By Louise Gay
Born on 20April 1860, Marau Taaroa was the third daughter of Princess Ariioehau and Alexander Salmon, an English merchant installed in Tahiti. Her mother was the cousin and adopted sister of King Pomare III and Queen Pomare IV.
After her studies in Sydney (1869-1873), the king of Hawaii asked her hand for his son, Prince Liliohoku. But Queen Pomare IV had other plans for Marau Taaroa: to marry her with her own son and heir, Ariiaue.
The wedding ceremony took place on 28 January 1875 – three months before the fifteenth birthday of Marau Taaroa, whereas her new husband was already thirty-six. Their marriage was unhappy.
The age gap, coupled with Ariiaue’s drinking (seemingly encouraged by Europeans) and his many notorious infidelities, were certainly important factors of their disunity. Very soon, the couple were living separately.
However, Pomare IV’s death in 1877 forced them to reconcile, at least temporarily, as Ariiaue became king under the name of Pomare V.
The short reign of Pomare V was much unsuccessful. Disinterested by politics and in dire need of money, the king signed the annexation of Tahiti by the French Republic on 28 June 1880.
Though Marau was kept outside the negotiations, she witnessed the regime transition then visited France at the end of 1883 – keeping her now-honorific royal title. Her memoirs, translated and published by her daughter, offer an important perspective on these events.
They also includesongs, poems, stories, and legends, while developing the political and social organisations of pre-Christian Tahiti. Moreover, they give her recollection on the bombing of Papeete during the First World War.
She wrote, she said, to conserve the memory of her ancestors’ culture. Today, she is remembered as the last queen consort of Tahiti.
Marau Taaroa, Memoirs of Marau Taaroa, Last Queen of Tahiti (1893: first published by Henry Adams, this earliest version lacks the last decades of the queen’s life)
Marau Taaroa, Mémoires de Marau Taaroa, dernière reine de Tahiti: Traduit par sa fille, la princesse Ariimanihinihi Takau Pomare (Paris: Société des Océanistes, 1971)
Pierre Lagayette, “Mémoires et “Mémoires”. Marau Taaroa et l’historiographie de Tahiti,” Journal de la Société des océanistes 34 (1972):49-65.