Something that must be known about curses, magic and superstition, is that the more one believes in such things, the more powerful and real they become. Ancient beings that at one point in time had started to flicker because of the lost faith and extinguished tradition of the Polynesian people, have again been able to become strong once more. For years, others have tried to repress the culture of the people of French Polynesia. First the missionaries, who had forbidden any cultural dance or music, and later the French government who wanted to stamp out the Tahitian and Marquesian language. In recent years, however, French Polynesia has been a rich swirl of tradition, culture, song and dance. They have reawakened their native language, and the drums echo once more. With this awakening, the magic and power that was there in ancient times has finally returned…
There is a legend of an island that sits in the very center of French Polynesia. It is said that one of the gods wanted to have his spirit among the people, instead of watching from above. He sank into the waves and there arose many islands. But the island that emerged from his bellybutton was a sacred island. An island thick with the god’s innermost soul, and the birthplace of all other gods after him. It is said that because of this, it is always hard for those who reach it’s shores to leave again. One day, a beautiful woman named Tiaitou saw the god in his human form under the name of Tamatoa. They both fell in love, but the god realized that he could not be with a mortal woman, and eventually had to leave her and take his place back in the earth. Tiaitou was so heartbroken, that she climbed Mount Temehani and washed herself in the pools before dying of grief, one had reached heavenwards. In the place she died, sprung a beautiful flower which makes a cracking sound every time it opens, signifying the breaking of her heart. The shape was of her five fingered hand, reaching heavenward. Once the earth claimed Tiaitou, her heart was returned to the god whom she loved, and he vowed never to fall in love again with another woman. He placed his heart into the flower which was all that was left of his beautiful Tiaitou. The very heart of this god now dwells in a single flower. A flower that shaped itself from a hand to a crown, signifying the magnificence and power of the love he and Tiaitou shared. At one time, these flowers grew in abundance, and all who plucked these blossoms released more of this god’s heart and spirit into the air, increasing the generosity of the inhabitant’s hearts and blessing the soil. No one could grow this flower on any other island or graft any other plants into it, but all understood why. When others invaded these lands, however, and tried to extinguish their culture and tradition, the people’s lack of remembrance kept the god from gathering those bits of his innermost soul back into the ground. Less and less flowers were produced, until the Tiare Apitahi flower was pronounced to be an endangered species. When the islanders finally got back their right to practice their ancient dances, traditions and songs, the power of the gods were said to have returned. But for fear of losing the remainder of his heart and soul, the god created a curse. That whosoever touched this flower would find it almost impossible to leave the Island, and those who took the flower, would also be plagued with bad fortune for the rest of their life…
Fast forward thousands of years, and in comes our family to Raiatea for a few boat repairs, not knowing in the slightest what types of legends surround this island. While there, we met some friends who offered to take us up Mount Temehani for a hike to see the famous Tiare Apitahi flower which only grows on this mountain in Raiatea. Gathering up the family, and preparing for only an hour hike, we set out. Some of us had good shoes, but most just wore flip flops, and I decided to do the hike barefoot. The morning sun beat down on us, and by the time we used up our whole supply of drinking water, we were told that we were only half way.
“Don’t worry” our friend told us in French. “There is a spring up there that had water clean enough to drink. You can fill your water bottle there.” When we finally reached the spring, we walked upstream and filled our bottles before jumping in for a swim. The same one that Tiaitou was said to have washed herself in. Jaeden, Dailin, Orin and I then hiked up the last treacherous stretch while the others continued resting and swimming. We found the Tiare Apitahi while up at the top, and after enjoying a beautiful view, we took pictures with the single bloom.
“Don’t touch it!” Dailin warned. “There’s a 100,00,00 franc fine for whoever damages the plant or picks any of the flowers! $100,00!!”
“How would they be able to tell who damaged it?” Jaeden laughed. But all the same, we were respectful and careful of the plant. As we ran back down, however, Orin exclaimed:
“Now I can say I touched a flower worth a million francs!”
“Well that’s fine so long as you didn’t pick it.” I reasoned.
The next day, our boat repairs were done and we said goodbye to all of our friends. But something was wrong with one motor, so we docked in town and stayed another day. After our motor was fixed, the winds came. The howling gale sent us gusts up to 43 knots, sending the message loud and clear that the open ocean was no place for us at this point. The forecast finally predicted better winds about two weeks later, and we planned to leave that morning. But one thing after another distracted us, including our water maker exploding, photos being taken of our boat for when we have to sell, empty propane cans, and grocery shopping. That night, we had a big dinner for the new friends we had made since moving our boat into town, and said our final goodbyes. But as we made our way to open sea today, we started having problems with the autopilot… So we stopped in at the boat repair harbour to try and get it fixed, only to be informed that sailors are never supposed to leave port on a Friday!
“Why is this?” My dad was confused.
“It is bad luck to leave on Friday.” The lady informed him. “You’re asking for it if you don’t wait until tomorrow.”
Our plan still is to leave this afternoon, but there is that nagging worry of our curse… Will we never be able to leave this island because of a single touch of a flower? Or worse, are we just trading one curse for another by leaving on a Friday? Although richness and understanding comes with knowing the legends, culture, superstitions and history of your past, there can be a lot of inconvenient baggage that comes along with it….