Valerie played several Polynesian birthday songs over the VHF radio first thing in the morning on Cinco de Mateo (5 May). Waking up to the beautiful melodies of the islands was a perfect way to start Matt’s birthday. Sugar Shack remained anchored in Taravai longer than anticipated just so we could celebrate with Valerie, Herve and their family again (we were here last year for Matt’s birthday too).
We invited our friends at anchor, planned a mid-day BBQ and enjoyed a great Tuesday. We landed onshore first and were eagerly greeted by Valerie. She had made a typical Polynesian crown and leigh for Matt. It was not only beautiful but incredibly fragrant. He looked a little silly but he wore it all day (bless his heart).
It was great fun celebrating with all of our friends!
Chris and Fred onboard Sea Jay (American) and Ivar and Floris onboard LuciPara 2 (Dutch)
And the rest of the party crew…
And of course, Matt and I
Taravai Sunday Funday for Matt’s Birthday
Herve BBQ’d some pork ribs, made a tasty pork stew, and poison cru (raw fish dish). We had tons of side dishes and I made cheesecake bites (with my last cream cheese) and a butter pecan cake. Super fun.
Matt did the social distancing thing perfectly by NOT blowing out his candles. He merely lifted the board that was blocking the wind. We had happy birthday sung to us in multiple languages: English, Spanish, Tahitian, Mangarevian, French, and Dutch.
One of the local families brought pearls for everyone to consider. Gabriel has a pearl farm and a pension (hotel) in Rikitea. He was so kind! He gave three of us a few loose pearls.
All in all a great celebration on Matt’s birthday!
Twenty-one students from the local college (which is the equivalent of high school in the U.S.) were selected to perform at a competition in Hawaii. They presented their cultural routine over dinner at the sports center. We were excited to see what type of performance this would be as they are always different. Not just in dance routines and costumes, but in story-telling. We had no idea what to expect.
It had been a particularly rainy day. Buckets and buckets of water came pouring out of the sky throughout the day. Our friends on Leela (Graham and Janicky) decided to brave the elements with us. Matt and I were super lucky in that it was only drizzling on our way in. We had our foulies (dry weather jackets) and dry bags and made a run for it and only get a few sprinkles. But, 5 minutes later, our friends came in drenched. Ugh.
After standing around for a little bit, we commandeered a table. The boys went next door to buy dinner tickets and to wait for our food. The parents of the performers were in charge of the BBQ which smelled divine.
BBQ Dinner. Buying Tickets and Picking up
The boys came back with a steak and chicken combo that was accompanied by a pasta salad and bread fruit. Way too much for the table, but we dug in!
The setting is really pretty with all-natural decorations. The colorful plant leaves are placed into cut tree trunks that create the border around the stage area. In the background are two constructed changing areas for the performers to change into their costumes.
Beautiful decor at the cultural dance
The Story Begins
I had to make a lot of assumptions, since I do not speak Mangarevan and do not know the cultural significance of the dance. I did ask a local friend of mine on some of the interpretation, but most of it is my assumption based on the dance moves throughout the story. The biggest difference between this performance all of the other performances we have seen is that the dancers are extremely humble and solemn. There is no great joy or passion or smiling faces. They have a story to tell and were taught to tell it with respect and honor.
The musicians were setting up during dinner which included 5 sets of drums and a very loud aluminum drum. The beat or rhythm was unlike anything we have ever heard and it reverberated throughout the sports center.
Covered in green leaves and topped with crowns, the kids started their story. There are three students who are lead characters. They all were semi-bent over as they raised their hands and swayed from side to side. It was as if they were paying homage to someone or something.
Performing the Cultural Dance
The kids ages range from 12-15 years old. It makes me wonder why the serious faces.
Performing the Cultural Dance
The boys knelt and hovered over the girls while raising their hands. These are two of the leads that remained in front and were charged with the main story telling.
Two leads perform the main roles
The female lead remained bent over for most of the beginning and then she started holding her tummy. Hmmm, is she pregnant (in the story). The male lead would walk her around gently and reverently as if showcasing his proud mom to be.
Communicating their story through dance
Preparing for the Baby
We did not know it at the time, but the next part of the story is preparing for the baby. The girls all sat while the boys knelt down beside them. First, they cleansed them with water by cupping water in their hands and slowly washing it over their arms and legs (top and middle left photos). Next, they dusted their arms with mixture that looked like sand but I am sure it was something far more significant (bottom left photo). The final part of the preparations was the cutting of the hair (lower right photo).
Preparing for the Baby
This is a photo of the cleansing water and ointment spread on the arms and legs of the women.
Holy Water and Special Dusting
After the preparations were done, the lead girl was surrounded by her community while chanting was going on. When she appeared next, her husband was carrying a baby. He took the baby to an area where they cleansed and baptized it before presenting it to the community.
Boys Transition to Manhood
In Polynesian culture, at the age of 14, boys perform a series of tests before coming of age or transitioning into “manhood.” Once they have completed their tasks or tests, they receive tattoos telling their stories. The performers showed the older boys giving the younger boys a “traditional tattoo” using the tapping method. After they receive their tattoo, the older boys apply oil and then perform a dance introducing them into the community as a man. Then they all celebrate in dance.
Tattooing and Marking The Boys for Manhood
I was able to capture this group photo before the event started. I love the little baby in the lower right corner looking at the kids with awe.
It certainly was a unique experience. I am sure it would have been far more powerful had I understood the language or known the story. But even without that knowledge it was beautiful to see the cultural significance performed by the young people.
The Gambiers are very remote and only receive a supply ship once every 3-4 weeks. Over the holidays it becomes even more infrequent. The main village of Rikitea located on Mangareva received a supply ship in late November, then one in January and then the one we caught at the end of February. The ship in January had no gasoline so the entire archipelago was out of “sans plumb.” We were lucky in that the Nuku Hao supply ship was scheduled to arrive within a week after we arrived (the February ship). Great timing for us!
It is a big deal when the ship comes as the locals receive packages, supplies, parts, cars, scooters, building materials, and pretty much anything that is needed from Tahiti. The magasins (markets) get all of their fresh produce and goods to stock their shelves. So, the island life stops as we know it to greet the ships.
Nuku Hao Supply Ship #1
At 0600, the first of two ships arrived. You can see it coming down the channel (behind the sailboat), during sunrise.
Arrival of the Supply Ship
The supply ship lowers two pangas to use as “bow thrusters” and help guide them to the dock. It is amazing to me that they lower these pangas, with people inside them while underway.
Pangas are used as bow thrusters
The pangas use their wooden bow with minimal protection to “ram” the supply ship and move her into place. The ships captain cannot see the pangas from his perch, so the drivers of the pangas have to have a lot of faith in their own skills – to not get squished.
Pangas expertly maneuvering the hsip
We went to shore around 10:00 to witness the activity first hand. The supply ship had been docked for about 3 hours and the dock was bustling with movement. They have two cranes that lift and lower the containers from the ship to the dock.
Containers, containers, everywhere
Then forklifts move the containers and boxes away from the boat to make room for more. Dozens and dozens of containers were unloaded. Usually they have one fork lift on either end (one goes backwards while the other forward). Really amazing.
Moving the containers on shore
The island is fueled by propane (kitchens) and they were very low on supply in the islands. So, lots and lots and lots of propane bottles were delivered. Locals bring their empty bottles in exchange for full ones.
Anything and everything is delivered
Propane bottles – restocking the island
The gasoline and diesel are delivered in 200-liter barrels. The locals bring their empty barrels in exchange for full ones. As an outsider, we can purchase one 200-liter barrel of diesel but not gasoline. Gasoline has to be pre-ordered or purchased directly from the local magasins (for about $50 per 5 gallons). Locals can purchase an open container (lower photo) have it filled and shipped to them. They meet with the foreman, provide payment and paperwork, and he tells them which numbered box is theirs.
Fuel and Personal Carts
I witnessed some funny things while on the dock. I am sure most of it would never be allowed in the States. A local purchased a 200-liter drum of fuel. He backed his hatchback to the dock and had a forklift deposit the heavy barrel into the back. What??? The bottom photo are the locals waiting for individual packages to be unpacked.
200-liter barrel to go?
The fork lifts drive right inside the containers to remove pallets of beverages, food, and supplies. Of course, we found the pallets of Hinano (local beer).
Hmmmm…beer by the pallet
I went around to the bow of the supply ship to see the damage caused by the pangas. I was surprised the metal ship had so many dents from the wooden pangas. But both the pangas and the supply ship had obvious damage.
Changing of the Guards / Ships
Damage by the bow thrusters?
The Nuku Hao supply ship finished unloading and repacking the ship around 1800. By 1900 it left the dock and was out of the channel. By 2100 the Taporo Supply Ship was pulling into the harbor. What a lucky day! Both supply ships arrived. The Taporo carries more of the fresh produce and frozen goods. It was raining when she arrived so we did not go to the dock to witness this madness. We did however, go ashore several hours later to raid the magasins for fresh produce.
Taporo Supply Ship
The Taporo brought all of the jet fuel for the airport
Although two ships came to deliver supplies, we realized that they still did not bring certain items like cabbage which is normally a staple. Odd. We will have to find a local who grows them. Because we are in the Gambiers, very fertile islands, the search will continue for fresh produce.