Pandanus: between heritage and economy

Pandanus © P. BacchetIn the district of Anau, preparation of the pandanus for the realization of roof ©Sadry Ghacir©Sadry GhacirPandanus roof of the over-water bungalow in Bora Bora ©Sadry Ghacir

In Bora Bora, pandanus is not only a main part of the cultural heritage, but also the economy. After tourism, the fabrication of rauoro, the pandanus roof covering, is one of the principal activities of the island.

Following a path along the sea one Saturday or another, children pick up pandanus leaves. They then soak them in the salty, translucent water of the lagoon. Gaston Tong Sang, the mayor of the island, appears very familiar with the subject. He says, “Pandanus loves water. The sea water softens the leaves and protects against insects.” After soaking in seawater for 24-48 hours, the leaves are taken out of the water before being rolled around a piece of wood to flatten them. Then placed on a stick, they are spread out for two to three days on the white sand beaches of one of the island’s motu; then once dried, they are assembled in reams with a bamboo rod in order to make panels. “We privilege production on the motu because the weather is drier than on the big island and pandanus does not fare well with humidity,” claims the mayor, who owns two bungalows with pandanus roofs. “Further, drying the pandanus on the white sand makes it prettier.” This is a condition that is not without importance, since after a decision made by the tavana (mayor in Tahitian), all hotels on the island must cover their bungalows with rauoro, which is a Tahitian word (reo tahiti) meaning “pandanus prepared to cover roofs.” In the middle of the 2000s with the arrival of Palmex, a rauoro imitation with synthetic materials, the mayor found it important to preserve the knowledge of this ancestral practice.

In the district of Anau, preparation of the pandanus for the realization of roof ©Sadry Ghacir

An indispensable economy

For a very long time, Polynesians have lived in dwellings with roofs made of coconut leaves (niau) or pandanus. Adapted to their environment, these dwellings resisted heat and cyclones. Pandanus roofs, which lasted much longer than coconut leaves, reduced the amount of damage from high winds and kept the place cool in high heat. “We may not have invented air conditioning, but we knew how to build houses in harmony with our environment,” Gaston Tong Sang mused, thrilled to note that this type of habitation adopted by the hotels on the island still greatly pleases tourists. “Finally, thanks to them, our knowledge has been able to be preserved,” he adds. Beyond the art of making panels of leaves, laying them on the fare (houses) requires a degree of expertise. Skilled workers are hired to do this, even if today’s methods have been simplified somewhat. Nowadays, pandanus leaf panels are no longer tied to the roof with rope, but they are nailed. Since nailing spoils them somewhat, the leaves have a shorter lifespan. However, this fact does not affect the amount of pandanus activity on the island.

Pandanus roof of the over-water bungalow in Bora Bora ©Sadry Ghacir
Pandanus © P.Bacchet
© Sadry Ghacir

After tourism, pandanus is the most important economic resource on Bora Bora.For decades, it has been a wage earner for a hundred families; for in this particular activity, there are collectors, wholesalers, merchants and installers. This comprises an entire supply chain that permits the sale of rauoro to hotels and privately owned homes on the island and elsewhere. The “Pearl of the Pacific,” as it is nicknamed, has been able to tap into its natural resources. The island is home to 80% of the acreage dedicated to harvesting pandanus in the Leeward Islands. Out of eleven total hectares (27 acres), it contains eight (20 acres). Finally, on top of the physical effort, one of the main difficulties with this activity involves the cyclic aspect. Today, rauoro lasts an average of seven years, so labor times can be inconsistent. However, those who engage in this process have found a solution with the municipality through establishing a calendar to stagger periods of construction and planning. This solution, for the time being, is showing results.

Suliane Favennec

Pandanus: between heritage and economy
Pandanus: between heritage and economy
-
In Bora Bora, pandanus is not only a main part of the cultural heritage, but also the economy.
-
-
welcome Tahiti
-