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Me’ae Iipona

Me'ae Iipona, Maki'i Taua Pepe sculpture in the foreground, Marquesas Islands
Me’ae Iipona, Maki’i Taua Pepe sculpture in the foreground / Makemake, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

WorldBlue  In short

Even the fantasy movies seem to be boring if compared to the reality in Marquesas Islands, especially the amazing archaeological monuments. One of the most surprising ones is Me’ae Iipona – the largest cult site in Marquesas.

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GPS coordinates
9.7721 S 138.8863 W
Location, address
Australia and Oceania, Polynesia, French Polynesia, Marquesas Islands, eastern part of Hiva Oa islande, south from Puama´u village
Ancient shrines, Megaliths, Sites of legends
Alternate name
Marae Takii, Puamau tikis, Mea’e Te I’Ipona, Mea’e Oipona, Me’ae Lipona (wrong)
Marquesas culture

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

Me’ae – speciality of Marquesas

The culture of the Marquesas Islands is distinct, with many special words describing specific Marquesan things.

One such word is me’ae – this is an ancient Marquesan site, arranged for ceremonies and gatherings. Here were performed diverse rituals. Important were funerary rites, which often required human sacrifice.

The construction of me’ae also involved a sacrifice – there are found bones of humans or pigs among the stones.

Me’ae were linked with many tapu – most people were not allowed to visit and see them. Thus me’ae often were built in secluded places, far away from the villages.

Me'ae Iipona in Marquesas, old stone sculptures
Me’ae Iipona, old stone sculptures / American, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

Often it is problematic to distinguish me’ae from the foundations of houses – paepae. Me’ae are distinguished by the presence of large banyan trees (aoa), growing among the stones of the structure. To add to the eerie feel in this place, among the aerial roots of these giant trees were hidden human skeletons. Now they have decayed, only skulls are found among the roots.

For the most part, me’ae consist of three levels, where each level may have several terraces.

The upper level often contains a stone-clad structure that is surrounded by a row of upright stone slabs. Some of these upright stones may be adorned with petroglyphs. Much used material here is ke’etu – a red or yellow volcanic tuff. The highest platform contains a set of sacred sculptures – tiki.

Me’ae Iipona – unique monument

High above the Puama’u village in the mountains there is located the largest and most interesting me’ae in the Marquesas Islands – Me’ae Iipona. The site has been always known to local people and was restored during the Marquesas Art Festival in 1991, in this same year it was studied by P.Ottino and M.N.Ottino. Now it is well-tended and always beautiful.

Me’ae Iipona is located in a river valley at the foot of a steep cliff. This complex, more than 5,000 m² large site contains 18 (!) stone sculptures (tiki) and two stones with petroglyphs. This is the highest concentration of tiki statues in Marquesas.


Tiki is a characteristic element of Polynesian culture. These are statues made of a single piece of wood or stone. Tiki sculptures, in general, have an extension into the ground to keep them stable.

Most of the ancient wooden tiki have decayed now or moved over to museums, but stone statues often still are there. In total in Marquesas are known some 95 ancient stone tiki. Most of these valuable statues are located in Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva and almost all of them – in me’ae.

Often the stones in me’ae are adorned with stone carvings – petroglyphs. Very frequent are carvings of turtles – sacred animals to the people of Marquesas, but there are many other interesting motives as well, often without convincing explanation of their symbolic meaning.

Among the 18 tiki of Me’ae Iipona two are unique – Tiki Takai’i and Maki’i Taua Pepe.

Me'ae Iipona in Marquesas, Tiki Takai'i sculpture
Me’ae Iipona, Tiki Takai’i sculpture / Sémhur, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

Tiki Takai’i

The largest tiki in Marquesas is Tiki Takai’i. This 2.43 m (2.67 m?) tall stone sculpture represents a powerful chieftain and warrior and now is a guardian spirit of this valley.

This is the largest stone sculpture in Polynesia except for the amazing moai in Easter Island.

Maki’i Taua Pepe and "llama"

One of the most mysterious Polynesian stone sculptures (well, nearly all of them are mysterious) is the weird Maki’i Taua Pepe (often called "flying tiki". This is a unique tiki which is rather horizontal than vertical. It is not entirely clear what it shows – but this could be a woman with a distorted face giving painful birth to the future goddess. She lies on her stomach – it would be weird if women of Marquesas really gave birth in this unlikely pose.

At the base of this tiki is carved a bas-relief which shows something that looks like a llama – an animal living only in South America. The carving is not too clear (see a photograph here) but there are almost no other alternatives. Islanders kept dogs – but the carving is not similar to dog.

Some evil tongues though tell that this carving initially was more similar to a dog, but then it was "adjusted" by Thor Heyerdahl to resemble llama in order to support his theory about the cultural link between South America and Polynesia.


A story tells that in this valley once lived Naiki tribe. They captured the chief of the neighboring tribe, sacrificed him and ate.

The revenge of neighbors was terrible – they routed the Naiki, only some escaped to the Easter Island.

The house of the defeated chief of Naiki was transformed into the present-day me’ae.

Many locals are convinced that spirits of deceased are still wandering in this site and even the westerners feel that this Me’ae Iipona is a very special place where one feels as if brought into distant and very different past.


  1. Rolett, W. Barry. Marquesan monumental architecture: blurred boundaries in the distinction between religious and residential sites. Archaeology in Oceania, Jul 2010. Accessed in 18.12.2011.

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