Just an overnight jump with the ship and we landed right in the middle of the town of Uturoa, the capital of Raiatea. We docked against a huge, fairly new pier and could watch the town life below our stateroom. We had planned land excursions for almost every island on our cruise. But the tour we had planned and paid for here on Raiatea was cancelled due to bad weather. It rained all day. We walked a little through the town despite the rain, but our excursion, Taha'a by Land and Sea, would not have been safe in the sometimes heavy downpours. The ocean was too choppy for the small canoes they had planned on using on our now cancelled excursion.
To walk the town does not take long. Just one Main Street, about two blocks long with souvenir shops left and right, interspersed with a few food stores, a few small banks with ATM machines, city hall and a hardware and a fishing store. Some brave souls took it upon themselves to hire their own tours. There are always hawkers offering local tours. We opted not to do this. The danger always exists that something unforeseen will happen on those local excursions and if you miss the dead line for being back on board, the ship will leave without you. It then becomes up to you to somehow catch up with the cruise ship. Good luck on that chore. On this voyage, we played it safe, especially since the next port of call would be Pago Pago, 2 days away.
Raiatea is slightly larger than Bora Bora. The mountains are higher, which causes more rainfall. The population here has grown to about 12,000 and the town hospital serves as a regional station for all the other islands. Raiatea has, in the world of Polynesia, a special, spiritual meaning. Throughout Polynesian history this island seems to be at the heart of many things. It was the end station of some trans-Pacific migrations, but also the starting point of many other migrations to new and different places in their history. The Polynesian bury their dead in the backyard of the house where they live, which explains why a house will always be in the family and can not really be sold. This close relationship with their ancestors translates to islands too. Since quite a few trans-Pacific voyages started from here, the old ancestors could not be taken with them. So this island, Raiatea, became over time, a spiritual place where the spirits of the ancients dwell. A kind of altar, a plaza for the spirits to meet, was erected and is a very holy spot in their belief system. Unfortunately, I could not see the actual site because of the excursion cancellation, so I found this Wikipedia link to explain it a bit better.
During our lectures on board the cruise (we have 2 or 3 a day when not docked at an island) we saw schematics of the immigration waves in the Pacific archipelagos. Surprisingly, based on DNA, language, customs, etc. it is now believed that the beginning of those migration waves started near Taiwan and, after reaching Raiatea, swung back west to New Zealand or eventually went North to end in Hawaii, which explains why natives of New Zealand make pilgrimages to Raiatea to visit their ancestral 'home' even today.
The roots of Polynesia run deep and in twisted ways. Scientists found, through carbon dating, that some aspects of Polynesia date as far back as 4000 years before Christ. Raiatea itself seems to go back to about the year 0, or let's say 2000 years. Exploration and settlement of each island or each island group occurred in waves. Evidence shows that before people settled in the Society Islands, (Raiatea is one of these Islands) they came from Samoa, the next stop-over on our journey.
Polynesians are extremely good seafaring folks. Using the stars, wave patterns, winds, cloud formations and bird population they found their way around the open ocean. They knew for sure that certain birds ventured out to sea to fish but only within a, let's say, 20 miles radius of their nest on land. If they met a bird like this while searching for islands, they knew for sure that land was near, all they had to do is follow the bird when it flew home at night.
In the year 1996 a test was given to a young fisherman from Hawaii, using a modernized version of an outrigger canoe, but using no modern navigational instruments or maps of any kind, to sail from Hawaii all the way to Tahiti. He did it without making a mistake. The testers then sailed the same canoe back, but now using GPS and all modern instruments and satellites connections and compared the trips. The young Hawaiian fisherman could not have done it better. He was so close to the ideal route that it boggled their minds. He, like his forefathers, knew how to sail; knew how to read the natural signs to navigate the huge, wide Pacific Ocean.
This knowledge made it possible to settle the wide array of islands. Pushing further and further out to sea, from island to island, the Polynesian people spread themselves over a huge area. Since the natural resources on each small island are limited, and in order to avoid overpopulation, moving to the next island was a necessity. Sea travel was a natural way to exist. Raiatea was like the hub of a wheel, a central point from which many voyages started, yet to which many more also came, to mix the gene pool. In the minds of the Polynesians, Raiatea became a place where the spirits of their forefathers gathered and was therefore a place to be worshipped or honored,