Monday, May 30, 2011

Arrival of the Double Canoes

Guest Blogger: Jaime Conger

On the 29th of May 2011, the double canoes made their appearance in the Baie de Comptroller on Nuku Hiva, an island in the Marquesas. The seven traditional catamarans of the islands put up their red, yellow, and orange sails at sunrise and slowly made their way to the awaiting greeting party. Te Mana O Te Moana is a group of ancestral double canoes of the South Pacific that are traveling from New Zealand to Hawaii and visiting different island chains while celebrating their culture with other islanders. They make a point of visiting each chain of islands, and at each one there is a traditional tribal gathering. My family and I were lucky enough to be at one of these festivities.

At about half past 10 we rounded the corner to the bay and immediately heard the deep sound of the drums welcoming the beautiful vessels with a rhythm designed, it seemed, to intimidate foreigners. A woman's voice could be heard amongst the drums singing tales of the ocean. As the crew of the ships arrived on the beach, a group of Marquesans advanced to greet them. The leader stepped away from his tribe and called to the strangers to come forward. And so they did. The Marquesans walked closer, stopped, and began to dance in a tribal welcoming, their feet stomping the sand, their grass skirts swishing around their legs. The men danced and spun in front of the outlanders displaying their power, masculinity and welcome to the island. The women stood behind the men calling out 'whoop's and 'whooaa!'s, moving gracefully.

Once the Marquesans had finished their salute, the islanders all moved to a sandy flat just above the beach so the seamen could begin their greetings. Tribes from the Fiji, Samoa and American Samoa, New Zealand, Hawai'i, Tahiti, and the Cook Islands each in turn presented the Marquesans with their own tribal hellos. Some tribes did a form of Haka -- a loud chant accompanied by much stamping, postures, gestures, thigh and chest slapping and facial gestures. Others danced in time to a traditional song from their homeland. All of the groups strongly represented pride, strength, and respect for their homelands as well as respect for the Marquesans welcoming them.

Once greetings had been exchanged, each tribe walked up to a stone table and gifted the Marquesans with a stone from the shores of their homeland. After this had been done, the Marquesan leader came forward and thanked them all. He finished by welcoming them to join him as family and feast with him on the local fruits, vegetables, and meats. The food was laid out in woven baskets on a long table. Coconuts, pamplemousse, breadfruit, kava roots, plantains, and fried bread had all been placed on the table. The guests feasted on the fruits and then smoked meats were brought out and placed on the table. Afterwards, the seamen were loaded on to a bus to go to the town center. We understand that they will be spending the rest of the day with more music, dancing, and food which the organization lady said was "the big food." All that food on the table was just a snack!

This cultural experience of a lifetime had me feeling great amounts of respect and admiration for these tribes and a yearning for more chances to view this exciting island culture.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are very fortunate to see these people.