History & Culture

The Early History of Tetiaroa

The stars have been guiding explorers to French Polynesia for millennia. The first people to follow guiding stars to Polynesia left from Southeast Asia about 4,000 years ago, reaching the most easterly Society Islands by around 1100 AD. They came in outrigger canoes with coconuts, bananas, breadfruit, chickens, pigs—and new gods.

Much later, the Europeans followed, searching for knowledge. Most famous among them was Captain James Cook, who first came to Polynesia in 1769. His second in command of his third voyage, Lieutenant Bligh, returned years later on the Bounty as Captain Bligh to retrieve the local breadfruit plant to feed the far-flung British Empire and was overthrown by his crew, as recounted in “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

Despite these interruptions by European explorers, Tetiaroa remained sacred to the local people. They created a place of sanctuary, ritual, and tapu (taboo) on Tetiaroa, where the gods and ancestors were said to come down to earth to visit the marae (temples). Tetiaroa was also the favored retreat of Tahitian high chiefs. While Tahitian ma’ohi (young chiefs) competed in archery tournaments and sharpened their war skills, the arii vahine (princesses) retreated to the deep shade of the coconut trees to be pampered. These were the sacred pleasure gardens of the Tahitian high chiefs.


Because of its rich history, Tetiaroa will forever be replete with meaning for Polynesian people.

Marlon Brando

“My mind is always soothed when I imagine myself sitting on my South Sea island at night. If I have my way, Tetiaroa will remain forever a place that reminds Tahitians of what they are and what they were centuries ago.”

Marlon Brando first came to Tetiaroa while filming Mutiny on the Bounty and was immediately enchanted by the island’s rare beauty and the sense it gave him of being closer to paradise. Enthralled by the Polynesian way of life – and the leading lady Tarita, the love of his life – he resolved to find a way to own this piece of paradise and succeeded in his goal in 1967. It was in this natural wonderland that he settled down, and finally found a home.

Brando was passionate about preserving Tetiaroa’s natural beauty, biodiversity and cultural richness and was determined to find a way in which it could be a center for research and education, and a model of sustainability. He was convinced that this small atoll could bring good to the entire world.

In 1999 he asked Richard Bailey, a long-time resident of Tahiti who shared Brando’s passion for the environment and who had created some of the region’s finest resorts, to help him conceive a plan that would help Brando achieve his dream. Together, Brando and Bailey pursued a vision of creating the world’s first and foremost post-carbon resort—an island where innovative new technologies would enable a self-sustaining luxury environment for hotel guests, residents and scientific research. The Brando is the legacy of that shared vision.

Marlon Brando