The Orero

The power of words

A young "orero"The orero is a person that symbolized the guardian of Polynesian culture. A person of real importance in the ancient Polynesian society, he was considered the cultural messenger of the people. He conveyed the ancestral knowledge from island to island and from generation to generation. The orero related various topics that included tradition, legends, genealogy, methods of navigation, etc.  A multitude of information was disseminated and exchanged thanks to him and his spreading of knowledge within the “Polynesian Triangle”, transcending from Hawaii to New Zealand.

The power of words and gesturesIn the past, the orero was expected to master the essentials of Polynesian culture. Being expected to relate his knowledge with the power of words, this prestigious role required a good orator, narrator, actor and singer. A powerful voice was also key to holding the spectator’s attention for hours.

Thus, a long initiation rite was essential to select a “good” orero. This rite commenced with the trial of tattooing, where the aspirant had to undergo a series of tattoos sometimes over his body. Then, he had to assimilate a wealth of information to acquire knowledge.

His life was based upon three important notions :

–          The “mana”, as the power of knowledge
–          The “pa’ari”, representing the orero’s wisdom and intelligence
–          The “tapu” which is a sort of sacred Code of Conduct for him.

The orero generally practiced three types of speech :

–          the “fa’ateni”, to praise the beauty of a land or a man
–          the “fa’atara”, to prove his superior power and technique to the listener
–          the “ ‘a’ai”, used to narrate a legend

It should be noted that the art of orero was almost lost from Polynesian culture after the colonization of the West.  Nowadays, it plays a key role and is in the heart of the Polynesian cultural revival. The orero has regaining its importance in today’s public scene. As proof of its revival, the orero art is now taught at the “Conservatoire Artistique de la Polynésie Française” and even in certain primary schools.

An incomparable stage presenceToday, the orero is also celebrated at the annual Heiva i Tahiti during a contest of orero. Each orator competes in front of hundreds of spectators to become the best orero, a really difficult exercise.

To discover this Polynesian art of oration, the 7th Orero evening of primary schools starts on June 7. This event was created by the “Ministère de l’éducation, de la jeunesse et des sports”. An initiative highly praise by the “Label Européen des langues” last February 2013. This wonderful project keeps the Polynesian culture as rich and alive.

© photos : Matareva Photography

Leave a Reply