Day Trip to Takai’i

Hairy hair pin turn…watch out for goats!

After making fast friends with Heifara & Siki, Blight & Isrin in a valley near Mami Faatiarau’s, Raiarii and I gladly accepted an invitation on an island tour. Well-versed in Marquesan culture, Blight brought the island to life recounting the history and legends that made each place special.

First he brought us to a valley in the south, to visit the stone ruins of an ancient Marquesan ‘Tohua’—stone platforms upon which homes were built and festivities conducted. Blight showed us where the royalty sat, offerings were set, the compost pile, and where the religious ceremonies and sacrifices were made on the sacred ‘Me’ae’ grounds. There was even a scary looking stone prison hole! Original tiki sculptures that have never been moved, and the elaborate rock foundations cloak these sites in almost tangible wonder.

Isrin, bravely checking out the prison ‘hole’. A large rock was rolled on top of this hole to detain a prisoner likely before being sacrificed.

Isrin and the ancient stone tiki at Taaoa.

Next we drove out to the north side of the island, to see where Blight and his seven brothers and sisters grew up in a valley of their own! His father would go off hunting pig or goat for days in the mountains while his mother split copra, fished, or gathered food from the surrounding hills or shore. Every now and then she’d whistle, and the kids would whistle back, letting her know that all was well. Blight recalled walking to his grandmother’s house in the neighboring valley at five years old to fetch a bag of sugar—a steep hike in and out, 5 miles or so, up and over the mountain and back. While his family lives in the main village now for work, Blight’s mother dreams of the day she will retire and return to her peaceful life in the valley, close to nature.

Blight, pointing to the isolated valley where he was raised.

Legend holds the most beautiful girl of the village was once sacrificed from this rock to appease a huge shark that was harrassing the fishermen.

Next we stopped at an infamous stone—perfectly flat on top and adjacent to what appeared to be a 300-400 foot drop into the sea. Marquesan legend holds that at one time, a huge shark was harassing the fisherman of the valley. In order to appease him so that the fisherman could go fishing, the most beautiful girl was sacrificed off this rock into the sea…

“What price beauty,” I sighed, then struggled to get my breath again as I peered over the ledge.

“You can imagine the drop as apparently she had enough time to scream three full times before she hit the water.” Blight said. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The shark never bothered them again after that…”

The breath-stealing drop off…

The marvelous Takai’i

As we climbed back in the truck, I tingled with gratitude that no one was being sacrificed today, and we were off to visit the legendary Me’ae site of Takai’i, the tallest tiki in Marquesas, and the horizontal ‘Priestess tiki’,  both of which were the fascination of Thor and Liv Heyerdahl on their ‘Back to Nature’ adventure to Marquesas in 1939. These tikis so closely resembled some of those he’d seen in South America, he postulated that contrary to most theories, Polynesians originally came from the Americas rather than Asia (the inspiration for his ‘Kon Tiki’ voyage a few years later). Takai’i and his companion tikis guarded the valley with indisputable pride, alluding to a time when humans, nature, and spirit were inextricably connected.

On the way home we visited Blight’s grandfather on his banana plantation in the mountains, where he dries bananas in drying racks warmed by a fire, makes delicious banana vinegar, and tends honey bees. His great grandfather arrived to Marquesas on a ship in the early 1900s. He and his brother decided they’d found paradise, deserted the ship and now account for the large and renowned O’Connor family of Hiva Oa.

Thank you Blight, Isrin, Heifara, and Siki for this unforgettable day!

Grandpa O’Connor hard at work weghing his dried bananas.

The famous ‘priestess’ tiki at Paumau. 

If you find yourself in the Marquesas, Blight O’Connor offers customized tours for visitors to the island of Hiva Oa. Along with speaking perfect English, French and Marquesan, Blight is highly enthusiastic and knowledgeable of local culture, history, dance, customs, and sights of interest…he’ll hike with you up the highest mountain, whiz you around in their open backed Land Rover, or teach you to weave a hats out of palm fronds!!

He can be contacted at marquesasculturalriders@gmail.comor local phone (+689) 342501.

Happy World Ocean’s Day!

Years of reef rash finally paying off! Photo: Raiarii Papa

Let us celebrate our Oceans, today and every day–bodies of water that sustain us, entertain us, and enrich our lives beyond measure!!

Food Foraging and Our Forgotten Bioregional Educations: What we don’t even know we don’t know

In the spirit of Thor and Liv Heyerdahl’s ‘Back to Nature’ adventure almost a hundred years earlier, I embraced my time in Marquesas as a chance to live a little closer to the Source. The relatively low populations and highly fertile soil make for lots of nature’s edibles to be foraged with permission from the local people. So Raiarii and I spent much of our time in the hills and valleys and sea gathering food, cooking over a fire, and combing the terrain for nature’s treasures. We learned from Mami Faatiarau and other friends that with some knowledge of the local plants, we could also make bark rope, palm frond baskets, natural remedies, seats, shelter, hats, you name it… We witnessed that those who were motivated and educated in the flora and fauna, could live heartily and almost wholly off Mother Nature’s provisions.

A few things struck me. Regional plant and animal knowledge must have taken generations upon generations of learning to accumulate. Modern ways make it so easy to let go, homogenize, and forget what our ancestors spent lifetimes figuring out! It can go extinct as easily as a species without a habitat, like it has in so many places where native peoples were killed, disrespected, and paved over. Where I grew up, we don’t even know that we almost all of human history would laugh at us for not knowing our plants!? That itself is a measure of our alienation from nature  and our ‘bioregions’…

There were multiple varieties of mangos, loads of starfruit, lichee, papayas, bananas of all sorts, avocados,  local oranges and grapefruit, limes, and breadfruit just to start! Edible roots included taro, tarua, manioc, and sweet potatoes. And even delicious leafy greens that grew in the streams and slowly flowing tributaries!

It never hurts to get a higher perspective on things!

Can anyone identify these delicious leafy greens?

Mami F's lovely palm frond basket.

New foraging techniques were developed…

We learned how to crack bamboo into flat lengths and weave together to make walls or flooring!

Getting to know palm fronds a little better these days.

“We like to think of progress as modern man’s struggle to secure better food for more people, warmer clothing and finer dwellings for the poor, more medicine and hospitals for the sick, increased security against war, less corruption and crime, a happier life for young and old. But, as it has turned out, progress involves much more. It is progress when weapons are improved to kill more people at a longer range. It is progress when a little man becomes a giant because he can push a button and blow up the world. It is progress when the man in the street can stop thinking and creating because all his problems are solved by others who show him what happens if he turns on a switch. It is progress when people become so specialized that they know almost everything about almost nothing. It is also progress when reality gets so damned dull that we all survive by sitting staring at entertainment radiating from a box, or when one pill is invented to cure the harm done by another, or when hospitals grow up like mushrooms because our heads are overworked and our bodies underdeveloped, because our hearts are empty and our intestines filled with anything cleverly advertised. It is progress when a farmer leaves his hoe and a fisherman his net to step onto an assembly line the day the cornfield is leased to industry, which needs the salmon river as its sewer. It is progress when cities grow bigger and fields and forests smaller, until ever more men spend ever more time in subways and bumper-to-bumper car queues, until neon lights are needed in daytime because buildings grope for the sky and dwarf men and women in canyons where they roll along with klaxons screaming and blow exhaust all over their babies. When children get a sidewalk in exchange for a meadow, when the fragrance of flowers and the view of hills and forests are replaced by air conditioning and a view across the street. It is progress when a centuries-old oak is cut down to give space for a road sign.” –Thor Heyerdahl, Fatu Hiva

PS swellvoyage.com will be down for an overhaul next week! …been working on this new site all year and excited for its launch!

2,600 miles ends in a T-bone (not a steak!)

Swell anchored precariously off of Puka Puka atoll to deliver 500 lbs of fruit from Marquesas…story to come…

My apologies for the delay…had to pick up the pace over the last month in order to make it back towards ‘home base’ in order to catch a plane to Cali so I can be there when my nephew will be born in June! Seven passages over one month with a broken autopilot and a light winds on the stern, making my windvane rather finicky. So it was on and off the helm for 3-6 hour shifts with Raiarii…which meant no extra time for writing! But alternately, there was lots of time to bond with Swell and the sea. I steered the boat by hand this year more than ever before and learned so much! Plus, I spent huge amounts of quality time with the sea and sky. Watching the heavens turn from gray to orange to blue each morning, studying the swell directions all day, and steering by the stars or the moon reflection on the water at night…all in all, it was another epic voyage, completing a 2,600 mile loop of French Polynesia over the last year.

Ironically, anchored in the tranquil bay, the day after our arrival from treacherous atolls and high seas, a large charter catamaran came barreling into the side starboard side of Swell! Apparently the captain went down below and drifted across the bay, t-boning poor Swell at anchor!

Luckily, she’s still floating–there is minor damage to the hull and the standing rigging, and lifelines, but all in all we were lucky that no one was hurt and everything can be repaired…but I’ve been dealing with insurance headaches, etc…On top of seeing old friends and celebrating Swell’s return, I’ve been hard pressed to find a minute for the many stories I can’t wait to share of the past month or so!!

So cheers to Swell for enduring many more sea miles!! Now its off to the boatyard to get her fixed up again ☹…

Swell's kiss at the waterline from the 'drifting' catamaran.

and I thought I was Tough…

Maoni, Mami Faatiarua, and the puppy…(the baby goat is beind the coconut tree).

Reunited in the neighboring valley, we brought ashore some fish we’d caught for Mami Faatiarau, Maoni, and Georgina–the woman with whom they were staying. The goat and the puppy had come along too! They’d just returned from a morning of foraging in the mountains with a sac full of mangos, and were pulling a steaming hot pot out of the traditional underground oven, full of a cake called ‘poe mape’, made from grated local chestnuts and coconut milk. I could only imagine what time they woke up; it was only 8:30 in the morning! The other grandmother, Georgina, loved to talk and spoke French, so she cheerfully started in on stories of her and Mami Faatiarau’s courageous escapades over our generous helpings of cake and instant coffee. Both women were separated from their husbands, so they kept each other company from time to time. She recounted one story that I felt obligated to share…

Georgina and Mami Faatiarua before 'breakfast'.

Poe Mape, made from local chestnuts and freshly pressed coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves then baked in an underground oven.

Not long ago, around ten at night, Mami Faatiarau and Georgina were out catching local shrimp in the river in Mami’s valley. They’d already caught a few, when they heard something rustling in the brush behind them. Instantly, Mami’s hunting dogs erupted in wild barking.

Without a good flashlight, Mami Faatiarau couldn’t make out what all the commotion was about. She grabbed her knife and headed for the scene, but it was too dark so she called to Georgina to go and light a palm frond on fire and bring it over so she could see. When Georgina came back with the lit frond, she illuminated an enormous, 600-pound tusked wild boar. Pinned by the well-trained dogs, Mami went straight in and stabbed it in the heart!!

Once it had died, the work was just beginning….

Mami Faatiarau and Georgina cut two long straight branches from a nearby tree and built a sort of ‘sled’ using bark rope and sticks. They somehow managed to slide it under the beast and then Mami hauled it down to the beach, where she lit a fire, cleaned and gutted it, and used the fire to burn the hair off the skin. She then butchered the massive pig into manageable pieces and prepped it for the curing and salting process. Without refrigeration, they use old fashion system of salting meat to preserve it.

She didn’t finish working until 4am!

Take this young Polynesian pig who just finished rolling in the mud…and add two 6" tusks and 575 pounds or so to have an idea of what Mami battled that night!

Mami Faatiarau smirked with gleaming eyes as Georgina recounted the memorable night, nodding ever so often in affirmation. She wasn’t prideful; it seemed to her it was just everyday ‘living’. She rose to take another piece of ‘poe mape’, moving nimbly on bare feet at almost 80 years old, skirt flowing about her legs. Unlike some of the male hunters, she didn’t wear bore’s tusks around her neck. If it wasn’t for Georgina, Mami Faatiarau would never have even told us the story. I wanted to hear more, trying to imagine the realities of her many, toilsome years in the valley. She was a living monument to a dying way of life, her richness of an uncountable sort. It was a gift just to be near her strong, vibrant presence…one I won’t soon forget…

Quiet heros in the forgotten valley.

Mami Faatiarua Tetuaveroa.

Mami Faatiarau is 79 years old. She lives in an isolated valley in the Marquesas Islands. Only a walking path connects this valley to the main village, but she doesn’t want to move to the more populated valley like the rest of her family. She and Maoni, her disabled adoptive son prefer to stay in the peace and tranquility of the valley, living off what nature provides.

Raiarii and I met them while scoping out a little right that breaks along the eastern point of her bay. We’d been sent over to deliver a message to another grandmother who occasionally lives in the same valley. That day, we swam ashore and came upon the two old ladies and a younger woman, hauling a wild pig back towards the house that they’d just killed!! I was blazed in astonishment at the sight of these three women and their ‘kill’…We delivered the message, they loaded us up with avocados and grapefruit, and we were on our way. But I felt we’d have to go back and spend a little more time there…

Walking the baby goat behind Mami Faatiarua (take note of her multi-machete belt!).

On our next visit a week or so later, she and Maoni were out gathering shellfish on the rocks at low tide in the company of a big-eared puppy and a baby goat on a leash. This was quite the foursome to behold! We’d caught a small tuna on the way there, so we paddled in through the shorebreak to offer them the fish.

Extremely grateful, she smiled and kissed us, and insisted we all eat together.  So after we rode a few waves, Maoni led us back into the valley through rows of swaying palms. Raiarii carried the fish and a few gifts we’d brought, while I walked the baby goat!  They explained that they had found him abandoned in the hills on a recent walk back from the neighboring valley. The house was simple, pink, clean, and home to a large pack of hunting dogs and captured wild pigs they were raising to eat. How this duo managed to nourish not only themselves, but all these animals everyday without buying things from a store… All I can say is that I found two new heroes that day!

Maoni, stoked and grooving to the tunes on Raiarii's ipod…He was such a fantastic host, graciously touring us around the valley with a huge smile.

Raiarii fried the fish, I cleaned the shellfish and squeezed lime juice over them, and Mami Faatiarau prepared some tarua root and traditional ‘popoi’, made from fermented breadfruit. Maoni never stopped smiling and it was certain they were both happy to have company. Neither of them spoke much French, so it was difficult for me to communicate. Thankfully, Raiarii speaks fluent Tahitian and Mami speaks both Marquesan and Tahitian, so he was able to translate for me. After lunch we helped around the house as much as they’d allow, hoping the two of them could rest a bit that afternoon with some of the chores finished…

The 'ma-ma' shellfish that they had collected on the rocks earlier were delicious with lime juice.

Then we all wandered back to the beach, and sat in the shade of the palms watching the wild horses drink from the creek. When it was time to say goodbye, Mami told us they were coming over to the valley where Swell was anchored in a few days. We offered to pick them up with the dinghy, but she refused explaining that she never learned to swim, so she was terrified of the sea, and preferred the 4-mile walk at 79 years old! Go Mami Faatiarau!!

We shared the beach with some thirsty horses and lazy cows…

I could certainly understand why they liked their valley…

Pacific Arts Festival: More Photos

'Kai kai'! Food day in the same valley where Herman Melville lived with the locals in 1842.

Let's eat! Breadfruit and cooked bananas to accompany a swath of other Marquesan delicacies! Free for all who brought a coconut bowl, banana leaf, palm husk, etc…no plastic allowed! 🙂

A Tiki coming to life.

'Tapa' made from tree bark was worn before Europeans brought cloth.

Who wants a palm frond hat?

With the help of a few modern tools, this log was turned into a dug out canoe. Photo courtesy of Mckenzie Clark

Later that day… Photo courtesy of Mckenzie Clark

Traditional dress certainly reflects the warm climate…:)

The girls perform the Marquesan 'Dance of the Bird'…

The future of the culture resides in the youth.

One of these days, I'll make my leaf and flower outfit!!

Mckenzie and I, gettin into the spirit!

Pacific Arts Festival…Culture is Beautiful!

Natural Polynesian beauty.

Every four years, the ‘Festival des Marquises’ brings representatives from all over the Marquesas Islands and around the Pacific to celebrate the culture that makes each island unique. Food, dance, traditional medicine, palm and pandanus leaf weaving, tattooing, sculpture, and various other cultural arts were performed and shared with the other islanders and guests from all over the world (most arriving by sailboat!) Groups from Marquesas, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and the Pacific Northwest performed spectacular traditional dances. This was a very special event. They were not dancing for tourists; I was lucky to be one of not many ‘outsiders’. They were dancing for the pride of their islands, for each other, for their past, and to carry forth what remains of the ways of their ancestors. The old ways everywhere are slowly dying. There is no going back. And as always, modernity brings the bad with the good…But I was delighted by the amount of time, energy, and spirit that the islanders invested in this celebration and preservation of culture.

Ua Pou 'haka' warrior.

Unbelievable costumes, made mostly from nature's charms. These black seeds can be gathered in the mountains.

The men’s grunting and booming ‘haka’ dances were so powerful, it seemed as if the ancestors’ voices joined in too. There was a force nearly tangible in the vibration of their low and guttural ‘ho’s and hey’s’–enough to briefly transport all of us back in time. Despite my secret yearning to dress up in leaves,  seeds, and flowers, I would NOT want to go to battle against those men!!

Traditionally, tatoos marked family emblems, stories, lineage, status, and/or a person's qualities.

Dancer from the Pacific Northwest.

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) 'haka' dancer.

On the last of the four-day festival, everyone came together for a night of music. The representatives from all islands were at liberty to take the stage in a loosely organized concert. The stage was set atop an ancient ‘marae’ or ceremonial site beside the bay. Young and old, from all over the world gathered on the grass under a throng of South Pacific stars and the humbling silhouette of the island’s crater.

The New Caledonian group's funky beats and sweet voices stole the show! Photo courtesy of Mckenzie Clark

The music was other worldly and the mood so positive!…Hearing the young Marquesan reggae band and the incredible mix of voices in the New Caledonian group, I forgot all about mourning the cultural past. That evening was dedicated to the ‘culture of the present’, and those performing gave me every cause to celebrate the here and now…

Plastic-Coated Paradise??

Photo by Mckenzie Clark.

…Yet another plastic-ridden beach thousands of miles from any significant metropolis…

Mckenzie and I hiked over the hill from where Swell was anchored hoping to find some wind-swell peaks to surf one morning.
Instead, we discovered this spectacular 1/2 mile-long beach coated in plastic trash (and Portugese man-o-wars!) from end to end. This beach faces the tradewinds on an island nearly 3,800 miles off the coast of Central America. We found shampoo bottles from Chile, a hard hat with ‘Miguel’ inscribed on it, polypropylene ropes, oil containers, broken jugs, toothbrushes, plastic bags, fishing nets, soda bottles, you name it…The plastic was brittle and broke easily when we tried to move it. Tropical sun breaks it down into smaller pieces over time, but they don’t ever biodegrade. What doesn’t reach this beach or others in the Pacific continues on to one of the five ocean gyres where floating plastic accumulates. We are literally turning our oceans into plastic soup!

Here and everywhere, the plastic continues to pollute, contaminating the surrounding environment with the toxic phthalates used in PVC plastic, bisphenol A or BPAs used in polycarbonate plastic, and brominated flame retardants or PBDEs used in many other types of plastic.  They enter the food chain from the bottom and move there way up effecting bird life, fish, marine mammals and eventually humans. Do you want your next order of fish and chips with or without plastic toxins?

Is this the kind of world we want to leave for our children?

Let’s reduce our plastic use!

Let’s demand alternatives to single-use plastic!

Let’s clean up the mess we’ve made of Earth!

Some corresponding organizations to support and follow:

The Clean Oceans Project

5 Gyres 

Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Surfrider Foundation

Plastic Pollution Coalition 

Mizu Stainless Waterbottles