South Seas Companion
PureaTe Vahine Airoro atua i Ahurai i Farepua
|Purea was a high-ranking Maohi woman who in 1767-8 sought but failed to make her only son Teri’irere the pre-eminent title-holder in Tahiti and Mo’orea. In the process she attempted to further her son’s cause by establishing taio bonds with the Wallis and Endeavour voyagers. The record of her relations with the voyagers led to her being widely imagined to be the Queen of Otaheite and to her behaviour being thought typical of the erotic freedom that many Europeans eagerly believed the islanders of Tahiti enjoyed.|
Purea, known formally as Te Vahine Airoro atua i Ahurai i Farepua in the geneaologies of the Papara family of Ar’i Ta’ima’i, was the second daughter of Teri’i Vaetua, the ari’i rahi, or paramount chief of the Fa’a’a district. By ancestral lineage Purea’s father also enjoyed a high-ranking status on the neighbouring island of Mo’orea. Her mother was Te Vahine Airoroau’a (also known in ancestral traditions as Te Ari’i o Maeva Rau). |
Purea was consequently the sister of Te Pau i Ahurai, who from birth inherited the highest title in Fa’a’a from their father.
Purea married Tevahitua, the paramount chief of the Papara district (known to Cook as Amo).
Their first-born son, Teri’irere, not only assumed the highest kin-titles in Papara and claims on Mo’oerean titles, but also had a strong claim on titles associated with the Marae Fareroi in the district of Ha’apape through Amo’s mother, Teroro e Ora.
However, Tevahitua and Purea had far greater ambitions for their son. Some time after the departure of the Bougainville, in mid-1768, they audaciously sought to establish Teri’irere as the most powerful title-holder on the islands Tahiti and Mo’orea by the creation of a new title associated with the war-god Oro. This involved Tevahitua declaring a rahui or spiritual prohibition of various everyday activities over Tahiti and obliging the people of Papara to construct a new and imposing marae dedicated to Oro at Mahaiatea. Moerenhout further suggests that Tevahitua was goaded into precipitately championing the cause of his son out of fear that relations between the ruling families of northerly districts of the island and the Europeans had diminished his power (1837, 2: 407-8).
Irrespective of why Tevahitua declared the rahui, the ruling dynasties of neighbouring districts reacted defiantly. Worse, the rahui provoked the Vehiatua i te Mata'i, the paramount chief of the Taiarapu Peninsula, to invade Papara in late 1768. According to Maohi traditions, the Vehiatua i te Mata'i believed that because his wife, Purahi, was the grand-daughter of the elder brother of Amo's father, their son had a stronger claim to Papara than Teri'irere.
Tevahitua, Purea, Teri'irere and their entourage fled into the mountains, escaping what Banks' journal reveals was a terrible conflict (see his journal entry for 29 June 1769). They never regained their former power, though Purea sought to restore Teri'irere’s prestige by establishing taio bonds with Cook and Joseph Banks.
Samuel Wallis and Banks both estimated Purea to have been about forty years old when they met her at Matavai Bay. She struck Wallis as ‘tall’, ‘well-looking’ and having a ‘very Majestic Mein’. Because she was at the height of her prestige when she visited Matavai in July 1767, Wallis and his party assumed she was the ‘Queen of the Country’. Banks met Purea after the failure of her and Amo’s attempt to make Teri'irere the island’s pre-eminent title-holder. He thought her ‘tall and very lusty, [and] her skin white and her eyes full of meaning…’ However, while conceding that she may have been ‘hansome [sic] when young…few or no traces of it were left (Journal entry for 18 April 1769).
George Forster, who visited Tahiti in 1773 and 1774 during the course Cook’s second voyage, was similarly struck by Purea’s height and commanding personality, but thought her fat and ‘now rather masculine’. She and Amo, wrote Forster were ‘…living examples (Forster, 2000: 375).’ Forster
Nothing is known about Purea’s life beyond her encounters with the second Cook expedition, nor is it clear what degree of influence her son Teri'irere wielded beyond recognition of his high-ranking status in Papara. However, one suspects that until their deaths Purea and Tevahitua remained, as George Forster observed, ‘living examples of the instability of human grandeur (2000: 375).’
Bank’s accounts of his relations with Purea in his journal were readily interpreted that they had become sexual partners and led to the publication of a number of satirical poems based on Ovid’s erotic verse.
|People: Tevahitua (Amo) (1720? - ) | Teri'irere|
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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-P000411