Halfway between California and Australia, French Polynesia isn’t a singular sensation but a mosaic of moods spread across 118 small islands and atolls (67 inhabited) and more than a thousand miles of ocean. It’s not a place of museums or hot spots, but rather an elemental destination of earth, water, air, fire, and something else even more elusive that I felt but can barely explain in words; mana.
Believed to have inspired the mythical Bali Hai from James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, Mo’orea is one of the most scenically striking islands in French Polynesia. Despite her immaculate beauty, she is far from unapproachable. Possessing a relaxed vibe and welcoming spirit, Mo’orea is just as warm and inviting as the Tahitians lucky enough to call this island home.
Located only ten nautical miles from Tahiti, Mo’orea is easily accessible by ferry or plane from Papeete. This proximity, coupled with the island's receptive and neighborly nature, makes Mo’orea a favorite destination for couples, families and locals. Still, Mo’orea has managed to maintain its small island feel.
The attraction toward Mo’orea comes as no surprise; the island is a geographical marvel. Eight voluminous mountain peaks rise from its translucent lagoon, creating a distinctive and rugged silhouette visible from the western coast of Tahiti. Splitting the northern shore are two symmetrical bays: Cook's (Paopao) and Opunohu Bay. This island is a true reflection of the laid back Tahitian lifestyle and the warm, welcoming character of French Polynesia and its people.
Undoubtedly the most celebrated island in the South Pacific, Bora Bora is French Polynesia's leading lady. Her beauty is unrivaled and her fame, unwavering. Bora Bora is one of the few places on earth that everyone hopes to witness in their lifetime—and once you see it, you are forever enamored.
Where is Bora Bora, exactly? The island lies just northwest of Tahiti, less than an hour away by plane from Papeete. The airport is located on a small, separate part of the island known as Motu Mete.
Once seen, Bora Bora is never forgotten. From the day we arrived, we were in awe of how her soaring mountain peaks, turquoise lagoon, and luxuriant overwater bungalows somehow look even more spectacular than the pictures.
A graceful sailing ship was the perfect way to experience the true wonder of these French Polynesian Isles. The trade winds filled our sails, as we visited one legendary island after another, with plenty of time to swim and snorkel in crystal-clear lagoons, meander through lush rainforests, and experience the fascinating Polynesian culture from tikis to tiare flowers.
The oldest known practice of fire-dancing is found in Polynesian culture; the earliest records show Polynesians centuries ago fire-dancing with war clubs lit to express their battle prowess.
Fired by the Polynesian passion for dance the ceremony is nowadays performed at important ceremonies, often backed by the fa’atete – a Tahitian drum usually made from coconut wood & struck with either the hands or drum sticks.
Strength, power, influence, supremacy, greatness, sovereignty, omnipotence, prestige, control, genius, authority, superiority, nobility, stature, presence, elegance, beauty … the list goes on an on.
These words define the Mana in a precise situation, a particular context, from a specific point of view. Mana is a mythical and essential concept, a fundamental truth. It’s both tangible and intangible, expressive yet imperceptible, revealing but enigmatic, so natural but also mysterious and esoteric.
Mana lives, animates, raises up, ennobles and transcends everything, every being, every element in every dimension; it can also annihilate, ruin and destroy until the last vital vibration.
Mana is seducing, enchanting, glamorous, penetrating, fascinating. The Mana is frightening, dangerous, consuming, lethal.
It is the root of the duality of life and death.
It is the essence of the universal power, the heart of the Polynesian universe, the beings bringing it to life, the elements shaping it, the existential, cultural and spiritual values which created the Polynesian/Ma’ohi who glorifies this universe.
The Mana is purity (ma); it arises from the life, humility, respect, dignity, love, sharing, beauty, goodness and peace of the beings and things that merge harmoniously in this ma’ohi universe.
The Mana is wisdom (na/na’a); it emanates from the empirical, technical and ancestral knowledge, from the common sense arising out of the inalienable link between man and his environment, from the faith in the divine, the state of grace that every thing and every being can reach through a spiritual, cultural and profane quest for the universal Mana, the promise to be reborn wiser, purer and more powerful.
Be pure, be wise and the Mana will live in you!
All photography © Suzanne Zahr, unless otherwise noted.