The Marquesan Cultural Festival called “Matavaa” is only held once every four years. The location rotates between the islands and this year it was held in Ua Pou. It is the 12th event that will bring in participants from six Marquesan islands (Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Ua Huka, Tahuata, Ua Pou, and Fatu Hiva). It will also include participants with Marquesan heritage from Rapai Nui (Easter Island) and two teams from Tahiit (Maohu Nui Ahima and Toko Henua).
This is not like most traditional festivals. It is a cultural celebration to pass down Marquesan traditions to the younger generations through dance, song, music, tattooing (traditional and modern), and carving (wood, stone, and bone). They do not host sporting activities, but they do have educational conferences, exhibitions of stone and wood carvings, tattooing (traditional and modern) and of course song and dance.
The opening ceremonies started with a parade of all the participants including dancers, musicians, artists, and delegates. Each of the 9 groups gave a 15-20-minute performance. They had a few speeches and raised the three flags (French, French Polynesia, and Marquesas). After a short break, we all walked the mile back to the beach for the next ceremony.
Our favorite group, Rapa Nui captured my heart the first day. Their passion and love for story telling through dance was contagious!
The next event was the receiving of the traditional Marquesan catamaran which carried the Matavaa Tiki. Ua Pou’s dancers and drummers covered the beach while several other island performers climbed up on the rocks lining the pier. We all awaited the arrival of the vessel. As the small boat came in, the dancers welcomed the crew in with their sultry performances.
An artisan market was set up near the main stadium which had many spectacular displays. Artists were selling ukuleles, painted parchments, stone carvings, jewelry, wood carvings, baskets, purses, feathers, pearls, and oh so much more.
The locals hosted a free lunch for everyone. It was really fascinating watching the preparation of the traditional pig BBQ in the ground. The had 6 pits, cooked 3 huge pigs wrapped in banana leaves, and served in the gorgeous traditional wood serving platters.
A host of volunteers served the food to all those that clambered toward the tables. But they were very nice and super generous with the portions.
The Matavaa festival was “green” and had no plastic serving plates, utensils or cups. Therefore, you had to bring your own or make your own with leaves. It was an entire Marquesan meal. We used our super cool Think Sport Travel plate with its own fork and spoon.
Carving of Stone
I always wondered how the stone carvings happened. Off to the side of the main stadium were 9 covered areas with large, various shaped stone rocks. Each island group received their rock and crafted a master piece. The first group started with a shortish, fat rock and created 3 tiki heads of a mother and her two children. The lower left photo is the initial rock, the lower right shows it part of the way drawn and carved, and then the final product (4 days of work).
Another really cool sculpture and its progression.
Several other stone sculptures carved at the festival. One sculpture had a front and back. They carved long braided hair on the back.
Carving of Tikis
Each island group received a large tree trunk to carve as they pleased. Using numerous chain saws and other various wood carving tools they created master pieces in a matter of days! Of course, I had a few favorites that I followed from beginning to end. This large tiki was a true work of art.
My favorite group was from Rapa Nui. Mostly because they had great facial expressions and looked like they truly loved doing what they were doing. From the dancers, to the drummers, to the wood carvers. We watched the carving of the Rapa Nui Moai from a huge tree trunk to the finished product and it was amazing.
I met this super nice man who was carving a small stone tiki. He was so very nice and talented. I wanted him to make me a tiki but could not imagine where I would put it. Another carver was selling medium size wooden tikis made of rosewood at the artisan market.
We attended an educational conference on the history of traditional tattooing. It was absolutely fascinating to learn why the received tattoos, what it meant, and how they were done (traditional style). Each person would write their story on their body through tattoos. It is not an alphabet format but rather indicative of nature. Children do not get their first tattoo until they are about 14 years old (after their skin stops stretching). It is a huge celebration as it indicates the transition from childhood to man/womanhood.
Traditional tattoos are implanted using tree bark and human bone. The bone transfers “mana” into the recipient and is very painful. It is actually called “tatto-o” like “ow.” The top left photo is the modern tattoo process and all of the other 5 photos are traditional tattoo process.
Tattoo is the telling of a story, each tattoo holds significant meaning and is placed on the body for specific relevance.
Be sure to see Part II of Matavaa Festival: Marquesan Cultural Festival Part I