Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Magic of Hapatoni

An eclectic Marquesan named Steven lives in a grass hut on the beach. If he likes you, he will tell you a lot about the local flora and fauna. He described how the dolphins herd schools of fish into the bay and up against the cliffs for feeding frenzies.
We swam into the beach at Hana Moe Noa one afternoon and met Steven, a very handsome Marquesan who lives alone in a grass-walled hut along the beach. No one knows if he owns the land, but he seems to be the resident caretaker. We’d heard he could be a little standoffish, and we watched as he ignored a German woman who persisted in trying to buy bananas from him. She finally left and we sat down and had a long talk with him. He’s very traditional, back-to-the-earth type guy who eschews the commercialism that’s creeping into the villages. In the old days when some one returned from fishing they would share their catch with the rest of the villagers, today they just sell them and buy a newer pickup truck. Since the Marquesas are a “state” of France, the French government heavily subsidizes their infrastructure, food, and income. As a result, you don’t have to work that hard to have a good life in the Marquesas.

Steven told us of watching large numbers of dolphins “herd” schools of fish into the bay towards the northern wall where they would be trapped and easy pickings for the dolphins. He spoke of the animals and flora with a special reverence that heralded back to the days of his ancestors. As we were leaving he asked us -- with a small smile on his face -- if we wanted any bananas. We returned the next day with a special plastic canister for his sugar container, which had melted in the sun.
The anchorage at Hapatoni was very deep and you had to anchor quite close up to land.
Steven also told us of a special church festival up the coast in the small village of Hapatoni. We decided to head up there to check it out, apparently along with most of the other boats in the bay since once we arrived we had a difficult time finding a place to drop our anchor.

Hapatoni is a traditional Marquesan village with a small boat harbor, a cement ramp for the fishing boats, one road through town, a town hall, and a beautiful Catholic church. We walked down the road, built nearly 100 years ago called Queen’s Road in honor of the Queen. It’s been described as one of the most beautiful paths in all of Polynesia, lined with ancient stone walls and over arching palm trees.

When we had docked our dinghies several young Marquesan boys offered to help us tie up. We learned from our friends Chuck and Linda on Jacaranda (old Pacific hands) the local greeting of kaoha (ka oo ha) which we used to greet the boys. They walked with us for awhile and then said something to me in French with the word “bateau” to which I replied oui (learning later I had given them permission to go play on our dingy).
The Queen's Road.
As we walked down the Queen’s Road people were friendly and greeted us with bonjour or kaoha. Steven had told us that every four months the islanders on Tahuata gather at one of the village churches for a three-day festival. As we neared the church in the center of town (nestled at the base of very steep green mountainsides) we saw young children running around, adults in groups talking, and a number of adults playing a strange game on the church lawn.
The men play a very competitive game of petanque on the church lawn.
The object of petanque is to get the steel balls as close as possible to le petit chochon.
We learned from our French friends (the game was invented in her French village) that the game is called petanque, where heavy steel balls are lofted in the air to land closest to a golf-ball sized nut (called le petit chochon or "the little pig") on the ground. Both men and women played, and although we don’t speak the language, it seems there is a lot of gamesmanship and trash-talking going on. They played this game for two days straight. We quickly identified one woman in pink who was clearly the village “ringer.” She could loft the heavy balls high in the air and have them land with deadly accuracy.

On the perimeter children ran everywhere on the lush green grass and women sat making the beautiful flower head dresses for the next day's service. It was a picture postcard setting of tranquility at its best.
Some of the village boys were obsessed with my digital camera and wanted to have their pictures taken and then view the results.
My two little friends from the boat marina showed up and were fascinated with my digital camera and wanted me to take pictures of them, and them of me (except they couldn’t quite get the focus down right).
An island artisan displayed the carvings and jewelry produced by other island artists.
We mingled with the locals and a group of French cruisers and all went down to the community hut where a local artist showed us some of the bone and wood carvings for which the Marquesan’s are famous. We ended up getting Christa and Quinn some nice gifts.

We wandered back up to the church and found they were serving lunch and enjoyed a huge plate of wild pig, rice, and vegetables. We found the Marquesans love to eat well, and to eat a lot.

It was a great day just hanging out and felling totally accepted by the locals. While we loved the Caribbean, it’s a totally different vibe here where life is good and everyone seems happy all the time. I can understand why some cruisers come to the South Pacific and never leave.

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