July 20, 2023
Mythical, Magical Tales of the South Pacific
Nestled in the heart of the South Pacific Ocean lies a captivating archipelago known as French Polynesia. For centuries, its pristine waters, lush landscapes, and vibrant cultures have enchanted explorers and sailors, artists and authors. Beyond its breathtaking beauty, French Polynesia is a land steeped in fascinating lore that speaks to the islands’ origins—especially to the profound connection between its people and nature. Here we invite you to let your imagination run free and follow us on a journey through the ancient tales inspired by one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
A testimony to 1,000 years of mā'ohi civilization, ancient marae (temples) dot the landscape of Raiatea, the most sacred island in all of Polynesia.
Raiatea: The Cradle of Polynesia
French Polynesia’s mythical creation begins with Raiatea, a sacred island revered as the homeland of all Polynesian people, from Hawaii to New Zealand and all the idyllic islands in between. According to legend, the supreme god Ta’aroa descended from the heavens and, with his magic staff, created Polynesia’s first landmass, Raiatea (now part of the Society Islands within French Polynesia). Raiatea became the center of the universe, the axis around which all other islands revolved. Today, its lush valleys, majestic peaks, and ancient maraes (temples)—the most hallowed being the UNESCO-listed Marae Taputapuatea—stand as a testament to its origins.
An iconic sight: French Polynesia’s leading lady, Bora Bora is also known as the “first born” of sacred Raiatea.
Bora Bora: First Born of Raiatea
Staggeringly beautiful Bora Bora has an impressive beginning befitting the grand dame of the Society Islands. This fabled isle was originally known as Pora Pora (first born) and is said to be the first child of Raiatea. Crowned by the iconic Mount Otemanu—one of Tahiti’s most enduring symbols—and endowed with unsurpassed natural beauty, Bora Bora’s volcanic peaks, vibrant coral reefs, and crystal-clear lagoon reflect its divine origins. This legendary allure continues to captivate visitors, leaving all who cast their eyes upon Bora Bora spellbound by her ethereal charm.
Cloaked in mystery, the islands of the Marquesas rise from the ocean with a beautifully commanding presence; Nuku Hiva is pictured here.
Creation of the Marquesas
In the northeastern reaches of French Polynesia—farther away from any other continental landmass on Earth—lies the mystifying Marquesas Archipelago. The islands here are vastly different from the low-lying coral reef atolls of the Tuamotus or the lagoon-rich isles of the Society Islands. Rimmed with rugged coastlines, the Marquesas surge forth from the sea, home to towering mountain peaks cloaked in verdant green and lush with rainforested valleys hiding fascinating archaeological ruins. With summits often shrouded in clouds, their very stature evokes an air of ancient secrets.
Legend tells of Oatea and Atanua, the first man and woman, who ruled the oceans. Wishing to build a home for his wife, but not knowing how to do so, Oatea channeled his mana (divine powers) to enlist the help of the gods to build his wife a home by next dawn. He chose the middle of the ocean and built two posts which became the island of Ua Pou; he added a long beam and called it Hiva Oa; rafters were called Nuku Hiva, and a thatched palm-frond roof was called Fatu Hiva. Upon her awakening, Atanua was greeted with birdsong and daylight breaking on the horizon, and thus was born the isle of Tahuata (sunrise in Tahitian).
Dressed up in green against a bold, blue sky, Moorea’s Mount Tohivea belies the myth of the island’s name.
Moorea and the Yellow Lizard
Did you know that Moorea, often referred to as the “Magical Island,” actually translates in Tahitian to yellow lizard (mo’o = lizard; rea = yellow)? This is a fable of how the island got its name… Once upon a time, there was a man named Tematiatea who lived on an island named Aimeho near Tahiti. His wife became pregnant and gave birth to an egg, which the couple placed in a cave for safe keeping until it hatched. One night as she slept, the wife dreamt she had a yellow-skinned little boy. Imagine their surprise when the next morning the egg hatched and out popped a baby yellow lizard! And so the baby was named “Moorea” and the couple raised him until he was too large for them to care for. At the wife’s insistence, Tematiatea built a canoe and with his son Moorea in tow, he fled toward Tahiti, dropping his son and leaving him to fend for himself.
Abandoned and alone, the lizard dove into the sea on a perilous journey in search of his parents. As he swam valiantly toward the sun, he encountered three currents: Teara-Veri with a sinuous path (veri = centipede); Tefara which was as thorny as the spiky leaves of the Pandanus plant (aka the “screwpine”); and Tepua (the soap) with a spume as foamy as soap. Exhausted by the struggle, he drowned against these forces, his body ultimately washing ashore on Aimeho. Two fisherman found the lifeless creature and shouted, “E mo’o re’a!” (it’s a yellow lizard!). And so it was, the island henceforth became known as Moorea.
Mystical and Magical: The Tiaré Flower, Coconut, and Black Pearl
Within the realm of French Polynesian mythology, some of the islands’ most enchanting treasures have wonderful stories to explain their existence. The delicate tiaré flower, for example, is revered as the symbol of love, purity, and beauty. Legend tells of a young girl who was transformed into the flower to protect her from a relentless suitor.
The coconut reigns supreme throughout French Polynesia, revered for myriad uses from food and shelter to medicine and more.
The coconut, known as the “Tree of Life,” provides sustenance, shelter, and spiritual connection to the Polynesian people. According to one legend, the goddess princess and granddaughter of the Moon, Hina, was to marry the king of Lake Vahiri, an ugly eel. Repulsed by him, she sought protection from the gods. In searching for his runaway bride-to-be, the eel was caught and beheaded by the gods. The head was wrapped and given to Hina with a warning that she must not put it on the ground until she returned home. Alas, she neglected this advice and left the eel head on a sandy beach and from it sprang to the first shoots of a coconut palm. It is said that when you drink from the end of a coconut, you can see the eyes and mouth of the eel.
Illustrious and illuminating, pearls have been a treasured symbol in all The Islands of Tahiti for centuries.
And finally, the black pearl, long regarded as a symbol of wealth, wisdom, protection, and eternal love. This illuminating tale begins with the ancient belief that black pearls were the first shards of light, given by the Creator to Tāne, god of harmony and beauty. So inspired by their radiance, Tāne turned these shimmering slivers of light into stars and brought them to Rua Hatu, god of the ocean, to help him lighten his domain. Another myth tells of Oro, god of war, peace, and fertility, coming to Earth on a rainbow to bring a magical oyster with a black pearl in it to the princess of Bora Bora as a token of his love and affection.
French Polynesia is not merely a destination; it is a realm of mystery and wonder, where nature’s majesty dances hand in hand with intriguing folklore. The allure of its turquoise lagoons, lush valleys, and towering peaks remains an irresistible invitation to travelers seeking to immerse themselves in a world of vibrant culture and awe-inspiring landscapes.
Whether you dream of exploring The Islands of Tahiti for seven nights or 14, an all-inclusive, luxury cruise to these cherished islands is a transformative journey, where the lines between myth and reality blur, and the magic of French Polynesia becomes an unforgettable reality.