November days

November was a busy old month for us, exciting and exhausting, in equal measure.

We celebrated Halloween, with a few extremely sticky homemade toffee apples and a very scary mini-pumpkin!

Then it was All Saints day, an important celebration here, as it melds Polynesian ancestor-worship with Christian religious traditions (the ambiance is slightly more in the tone Dia de los Muertos). The kids spent a couple of hours with everyone else up in the cemetery.

After that there were MORE school holidays  and we were suitably busy with guests. The first week we had an archeologist here with us, Jenny, who was in grad school in Berkeley at about the same time as me. We met in Moorea, now she's got tenure and hoping to do some work here in Rurutu, it should be fascinating to find out more about our marae.....and it may also give us the momentum to delve deeper into A'a's story, and the timing of marae construction in Rurutu. She was with a friend from Moorea who was "en mission" trying to catch chooks for another research project on Polynesian chickens! The kids had some fun with the traps, Viriamu kept one of the cocks, good for when he fancies some coq-au-vin!    

The next week was spent with a lovely family from Moorea, with some little boys for Amai to play with.

At the same time we were plunged into a land dispute, with our "neighbors", or rather, the people who think they should own the neighboring patch of land (turns out it's not that simple) and supposedly a chunk of our land too! In fact, land is a super-complicated issue here in Rurutu and French Polynesia, the result of the superimposition of French law on Polynesian traditions, two radically different approaches to possessions! And also, the fact that after occupying a piece of land for thirty years continuously, French law allows you to be considered the rightful owner. We are gearing up to make a land claim, so I suspect there will be more to say about this soon; as I try to grapple with understanding the issues and also to see how our Aunty's genealogical work changes things.

Armistice Day this year seemed like a particularly appropriate occasion to remember the pain, suffering and sacrifice caused by intolerance and prejudice. And to hope that the lessons of the past have not been completely forgotten, in the wake of a strange new world, post US elections. Between this and Brexit, you wonder what's next, with the run up to the French Presidential next year. Here in Rurutu we are still, thankfully, far removed from it all, though maybe not as far as I'd like. The primaries for (Center Right, read left in British politics) the French Presidential played out like tribal warfare here - people wanted us to vote with or against the mayor (but hang on these are National elections here, nothing to do with the Territory or Local council elections!!!).

I've 'discovered' a new fruit, the Malay apple; well, actually I've known about them a while, but it's the first time I've cooked them, they make a pretty decent apple tart!


A Big, BIG Day!

Everything just seems to be flowing at the moment! It's exciting and exhausting. Since the salon du tourisme in September we haven't stopped, the guesthouse goes from strength to strength, so we're busy renovating and actually re-doing the kitchen and office, before continuing on to build more and modify! While being busy with guests at the same time.
This year the whales were here and in good numbers, and are still with us now in mid October, so that's great for us and our guests! The September holidays brought friends for the kids, including a keen fisherman called Arthur, now Heimana is hooked too and dreams of having her own fishing rod someday!

The end of the month we said goodbye to Viriamu's grandmother, Ela, she was 94 and had been in poor health for sometime, so while it was sad to see her go, somewhere it was a blessing for her.
She's now buried up on the family plot overlooking Avera. On the day of her burial the heaven's opened in torrential rain, a fitting goodbye.

The week before I was on deadline for the Air Tahiti magazine, it gets the pulse racing in sleepy Rurutu, and takes me back to my college days, rushing to finish essays, it helps that the topics are fascinating. This new issue has articles about Polynesian languages - the Tuamotus have seven different languages! The ti plant, a plant that we use for making leis, dance costumes, wrapping food, medicine, also the roots are sometimes used to make a sugar substitute (there is a ti oven demonstration every year at heiva time, photo below).
Finally the issue's destination in the spotlight is Hiva Oa, the Marquesas, somewhere I plan to take the kids next year, for the Mini Festival that will be held in Tahuata (just a stone's throw or half-hour boat-ride away).

Last week I was taking part in an 'advanced' beekeeping course - I won't hide it our poor old bees are more than a bit neglected, though they seem to be doing ok on it, just not much honey to talk about yet! Now I'm feeling motivated to start seriously on a small beekeeping venture, though I do feel that it's for personal or guesthouse consumption only, so better leave room for the youngsters who could make a living from it.

This weekend was Matotea's tenth birthday, a big day for her (she's now a real pre-teener!).

She has managed to convince me to buy a rather large freestanding pool (what have I done!) - with a beach like this just out front, hard to believe that my kids' only wish is to have a swimming pool, but there you go, we're never satisfied!

It also marks ten years of motherhood for me, quite a milestone. It isn't always easy and I'm not always that talented at it, poor Mato is the experiment, I try not to be too hard on myself, I feel like it's going OK, even if sometimes more by luck than good judgement!!! Saturday was also the day the boat came in, a day we celebrate, if only just for the supplies it brings (the red wine and fuel stocks were running very low!). It was also the day chosen to celebrate 'Ocean Day' here in Rurutu, the marine reserve project is continuing to lobby supporters, despite certain vocal opposition here, in Tahiti and France, mostly supporters of our mayor and big business. Supposedly it's because they don't want the Americans (read the international NGO Pew Charitable Trusts here) telling us what to do - even though the reserve itself is to be created and managed by the territory (i.e. Pew's role is purely as a source of guidance and finance, having accompanied similar projects across the Pacific). There has been a short documentary released, featuring Viriamu, among many other Austral Islands faces. A teaser clip can be found on YouTube or Facebook if you search for Rahui Nui no Tuhaa Pae, it's in French, but the images are still beautiful and you can probably get the gist of it!

Oh yes, and today is someone else's birthday, here he is not celebrating with his three gorgeous kids, who are!!!!




Vive la rentree!

The rest of the heiva, July and most of August have passed in a big long blur! It's been great, but exhausting, and I must say the return to school last week is a most welcome breather!
 We celebrated Heimana turning 7, she got a new bike.
Then it was the horse races on the 14th, after never saying never, Viriamu rode his champion and won easily, despite having a kilo or two on his previous jockey!
 Amai spent some time with dad, male bonding!!

The whales made their appearance on cue for the start of August, and kicked off our busy season. We haven't really stopped since.

Between all the work we still managed to have a little bit of fun, toasting marshmallows....

....flying kites,
......and as August has been mostly warm and sunny we've spent time on the beach and in the water!

I have been managing to keep even busier with my translating work - it's fun, absorbing, time-consuming and I love it, so am now trying to juggle that into the schedule......add four starving puppies that we've adopted into the mix and you may have an idea why I've been off the blog for a bit.
During all this Matotea also made a first solo trip, to Tahiti to shop for everyone's back-to-school supplies and visit meme in Mahina! A big step for my ever growing girl!
She has suddenly got back into loom bands (elastic band bracelets) and I have to say is REALLY good at following YouTube tutorials, so we have once more a houseful of little elastic bands and bracelets! But I won't complain too much about finding the little bands EVERYWHERE, as it really keeps her occupied and she's even able to design her own patterns now. Glad to see the craft genes have been passed on!
Lastly, it was someone else's birthday a week or so ago, here you go Granny!


Opening day!

The opening of the heiva is a much awaited day in our home, not least because of the fireworks. Yesterday evening the kids had fun 'ooohing!' and 'aahing' over the annual display, and the new flashing toys that you can win at the game-stands (including a multi-colored flashing saber - OMG!!!!).
But it was also the day of the opening parade, so a big day for Viriamu's horse association. Matotea made me proud, parading on horseback alone, Heimana was going to mount with papa, but got scared at the last minute, and Amai made it once around the parade ground, without too much wriggling and moaning! It was a beautiful sight!
The big advantage of using foliage as decoration - the horses get a tasty snack at the end of it all!

In theory, the mayor had combined the parade with a celebration of  French Polynesian Autonomy (officially celebrated on June 29th), raising the flag and meeting out new chief of police, we avoided that, because the horses get antsy just hanging around! Today, July 2nd, is a more sombre celebration, that he probably didn't menton in his speech - 50 years since the first nuclear tests on Moruroa, in the Tuamotus.





Viriamu's perspective

Now, I love to travel, to experience new and different things. Viriamu, however, has another approach. Rurutu are, in general, fairly practical types, the idea of frivolously travelling, just for the pleasure, doesn't really make sense! Yes, he gave it a try, back when I lived in California, but now he feels he has other priorities, and I have to agree he is very sensible! He is also staunchly convinced that NOWHERE is as good as Rurutu. So, the only reason I could get Viriamu to join me in Rapa Nui was horses. He loved seeing them roam semi-wild across the place. Was fascinated by the fact that the Rapa Nui geld their horses, something he has never dared to try back home, but clearly is highly advantageous, if you want nice calm horses for tourists to ride.
He enjoyed the horses we rode to the summit of Terevaka, the highest point on the island. They are, small and agile, much like his horses.
He loved to see the locals fishing for nanue, they use chicken as bait and hand-held nylon lines. They are the most abundant fish there, here in Rurutu we fish them with a net over the small passes, or with a spear-gun. In Rapa the coast is so rugged (there are no reef-forming corals, so no lagoon) and the nanue are so plentiful that a few hours with your hand-line at the right spot can feed the family!

He also really liked the Rapa Nui grill, seems like Chileans and Rapa Nui alike are fans of wood fired grills. And eating with your hands on  banana leaf tablecloth in the garden (even when it's freezing! OK under 20 degC!). Riva riva!

He was shocked by the lack of cultivated fields, even now the landscape looks much like the top of the mountains in Wales, that is a barren and heavily grazed grassland, with lots of dry-stone walls. In the past it was the merino sheep and now it's the horses. In Rurutu the vegetation is luxuriant and, where it has been cleared, nature quickly fills in the gaps with a profusion of dense undergrowth. Viriamu spends a significant part of his life clearing brush to grow pasture for his horses. In Rapa Nui the climate is cooler, and we were told it was the salty air that made cultivating difficult. The ancient Rapa Nui built small walled beds, called manavai, which protected the plants' roots and allowed for topsoil formation, through mulching. Probably inspired by the small caves and lava-tubes that also serve as protected places to grow food and to inhabit.

The one we visited had some grapevines growing in there too - maybe some ambitious Chilean wine project!

More upsettingly, Rapa Nui supposedly grow taro, but Viriamu was shocked to find that they use the name karo to broadly designate what he calls taro, tarua  and ape. We saw a few shoots growing in manavai, but weren't able to find any to buy, there was some frozen tapioca, probably imported and sweet potatoes seemed to grow in many front yards. But most often people ate bread - small round flat Chilean bread rolls.

There aren't any pigs either, apparently the early Polynesians only brought chickens with them, there aren't even Polynesian dogs, so there are a wide variety of breeds (Daschunds and Alsation crosses) but none of the Polynesian mongrels we get in our place. There are stone chicken coops all over the island, and people still keep chickens, the feathers are used widely as decoration. The Catholic priest wears a very impressive feathered head-dress at Sunday mass! Dancers also wear mainly feathered costumes. We went to see a dance show (there are several very active groups with shows multiple times a week). It was impressive, the male dancers in particular were quite something, dressed only in a small feathered 'sporran' (with a matching piece at the back too) and covered with body-paint, they were very energetic, literally leaping about the stage; the ladies, more demurely covered, were more sedate than their Tahitian counterparts. But the music was super contemporary and fun, so Viriamu enjoyed that.

The culture is, despite the hard times in the past, really vibrant, clearly tourism works in their favor; dance, song and arts do pay  (another reason they maybe don't work the land much), so the culture remains very much alive and evolving. The Tapati festival, equivalent in some ways to our heiva, but held in February, seems like it would be something to see. With horse races among other events. The waterfront of Hanga roa is scattered with a few moai, but also contemporary sculptures, carved for the Tapati festival.

Viriamu didn't profess to being terribly impressed by the moai  "yeah well" he said, "all they've got here are rocks, so there's no wonder", and it is true that the barren landscape is littered with them.  The volcanic tuff that the moai are carved from is quite easily worked - so I'm following his logic to the conclusion that we'd have had bigger and better moai in Rurutu if we'd had enough of the stuff!!! The oval houses were too small - and they definitely are dinky, compared to those on our marae, it seems they're large enough for sleeping in, no more, even the entrances are tiny. They look like inverted boats, and maybe they were based on the form. Cooking and living, it seems, was done outside - ancient Rapa Nui must have been a hardy lot. Hardier than us, anyway, frankly by the end of the week we were feeling a bit chilled, and ready to get back to our plentiful taro supplies!


Rapa Nui

I love travelling through the Pacific, I fell in love with it from my first experience in Hawaii, almost two decades ago. What I find fascinating are the common threads of the underlying Polynesian culture, which connect the whole Polynesian triangle, albeit with slight variations, but strikingly interwoven with the patterns of different colonial powers (be they American, English, French, or in this case Chilean).
Rapa Nui (Easter Island) lived up to expectations, it provided a fascinating insight into yet another Pacific history. We were lucky to be staying in a small house rented by a Rapa Nui family, the wife worked as a tour guide, so we got a good insight into the prehistory, torrid colonial history and current situation. The history of the Rapa Nui people, following European contact, is highly unpalatable in places - they had a much tougher time than the Tahitians, being dispossessed of their lands and being forced to live confined in an indigenous reservation at one point in time, some were also sent into slavery. Moai (sacred statues representing ancient chiefs) were forcibly removed from the island, and several are still housed outside Rapa Nui.
At one point there were only, in the region of, 100 Rapa Nui survivors living in Hanga Roa. Nowadays there are around 6,000 inhabitants on the island, around half of these are Rapa Nui. There is only one small town (the site of the old indigenous reservation) in Hanga Roa. The international airport marks a dividing line between the homes of Chilean workers on one side and the "locals" on the other. I was a little shocked, there are certainly parts of Tahiti that have more or less Metropolitan inhabitants, but there is not such marked segregation, and there is definitely a class of wealthy Tahitians. But in Easter Island there are even "Chilean" and "Rapa Nui" schools. Most businesses are run by Chilean families. Recently the National Park (the rest of the island that is not town!) was forcibly reclaimed by the islanders, the Chileans rangers were driven out! Slowly the Rapa Nui are taking back their heritage - the next, rather complicated, business is the re-distribution of the ancestral lands, which had been removed initially to allow intensive sheep-farming, among the numerous marae and archaeological remains!

The island is actually remarkably touristy, they now receive around 80,000 visitors annually (each of us pays US$60 park entry fee) compare that to the 200,000 visitors for the whole of French Polynesia; for reference Easter Island is comparable in size with Moorea. Everyday a 747 flies in from Chile (once a week going on to Papeete). One of the funniest experiences I had (though I didn't get the photo) was watching a LanChile 747 coming in over a moai, which stands overlooking the harbor, surrounded by outrigger canoes. A weird mix of modern and ancient.

Even by Tahitian standards the place is expensive, most fresh produce is flown in from Chile! The cuisine is also mostly Chilean, so we ate lots of bread, empanadas, dolce de l├Ęche and carne asado (grilled meat). I did try the ceviche, that was excellent, but pricey. Catering to tourists they also had Chilean sushi, burgers and coffeeshops. The best meal we had by far was some grilled fresh fish that Viriamu helped catch and cook with our hosts.

I had expected to be impressed by the moai, and they are definitely impressive, and omnipresent. Marae basically border the whole coastline, though many of the moai are no longer standing or never actually got as far as being placed on their stone platforms, the sheer numbers and scale alone are awe-inspiring.

Somehow I hadn't expected the rugged scenery - the sheer cliffs and wild waves of the west coast, it was truly breathtaking. From the oceanfront eateries in Hanga Roa you can watch youngsters out surfing the formidable waves.

 The quality of the light was also quite startling. The only other place comparable I know was Venice, in winter.