Way­points

Cruising World - - Contents -

About 6,000 years ago — when the Pa­cific Ocean was un­ex­plored and its tiny is­lands, scat­tered across a vast area of unimag­in­able size, lay quiet and un­in­hab­ited — a pi­o­neer­ing peo­ple from South­east Asia pushed their dou­ble-hulled ca­noes from fa­mil­iar shores and sailed deep into the un­known.

For over a mil­len­nium they mi­grated east, to­ward the ris­ing sun, set­tling on is­lands never be­fore seen by mankind, rais­ing fam­i­lies and build­ing com­mu­ni­ties be­fore a brave new gen­er­a­tion set sail to ex­plore far­ther be­yond the hori­zon. And while the re­mote is­lands evolved over gen­er­a­tions into the sep­a­rate re­gions and coun­tries we know to­day as Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Is­lands, French Poly­ne­sia and Rapa Nui (Easter Is­land), they re­main con­nected by the wakes of their an­ces­tors, like the lines of an an­cient fam­ily tree. And re­mark­ably, while sep­a­rated by time and by a vast ocean, the con­nec­tion be­tween the Ma’ohi, the Poly­ne­sian peo­ple, is not only re­mem­bered, but is cel­e­brated even to­day.

For cen­turies, the rich cul­ture and un­tamed beauty of the Mar­que­sas is­lands (Te Henua Enana in lo­cal di­alect, or “Land of Men”), which lie more than 700 miles north­east of Tahiti, have drawn artists and writ­ers to their re­mote shores. Paul Gau­guin, Her­man Melville and Thor Hey­er­dahl were each se­duced by the dra­matic ar­chi­pel­ago, and ei­ther on can­vas or on pa­per, set out to cap­ture its wild beauty. The Mar­que­sas awak­ened some­thing deep within them, a raw, pow­er­ful emo­tion that in­flu­enced not only their work, but the rest of their lives.

And so it was here, far re­moved from a busy and dis­tracted mod­ern world, that the Mar­que­san Fes­ti­val was born, a unique arts and cul­tural event cel­e­brated only ev­ery four years. An event held not for tourists, but rather for the proud Ma’ohi peo­ple, a peo­ple who, even after thou­sands of years, re­main con­nected by a strong spirit, one that spans an ocean and con­tin­ues to unite its true dis­cov­er­ers.

My wife, Cather­ine, and I first heard about the fes­ti­val dur­ing our own mi­gra­tion east across the Pa­cific in Dream Time, our 1981 Cabo Rico. We had ar­rived at the re­mote is­land of Raivavae after an ar­du­ous 28day pas­sage from New Zealand back to French Poly­ne­sia, and although at first the Mar­que­san cul­tural event seemed more ru­mor than re­al­ity (no one we spoke to could agree on when it would be­gin, nor which Pa­cific Is­lands would at­tend; even the is­land host­ing the fes­ti­val was in ques­tion), the un­cer­tainty and mys­tery sur­round­ing the unique fes­ti­val only made it more al­lur­ing. And so we set off, sail­ing north­east, trac­ing the an­cient wakes of the Ma’ohi ca­noes up to the So­ci­ety Is­lands, across to the Tuamo­tus and to­ward the Land of Men.

We ar­rived in the Mar­que­sas just three days be­fore the fes­ti­val. Del­e­gates from Rapa Nui, Rapa Iti (Aus­tral Is­lands), Tahiti and New Cale­do­nia had al­ready gath­ered, and an en­ergy was build­ing. You could sense

it, like an ap­proach­ing sum­mer storm. The air — heavy, hu­mid, unset­tled — car­ried with it the rhyth­mic and al­lur­ing rum­ble of dis­tant drums as groups prac­ticed into the trop­i­cal night. Some­thing pow­er­ful was com­ing. Re­mote vil­lages hid­den in an­cient val­leys and shrouded in jun­gle were awak­en­ing. You could feel it.

Then, over four ex­hil­a­rat­ing, spell­bind­ing days, we lost our­selves to the rhyth­mic beat­ing of the pahu, the drums, and to an en­ergy that seemed to swell up and sat­u­rate the an­cient stone me’ae and to­hua, sites where dis­tant an­ces­tors per­formed tribal cer­e­monies and rit­u­al­is­tic sac­ri­fices. We sat not in bleach­ers or be­hind bar­ri­cades, but on smooth vol­canic boul­ders be­side the dancers. In the mid­day sun, we stood un­der the shade of a 300-yearold banyan tree be­hind the boom­ing drums, close enough to feel the vi­bra­tions res­onate deep within us. And in the evening, we sat among the long danc­ing shad­ows of more than 200 per­form­ers, who stirred the earth with bare feet and shook the air with one voice. A voice that seemed to reach back through the ages, echo­ing down through the craggy folds of val­leys and out to sea.

We came to rec­og­nize faces and per­son­al­i­ties; we felt con­nected to them. We walked among per­form­ers dressed in tapa cloth and adorned with shells, flow­ers, feath­ers, seeds, pearls and bone. Cracked paint and Mar­que­san tat­toos cov­ered bare skin. Un­der palm-frond lean-tos, tra­di­tional Poly­ne­sian arts were demon­strated: the dull ham­mer­ing of wet bark into thin tapa cloth; the painful tap­ping of black­ened tusk nee­dles against ex­posed skin as in­tri­cate Mar­que­san tat­toos took shape; the metal­lic ring­ing of chisel meet­ing rock; weav­ing; wood carv­ing; ca­noe build­ing. These tra­di­tional skills were shared and prac­ticed by a new gen­er­a­tion of mas­ter carvers and artists who, through their pas­sion and their work, con­tinue to keep an an­cient cul­ture alive.

Through song, dance and ges­ture, each cul­tural pre­sen­ta­tion told a story: an el­e­gant ro­ta­tion of a wrist; a sub­tle move­ment of a fin­ger; an ag­gres­sive tilt of a head; a sug­ges­tive sway­ing of the hips; bared teeth; wide eyes. Ev­ery ac­tion and mo­tion held a mes­sage, a story from the past, and even though we could not un­der­stand the words, we felt like we came to un­der­stand their mean­ing. We found our­selves rock­ing and sway­ing with each per­for­mance, to drums that, even in the trop­i­cal heat, raised goose bumps on our arms; drums that flowed and ebbed like the wind with a se­duc­tive and con­sum­ing rhythm; drums that seemed to lift the dancers from the ground and carry them away, away from this world and back to an­other time. And we went with them. As our epic eight-year voy­age across the South Pa­cific comes to an end, I can still hear the rhyth­mic and provoca­tive beat­ing of the great drums, the haunt­ing cries of the fe­male dancers, the gut­tural mur­murs of war­riors pre­par­ing them­selves for dance. I can still feel the black, gritty vol­canic sand on my skin from those re­mote trop­i­cal is­lands and smell the rich, sweet scent of monoi oil in the air, mixed with the smoke from burn­ing co­conut husks.

The South Pa­cific has been the high­light of our world ad­ven­ture. The scat­tered con­stel­la­tion of tiny is­land groups across charts that were once so for­eign, dis­tant and un­known feel fa­mil­iar to us now, like home. Each clus­ter of is­lands holds pre­cious me­mories, some of the best in my life, and as we sail west, to­ward Aus­tralia in prepa­ra­tion for Asia and a new ocean, the next gen­er­a­tion of cruis­ers are about to be­gin their epic voy­age across the world’s largest ocean, and it is some­thing to be­hold.

Neville and Cather­ine Hock­ley have been out­bound on an open-ended cruise since 2007 aboard Dream Time, their Cabo Rico 38. Fol­low their ad­ven­tures on their web­site (ze­roxte.com).

After 28 days at sea, Dream Time raises the Mar­que­sas and finds rest in the shel­ter of Fatu Hiva.

Clock­wise from top left: Del­e­gates from New Cale­do­nia, Rapa Iti, Hiva Oa, Tahiti—de­scen­dants of the Ma’ohi—gather for the Mar­que­san Fes­ti­val. A tapa-draped pahu awaits its owner. Neville and Cather­ine pay re­spects to Tiki Takaii, a great chief.

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