At the foot of Otemanu, shaded by mape (walnut trees) and encircled by petroglyphic honu (turtles), the source Te vaipani flowed on the land of Te-pua-Matari’i to a place where royalty once bathed:
Otemanu, where legend holds the spirit of god descended atop a rainbow on Bora Bora, the first land, the land of the gods, sanctuary of the ancestors, invoked by warriors to give power & courage & by priests to attract rain. Mape – signifying a sacred site. Honu – the sacred animal, symbol of fertility, messenger of the gods & protector of the site. Te vaipani symbolising the arrival of the Pleiades or Matari’i, the period of abundance, a time of recognition of the link between man, the heavens and earth, marked by the start of the turtle nesting season and the blooming of the pua, a particularly fragrant yellow-white flower used for leis during fertility rituals at major religious ceremonies.
The baths were in fact used by the ari’i-vahine (royal women) in particular, the adopted daughter of Queen Teriimaevarua. Towards the centre/back of the baths is a large rock on which turtle petroglyphs can be seen; to the left of this rock looking ‘upstream’ is a large flat rock on which the Princess would sit whilst using the baths:
There are other interesting, quite unique, rock carvings:
Seen from the right angle a large image of a turtle’s head, held by many to be that of Ofa’i Honu, can be seen amongst the rocks. You will need an informed guide to point it pout to you but it has been a quite dramatic find for Polynesians arriving from other areas of Polynesia.
Apart from being the preferred place for royalty to bathe the site was used for grand celebrations, particularly at the time of Matari’i. At such times meetings were held to discuss matters surrounding the moral & intellectual formation of the population whilst priests would pray that participants could celebrate their joy with the spirits of their ancestors & move closer to the divine. Opposite the baths the large section of relatively flat ground – Te horo – was used by participating warriors for their physical preparation. Above the baths is a stone platform, a pae pae, on which food was laid for those participating in such meetings.
In Polynesian culture the placentas of royal newborns were buried under the pua (those of lesser persons under a fruit tree). In the case of the land Te-pua-Matari’i, the word Matari’i carried a special meaning, that of Mata – the eyes or the look, & ari’i meaning royalty. The Queen’s Baths, this very special site, was held to be under constant royal watch & survellance, constantly overlooked from atop the pua.
This area was once the best watered in Bora Bora with numerous sources & streams filled with prawns & eels. When the Americans were on Bora Bora during WWII they set up a system of large container vessels over the baths to trap & hold water which was fed by gravity to where it was required. After the Americans departed French technology saw the installation of water bores & subsequently the waters have run dry.
As the baths are on private property please register on-site and then email us requesting details so that we can provide the appropriate access information.
Acknowledgement: I am indebted to Ato Tinorua from whom I gleaned much of the above information. Ato grew up by the baths where his family planted vanilla. Ato’s father, Natanaela Teaotea, the famous orator & much respected pastor of Vaitape for over 40 years had passed this information down to him.