29.6.16

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.
 

28.6.16

Something else to celebrate

In August we celebrate 10 years of marriage (we got married in the registry office in Moorea, a bit before the wedding in December - because they didn't know how to marry a foreigner in Rurutu!). It doesn't seem five minutes ago that my friends and family were here in Rurutu, for our Big Fat Polynesian wedding. And yet, it's been a busy ten years, with the kids in succession, the move to Rurutu, and drastic career change to guesthouse owner, opening new chapters and bringing new challenges into my life. Sometimes I feel like I deserve a medal (or two) and sometimes I think Viriamu does! But here we are, moving forward into the next decade!
But lets just revisit Rurutu weddings for a moment.
A few weeks ago we actually got the opportunity to do so literally, with Tuanaa and Jocelyne's wedding. First we need some background: Jocelyne is Viriamu's fa'amu (adopted) sister, she was just a schoolkid when we all got married, so she never got to participate in the wedding proper, and anyway she technically gets married with her husbands' family.

Fa'amu: a Polynesian phenomenon, highlights one of the profound differences between my upbringing and Viriamu's. The word literally means to feed or nourish, so you take material responsibility for the child, but it is more "lending" than "giving". When Viriamu was born, he was brought up with his grandparents, it was the norm in Rurutu for the first child to be given away in fa'amu to the grandparents. And while Viriamu's family just lived a few kilometers away, it did fundamentally change the way he grew up and how he views the world today.
The tradition is no longer as strong as it was a generation ago, though Viriamu's mother did ask him if she could 'have' Matotea. I categorically refused, I just couldn't imagine doing that with my own child. The fa'amu still continues today, though is more frequent in the case of a close family member who can't or doesn't have children. When Viriamu's brothers and sisters were grown, his mother adopted Jocelyne. The tradition of sharing children is logical in a small and inter-related community. In the 1960s and onwards, however, this tradition was used widely (and in some cases abused) by metropolitan couples seeking to adopt children. The European concept of adoption and fa'amu differ drastically, particularly in the case of French plenary adoption, which erases the blood rights the child has. Babies often were adopted to couples who left the territory never returning or allowing the children to see their families again, mothers were convinced it was the best future for the child. Years after it is clear that it often caused great distress to the child and the biological mother. 
 As in many modern Rurutu marriages, Jocelyne and Tuanaa actually already have three kids - as we say here we like to try before we buy! So you might have thought that they weren't in a hurry, but the whole thing was very sudden, or rather our family were only informed, and asked to participate, a fortnight before the whole thing. Viriamu's mum was completely taken by surprise, as any good marriage here is arranged at least a year in advance! True they didn't want a huge affair, and as Tuanaa's mother has passed away his dad was not at all prepared to deal with a large wedding. And as is the tradition, it seems a great big wedding scandal was brewing, particularly when it came to light that the bride-to-be actually wanted to use the wedding as an opportunity to convert to being a Jehovah's witness. It was still a fun day out for us, Viriamu acted as "father of the bride" in place of his dad!



27.6.16

Feeling "Brexited"

Have just got back from a weeks' vacation (to get over all the time off we had with the strike....yikes! what's happening here). I was working up to a few blogs, then Brexit hit, frankly I'm dumbfounded by the whole thing. Britain actually voted to get out of Europe, hard to believe, I'm still in shock these past few days! The collective memory of why we joined has obviously already faded, there are tirades across the media and particularly moving posts from Facebook friends, across the globe.....Yet the majority in Britain voted out.......
I can try to distract myself, building sandcastles on the beach, but even here in Rurutu I feel like something big has changed, even if it's just the way I feel about my British identity.

8.6.16

Winter waves

We've just got our first major winter swell coming up from the South (read Antarctica), with 3-4.5m waves. Surf's up! The sheer power of nature, both humbling and beautiful........
Quite appropriate, as it is World Oceans Day today! Not coincidentally it is also the day that the Rahui Nui No Tuha'a Pae (Australs Marine Reserve) project is being presented to the public in Tahiti, with the premier of a documentary on the subject - Viriamu and lots of other folks from Rurutu and the Australs feature in it. There's a short clip (in french) on YouTube.com
Protect our oceans, preserve our future!

5.6.16

Ouf!

We can breathe a big sigh of relief, we're back in business, or hopefully will be soon. Late on Friday the strike was finally settled, but not before our guests for the weekend and coming week cancelled.
In the meantime, we get to tackle some of my least-favorite, Sisyphean tasks around the garden (Sisyphus is a figure in Greek mythology, whose punishment is an eternity of rolling a huge rock to the top of a mountain, only for it to roll back to the bottom again, so he can start again the next day).
Sweeping up the needles from the ironwood trees, on our beach, is one of these seemingly pointless activities. You can almost hear the needles falling as you sweep! A few months of neglect, however, can leave you knee-deep in mulch.
I try to use some for the garden and composting, but really we have a lot of this stuff, so I've been trying to motivate the kids (and myself) by allowing us beach bonfires, after the sweep up! We all love to sit around the fire mesmerized and warm (well it is already june).


2.6.16

Free-falling!

After three weeks of guest-free strike-induced time-off I'm starting to feel a little disoriented. It feels a lot like someone just pulled the floor out from underneath us! And there was me feeling comfortable, or maybe even a tad smug, the business was ticking over nicely, and I was thinking we could finally feel confident that we had guests enough to see us into the high season, I guess that showed me! We might be our own bosses, something that I've always adored, but it's abundantly clear now that we are also 100% at AirTahiti's mercy for our business. The strike is now officially in its third week here, and the situation seemed to be getting more not less difficult, over the weekend the syndicates and directors spent their time insulting each other and apportioning blame, rather than seeking a solution. So we were just watching impassively as our livelihood goes down the drain! It is an odd experience, but I'm not panicking yet, as I guess I still hope they will find a solution, and SOON! Yesterday the ex-President Gaston Flosse, and incidentally the father-in-law of the current President Edward Fritch (which sums up nicely the 'keep it in the family' spirit here, even if they're less than friendly), sent a letter accusing the President of non-intervention, in a situation which is clearly getting to be unacceptable. Edward Fritch openly defended his position, but it may just have worked, because yesterday negotiations started again, and more positively, so there might just be some space to be quietly optimistic.

I also have a lot of other things to be grateful for, not least my three fab kids. Sunday was French mothers' day - yeah don't ask me why it's not the same as the UK or US, it just ain't. Anyway they're the perfect age right now, so I had a huge array of different handmade art projects as gifts, I am truly lucky! I've also just started doing some translating work, so while we aren't making money at the guesthouse, I'm actually making up a little bit of the shortfall that way, keeping busy, re-discovering my love of the English language, improving my French and also brushing up on my grammar and vocab, beats the pants off doing the online Guardian crossword, which is what I had been doing previously to avoid brain rot.