This month, we decided to relay an article from our colleagues of Aremiti magazine, if you are eager to read the whole revue, click here!
The ‘Arioi cultural and artistic center opens its doors to our team so that we can learn how to express both tradition andmodernity.
Warmly welcomed by Hinatea and Laura, we discover a great site and a passionate team, the benevolent embodiment of both cultural passing on and artistic expression of our islands.
With its dance room, its paepae, its fa’a’apu, its study halls, its kitchen and its entrance strewn with colorful flip flops, this thoughtfully decorated place, which resembles a family house, is intended to share knowledge. This modern-day marae developped its own life philosophy.
One can easily tell that the center endeavors to convey values: teachers and members of the team are always bustling about the house, teenagers help the youngest and everyone seems to respect one another.
There, students follow a multidisciplinary cursus, for instance if you choose to attend a dance class, you will be taught some reo maohi notions, how to play toere and what the legends which inspired the moves are about.
« This project is motivated by the desire to offer the next generations the possibility to know and understand what their Polynesian identity implies. The center teaches them to challenge modern stakes (environment, health, food, culture…) » says Hinatea.
In 2016, Hinatea and Moeava, her husband, were given the authorization to rent a local building in Papara. Afterwards, they decided to create their association.
The idea took concrete form thanks to Hinatea’s dance school which helped supporting the project financially and to Moeava who happened to be of great help when it came to renovating the place in order to make it a welcoming and adaptable site.
« The ‘Arioi Cultural center is a non-profitable association which offers leisure activities to both children and adults of Papara, we advocate social diversity! 60% of our pupils come from underprivileged districts, culture should not be elitist » says Hinatea. « But city council’s subsidies which enabled us to welcome everyone were cut off. Therefore we had to find alternatives ».
As she was travelling to Japan to give dance lessons, Hinatea realized she could use the keen interest of people all around the world in our culture to help finance her project and make it accessible to everyone. This is how the social undertaking of the ‘Arioi experience came to life. Nowadays, the center gives back 10% of its revenue to the association and thus gives every child, despite their social background, the ability to access these activities.
‘Arioi Experience offers tourists and locals the opportunity to discover or rediscover the richness of Polynesia through traditions, culture and people. In a nutshell, you are given the possibility to choose between a 4h and a full day immersion, where you get to learn about the history and the techniques of the language, you are taught about culture and legends but you are also given a try at craftmanship, as you can bread vegetals and make tapa, cook and also do some gardening. Now, since last year, you can also access lessons online.
Located in Papara, on the West Coast of Tahiti, the ‘Arioi cultural and artistic center is a wonderful adventure. For my part, it was all about a spiritual and identity quest. I belong to this young Polynesian generation which feels the irrepressible need to express theirselves and blossom in cultural areas. However, it is not always that easy to connect to its own culture and to claim its affiliation to the ma’ohi people. Culture implies to accept the weight of history, to refer to past and to revive customs. It implies to stand back in order to assess an event, analyze men or even rites. Now the relation to one’s past, inheritance and culture varies from one person to another. For a couple of years, we have been witnessing a growing interest regarding the ma’ohi culture: whether it is for traditional dancing, tattoo, va’a, craftmanship… It goes way beyong our frontiers.
As for me, this interest towards past and ancestral rites comes from a will of self-fulfillment which arose as I was studying in French metropolis. Being a person of mixed race, a light-skinned Polynesian, I built my own cultural identity through the look of others. Surprisingly, a feeling of pride emerged from it and I became aware of this precious cultural heritage which I had been given by my grand-parents mainly.
Dance, traditional customs, percussion ensembles, discover the Polynesia of yesteryear, a rich and vivid culture. I humbly hope that, as I take my pen to tell you this story, you will feel the mana…
Our welcoming ceremony starts with an ‘orero (declamatory art) and the sound of both pahu (drums) and pū (conch shell), here starts my Marotea experience. I am given a vegetal necklace, made of green ‘auti. Straightaway, Hinatea reminds us of the importance of this plant in traditional culture. The green leaves turn out to have sacred and spiritual virtues, they were used during incantations and religious ceremonies on the marae, which is why we should treat it cautiously. In her famous work “Ancien Tahiti”, Teuira Henry says it used to be worn by orators, warriors and wizards.
First thing you need to do in order to begin with this ancestral method is to choose your wood: aute (paper mulberry), uru (breadfruit) or ‘ōrā (banyan). It all depends on the size and the color you wish to obtain. Today, we will use the roots of the ora as Terangi gives us the secrets of this fabric. The tapa used to play a prominent role in the Tahitian society since it was said to be of divine origin, linked to the goddess Hina, mother of ‘Oro. It was mainly used as a sacerdotal costume, a blanket for the new born, a shroud for the dead people or a wedding gift.
The first step, the smoothing, consists in picking the wood and peeling off the bark thanks to a small shell, until you reach the white layer. The use of a knife is formally discouraged as it is essentially a work of patience and meticulousness. One must be particularly cautious and pay attention not to create asperities by rounding the knots of the wood.
Then come the rough steps of the split and the peeling, which consist in progressively peeling off the bast (the white layer located between the bark and the wood). The idea is to operate a slight incision, let the blade slide along the wood and repeat this step until the bast is completely removed from the wood. In order to prepare an A4 format of tapa, the bast must be plunged into water for a whole week in order to soften it. However, regarding today, the clock is ticking, so we will make do with a couple of minutes for this step.
The next process consists of beating the bast to create the tapa in itself. In this purpose, we use a wooden round anvil called « tutuä » and a kind of wooden battledore – « ‘I’e » – equipped with four faces covered with various ridges of different depth. These stripes all intervene during the process. Thus, the action of beating the tapa is called « tutuha’a ».
Bang, bang, bang, the heavy hammering reminds me of the village of Omoa in Fatu Hiva. There, this traditional art is taken very seriously, I can still hear the sound of women beating the kiva (a rectangular stone block) nowadays…
My tapa is almost done, I let it dry in the sun, what a beautiful brown-reddish color…
The Marotea experience keeps going with the discovering of the local drums. First try: the pū, a marine conch made out of a mollusk, in which you need to blow vigorously. In former days, it was used by warriors to call people located far away in the sea or to gather people during festivities and religious ceremonies. I take a deep breath and fill my lungs and… a weird sound rings out in the room… It’s a fail!
I keep going with the vivo, a nasal flute made of bamboo which sonority is light, melancholy and bewitching. As I watch the teacher, it seems pretty easy… I hold one of my nostrils and start to blow into the vivo. Despite all my attempts, it does not seem to work out… I’m quite disappointed.
Last but not least, the to’ere. Famous Polynesian instrument, it is a drum with no membrane, which is made out of wood. Native from the Cook Islands, one needs to know how to manipulate wood and to have a good ear for music to make it. I hold the to’ere with my left hand, the drumstick on the right one and I start to beat: Pahae, Ami, Peipei, Toma. TA, TATA, TARA, TI, TIRI, there I go… Eventually, I emerge as the winner in this battle with traditional instruments!
The introduction to traditional activities ends with the ‘ori Tahiti, an ancestral dance which nowadays embodies Tahitian culture at its best. Dressed with a pareu, a smile on our face, we are ready to start our ‘ote’a. Slightly bending the knees, our feet close together, standing up straight, we start with the tā’iri tāmau, which consists in moving the hips from left to right. We go on with the famous fa’arapu, a quick rotation of the pelvis. Then comes the varu, a move which looks like an horizontal eight. My heartbeat increases considerably but I have never felt so good…
The immersion ends with a delicious ma’a tahiti: raw fish with coconut milk and re’a tahiti (turmeric), taro, sweet potatoes, fried fish… A genuine moment where we are invited to share our impressions and learn from inspiring people.
Māuruuru roa ‘Arioi Experience!
Source & copyright : Aremiti Magazine