Traditional sports

The last day of school was "traditional" sports day. I went along to watch, at my daughters' behest - it was pretty funny and very cute, there were a multitude of traditional and less traditional games to play:

There are lots of ways of running with coconuts (fruit).
Sandbag (stone) lifting (Mato can lift 20kg!!),
Skipping, tug o' war, skittles, sack races and........
........carrying water in coconut shells, to name but a few. 


Let's Celebrate!

The children are busy celebrating Easter today! I like to keep up with my traditions, but I have to say the big holidays back home lose their meaning here, and I'm not sure I need to encourage my kids to eat any more chocolate! Rurutu don't really celebrate Easter, despite being devout Protestants. So we have the odd Easter Egg at the store, but only popa'a (white people) like me, buy them.
The big problem is that it's not actually springtime, we're in the southern hemisphere so it's autumn, celebrating spring flowers and bunnies makes no sense (we don't even have rabbits, though we have a fair few feral chickens and chicks, year 'round)! Though, there was rather a nice show of irises on Good Friday.

Anyway, why let that stop us, I outdid myself, thanks to internet, with printout easter baskets and origami rabbits. I even spray painted some eggs. Of course, today it's pouring with rain, so the indoor egg-hunt went rather quickly! But nevertheless, the kids, and particularly Amaiterai, LOVED it; so that's definitely to celebrate. I'd happily celebrate the end of the cyclone season, though we aren't quite there yet.

Or maybe next year we'll try celebrating Holi, the ancient Hindu Festival of Colours - I'm not Hindu, but the idea of it seems worth celebrating to me. Like Easter, Holi is celebrated around the vernal equinox, though normally slightly earlier.  It is a festival that celebrates the victory of light over dark, the arrival of spring and end of winter. It is a time to visit friends and family, forgive and forget, and repair broken relationships. And get very messy. Note to self, not to be done on grandma's terrace!


Our friend A'a at the BM

Today was opening day of an exhibition of the famous Polynesian wood sculpture known as A'a. Some of you may remember that Viriamu was actually persuaded to visit the UK back in 2005, in no small part in order to visit his family tiki A'a (bottom of the blog entry from 2006). It means enough to him that his image is tattooed on his chest. The idea is that the tiki was intimately linked with the marae that stands behind our home. Well, back in December Julie Adams the curator of objects from Oceania at the British Museum contacted me with regards to this exhibition thanks to the blog and our link to A'a! We've been emailing back and forth since, there is lots to tell and even more to learn about this Polynesian icon, and it's not finished yet, by any means. Anyway the exhibit reveals new information about this enigmatic piece of art, that has inspired Polynesians, poets and contemporary artists alike. My understanding of the object has evolved enormously since our visit to London in 2005, and Julie and her team have done great work here, the exhibit looks well worth a visit, so if you're in London it's on until the end of May 2016. There are also a series of lectures accompanying the exhibition and a short book. Take a look!


Radioactive Polynesia

On February 22nd, Francois Hollande, the French President was in Tahiti on an official visit. Twenty minutes into his official speech to the people of French Polynesia, he made an important public admission, the nuclear testing that occurred on the atoll of Moruroa and Fangataufa in the Tuamotu islands between 1966 and 1996, had environmental impacts, as well as health and social consequences, but he wanted to "turn the page".

In particular, de-classified reports confirm that aerial explosions carried out between 1966 and 1974 irradiated the inhabitants of the Society Islands and probably French Polynesia in general. In particular, the explosion in July 1974 of the bomb Centauron was carried out "incorrectly" or despite the inappropriate meteorological conditions, which caused fallout to be blown in the "wrong direction", the fallout produced levels of radioactive Plutonium in the air 500 times greater than admissible levels, as well as generating radioactive rainwater, that was probably stored and drunk by a large part of the population. This is just one of 181 tests that continued until 1996. Some of these bombs were many times larger than the bomb that fell on Hiroshima. The later tests were carried out underground or underwater, to limit fallout, but we hear stories of cracks in the atoll walls that have been leaking radioactive contamination, who knows where, for who knows how long. Over the three decades the explosions had a combined force of 13 Megatons of TNT, and the currently de-classified documents identify 350 different incidents of contamination. We don't know exactly the impacts on the populations' health and the environment, but it's sobering reading. What I find the hardest to understand is that the military and government were aware of this, but chose not to inform the inhabitants or the servicemen who were impacted, it seems too little too late to do so 40 years later. Hollande has promised us further financial assistance for the victims, and more financial aid for the country (part of Chirac's promised "nuclear debt" ). Hollande also promised to develop the oncology service at the hospital in Tahiti.  To date, despite years of battle only 19 of 1024 cases of victims of the testing, mostly personnel working on the military base, have actually received any compensation. Understandably there are numerous lobby groups linked to this issue, and it is one of the real core issues of the pro-independence movement here, like elsewhere.

I was rather ignorant of the details, and admit to being quite shocked by the information that's coming out now. Particularly that the tests continued so long, after a lot of the world had stopped in the 1960s. To add a bit of perspective, however, you have to tell that the UK and USA both did their share of nuclear testing. The UK conducted seven tests in the 1950s in the Australian desert near Maralinga, the inhabitants of the area still express concerns about the effectiveness of the clean-up program, the traditional owners of the land received 13.5 million AUS dollars in compensation in 1994. The USA tested nuclear weapons both in the Nevada desert, and also in the Marshall Islands (more Pacific island atolls, albeit remote) between 1942 and 1962, only 14% of the US tests occurred in the Pacific, but comprised 80% of the charge detonated (one of the individual bombs exceeded the combined force of all the French tests, and the total charge was 210 Megatons). The Marshall Islands are still contaminated by fallout and the USA has paid out over 759 million US dollars in compensation to victims. France initially started testing in Algeria in 1960, in the Sahara desert, under the initiative of General Charles DeGaulle, but the tests did not go well, with large amounts of contamination, recently de-classified reports talk of 13 days of significant fallout. They were also carried out against the backdrop of the Algerian war for independence, another subject of which I'm rather ignorant, though clearly plays an important role in the collective memory of France.

Nuclear testing, whether we like it or not, has and will continue to profoundly shape the trajectory of French Polynesia. Money can't compensate for that, and I'm not sure how ready or able the territory is to "turn the page" just yet.