that answers are found.

Those living along this most breathtaking stretch of water speak of the name having been derived from the mispronunciation of the name of a whaling boat (the Mathilda) wrecked in the 1800’s, a fact difficult to accept given the rich history & cultural heritage of these islands & of their people, given that all consonants & vowels in the word Mathilda are clearly pronouncable by speakers of Tahitian &, of course, as it is highly unlikely that the point remained un-named for centuries until the arrival of a whaling boat! Could the difficulty of the French in pronouncing an English ‘h’ have something to do with the spread of the rumour…… Similarly the allegation that the beach was named after a certain Mathilde Bambridge, can also be totally dismissed – Mathilde Bambridge was born in Tahiti & christened Mathilde Fara Bambridge. She visited the beach in the mid to late 1900’s & took the name of the beach as a nickname rather than giving the beach her name.

Of greater credence would be the argument that ‘tira’ in Tahitian means the ‘mast of a boat’, & Matira Point is held to have grown wood in days gone by that was greatly prized by navigators to provide masts for their craft. I could find no reference, however, in the Academie Tahitienne Dictionary for the word ‘ma‘ although my Tahitian wife insists it means ‘clean’. To use other than the word in full or to omit a letter or letters can, in any case, be misleading – ma’ira, for example, is tahitian for ‘fishing rod’ (although their Maori brothers in New Zealand & many Tahitians use the actual word ‘matira’ for a fishing rod, so this may have played a role in the beach’s namimg).

My own extensive research, however, produced only one reference to the word “Matira” spelt correctly in its entirety, a reference in the authoritative ‘Tahiti Heritage’ an outline of which appear below:

There exists a large stone in the waters of Takapoto – the Tua Poto or Matira as it is also called. It is ‘manamana’ meaning it is “charged with supernatural power, strength & authority”.

Two legends & a more recent actual event tell the story:

In explaining the ‘manamana‘ of Matira the first legend recounts a battle between the warriors of Takapoto (an atoll in the Tuamotus) & Mangaraeva (an island in the Gambiers). In repelling the Mangarevian warriors, a warrior from Takapoto captured two Mangarevians. Whilst wrestling with one he saw the other trying to escape on his va’a (outrigger canoe). He immobilised the first by putting his captive’s head under the Matira before intercepting the second warrior.

The second legend is a history of love. In times gone by there was a family with a beautiful daughter living happily at the breezy pace of island life. The beautiful daughter would in time be seduced by a handsome young man from another island; a relationship her parents would forbid. She would fall pregnant & her parents would chase the man from the island, never to return. Love is strong & the young mother & child would wait for the young man on the stone known as Matira where they would ultimately die.

The history does not end there. A most intriguing event occurred in the 1980’s. At this time during the building of the quay at Takapoto  the head of works moved the ‘Matira’ so as to be able to construct the quay’s foundations. Returning to the site the next morning, to his total dismay he could find no sign of the substantial foundations laid the previous day but found that Matira had regained her initial place! Matira has remained in that same position ever since despite massive swells during powerful cyclones.

Not surprisingly, many on Takapoto consider Matira as the atoll’s protector.

That those living in Bora Bora would have known of Tua Poto or Matira for centuries is indisputable. The work of eminent anthropologost Dr Yoshihiko Sinoto, shows that Takapoto was a regular stop-over on the early Polynesian traditional voyaging canoe routes to Hawaii via Nuku Hiva; routes, many of which started from the Society Islands.

Could the sense of Matira have been taken into consideration when naming the marvel of mother nature that is Matira Beach……………

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