Sunday, July 22, 2012

Taiohae: Crossroads of the Marquesas

July 1-6 and 14-17, 2012

It seems that if you sit at the food tent in front of the dinghy dock in Taiohae long enough, you will eventually meet and talk to every cruiser coming through the Marquesas, as well as many of the locals. The family that owns the establishment is affable and outgoing to the cruising community, and they are more than willing to teach the interested about Marquesan culture, particularly the cuisine. So many boats come through this anchorage, that Taiohae is a big, though understated---due to few gathering places for cruisers---social scene. Here, we reunited with Torsten, whom we had toured San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos with. We also saw several of the French boats we had seen in other anchorages in the Marquesas. 

Part of Baie de Taiohae with waterfront tikis

The anchorage at Taiohae is huge:  No matter how many new sails appear over the horizon, Baie de Taiohae seems to accommodate them all without overcrowding. Rose Corser (an American who originally came to the Marquesas to do research and now runs a bar/restaurant and museum) pointed out that most of the boats in the anchorage are anchored illegally. The true anchorage is to the far left as you enter the bay. Cruisers don’t anchor there due to its lack of proximity to fuel, groceries, and the gendarmerie; however, if you plan to stay awhile, you would be much happier anchoring there or at least setting a stern anchor. A large swell comes through the bay making it extremely rolly. Caution must be taken while at anchor to keep things from falling over just as if one was underway. 

The West Sentinel at the entrance to Baie de Taiohae has some interesting stratigraphy

A familiar rock formation in Baie de Taiohae-I thought of it as "crew-cut rock"

Taiohae is the government seat for the Marquesas; consequently, there is more infrastructure there, and those who have government jobs have more wealth than in the surrounding villages. Along with “the big city” come the perks and temptations of the big city---for cruisers, namely fresh veggies and baguettes, internet access, and alcohol. We find ourselves frittering a lot of time away doing boat chores and boat errands in these more developed anchorages.

Part of the time suckage is the sheer amount of time it takes to get things done. Groceries are a long walk from the boat, and it takes multiple trips hand-carrying bags of groceries to restock the galley. We saw one taxi while in Taiohae, but they are not common here.  For cooking fuel, you must leave your propane/butane  bottle overnight (only butane is available in the Marquesas) and retrieve it the next day (never before mid-morning.) The same is true for having laundry done, and you may only get it back the next day “if the air is dry” because the majority of laundry is line-dried. (There are no laundromats in the Marquesas. We elect to have our laundry done while in port instead of doing it ourselves on the boat, because it’s difficult to dry the sheets and towels without having them drag all over the deck. The clothing we wear is so light that it doesn’t comprise a large percentage of the weight of our laundry. ) The fuel dock is a large concrete dock with a lot of swell, and most people refill their diesel tanks using jerry cans instead of tying up to the dock. It is best to go at high tide to minimize the swell. Depending on how much fuel you need, that can take multiple trips as well. Before you know it, you’ve been in the anchorage for days and have seen very little of your surroundings!

Despite the cruiser-in-port syndrome, we saw a few things of cultural interest while in Taiohae.

We visited the artisan center which had an impressive collection of wood and stone carvings (including replicas of weapons and tools formerly used by the Marquesans) as well as a necklace made for every taste. Much Marquesan jewelery is made from the many different types of seeds found on the islands.

The site of the home of the former royal family on the waterfront was worth visiting for the collection of tikis, both old and restored. This park, like so many of the archaeological sites in the Marquesas, was restored in connection with hosting a regional arts festival. It is now used for lounging and outdoor sports activities, much like any public park. We also saw a combat scene for a film being shot in the park one day, with Marquesan actors and an actress in full warrior regalia. 

Site of former royal home

Tiki with harpooned fish

Outrigger sculpture with crew-you can barely see a more ancient version on a platform in the background

Infrequently seen female tiki

We followed a road out of town and ended up along what must have been the former village site. We saw many paepae and some old tikis. However, in Taiohae, people had incorporated the basalt walls of the old paepae into the landscaping of their newer homes.

We also saw many more tethered goat on peoples’ properties than we did on the other islands. On Fatu Hiva, pigs seemed to be the preferred animal kept for food; but perhaps people keep pigs in their yards there because (and this is pure speculation) they are unavailable for hunting in the interior like on Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva?

We visited Rose Corser’s bar and restaurant and met the couple managing it now (Kevin and Anabelle:  He is American, she is Marquesan.) We had a tasty home-cooked meal there, sampling the local wahoo and breadfruit. We returned to the restaurant for a 4th of July gathering they were holding. Only a few other Americans were actually present (the crew of one other boat besides Patrick and myself), but almost everyone there spoke English. We reunited with the brothers Bruyn (their boat is named Double Bruyn) a couple of Kiwis whom we had first met on Fatu Hiva. We ran into them again in Hanamoenoa, and were happy to meet them again in Taiohae. They and their third crew member, Zuzanna, are delightful company. Jon and Paul introduced us to a British couple, Paul and Catherine Davis, off the lovely boat Kahia. It was fun to have a social evening and to hold actual conversations with people other than ourselves.  

Some of Anabelle’s family were present (her sister was helping with the cooking), as well as some other local Marquesans, and we were serenaded with the sounds of a ukulele. It was a festive evening.

The next day, we went back with Paul and Catherine to see Rose Corser’s museum (officially titled the Te Henua Enana museum.) The museum is actually home to three collections---Rose’s, as well as two others. 

Museum display showing traditional Polynesian sailing vessel and poster of traditional Marquesan tattoos
My favorite pieces in the museum were three Marquesan figures carved from wood in various warrior poses. Their facial expressions and Marquesan tattoos were intricately carved, and accents of real hair were added.

It was at the Te Henua Enana museum where I finally saw the tapa that had eluded me on Fatu Hiva. Rose had several wall-length older pieces and was also selling smaller, newer pieces by an artisan from Omoa. 

Modern tapa design

Tapa cloth is made by beating tree bark until it is very, very thin, and in the traditional method, the only design on the resulting fabric was the imprint from the carvings on the beaters. Nowadays, breadfruit, mulberry, and banyan tree bark are used to produce tapas and block prints are added to the tapa cloth. I learned that the priests who remained in the Marquesas changed the Marquesan way of dress significantly. Marquesans used to dress in tapa cloth but because this fabric was vey fragile, they would remove it when bathing. Men and women used to enter the streams together to bathe. They would remove their tapas while bathing and then put them back on when done bathing. The priests thought this was a terrible thing and brought in fabric to the Marquesas, and that is how Marquesans started dressing in fabric clothing instead of in tapa cloth.

Our first stay in Taiohae culminated with attending a performance associated with the festival held there every July. The entire month of July is devoted to festival activities, although they seem to occur mostly on the weekends. We attended a cultural show of traditional dancing, drumming, and chanting. As Patrick pointed out, unlike other cultural shows of this nature we’ve seen in Hawaii and New Zealand, the show felt more authentic because it was attended by the local populus. People brought their whole families and kids were running all over the place together when the show was not being performed. The young Marquesan men were very strong in their poses and bass-tone chants, while the women leading the more song-like chants had incredible vocal strength. Patrick took some video footage of this (which we hope to post at a later date), but there was not enough light for good still photos.  

Male haka dancer

We followed this up with catching a reggae band outside Yacht Services. Not surprisingly, the lead singer of the band was one of the chief performers in the cultural show, and several others were in attendance. I was again reminded that while the Marquesans take pride in their culture and their past, they are also a modern people. 

After circumnavigating Nuku Hiva, we returned to Taiohae for resupplying. They were out of gasoline during out first visit---the supply ship had come in the interim---and we bought some gas for the dinghy outboard in preparation for our next leg in the Tuamotus. Our second propane tank had gone empty during the circumnavigation and, although we had just filled the first tank with butane, we decided to fill the second one too. We haven't cooked with butane before and don't have a good idea of how long a tank will last, so we decided to err on the side of caution. Now, we will definitely have more than enough to get to Papeete. 

We were lucky enough to be in Taiohae for the culmination of the July festival on Bastille Day. (I found it strange that the Marquesans celebrated Bastille Day since the French colonized them.) In the morning, there were horse races on the beach, with the Marquesans riding bareback in all their finery. The one rider who sticks in my mind the most had a large face tattoo over his bare chest, with an eye tattooed over each pectoral muscle. He was wearing a white pareu (or lava-lava, basically a male skirt), and had a long flowing black ponytail with a white feather in it. He had grass anklets around each calf. He was an excellent horseman and had a beautiful bay horse (most of the horses in the Marquesas, a smaller breed, are chestnut.) He was something to watch.

In the evening, we attended the haka dances again, and his time, the dancers utilized torches in one of the routines. 

During our second visit, we also made it to the church, which has exquisite carvings out of wood.

Church door with fisherman

Pulpit with falcon, angel, ox, and lion

Station:  Jesus being nailed to the cross

Jesus being jeered by the crowd

Detail of angry crowd-sad theme but excellent craftsmanship
Taiohae is the kind of place that grows on you. I didn't think I was going to like it there, but I ended up liking it quite a bit. You can tell that Taiohae started to feel "like home," since we were caught out without a camera on many occasions. That's why we have few pictures of the things described in this post. We made friends with Henri at the food tent and had several good discussions with him about everything from family to the economy. When he presented us with a stalk of bananas upon our departure, it brought tears to my eyes. He is one of the people I will remember from this journey.   

Leaving Taiohae

Baie de Taiohae in our wake

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