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Rapa Iti

Recurring psychic dreams 1954-1960s? by Marc Liblin, as reported by Judith Schalansky

Map of Rapa Iti, a C-shaped Polynesian isle about 5 km across.

In a small town in the foothills of the Vosges, a six-year-old boy is visited by dreams in which he is taught a completely unknown language. Little Marc Liblin soon speaks this language fluently without knowing where it comes from or whether it even really exists.

He is a gifted but lonely child, with a thirst for knowledge. In his youth, he lives on books rather than on bread. At the age of thirty-three, he is an outsider living on the fringes of society when he comes to the attention of researchers from the University of Rennes. They want to decipher and translate his language. For two years, they feed the strange sounds he makes into giant computers. In vain.

Eventually, they decide to trawl through the bars by the harbour to see if any of the sailors on shore leave have ever heard the language before. In a bar in Rennes, Marc Liblin gives a solo performance, holding a monologue in front of a group of Tunisians. The barkeeper, a former navy man, interrupts and says he has heard this tongue before, on one of the most remote Polynesian islands. And he knows an elderly lady who speaks it; she is divorced from an army officer and now lives in a council estate in the suburbs.

The meeting with the Polynesian woman changes Liblin's life. When Meretuini Make opens the door, Marc greets her in his language, and she answers straight away in the old Rapa of her homeland. Marc Liblin, who has never been outside Europe, marries the only woman who understands him, and in 1983 he leaves with her for the island where his language is spoken.


Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will, by Judith Schalansky, 2010, translated from the German (Atlas der abgelegenen Inseln, 2009)
Rapa Iti, a southern Polynesian isle about 5 km across. Photo by


Marc Liblin lived on Rapa Iti until his death 15 years later. Rapa Iti, small in area (just 14 sq mi) and population (listed as 482 in Schalansky's book), is the southernmost inhabited island in Polynesia, over 500 km from even the Austral Islands; remote enough for the language to drift. The climate is cool, not tropical; winter temperatures can drop to 5° Celsius (41° F).

Accounts (in French) of Liblin's life and examples of his studies on Rapa Iti's language and culture can be found online at Grayscale photo of Marc Liblin and family on Rapa Iti.

This case poses a problem for ESP skeptics. Liblin was real; his dreams taught him enough Old Rapa to be intelligible. Yes, one can (and plenty of Internet skeptics do) question how perfectly the language in Liblin's dreams matched Old Rapa.

But when a horse sings opera, complaining about the horse's accent really misses the point.

--Chris Wayan

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