Jun 4, 2014

Maupiti – The Smallest of the Leeward Islands

Too often... I would hear men boast of the miles 
Covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.
Louis L'Amour

Boat ride from airport to motu
We finally make it to the smallest (of the ones we visited) of the Leeward Islands, Maupiti, and are a little miffed when we find out our pension Rose des Iles didn’t know we were coming, even after two confirmations.  Thankfully another group of three ladies was being picked up by the owner of the pension so we tagged along hoping to soon clear things up.

Going by Maupiti island - church
Our host and driver - Taururoa (Arthur)
A room is made available, everything working out.  We end up with the largest room for the cheapest price in order to fit everyone’s need.  All are happy.  We can’t complain about an arrangement like that!

Our bungalow - used to be the main house where Arthur and his wife Rose lived
They love patterns - colors - textures
Lock on the door... you have to love island life
We are in no rush and settle slowly. We walk around our very first motu (reef island). We have seen many across the lagoons of the islands we have visited to date but haven’t stayed/lived on one yet. The breeze is strong on one side; the other is warmer but has the best beaches. Either way, it is beautiful but sadly we witness a high/rapid degree of erosion eating away at the already small motu.
Pass into lagoon - narrow and difficult
Same pass viewed from above
We make a point of checking out the only passage into the lagoon.  Seeing how Déjàlà could handle it.  It is considered dangerous because it is narrow, shallow, and the current can be as strong as 10 knots.  Our host has seen his share of boats not making it and landing on the reef.  He has helped some, others were beyond help.

Beautiful colors
Erosion - trees fallen along beach
Rose des Iles - our ride
History shows the islands are sinking at a rate of approximately 1 cm (0.4 inch) per year.  Meaning Maupiti has 400,000 to go while the motus surrounding it mainly deal with erosion, not sinking, lasting much longer – hence the beginning of another atoll.  Should the motu we are on sink at the same rate it would be gone in less than 300 years.  The growth of the reef keeps them fairly even but with global warming who knows what their future will be.

We spend an afternoon kayaking the turquoise waters and paddle with pastenagues (stingrays).  In our sailing guides coral heads are called bommies, here they are called reef potatoes (les patates des récifs).  We see several patates with various bright colors: purple, orange, blue, green, and yellow.  Some are fish, some are clams, and some may be plants.  The water is too choppy to take pictures, everything very fleeting nevertheless pretty.


Creating altar for wedding
Finished product - all from plants - biodegradable
We timed our arrival perfectly and are extremely lucky to be invited to a Tahitian wedding.  We begin the day around 7:15am; witnessing and helping (as much as one can when not being familiar with customs and needs) fill up the Tahitian oven.  Wood has been burning since 4am to create hot coals and rocks that will be used to cook enough food for about 100 people in the next 4-5 hours.  First the coals/rocks are covered by young banana tree trunks cut halfway lengthwise. These will prevent the food from burning while adding steam and keeping the food moist. 


Food baskets that will go in the Tahitian oven
Women sitting at table in water preparing raw fish dish - Got to stay cool
Handmade woven palm leave baskets lined with banana leaves or tinfoil are filled with po’e, banana bread, manioc, taro, clams, fish, pork, chicken fafa, etc.  Surrounding these baskets are breadfruits.  On the side table are poisson cru (raw fish), Napoleon fish fermented in salt water and garlic (fafaru), fermented coconut milk (mitihue), coconut water, etc. 

First add layer of small banana trees cut in half
Then add food baskets and uru (breadfruit)
Cover with sticks
Then banana leaves
Then more banana leaves, then hides - Notice steam is still rising through dozens of layers....
Once food is laid out over the coals all is covered with multiple layers of banana leaves, a few hides, the always present blue tarp, then sand.  It cooks until about noon. 


The band
The weather is beautiful, kids play in the aquamarine water, and final touches are made to decorate the place of honor where the wedded couple will be seated.  Live music is playing in the background.


Mike's headgear stolen from Arthur - Some vine growing on trees
Marie-France's headgear - Took two hours to make
Shell necklace and pareo
Arthur with Marie-France's headgear
We return to our pension to make our own crown of flowers to wear with our pareos.  Our hostess, Béatrice, is having us choose shell necklaces and bracelets to wear with our ensembles.  They used to belong to her mother, some as old as 50 years!  It took me nearly 2 hours to create my floral headgear.  I am more inclined to appreciate how much work, dexterity, creativity and talent is needed to make these.

Tahitian deacon awaiting couple
Coming off boat
Welcoming the couple to wed
Wrapping hands together with sacred leaf
Pouring coconut water to seal the deal
We return around 11:30am to see the arrival, by boat, of the newlyweds to be blessed by a Tahitian deacon.  The ceremony is first said in Tahitian, then French.  It is very short, music and Tahitian dance continue in the background.

Dancers take the stage
Always with a smile
Tandem dancing...
Many other popa’as (foreigners) infiltrate the celebration but we seem to be the only ones who attempted to dress traditionally like the locals.  Many appreciate our efforts.  Even the mayor’s wife comment on the work we have done. 
Opening the Tahitian oven - yum
While the food is taken out of the oven pit and dished out, we enjoy a couple of speed/strength contests typical of French Polynesia games.  The first contest involves opening and coring coconuts with hand tools.  These men are amazingly strong and quick.  We are told one of them is the best in all of French Polynesia and is a local.

Coconut opening and coring contest
One splits coconuts with ax, other two core them
While these contestants cool off after that contest, dancers take the stage.  It is then followed by a rock carrying challenge.  Women first, then men attempt to bring a rock from the ground all the way up on one shoulder.  The largest rock picked up weighs 134 kilos (295 pounds).  There are some strong folks in Maupiti.  


Showing new woman contestant how to pick up rock
Preparing to lift rock
Brute force
Done!
Food is ready - basket of various root vegetables
The meal is finally ready and we eat it with our fingers accompanied by cold coconut water or the local Hinano beer.  It is delicious and like all French Polynesian meals, filling.  Although by now there are not many more novelties or surprises after 6 weeks in French Polynesia, we still get to taste a new food to us:  Napoleon fish fermented in salt water and garlic, very tender and fresh.  Also for the first time we have banana with vanilla and rum preserves and watermelon jam – mouth wateringly delicious. 

One of the mamies (Grand-mother)
We were invited to something few popa’as get to see and thanked the wedded couple for sharing their very special day with us.  Their reply was that this is the right way to do things: share life’s celebrations!
After a walk on the beautiful beach to let lunch go down we join the kids and go swimming in the absolutely clear and warm lagoon facing our bungalow. 
So from our pension not even knowing we were coming that day to being invited to a wedding, things fell into place like normally happens when you let things flow.  

Maruru (thank you).     


Going down after hike to top of Maupiti hill
House have tombs in their front yards
Waiting airport area (under tree shade)...

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