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Dec
30

Fortresses

Rapa Iti (the old name is Oparo) was colonised by Polynesian settlers about 1000 years ago (sources vary on that). The limited resources of the small island (Rapa is only 40 km2 big, but most of that land area is rugged and mountainous) led to conflicts among the growing population and the construction of 15 fortresses on the hilltops. When the island was discovered by Europeans in the 18th century more than 2000 people lived on the island, but with the European ships diseases and alcohol were introduced and the population dwindled to only 120 by the middle of the 19th century.

Today the population is about 500 people, but many islanders have moved to Tahiti or other bigger islands to work there. The people are proud of their history and have managed to keep a special status within the French administration. Rapa is autonomous in many areas and next to the ‘maire’ (mayor) the ‘council of 7′ (Tohitu) makes decisions where land or culture are concerned.

The remnants of the fortresses are still visible along the rim of the main caldera and well maintained paths lead to 3 of them. So far we have hiked to Morongo Uta and Tevaitahu. Only some stone walls remain, but the impressive views over the main bay and the opposite coastline are worth the effort of climbing up. At the height of the ancient Polynesian civilisation the island was deforested, later on pines and other trees and shrubs were introduced and endemic ferns have regrown as well, so nowadays the overall impression is lush and green again, even though many of the steeper slopes have remainded barren.

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