Under the spell of Teti’aroa.
« Teti’aroa is beautiful beyond my capacity to describe. » Marlon Brando describes his atoll.
Love at first sight hit the American actor when he saw the atoll, from the top of a mountain in Tahiti, the first time. His next property and hideaway was only 33 miles North of Tahiti, and where he would be spending his happiest days.
Obviously, thanks to Marlon Brando, this beautiful purest island became famous worldwide. However once one sets a foot ashore anybody could easily understand the man’s passion for it.
This island holds a special significance not only to Marlon and his family but first for Polynesians.
Teti’aroa or Tetuaroa, the old name of the atoll, means « stand apart in the open sea », some people may also say Tetūroa, a bridge between the earth and the sky. Indeed it was a major place for meetings of high chiefs with decision-making powers.
Main activities consisted in get-togethers whether it had been for celebrations or negociations. Truce were held there during time of war. Artefacts and archeological sites, on the atoll, seemed to reveal the strong influence of the Ari’oi cast and the worship of the God Oro. The Ari’oi or Ari’ioi people usually came from noble families, they were representatives of the God Oro which brought abundance, beauty and grace. They were constantly perfecting their arts as orators, musicians, dancers, etc. Teti’aroa was also reknown to held the « ha’apori » ritual for the Pomare family and allies (Pomare dynasty became the royal family with the help of Europeans in the 19th century). It consisted in staying away from the sun to brighten their complexion and eating several times a day.
Complying with the beauty criteria and the symbolic of abundance of their times, these noble women would lay down, eat and relax during their stay on the island.
« The motu » as it was also called back in time, was given away to a dentist Johnston Walter Williams, where he actually died. Mrs Duran a descendant of William, was the one who sold the atoll to Marlon in 1966-1967. He had difficulties to seal the deal but his determination and passion for what was truly his muse, eventually paid off.
When he acquired the island, the only developments and structures were on motu Rimatuu, some other motus were used as coprah plantations but not housings had been established. M.B. then moved to motu Onetahi, where he discovered ancient sites and « marae » or temples. Archeologists came down to the atoll and listed up all the ancient sites they discovered, in order to be studied, restored and valued. Marlon thought he had a responsibility towards Polynesians as he considered himself as the guardian of this island. Many specialists in botany, oceanography, ornithology were brought there to assess the potential and the incredible richness of the site. Hence the idea of building up a school he actually did but failed to maintain active. The lack of structures and amenities made it hard to be functional.
A rustic eco hotel was developed on the same motu and operated for 25 years. The bungalows, the restaurant, the reception and the bar were made up of on-site material such as coconut and beach gardenia tree wood. Guests were plunged in the tropical jungle living among geckos, mosquitoes, birds and being rocked by the lapping of the water on the shoreline, this was part of the authentic experience this hotel was offering.
In 2001 the hotel was closed because the airstrip did not comply anymore with safety rules. Operations were shut down and staff had been evicted. After Marlon’s death, in 2004, the executors of his estate with the agreement of all M.B.’s heirs signed a deal with Pacific Beachcomber in the person of Richard Bailey, to grant them the right to exploit 2 motus out of 12 and the very name « Brando ».
They started the construction in 2007 and opened the Brando eco resort in 2014. They tried their best to follow Marlon’s vision which was to build a resort/laboratory boasting green innovative technologies more respectful of Nature. Yet Marlon’s close friends and family members called into question the integrity of Marlon’s wishes in regards to this project.
Today Tetiaroa is accessible by plane through the Brando resort or by boat via several operators. This place is a true haven for all living things. It boasts dozen species of birds going from boobies, to terns and migratory birds such as curlews, plovers and even cuckoos. Thousands of them can be seen flying above the atoll upon arrival. It is also a high place for green turtle reproduction. The lagoon is an outdoor aquarium you can see through numerous tropical fishes, eagle rays, stingrays, manta rays, bonefishes, giant trivalleys. At sunrise and sunset times, the lagoon mirrors the beauty of the land from the reflection of the coconut and ironwood trees lines up on the shores to the amazing colors of the sky through the clouds. This beauty personified island is not only striking your simple eye but leaves in your heart an impression of uncomparable stillness, hitting this peacefulness within you always like to return to when needed.
In honor to this unique island which will ever remind me to shine from within.
Courtesy of Tetiaroa Society