The Marquesas, the mythical archipelago
Mythical and mystical. A land that has beckoned explorers and inspired writers, painters and artists. A rugged and breath-taking landscape of peaks, valleys, plateaus, and cliffs. A nation of proud and formidable warriors long ago, distinct from Tahitians, with their own language and culture. A people where a simple smile will win them over. The Marquesas Islands is a world unto itself.
Located 1,500 km northeast of Tahiti, the Marquesas archipelago consists of 12 islands, only 6 of which are inhabited. The Marquesas Islands emerge from the Pacific Ocean, high and lush. Nature is raw and its charm powerful. It is a land of stories and legends, as fascinating as it is unforgettable. Welcome to the Marquesas, the “Land of Men”.
Henua Enana should be the name one retains of the Marquesas. Each island of the archipelago is one of the foundation pillars of a divine house, built for mankind by Oatea and his wife Atanua.
The two large pillars are represented by the island of Ua Pou; the ridge beam by Hiva Oa; the other beams and rafters by Nuku Hiva; Fatu Hiva, representing the roof; and Tahuata the light at dawn; Mohotani, the song of a bird; and all the remains from the construction became the island of Ua Huka. After the era of the gods came the era of men. However, Spanish prowess, having launched its galleons all over the world as early as the 15th century, decided otherwise. Thus the name Marquesas was given by the Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana in 1595, while the four southern islands, observed or explored by sailors from the Spanish expedition, were given the names of saints: Santa Magdalena (Fatu Hiva), Santa Dominica (Hiva Oa), Santa Cristina (Tahuata) and San Pedro (the black rock of Mohotani). The Northern ones were given the honour by an American Joseph Ingraham, , in 1791, who renamed them: Ua Huka became Federal; Nuku Hiva, Washington and Ua Pou, Adams Island.
Posterity soon forgot those names which the Marquesans had always ignored. Meanwhile the Frenchman Etienne Marchand took possession of the archipelago in the name of France and its new regime. These now became the islands of the revolution. History takes a passing delight in these titbits, although only the name ‘Marquesas’ remains. From this administrative denomination, poetry took hold and finally we, the islanders, loved the gentleness of its name. But for you, visitors who wish to feel the history and emotional power of the Marquesas, remember this: these islands at the end of the world are called Henua Enana, the Land of Men.
According to Marquesan legend, the creation of the archipelago represents a house built by the god Oatea for his wife Atanua.
According to legend, Hiva Oa is the main beam of God’s “big house.” Today, it is commonly named the “Garden of the Marquesas” thanks to its fertile and lush land. The island features endless untouched nature: green, invading, and bright. Roads and houses are rarely seen. The island’s rugged landscapes blend sharp ridges, peaks and valleys scattered with archaeological sites and ruins, and is home to the largest tiki statues of French Polynesia. Hiva Oa is lined with black sand beaches and sharp cliffs diving in to the Pacific Ocean. The island’s main village, Atuona, is nestled at the end of Taaao Bay and overlooked by the highest mountains (Mount Temetiu – 4,186 ft. and Mount fe’ani – 3,366 ft.). This is also the place where two famous artists chose to live their lives: the French painter Paul Gauguin and the French poet, singer and actor Jacques Brel.
Ua Pou symbolizes the entrance pillars to God’s house. Huge basaltic columns reach the sky and hold the names of legendary warriors: Poutetaunui and Poumaka. In 1888, they inspired poet Robert Louis Stevenson, who mentioned them as “volcanic arrows looking like a church bell tower.” They proudly overlook the bay of Hakahau village, the main village on the island.
If God had a “big house” symbolizing the Marquesas Islands, the largest of them – Nuku Hiva – would represent the top of the framework. The vertiginous volcanic peaks and amazing slopes blend with the blue of the Pacific Ocean. A special universe opens its doors. The starting point of your adventure is Taioha’e, the archipelago’s regional capital, opening at the end of a large bay holding the same name. Outstanding landscapes, an incredible archaeological history, great stories and a rich culture are all to be discovered alongside a friendly population.
Fatu Hiva symbolizes the roof of Gods’ house: a small but stunning island. Arriving by sea, passengers are greeted by sheer landscapes and pristine vegetation. Fatu Hiva will mesmerize visitors. In 1937, Thor Heyerdahl and his wife, in their search for a genuine return to nature, set foot on the island to live as if at the dawn of the new world. Not much has changed. Today, most local people live around the village of Omoa where they make traditional and renowned tapa out of tree bark. The village of Hanavave is sheltered within an amazing bay: the Bay of the Virgins, probably one of the most beautiful bays on Earth, especially at dusk when the light illuminates the volcanic peaks turning the landscape into an unreal and unforgettable scene.
Ua Huka symbolizes the “food basket” at God’s house and features more untouched beauty and is renowned for its dry soil and landscapes. Wild horses gallop as far as the eye can see around this desert-coloured land. Goats climb up on the island’s high plains. Peaceful and mystical, Ua Huka invites the traveller to discover a secluded universe, where the island’s ancestors are not just a part of the past but still very much part of the islander’s everyday life.
Tahuata symbolizes “sunrise” or “the enlightening home” at God’s house: a poetic image expressing reality so well. Small, Tahuata is only accessed by sea from Hiva Oa. The island offers charming discoveries to the privileged traveller. From its fertile valleys to its crystal-clear bays, Tahuata is an exquisite haven of peace, a place of history and creativity. Most inhabitants make a living out of their remarkable fine artwork, such as bone and rosewood – or miro (Thespesia populnea) carving. Mono’i is made following the scents of traditions and secrets, like an invitation to a mesmerizing perfume beautifully named “love potion” by the islanders.