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!