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It's Monday, so it must be time for another weekly installment of the Arts & Culture cards in Conquest of Paradise! Today, we take a look at the Marae card.

Marae are Polynesian sacred buildings. They are typically of a rectangular shape, built in the open air, away from busy places, on which religious and social ceremonies would be performed. Because of the cultural disconnect created by the missionaries, it is difficult to know with accuracy about the course of the ceremonies and rites that occurred at a marae. But they certainly included the worshipping of gods, the enthronement of a king, preparations for warfare, the sacrifices or funeral ceremonies or else any other major national or royal events. We can catch only a glimpse of some of the ceremonies through the reports of explorers such as Cook, Wallis or Bougainville.

The structure of the marae varies depending upon the island group where they were built. But two elements are present on each site: a rectangular area, with a length that may reach up to about fifty metres, 20 metres across, generally paved with lava or coral stones, surrounded by a wall; and with an altar or ahu, the most sacred part reserved to the gods and ancestors, located at one end. The ahu could be built over several levels like pyramid (as shown in the illustration on the card) or in the shape of a low and single level square monument.

Flat stone slabs were erected in front of the ahu as resting seats for the gods- or for the masters of ceremonies. In the middle of the platform there were tables on which the offerings to the gods (fruit and other foods) were displayed. Wood stelae or totems (called unu) carved out with animal or anthropomorphic figures, featured the genealogies affiliated to the gods of the marae. On Easter Island, these totems evolved into the famous giant stone moai figures. Various objects, religious symbols, or human bones were placed in little niches built into the stone of the marae.

Marae are called maea in the Marquesas Islands, and heiau in Hawaii, while the term ahu was used for the entire marae on Easter Island. Marae were an integral part of the Polynesian hierarcal society. Some were royal marae, while others might belong to families. Thus, one of the biggest marae in Polynesia is the Taputapuatea marae on the island of Raiatea, which is regarded as the religious and cultural heart of the Society Islands. But there are also national marae associated with chieftainships, and local marae built in the districts and valleys.

In game terms, the Marae card provides the owner with one Victory point, and a special ability, which can only be used once in the game. He may declare that the gods are on his side, have any die roll re-rolled.

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