Ten people live here. We stayed for four days.
And this is the village we walked to, Hatiheu. It has a stunning setting, strung along a long beachfront with booming surf. Little kids were swimming in the waves, and when one of them spotted a shark I was interested to see that the shark sign they use to warn each other is basically the same shark sign that we teach Eli, hands held over the head to symbolize a dorsal fin.
It was May Day and there was a celebration in the village. One of the main events was a petanque tournament held on the main drag, entry fee 1,000 CFP per team, first prize a bag of lobsters.
I got these pictures of the petanque players. People playing games or musical instruments make great subjects because they are concentrating so hard on what they're doing and cannot easily be distracted by the camera.
This four wheeler was parked under the pavilion where we were hanging out. This is what you call global brand recognition for our own island home.
The people back in Anaho were very friendly, but we had a hard time getting to know anyone because of the language barrier and because so many yachties come and go through the anchorage during the season. In this situation the outnumbered locals either tend to ignore the visitors or become professional friends, trading local contact for some sort of material return. The clichéd metaphor for cross-cultural contact in histories of the South Pacific is “crossing the beach” – the beach as the boundary between European seagoing cultures and local island cultures. For a couple of days I was determined to cross the beach in Anaho and break through the more normal yachtie-local interaction.
I helped unload a local boat that had brought people and supplies from Taiohae. A half dozen other people were ferrying loads in across the calf-deep water between boat and beach, but no one would make eye contact with me. Afterwards, a big bearded biker-looking fellow named Ta’aroa helped me carry jerry jugs of water back to our dinghy. It seemed like we had made a friend, but the next day when Alisa took Ta’aroa a loaf of bread she had baked, he said he wasn’t hungry.
Alisa felt brought up short by this refusal of her gift in this place where the habit of giving is so deeply perfused in the culture.
“Maybe he just wasn’t hungry?” I suggested.
“I know, I thought of that. But then I just felt so stupid, standing on the beach in front of this group of men with a loaf of bread in my hand.”
“Maybe he didn’t want to have to reciprocate?”
“I thought of that, too. It’s just so hard to know what’s going on.”
“Maybe we should leave tomorrow.”
“I was thinking the same thing.”
And so we availed ourselves of the great right of yachties: our dispensation, if the locals don’t feel like getting down with us, or if we feel like seeing something different, or just for no reason at all, to move on. Every bay we visit is at first full of the promise of somewhere that we have never been before, and then, a few days later, becomes a place that we will likely never see again.
That night I went in for more water. A group of teachers and students was visiting from Pape’ete, sleeping in tents on the beach and getting down with their Marquesan brethren. People were eating under the tin-roofed pavilion just behind the beach, and a local man named Michel, hugely obese with a thick black mustache and shaved head, sent me home with a dozen bananas and a kilo of barbecued goat meat. I rowed back through the gap in the reef in the gathering dark, listening to Ta’aroa and two other men and a woman playing music under a palm tree. They played two guitars and a ukulele and the spoons and they sat strait-backed on the beach, looking out to the bay where boats from all over the world arrive for no reason and then go, in the way that sailing vessels have visited this bay and these islands and these people for two hundred years. They sat strait-backed, their strumming arms moving in unison, and sang out to the bay with their heads tilted so that they might have been looking at the mountains on the other side of the bay or at the stars. The reedy, vowel-rich singing voice of the Marquesas followed me out over the dark water. Music that said, “we’re still here.”
Alisa and Elias and I made our own little feast of goat and bananas that night on the hospitality of Michel. We left the next day a little baffled at the friendliness of the people we had met, and the wall across the beach that we could not cross.