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Mo'orea

York Island
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Longitude Min 149 50 W Latitude Min Lat: 17 30 S
The island of Mo’orea lies 17 kilometers to the west of the Fa’a’a district on the north-west coast of Tahiti.

Details
Fringed by coral reefs and lagoons, Mo’orea is a mountainous volcanic island that is 132 square kilometres in area. The highest of the island’s numerous peaks is Tohiea, which rises 1207 metres above sea level. On the north side of the island are two sheltered bays called Pao Pao and Opunohu.

Because of the close proximity of the islands of Mo’orea and Tahiti their histories have been closely interwoven since the arrival of the first human migrants around 300 ACE.

When European voyagers first arrived at Tahiti in the late 1760s the highest ranking families of Mo’orea had over centuries become variously interrelated by marriage to the ruling dynasties of the western districts of Tahiti.

As Douglas Oliver notes, these linkages were the basis of important alliances, but also proved at times a source of bloody conflict.

Several European sources, for example, suggest that enmity between certain chiefs of Mo’orea and the high ranking chief of the Tiarapu district holding the title known as Vehiatua i te Mata'i was an important dimension to the political instability affecting Tahiti during the late 1760s and early 1770s.

Also, at some point in the late 1760s or early 1770s, Mahine, a powerful chief of northern Mo’orea, was challenged by his sister, Vavea and her husband, Teihotu, a brother of the paramount chief of Fa’a’a, in the name of their son, Teri’itapunui, more commonly known as Mahau.

Mahine was childless and sought to perpetuate his lineage through adoption.

Vavea and Teihotu saw their son Teri’itapunui as having a stronger claim on Mahine’s title by virtue of his ancestry. Their claims were enhanced by the fact that one of their daughters, ‘Itia, was married to Pomare I (Tu), the paramount chief of Pare, while another, Pateamai, was married to the inheritor of the Vehiatua title (Vehiatua III).

The result was an indecisive campaign against Mahine by Teihotu and Pomare I, aided by the Vehiatua title-holder. While Mahau became ruler of Mo’orea’s Varari district, Mahine continued to enjoy authority over the remainder of the island until his death sometime in the late 1780s.

In 1790, warriors under the command of Hitihiti, a prominent figure within the entourage of Pomare I, overthrew Mahine’s adopted successor, thereby establishing Mahau’s rule over all of Mo’orea.

Mahau’s death in 1792 gave the Pomare dynasty an indisputable claim to all of Mo’orea, as he had married Pomare I’s sister, Auo, and his daughter, Tarovahine, had been betrothed to Pomare II (Oliver, 1974: 1275).

In another twist to this complex story of dynastic rivalry, Pomare I’s apparent indecisiveness in the conflict with Mahine led to several disaffected followers allying themselves with Mahine in the late 1780s. As a result, Pomare I’s power on Tahiti was drastically weakened.

Mo’orea was named Duke of York Island by Samuel Wallis in June 1767. However, the first European voyagers to visit the island were members of Cook’s expedition sent to observe the transit of Venus in early June 1769.

After the failure of their initial settlement at Matavai Bay, British missionaries established themselves at Opunohu Bay on Mo’orea from 1817 with far reaching consequences.

 
Related Entries for Mo'orea
Places: Windward Islands, Îles du Vent
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Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Created: 21 February 2002
Modified: 16 May 2004

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000139

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