Tag Archives: Marquesas

Hiva Oa Tour

Today we hired a local named Pifa to give us an all-day tour of Hiva Oa. Pifa looks Marquesan, except that he has no tattoos. In fact his last name is O’Conner and his great-grandfather created a homestead here. Now he says he is related to about half the island’s population of 2500. Pifa studied in Hawaii for two years, so he speaks very good English, which of course helps with the tour. He also speaks Russian, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and perhaps a couple other languages, in addition to the mandatory French and Marquesan (plus the various dialects of French Polynesia — Tahitian and somewhat different from Marquesan).

We drove over the island to the north side. This entailed going up over the steep hills, down into a central valley, up over even steeper hills, and down to the ocean. Many of the roads barely deserve the name — 4 wheel drive is definitely a requirement, even when the weather is dry. Along the way we sampled various fruits direct from the trees (his own, or belonging to someone in his extended family). The views were spectacular. But also the homes that we visited of some of his relatives. The houses were simple, but the gardens were beautiful/bountiful. We stopped at one place that was growing vanilla as a cash crop; I’d never seen it growing before, nor did I even have a sense of what the plant was like. Quite beautiful.

We stopped for a special lunch of wild boar (the hunting of which is a major past time and topic of discussion here), goat in coconut sauce, fish ceviche, breadfruit, plantain, bananas, rice and starfruit juice. Wow. Despite Pifa’s help (and he’s a big guy, like most Marquesans) we could not finish it all.

Then back in the 4-wheel drive to go to a sacred ritual area of the Marquesans. Along the way we passed a large flat stone at the top of a high cliff over the water. This was where a beautiful young girl would be sacrificed to the gods every new moon! We learned that there used to be a community of 18,000 Marquesans in this area, in addition to another rival community on the other side of the island. We saw where the temple was located, where only the priest and the tribal leader were allowed inside. There were large stone tikis depicting the leader, a warrior in front of him, his younger brother behind him, and nearby the one who did sacrifices. Here men were sometimes sacrificed, supposedly voluntarily, so they could join the gods as servants. There was also a large stone tiki of a woman giving birth. There was a tattoo hut, where the first-born male of a family would be tattooed from head to toe over a period of 3 months, once he reached puberty. The tattoos on the chest depict his family history. Others told stories of strength and courage, etc. These tattoos were the only “written language” of the Marquesans, other than some petroglyphs. Being tattooed by primitive methods was a major trial; not all survived the ordeal.

Pifa told us more than I could retain about the old culture and of the history. The name ‘Marquesas’ comes from a Spanish explorer in the 1500’s. The pre-European name for the islands I did not retain, but it means “Land of MEN,” and in this case the “men” does not seem to refer to “our tribe” versus outsides, but instead to fierce male warriors. Cannibalism was practiced — eating slain enemies and also their own newborns if born with deformities/handicaps. In the mid-1800’s missionaries came and told the people they had to stop eating other people. Given the power of the European gods (that gave a soldier the power to kill a man as if by magic without even touching him) this had some sway. Plus with the natives dying off in vast numbers from the European diseases, Christianity took hold. This is Easter weekend, and many people are dressed up and in church, and most businesses are closed until Tuesday. But it is apparent that many Marquesans are very proud of their heritage. French is a second language to them, and they prefer speaking their own language. The tradition of tattoos remains even if most of the symbols have lost their meanings. And they love their homeland. The island is spectacularly beautiful, food and water are abundant, and the weather is always good!

Day 2 at Hiva Oa

Liking things much better a day later, even though I spent a large part of the day trying to do a blog post with some video, with no success (yet). The island’s only gas station is a short walk from the dinghy landing, and it has a “mini-mart” with baguettes and cheese and fruit juice and a reasonable selection of canned/dry foods and…….ice cream. Nice. And the place where I got Internet access is the “signal station” out on a point, high in the air, with an extraordinary view of the ocean and the islands and the approach to the harbor. And a picnic bench in the shade. Wonderful place to struggle with slow Internet access. More cleaning of the hulls today; greeting the next boat in (Chapter Two); dropping off our laundry with a woman who will return it clean in two days.

Day 1 at Hiva Oa

As I’ve learned in the Galapagos, I don’t do very well with first days in new places. It started well, going ashore to meet Luc and Jackie, the BPO reps here. They are wonderful, and they greeted us with baguettes and fruit. Luc drove us into town (maybe three miles) and helped us get through the formalities, which we had been led to believe would be very simple. No; not so simple. It took most of the day, lots of waiting around, lots of money put into a bond that somehow we get back when we leave, all handled in a language that I don’t understand (French). I greatly dislike not speaking the language. Oh well, I just followed Tim and Bill around (they seem to be happy as can be in this delightful place, even though they don’t speak French either). Tim, as always, engaged with everyone. When he couldn’t communicate very well with two ladies who gave us a ride back to the harbor, he sang a song that he knows in French. Went over well.

I felt better by the end of the day, back on the boat. We jumped in the water and scrubbed the hull for an hour or so. It grew quite a “beard” in three weeks at sea. It surprised me that barnacles and green algae would grow that way while we’re moving. I could blame some of it on the Galapagos, but lots of the growth was up the side of the hull, where it was wet only when sailing. Cleaning it is difficult, but it is fun work. Then we had a bottle of French wine, bread, two kinds of cheese, and star fruit. Very nice.

Internet access is marginal here. Frustrating. I have lots of little video clips I’d like to post. Eventually.