Matotea's first birthday party

Birthdays and holidays are a strangely western sort of construct. Rather naively, I hadn't really realized this, at least not before I met Viriamu. Frankly he doesn't celebrate birthdays and he never did as a young boy - which I find pretty hard to imagine, birthdays and Christmas were such a focal point of my childhood. And while people do definitely celebrate birthdays here in French Polynesia, in Rurutu the commercial trimmings are much less obvious, and while it's taken a while for me to get used to this I actually find it refreshing to opt out of the consumer mindset. After all why not rejoice in life every day of the year? That said, I did put my foot down and we had a little party for Matotea's first birthday - it was pretty funny, she was absolutely bewildered by the whole thing! But her brothers and cousin enjoyed it...


A month in the Marquesas

I have just returned from a month of fieldwork in the Marquesas. As part of the project I'm coordinating, the French Polynesia Terrestrial Arthropod Survey, I have been organizing and taking part in fieldtrips across French Polynesia. This time, is the first time that Matotea and Viriamu weren't able to come along too, and it's been a difficult month for me, wrestling with the guilt of having left Matotea for so long. The fieldtrip itself was fun in a dirty and gruelling kind of way, they always are, and although it's the third time I've visited the Marquesas archipelago, it's always great to go back.

Temetiu plateau, Hiva Oa - it's wet up there in the cloud forest!

Nuku Hiva's cross-island road, which cuts
through some really nice cloud forest

Ouia Valley, Fatu Hiva - home to Thor Heyerdal and his wife
during their self-imposed exile in 1937!

An innovative solution to drying clothes in Hiva Oa
the Marquesas are a ways north of Tahiti and so the weather is really tropical

Poutemoka monolith, Ua Pou, one of the many imposing stone
formations on the island, we climbed up to its base

But I'm definitely feeling conflicted, my obligations as a mother should probably come first...my days as a field biologist may be numbered!

The Marquesans are a little bit like the Austral islanders, in that they're really quite distinct from the Society Islands and extremely proud of their roots - they also have their own traditions and language, there is even a pro-independence party, seeking independence from Tahiti! The Marquesas were first claimed by Catholic missionaries, so they are predominantly Catholic. The culture has remained more intact then those 'converted' by the Protestants, who basically forbade everything- most contemporary Tahitian/Polynesian tattoos are based on Marquesan motifs, as the traditional motifs from the other islands were all but lost. For more info and lots of pictures of Tahitian tattoos check out Tattoonesia's blog. The Marquesans are also well known for their carving - they are talented wood and stone sculptors, having both quantities of good quality basalt and abundant supplies of fine wood (one of the finest being miro, rosewood - Thespesia populnea). They have also, more recently, started making some fabulous seed necklaces. The Aranui cruise ship/cargo boat plies the islands every few weeks, and it's this source of tourism that has really fueled the development of the flourishing local arts and crafts scene. The annual 'Salon des Marquises' held in Tahiti, is definitely worth a look, if you ever have the occasion.


Matotea's first six months

bIt's been an action packed six months, Matotea has grown 20cm and almost tripled in body weight. She's already got quite a lot of personality and is clearly a good strong healthy Rurutu girl! Here's a quick review and an excuse for posting more baby shots.

The first month
To be honest not too much happened in the first month beyond A LOT of sleeping and a lot of growing, it was a 'getting to know each other' sort of a phase. I think she can be forgiven for this, because making the initial step from here.......

...to here, can be considered quite an achievement. It's hard to believe that she was ever really this teeny tiny!

The second month
Even more feeding and growing went on this second month, she put on over 1.3kg, quite an achievement. The signature quiff arrived as well as the grandparents!

The third month

Our arrival in her 'fenua' Rurutu and the ensuing social whirl ......

She got to meet some of the other members of her clan, including Uncle John, who met with general approval.

She played a starring role in the wedding.....

She celebrated her first Christmas with both her grandmas....
She hung out at the beach...
...had her first horseride...
..enjoyed splashing in the tub...

became mesmerized by blue and yellow fish...

...and decided to keep the signature quiff.

The fourth month
The grandparents bade us a reluctant farewell....

.....and she started to bust out the charm

Playtime started for real...

the quiff went soft-look.....

..and we all got a well-deserved chance to kick-back and relax in the hammock...

The fifth month
Matotea decided it was time to get in on the grown up food thing and try some solids.

We packed our bags for the island of Niau in the Tuamotus, for baby's first fieldwork and our first time on an atoll.

Matotea enjoyed looking out the window during the hour long flight, though she and dad found it a bit chilly onboard!

Rainwater is a precious resource in Niau, there is no running freshwater on the island.so she relished her limited bathing opportunities.

She got all dressed up in her sunday best, for a delicious Ma'a Tahiti, Tuamotu style.

The sixth month
From being declared obese at her four month checkup Matotea put the brakes on her weight gain and just became super active instead, and while sh'es still pretty heavy, 8.25kg at sixth months, a diet won't be necessary!!!! This is good because she really likes food.....wonder where she got that from...

I can't get over how alert she is, she's engaged by everything, and there's clearly more than a little frustration involved in her desire to know and do everything right away. She notices so much, she loves going into the garden and grabbing at leaves, big ferns or palm leaves are a favorite. She was watching the rain fall on the car window yesterday. She wants grown up food from the table, she considers babyfood, just like toys, a momentary distraction! She likes books and magazines (so that she can drool over the pages and mash them up a bit), computer keyboards to bang and chew, and basically anything unsuitable for small hands.
Roll on the next six months!


Our big fat Polynesian wedding (part III)

The wedding day
As if three simultaneous weddings were not enough, each of us brides and grooms had six attendants, so including our chaperons and flower-girls we were 54 people in the wedding party!

The grooms side of the wedding party processed to meet the brides and their attendants, then we all set off to Avera (Viriamu's village) for the civil and religious ceremonies.

The ceremonies were pretty short and sweet. (Viriamu and I didn't get married at the mayors office, because earlier, upon inquiring what documents I needed to get married there being a non-French citizen, they told me that they would not be able to marry a non-French citizen and that maybe I should first seek French citizenship!!!! Fortunately the mayor in Moorea was able to help us out....)

The absolute highlight of the day for me was our arrival at the reception on horseback, complete with conch-blowing horsemen and drummers. Traditionally all the couples would have arrived on horseback followed by each pair of groomsmen and maids of honor (each on horseback, so for us that would have been >21 horses), which must have been quite a sight to behold! Now I understand why it's just once in a generation....

At the reception we had our own private Tahitian(or Rurutu) dance show and lots of food (check out the cakes), which was good because there were LOTs of guests!


Our big fat Polynesian wedding (part II)

The first part of the wedding, the 'umuai', involves all the children and is a gift giving ceremony - at the end the gifts are divided up between the children. This made up the first three days of our wedding. Every family in Rurutu had to present gifts to our family, each in their turn, it goes by order of relatedness, so the closest family come in right at the end, and the generosity of gifts is also related to family ties. The gifts include absolutely everything: from pigs, taro, sugar, sacks of flour, frozen chicken-pieces, plastic-wares, fridge-freezers, beds, linens and Pandanus mats......

each of the couples getting married also gets a new outfit of clothing each time a family visits (here are just a few of them).

Basically we all got to dress up 25 times over three days. Let me tell you I got some pretty magnificent outfits, Matotea has dress-up for the rest of her life! Because everyone was told that I had just had a baby most of the clothes that were made for me were somewhat on the ample side, so I also have Polynesian maternity clothes for the next time.....

Then, once we, the couples, are suitably dolled up, we are paraded outside to sit in front of our mountain of gifts in our new finery, an 'orero' (orator) for each family recites the family ties between our family and their own and thanks everybody (and believe me there are a lot of people involved), then our 'orero' gets up and thanks them and we all get to dance around a bit, whilst being sprinkled with perfume and talc (not sure where the talc idea came from, but the general idea is to make us smell nice, though three days of this can get a bit much, not to mention causing respiratory problems!!!).

Afterwards the whole of the visiting family has to be fed by us...so in fact a lot of the food that we received as gifts when straight into the Tahitian oven and back out to all our visitors.........

Words can't really adequately describe how crazy this whole thing was, so I hope the pictures give you a taster. Here my family and friends watch dumbstruck!