November 20 marks the change of season in Tahiti. The dry period gives way to the wet season, as it is customarily said. The Tahitians prefer to refer to this period as Abundance. A more befitting term!
Abundance is the season when the branches of the breadfruit tree bend under the weight of the uru, a large fruit and the key staple of the diet of ancient Polynesians, at the time when neither grains nor potatoes were cultivated.
The rainy season? A matter of perspective!
So what one sadly refers to as the rainy season was considered by the ancients as that of abundance, the outburst of the earth in a multitude of flowers and fruit. If during the dry season, market stalls were empty, between November and May, they are full of a cornucopia of nature’s bounty.
The beginning of this period of plenty is called Matari’i. Term derived from Matari’i, the name given to the constellation Pleiades and Nia, in Tahitian. On November 20 (21 for leap years), the Pleiades align with the setting sun and the horizon, marking the beginning of the season that the Tahitians called Tau auhuneraa (literally the season when the fruits appear on the breadfruit tree). The fish also begin to quicken: it is mating season where the skipjacks (ature) come rushing along the coast of the Polynesian islands, returning to the lagoons.
Rejoice not only in the gastronomic sense: according to the ancients, rain not only serves to grow plants, but also purifies and cleanses the earth, offering a fresh rebirth.
A sort of Polynesian New Year
It is therefore not surprising that this festival is sometimes compared to the New year. With celebrations worthy of the name. Formerly, the seasonal change was announced on the marae, the place of worship of the ancient Polynesians, by the drumbeat of the great chief, at dusk. A, taimara, a law imposing total silence to humans and animals under penalty of death, was observed for a few days by everyone.
The arii or great leaders, men of high rank and the nobility were involved in cleaning the marae. The opu nui (people high lineage) cleaned the altar to put the fresh food for the gods. During the ceremony, they bathed the gods and were sacrificed animals: pigs, dogs or fish.
Today, to celebrate abundance, we sing, we dance and share a large ma’a Tahiti, the traditional Polynesian meal. The season will last six months. Till around May 20, the Pleiades will pass over the horizon in the west (Raro) and will not be visible till late at night. This will be the beginning of the season called Matarii-i-raro, the dearth period, oe Tau, cooler and drier. As we await for the tables to replenish with uru and ature, we celebrate abundance!
Illustration : http://sarahina.over-blog.com