Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve on Maluhia

One of the most difficult things for cruising couples is being away from their families during holidays, so we were all excited when Kim and Dave on the Maluhia were kind enough to invite everyone over to their spacious Catana catamaran for a Christmas Eve get together.

I'll let the picture tell the story, but I'm always amazed at the incredible dinners the women put together in these remote locations with limited foods and minuscule kitchens.

Imagine preparing this dinner with limited food supplies and in a kitchen the size of a broom closet.
As part of the festivities, we had a "Night Before Christmas" gift exchange where every time you heard the words "right" or "left" you passed the gift that direction (unless of course, you'd had a lot to drink).
Kim and Dave on Maluhia, our hosts for the evening.
Jeff and Katie from Mezzaluna.
Kim with father/daughter Franz and Sandra off the Swiss boat, Kyory.
Chuck and Linda off Jacaranda, substituting a stalk of bananas for mistletoe.
Walter and Meryl off Flying Cloud.
Merry Christmas from the South Pacific from the Pacific Puddlejump Class of 2015.

** Many thanks to Kim, Katie, and Sandra for supply photos for this blog post.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Festival Day 3: The Last Day

While others were still going strong, we were getting kind of “festival’d out” by the third day. We came in later in the day and spent some time perusing the artisan area where some new vendors had their goods on display. We discovered a beautiful gift for our son-in-law that we knew he’d really treasure and bought it. Ironically the Marquesan craftsman’s name was Paul O’Connor. Many of the Marquesans can trace their ancestry back to crews of the various sailing vessels that plied these waters in the 19th century. I saw a beautiful natural pearl necklace I wanted to buy for Meryl but we were out of cash in hand and these guys didn’t take credit cards.

The reason Marquesan dancers are so good -- they start them very young.

We headed over the Festival site where we watched the tail end of the children’s dances. It’s easy to understand how the Marquesan’s become such great dancers when you see the four and five year olds perform in perfect rhythm.

This is the Mayor's daughter and granddaughter. The granddaughter kept us amused all night long
Even on a remote South Pacific island the iPhone captivates the young.
Meryl with our Australian friends Sasha and Roger off of Ednbal.
We had secured our primo seats from the previous day at the foot of the Mayor (including the cute granddaughter again) and we pleased to see his son sporting a bright fluorescent green SeaHawks Football cap.

The "chiefs" from the various islands present gifts, a time honored South Pacific tradition, to the officials at Hiva Oa.
These rosewood carvings sell for thousands of dollars in Papeete.
The dancers tonight were from Ua Huka, Rapa Nui, Ua Pou and Toa Vii Fenua. Each group presented gifts to the Mayor and High Commissioner and many of these ended up in the lap of the Mayor’s daughter who was sitting next to me. Amazing workman ship in hand carved bowels, tikis, and animals. There were lots of speeches, with the Mayor and other officials invited out the field for the gift presentations. 
The women from Rikitea in the blue dresses try to keep up with the dance team from Rapa Nui.
Not sure you'd want to invite this guy home to meet Mom and Dad after the first date.
One of the beautiful Rapa Nui dancers.
As usual, the Rapa Nui stole the show with a close second from the Ua Po team. Everyone was trying to out do the others and at times it seems everyone was out in the grassy field dancing. To be fair, we learned that the Rapa Nui team were essentially professional dancers who preformed at various hotels and tourist functions on Easter Island. It was evident in their costumes, their choreography, and the creativeness of their dances. Their scanty costumes and incredible physiques did’t hurt either.

The variety and beauty of the dance costumes was amazing.

People were packed everywhere trying to get a clear view of the dancers on the field.

I love this photo of a young Marquesan girl.
The Rapa Nui dancing like only the Rapa Nui can.
A Rapa Nui warrior.

The intricate detail and design is what sets a Marquesan tattoo apart from all others.

This woman had it all together, and she knew it.
The performances went until after midnight, and getting a ride back to the harbor was problematic, but luckily we commandeered a bus from the Aranui 5 (looking like tourists) who dropped us off at the dock. “Say, didn’t I see you in the food tent earlier?”

The next day we got a late start for the final day of the Festival, but arrived to score our now prized seats in the front row with the Mayor. I can’t say we were like family but we were on a first name basis with his granddaughter. All of the dance teams performed and we realized we had seen so much incredible dancing that it was now getting hard to impress us, but we enjoyed every minute none the less. 
Again, the drummers totally set the beat for the week long Festival. Everywhere, day and night, you would hear those drums beating out their pulsating rhythm.
The final moments of the Festival were the passing of the baton to the island of Tahuata which will be hosting a much smaller version of the Festival next year (the smaller islands simply do not have the resources to host large groups of people). In 2018 the festival returns in it’s original size to the island of Nuku Hiva.

Takeaways from the Festival:  The special thing about the Festival is that it is centered on reestablishing the Marquesan culture and language (as most young kids prefer to speak French). The Festival is not a tourist-type event. With the exception of the sailboats and the Aranui passengers, it’s very difficult to even get to Hiva Oa and accommodations are very limited. It’s a gathering by islanders and for islanders. I don’t think many of the customs have changed over the years, the dances are very traditional and the presentation of gifts is imbedded in the Marquesan culture. We felt very welcomed by the Marquesans and felt very blessed to have the opportunity to see a “real” cultural event put on by the local people.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Festival Day 2: Rapa Nui Lollapalooza

The huge Aranui 5 came straight into the harbor, dropped their port side anchor, then had two barges push them sideways into the dock. It was a little intimidating to those boats in the front row, I'm sure.
We woke early this morning to see the talk of the town: the brand new Aranui 5 that was scheduled to arrive at 7:00 am in the morning. The Aranui fleet consists of five ships that cruise French Polynesia serving as both freighters and luxury cruise ships. The Aranui 5 was the largest of the series and there was some scuttlebutt about whether it would be able to fit into the narrow Taahuku Bay (hence all the anchoring restrictions on the sailboats in the harbor). It is a much longer ship than its predecessors and the depth in the center of the bay is only about 20 to 25 ft. How they were going to squeeze it into the tiny concrete wharf was a mystery to us.

We were made aware of its arrival by thunderous cacophony of drums. Out on the breakwater were several hundred people from the island of Nuku Hiva. The inside story was the festival organizers (from Hiva Oa) had urged “local” people to get up early to welcome the Aranui 5 into port. The dancers from rival Nuku Hiva said we’d like to attend, but the Hiva Oa organizers said “No worries, we’ve got it covered.” Now if you are from the Marquesas you’ll know that the islanders are very competitive with each other, so sure enough an hour earlier than planned a caravan of buses containing the Nuka Hiva islanders arrived and staked out the prime breakwater location, where a local chief was heard to say “The Nuku Hiva dancers will be the first the Aranui passengers will see and hear on their way into the harbor.” A great strategy since the drums alone booming throughout the harbor essentially drowned out the smaller contingency from Hiva Oa further down the quay.

The majority of the Festival took place at Tohua Pepu, constructed very similarly to the public gathering places in ancient Polynesia. 
I never found out who these ladies were, but red is the royal color in Polynesia.
For Day Two of the Festival des Arts we decided we needed a more aggressive seating strategy, so we got an early start and caught a mini bus into town. The remainder of the Festival would be held at Tohua Pepeu, a large grassy field surrounded on three sides by large thatched-roof open buildings recently constructed for the Festival. Initially we sat at the far end of the field feeling that our spot on the wall under a large shade tree would be perfect, but we soon found that we were staring at the behinds of the last row of dancers (and they don’t put the best dancers in the last row). As the photographer, I repositioned myself just in front of the first row of dignitaries and got some great shots of the various dance groups.
One of the "dance captains" with his spear.
The dancing in the Marquesas is very male oriented, with the women serving the function of a chorus and storyteller using their hand motions.
In ancient times (up to 1910) the Marquesans were cannibals and fought with neighboring tribes in adjacent valleys.
All the dances follow a common theme, such as the pig dance, the bird dance, etc. with each group adding it's own variations.
The hakka, or dance, was typically a war dance as a prelude to attacking another tribe. 
The team from Ua Pou, touted as one of the crowd favorites, danced first and didn’t disappoint anyone. The men, in fierce war paint and festooned in short grass skirts, dark grass leggings, tattoos, and boar’s teeth necklaces, did a long series of war dances, starting with the “pig dance” that featured a low toned, but loud, exhalation of their breath in a rhythmic manner, imitating the noises made by wild pigs during a hunt. A (for lack of a better term) dance captain — an older warrior with a huge war club — mingles though the group making sure everyone is towing the line. The dances went on for up to an hour and the female dancers would join in with beautiful singing and hand gestures as they sat in rows on the grassy field. 

The sounds of these huge drums can be heard for miles. The pulsating beat literally permeates your body and gets everyone moving.
For me the best part were the multitude of towering drums, played flat handed with outstretched arms that produced a very loud and pulsating beat that permeated your body. It was interesting that even the young boys participated as drummers, learning the rhythms from a very young age.

This older man from Fatu Hiva was the master of the bird dance.
I was sitting with a French photographer from Fatu Hiva who told me to pay special attention to an older dancer with a bright yellow loin cloth. He said he was the most famous dancer in all of the Marquesas and would be performing the “bird dance,” a very delicate dance with ballet-type movements. It was magical to watch this man, who must of been at least 60 years old, balance on one leg while tracing out delicate hand movements in the air. I seriously doubt the best yoga master half his age could have duplicated these intricate movements.

Huge wooden serving trays held chicken, wild pig, and plantains.
An interesting variation on the "natural" serving dish is this split piece of bamboo.
Following the Ua Pou (u a poe) performance was the special Grand KaiKai lunch on a nearby grassy field. A series of bright red/yellow/white (the Marquesan colors) tents were set up and hundreds of participants mingled about waiting for the food to be served. Each team had a tent and were serving specialties from their respective islands, steamed clams, crab, octopus, fish, poi, taro, and wild pig. Marquesans take eating very seriously and it was somewhat of a battle just to get a place in the serving line. The best I could score was some incredibly delicious wild pig (roasted for a long time in a deep, leaf covered pit), along with what I believe was taro (it was a yellow looking squash-type food). The pig was so rich you really couldn’t eat much of it.

Without being aware, I had wandered into a special tent for the Aranui 5. The food selection was amazing and the tent was less crowded until a very snooty looking French lady in front of me waved her Aranui 5 ID card and said this tent was just for the passengers. Well, that was like waving a red flag at me, so I made it my goal in life to sneak into the Aranui tent as often as possible, filling up on a delicious orange drink they had in huge Gatorade type coolers.

We sat picnic style on the grass with Roger and Sasha and enjoyed the offerings from the various tents and met other cruisers who wandered by. We then headed back to the dance venue, this time staking out prime seats just in front of the Mayor and the High Commissioner of the Marquesas (no need for security here, these guys were huge). I realized that the family I was sitting with was the Mayor’s kids and spent a lot of time teasing his 4-year-old granddaughter who was sitting just in front of me. She was sure a cutie!

The Rapa Nui dances captivated the audience with their customs and incredible dance movements.

This is the tamest version of this dance I could publish. Let's just say they get "up close and personal" during this dance.
The Rapa Nui had a way of capturing the attention of the female viewers.
Finally, what we had been all waiting for, the dance team from Easter Island, the Rapa Nui, entered the field. These guys and girls where incredible:  the men dressed (barely) in loin clothes and large feathered headdresses and the women in large white feather headdresses. To say the dances were suggestive is an understatement as their was no doubt in anyone’s mind as to what act they were depicting, but the beauty of French Polynesians is a complete lack of any self consciousness and a very open view of sexuality. Just watching these guys I could feel the body heat of the women around me rising. Female eye candy, indeed.

If this Rapa Nui thought he was going to intimidate this Ua Pou dancer he was in for a big surprise. She put on a sensual show that still has them talking back on the dock.
The Rapa Nui women were simply breathtaking. No one knows how to move their hips like a Polynesian woman.
As part of the dance performances, the dance troupe would go out in the audience and pick out someone from another team to join in the dancing. My favorite was a beautiful young woman in a blue top and orange pareu who was dancing with an almost naked Rapa Nui. I thought she might be intimidated, but I soon realized she was a ringer and could dance as sensual a dance as the guy. Again, everyone’s eyes were glued on this couple and the body heat of the audience definitely rose during their performance.

This "Catholic priest" who symbolically tried to turn the Marquesan's away from idolatry was summarily attacked and killed by the natives.
I liked the juxtaposition of the cross overlooking the "pagan" dances. French Polynesia is probably 90% Catholic with a smattering of Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons.
Another interesting performance was the arrival of a large wooden tiki carried by a group of about twenty warriors. Out of the crowd comes a man dressed like a Catholic priest waving a cross at the tiki, at which point the warriors attack and kill him. The various missionaries where famous for having tiki’s destroyed or mutilated (typically having the rather prominent penis cut off with hammers). Not speaking French or Marquesan I can’t give you any insight to the story behind this one, but it brought a response from the audience.

It had been a full day for Meryl and I and we decided to head back to the boat, missing the night dance performances of several teams. We figured there was much more dancing coming up the next day and we wanted to be alive to watch it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Festival Day 1: Te Fenua Enata, the Land of Men

Given the large number of boats in the harbor, there is a very active grapevine for passing information. Some is via VHF Channel 16, some via Festival officials, and some from just standing around the water faucet loading up water containers.  We learned from Messaluna that the various island groups would be serving a traditional lunch (Grand KaiKai) representative of their local food, but the catch was you had to have a “traditional plate” for the traditional lunch to be served onto. We learned this meant a woven plate with a banana leaf on top. 

One of the French cruisers knew how to make these and she taught one of the women in our group, who then passed it on to the others. So on Dec. 14th I was commandeered to take some of the women ashore and hack down branches from a special palm tree to get the leaves that were used in the weaving process. Machete in hand, and feeling a little like Robinson Crusoe, we found the right kind of palm tree and quickly had four or five huge branches which we stripped down the center (very precisely since they need to be the right thickness) and washed them in the sea.

Sasha, Meryl, and Kim try their hand at making the woven plaited serving dishes.
From L to R: Jahn, Anne Marie, Katie, Sasha and Meryl with their finished plates.
Back at Flying Cloud the ladies from La Aventura and Maluhia were being taught by Katie off Messaluna in the intricacies of weaving a grass plate. With Katies’ excellent instruction the women soon had several plates woven and some even experimented with fancy handles, etc. Feeling more like Robinson Crusoe every day. 

I love this picture since it exemplifies the uninhibited nature of the Marquesan women and the intricate tattoos found in the Marquesan islands.
The next day we headed into the village to see if we could get some Early Bird Specials in the artisan areas. I was looking for a gift for my daughter and son-in-law (who will be visiting us in late March) and Meryl was looking for ear rings and necklaces. Each participant island had a special hut set aside for their artisans, but only a few were set up when we got there. We visited the Ua Poa hut and saw some outstanding necklaces and carvings. The artisans use polished shells, stones, and animal tusks in their art and the results were absolutely gorgeous. They wouldn’t accept money yet since the Festival wasn’t officially opened but we put some neat necklaces on lay away. 

The stone carvers from Fatu Hiva use modern power tools to shape and provide detail to the stone tikis.
Here an artisan uses a common hatchet to shape the rock, much like in the olden days.
These beautiful seed pods feature intricate designs that are carves using a Dremel motor tool.
The Marquesas are called Te Fenua Enata, the Land of Men. It’s a very macho culture here and it’s easy to see vestiges of the fierce warrior culture here in the hulking, tattoo covered Marquesan men, long considered some of the fiercest warriors in all of Polynesia.  Several men from Fatu Hiva (home to many famous wood and stone carvers) had started carving two large tikis with chainsaws, and two more men were making a tiki out of rock brought from Fatu Hiva using power grinders. It was interesting to see the islanders using some of my favorite tools, a Husqvarna chainsaw, a Makita grinder, and a Dremel motor tool, to make beautiful works of art. Many of the men were sporting intricate tribal tattoos and necklaces made of wild boar’s tusks that I assume they killed while hunting. 
The dignitaries from all around French Polynesia included the High Commissioner, the Mayor, and French Naval officers.
We headed back to the boat for lunch, then joined Roger and Sasha from Ednbal for the walk back into town for the opening of the Festival des Arts. We knew seating was going to be tough so we wanted to get there early, but we weren’t early enough. One half of the stands at the soccer stadium were already full (including some of our cruiser friends), so we tried sitting on the other side, only to find that area was reserved for dignitaries. We ended up sitting on the lawn right in front of the dignitary area and got a great view as the Festival opened with a parade of the various island’s participants like a mini Olympic Games. Each island entered the stadium following their standard bearers and dressed in traditional costumes (typically involving grass skirts for both the men and women.

A Fatu Hiva warrior astride a powerful Marquesan horse. These very spirited horses roam wild all over the Marquesan islands and can be seen crossing steep cliff faces and running along the steep ridge tops.
Fata Hiva was the first to arrive, followed by a large team from neighboring island of Tahuata sporting huge grass skirts and warrior men with boar’s tusk necklaces that looked like they’d slice your throat if you turned your head too quick.

The first delegation from Ua Huka flying the new Marquesan flag.
The Marquesan men sport fierce boar's tusk necklaces and intricate tattoos.
The dancer's costumes featured mostly natural materials.
The Marquesan women always seem to have a big smile on their face. Life is good here.
Next to arrive was Ua Huka, followed by Taki Toa (from the southern Gambier Islands), Riki Tea, representing Marquesans living in Tahiti, and finally our favorite team, the Rapa Nui, all the way from Easter Island. 

The Rapa Nui from Easter Island with their elaborate -- and abbreviated costumes -- were definitely a crowd favorite.
Many of the Rapa Nui had more European features than Polynesian.
Amazingly this warrior was hitting on the young French girl who explained she just flew in from Paris to help recover someone's sofa (I don't make this stuff up).
The Rapa Nui men were crowd (and woman) favorites in their white war paint and not much else (except a thin thong-type garment that seemed to contain a wild animal seeking to escape). The women were equally stunning with huge white feather headdresses and feather boa skirts. It was interesting that many of the Rapa Nui didn’t have the distinctive Polynesia features of the Marquesans and Tahitians, but seemed almost European in ethnicity. It turns out that Chile governed Easter Island and many Spanish people populated the island. It was strange to be greeted with an “hola” from the Rapa Nui.

As it began to get dark we were treated to the first of many dance performances during the course of the Festival, this time by the energetic Tahuata team, followed by Taki Toa and Nuku Hiva (one of the largest teams). In the midst of the final performances a torrential rain hit the stadium area, some of the heaviest rain I’ve every seen in my life (and I’m from Seattle and an expert on heavy rain). The dancers continued on, not missing a beat, including kids as young as five or six years old. We were huddled under golf umbrellas but as the performances came to an end we did an end run to the stadium building where we sat in the stands with the rain absolutely pouring off the sides of the building like a waterfall.

As it began to let up we had thought about having dinner at one of the many thatched hut restaurants that had been set up for the Festival, but saw a bus headed back to the harbor and jumped on with a crowd of other cruisers. Again, it’s 82 degrees down here and the rain is warm, but we were very glad we didn’t have to walk the three miles back to the boats that night. It was so fun being with Australians Roger and Sasha, as the Aussies seem to take every hardship as a chance to laugh and party. A fun ending to a great first day of the Festival.