South Seas Companion
|Huahine is the easternmost of the leeward Society Islands. It lies about 130 kilometres to the north-west of Tahiti.|
The island is divided into two mountainous parts separated by two bays and a narrow strait running from the north-east to the south-west. The larger northern part of the island is called Huahine Nui (Great Huahine) and the smaller, southern part of the island is known as Huahine Iti (Little Huahine). |
In total, the island covers some 74 square kilometres, and is about 32 kilometres in circumference.
Both the northern and southern parts are high and rugged with several peaks rising to 425 metres above sea level. The highest peak, Turi, on Huahine Nui is 710 metres. Historically, settlement and cultivation was confined to narrow coastal strips of fertile land. As Banks noted in his journal:
The flats were filld with very fine breadfruit trees and an infinite number of Cocoa nuts, upon which latter the inhabitants seemd to depend much more than those of Otahite; we saw however large spaces occupied by lagoons and salt swamps upon which neither breadfruit nor Cocoa nuts would thrive (Banks Journal, entry for 17 July 1769)'.Also, on the northern side of the island, the original barrier reef has gradually become an elevated plain covered with vegetation. Between the plain and the original shore of the island are two lagoons, one of which offers access to the sea.
Huahine is completely surrounded by a coral reef that on average extends for two kilometres from the shore. There are six passages through the reef, but large vessels can only pass safely through two passages on the western side of the island.
At some point in the early eighteenth century, the districts of the two parts of Huahine were united under a paramount chief descended from a high ranking family of the region adjacent Lake Maeva on Huahine Nui. According to Handy (1930: 96), this chief is said to have had eight sons for whom he divided the island into eight districts.
At some point in the early or mid-1760s, warriors led by the Boraboran chief Teihotu Mataroa invaded Huahine, but failed to conquer the island. When Cook stopped briefly at Huahine Nui, in July 1769, Boraboran raiding parties were regularly plundering communities, and as Oliver (1974: 1211) and Beaglehole (1955: 143) note the people of Huahine sought the help of the Endeavour voyagers in putting an end to these raids.
On this first visit to Huahine, Cook encountered a chief whom he called “Oree” who seems to have had considerable influence in the island’s northern districts, although the paramount title-holder of the island was a young boy called Teri’itaria. As Cook learnt on his second visit to Huahine, in 1773, Oree had negotiated a peace settlement with Teihotu Mataroa and was fearful that the Europeans might be persuaded to support those on Huahine who opposed the settlement and wanted to attack Borabora.
When Cook again visited Huahine, in 1777, he found that Oree was living on Ra’iatea, presumably in exile under the protection of Teihotu Mataroa. The young Teri’itaria’s authority, however, appeared weak, quite possibly because of a rift between his father (Mato) and mother (Fatuarai). Mato left Fatuarai and had three children with the daughter of Mo’ohono, said to have been a high priest of Huahine (Chesneau, 1928: 31).
Little is known with any certainty about the subsequent course of dynastic politics on Huahine until the early years of the nineteenth century. However it appears that Mo’ohono forcibly took Teri’itaria’s kin-title for the elder of two grandsons that his daughter had with Mato. One of these sons eventually came to live with Itia, the estranged wife of Pomare I.
Connections between the ruling dynasties of Tahiti, Mo’orea and Huahine were further enhanced around 1812 by the marriage of Pomare II to Teriot o Te Ra’i, a daughter of Mato by Fatuarai, his first wife.
Interestingly, the god Tane appears to have been the particular focus of worship in the northern districts of Huahine (Henry: 1913: 25; Oliver, 1974: 884-890). During their residence on the island in 1821-22, the London missionaries Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet visited various maraes dedicated to Tane and sought to record information about the ceremonies that occurred there (see Montgomery, 1932: esp. 1, 198-209).
|Places: Leeward Islands, Îles sous le Vent|
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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-P000144