The Tahiti Traveler

Ra’au Tahiti

Traditional polynesian medicine

Until 1930, the vast majority of polynesians had not trusted the modern medicine. They preferred to leave their health in the hands of traditional medicine. In those days, ancient polynesian medicine was practiced by the tahu’a, or the polynesian healer priest. Known practice was to elect a tahu’a for each district of the country.

The polynesian priests used two types of treatment against disease:

_ The ra’au tahiti : a kind of concotion composed of various plant ingredients like, hibiscus flowers, extracts from banyan trees or other flowering plants. The concoction was bashed in a mortar and pestle and liquefied with spring water or coconut water made it easier to ingest.

_ The taurumi : a vegetable based massage oil was used for external applications.

There are 4 forms of ra’au tahiti : the potion, the syrup (a sweet potion), the purgative and the enema.

Administered orally or by topical application, the traditional polynesian medicine seems to have real curative proprieties however no serious scientific study been noted to validate this.

In 1797, when the missionaries arrived in french Polynesia, healer priests were denounced as shamans and sorcerers and the traditional medicine nearly disappeared completely. Luckily, some resolute tahu’a perpetuated this tradition medicinal in spite of the prohibition that was implemented at the time.

Today, every polynesian family uses a recipe of ra’au passed on from generation to generation. If you take a stroll around the Papeete Market, you will may still find and purchase these ancestral treatments… no prescription required !!