The exceptional religious ceremony of the Taurua Varua (Fete of the Spirit) has been conducted consistently and uniquely in Bora Bora since the early 1800’s & beginnings of Christianity on the island. It marks a convivial gathering of the people of Bora Bora irrespective of colour or creed, position or social standing, a fact recognised in the ceremony’s original name of Faa’ao Rua meaning ‘Together as One’ in reference to the getting-together of the whole of the community to mark the end of one year & another that lies ahead in a spirit of celebration & of gratitude.
A video from this year’s Taurua Varua:
In those years not so long ago, in the period before the arrival of the Americans during WWII, there were no roads in Bora Bora and, of course, no cars, seeing the parishes in Anau, Faanui & Vaitape conduct their affairs separately throughout the year. The islanders of Bora Bora moved about the districts on horseback or more usually in va’a (outrigger canoes) – both under sail & paddled. On the occasion of the Taurua Varua, the ‘pu’ (ceremonial conch shell) would sound in the districts & the entire population would come to Vaitape by horse or va’a carrying with them large quantities of food including tarot, uru (breadfruit) bananas (including fei which is first cooked before eating), fa’fa ( a type of spinach), manioc or cassava, an abundance of fish as well as wildlife, particularly pigs and chicken for the making of a massive tamaaraa (feast) to which the whole community, young & old, was invited. The himaa (traditional manner of Tahitian cooking) ensured that the fish & other meats were ‘smoked’ in such a way that they could be hung out a remain suitable to eat for up to a month.
Matters continued in respecting these traditions although during the time of the American presence during WWII things were a somewhat quieter as the Americans did not wish for there to be any major fires or burning off, elements that could attract ‘the enemy’. Indeed during this time, a time when there were almost 7,000 American troops on the island whilst the population was only around 2,000, the population would line up alongside the Protestant Temple in Vaitape to be issued with their daily alimentary needs by the American army so as to avoid the need for fires to cook. The comparatively substantial number of soldiers put pressure on the island’s women & at least 62 children with American fathers were born at the time.
It was at this time, in 1941 to be precise that the famous Pastor Tariu was appointed Pastor to Vaitape, famous amongst other things for having a powerful voice matching that of his size & stature – his sermon from the pulpit could be heard by all & sundry both in & outside the Temple. Tariu was born on the Royal family’s tiny motu Titiarao where his father, from Bora Bora & a senior municipal officer on the island, held the rights to harvest the copra. Tetiaroa, of course, was bought by Marlon Brando & is now home to The Brando ranked the Number 1 Hotel in the World in 2016 by Conde Nast.
Tariu had started his pastoral life in the 1930’s in the Marquisas Islands at the time when the last remnants of a cannibal society were still present on the island & had been warned that if he did not wish to be the “piece de resistance” on the tribal BBQ then he best be extremely vigilant. His son, Ato Tinorua, to whom I am endebted for most of the details contained in this article told me that, as is still very much the case today, transport in the island was uniquely on horseback. His father often remarked that the air of concern generated by cannabalism was such that after sunset even his horse would refuse to take a further step!
The war over Pastor Tariu would regenerate and re-foster the conduct of the Taurua Varua. In these days there were 3 periods of worship each day in each of the Protestant Temples at Vaitape, Faanui & Anau as well as evening prayers. Ceremonies of a religious nature were taken most seriously. Ato told me that as a boy the days were long – he would be awoken each day at 3am to prepare the fire to boil water for the coffee before heading out on the va’a with his brothers to fish, remarking, in telling the story, just how full of fish the lagoon of Bora Bora was at that time. He would then head off to buy bread at Chin Lee, situated where the supermarket bearing the same name stands today. In those days, however, it was simply a bakery selling a few general goods. Amongst the goods sold was sugar which arrived in large sacks & was then scooped out to clients. Quantities of sugar fell to the floor the effect of which was that the shop was the privileged place of the island’s bees – thousands of them – & Ato recalls how they would have to dash in & out of the shop to avoid being stung.
In purchasing bread those who were fortunate to have money would move to the front of the shop & be served; those without money would ‘go around the back’ where they could secure 1 loaf of bread in exchange for 4 pieces of purau (member of the hibiscus family used for everything including wood for building, the bark used to bind the wood in construction, costumes for festivities, even lavatory paper) to be used to make the fire to bake the bread, each piece to be a meter long & around 30cm in diameter. Ato recalls the comparative weight of the bread to that of the loaf of bread. He also mentioned that unlike today where excess bread in thrown to the dogs, in those days it was cut meticulously between those present & not a crumb was wasted.
I mention the above as a bakery is always a hub of activity but when the Taurua Varua was conducted Chin Lee would close as the tamaaraa was of such a scale & variety that no-one had need of a shop.
Up until the mandate of the current Mayor, the Taurua Varua was held on a single Sunday & always conducted in Vaitape (whereas today it is celebrated over three consecutive Sundays in each of the three parishes). The Taurua Varua has always marked a unique opportunity for the community in its entirety to gather as a whole & unite as one; it is a fact that is readily apparent giving all present a sense of identity & of community too often lost for those not so fortunate as to have such a spiritual ceremony.
The 2017 Taurua Varua was an exceptional gathering & a rewarding & enriching moment for all those present, singers & spectators, young & old. Some photos to wet your appetite for next year:
The judges address the assembled singers on the first night at Anau:
Some of the various himene performed, the first couple of shots from the initial gathering in the district of Anau (funnily enough in terms of the content of this report, the district where Tarita, the wife of Marlon Brando, was born):
A tremendous final evening in Faanui – the singers could not have been more joyous: