In 1914, the Tahitian administration bought the Mahina valley to set up a leper colony in the Orofara village. Lepers came from all the French Polynesia. The place was pretty and well maintained. There was a school, a church, a temple and nice houses for the inhabitants. Care was provided by Protestant deaconesses and animations were offered by Anthony Bambridge, philanthropist and heir of an important Tahitian family, benefactor of the colony. [1]

Leper colony, Orofara, Mahina, around 1934 [1]

Enters Adolphe Sylvain.
Tank driver during the Second World War, Adolphe Sylvain spend his time with his Rolleiflex around his neck. His pictures were used to illustrate the importance of his DB (“armored division”) during the conflict. Thus, he felt that his passion for photography could become his main activity, and became war correspondant in Indochina. On his way back to France, he made a stopover in Tahiti in 1946. He felt in love with the country and a woman, Tehani, who became his wife and gave him five children.
Now journalist in Tahiti, he created the first local radio, Radio Tahiti, the first press bulletin, and his own photo store. He was soon joined by his war-time friend Marc Danois, with whom he launched the Mareva phonographique brand around 1949. [2] Unfortunately, not much is known about Danois.

The brand offered field recordings of traditional Tahitian music, recorded by Adolphe Sylvain and Marc Danois. The records were pressed in France by Pathé. Records are not common nowadays, it is hard to know how many records have been released. But they lasted long enough to release 10″ vinyl long playing records in the second half of the 50’s.

Sylvain and Danois wanted to pay homage to the colony and recorded the lepers of Orofara on location in the early 50’s. The record has been released out of series, as it is not cataloged, when current releases were cataloged from MA 101.
On the beginning of the first part, you can hear the voice of Adolphe Sylvain introducing the songs:
“In a leper colony in the south pacific, lepers sing. Dressed in pareals, horned and crowned with flowers, they gave me this message of confidence and hope. Listen…listen to the lepers of Orofara singing for their brethren who are unhappy in the world.”

Lepers of Orofara (Tahiti) Part. 1 (Mx PART 15.326)
Lepers of Orofara (Tahiti) Part. 2 (Mx PART 15.327)

The village still exists today, only four leper live there nowadays. Life there doesn’t seem as “easy” as it used to be, though. [3]

[1] Tahiti Heritage website “Léproserie d’Orofara
[2] Pacific Promotion website “Adolphe Sylvain
[3] Tahiti Infos website “Les habitants d’Orofara à coeur ouvert

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s