Saturday, June 04, 2011

Nuka Hiva Traditional Double-Canoe Regatta Event

Guest Blogger: Mera Conger

My Mom is very fond of the idea of serendipity, or "trail magic". It is the idea that if you travel and explore and see, something cool or exciting could and would happen, something you didn't expect. We struck gold with that theory while in the Marquesas, sailing on our catamaran, s/v Don Quixote. At the time we were at anchor near the town of Taiohoe on Nuka Hiva, bobbing gently in the swell. Mom was on shore shopping and getting a tattoo, (not kidding), when she heard about a sailing regatta of 7 double-canoed traditional boats coming in to Comptrolleur, a near-by bay, in a few days. There was going to be a celebration, and foreigners were welcome to attend.

After that there was no question, we had to go. Off we went to Comptrolleur with Loose Pointer, a buddy boat that was cruising with us. When we got there we found that several of the traditional boats were already there. They were beautiful, well-kept, and well-made boats. They did look like two large canoes stuck together to form a catamaran. At the back end of each of the boats was an enormous paddle. The sails were in strange triangle shapes with evocative cultural patterns and designs on them. There were similar designs on the sidesd of the boats as well. On the deck of the boat, it looked like someone had taken a huge 3D oval, cut it in half lengthwise, and stuck it to the back of the boat. I found out later that was where the galley or kitchen was located. All the boats were flying flags of the nationalities of their crew and nationality of the place they were currently in, which was French Polynesia. Altogether they made a brave sight.

The next day was the day of the welcoming ceremony and party. I was very excited as we motored over to the beach in our dinghy, just behind the likewise advancing traditional boats. The ride was bouncy and wet, but we slowed down nonetheless as we got near, Mom did not want to disturb the procession of boats and the music onshore. There was a huge gathering of people there. Drums beat out a fast rhythm and several women wailed, cried out, and sang in an unfamiliar language. For part of the way, we raced with a strong Polynesian man in a kayak who was riding our wake.

It was very cool to sit there watching in what could be called a front-row seat, waiting patiently till it was polite to go ashore. I noticed while I was watching that each crew on the individual boats was wearing a different uniform. It took forever for the boats to coordinate themselves. I remember after a while we weren't waiting so patiently. Finally however, the crews started to move forward, and so did we.

Once on the beach, my family and Loose Pointer were a very appreciative audience to an awesome cultural event. The first "act", if you will, was a welcoming dance from a group of people in the shore party. The men and women weren't really in their prime, the costumes were falling apart, and the dance wasn't exactly what you'd call high class, but who cares? It was exciting and heartfelt and very cool. The drums were very much the heart of the proceedings, I could feel their booming in my feet and chest. This dance was similar AND different from the hakas in New Zealand.

For the second "act", it was performed with everyone: the crews, natives, and foreigners, in a loose, large circle. A fat man in red announced in a microphone who would perform next and one by one, the crews came forward and performed a dance or haka traditional to their nationality. Some were unable to resist giving a speech beforehand. I couldn't understand any of it and was fascinated by all of it. My favorite dance was the Samoan dance; they looked like they were having a good time. I didn't know what was going on for most of time for the announcer rarely spoke English, but he did say in English when the crews' dances were over that now was the time for gifts and the maori stones to be given. I knew it was important, because everyone looked serious and respectful.

At one extreme end of the circle of people, near where the announcer stood, there was a raised platform of rock that looked almost like a throne. It was decorated with palm leaves. Two, tall, strong lengths of bamboo-like stick were thrust in to the ground on either side of the "throne", like guards. I surmised that this was where the maori stones would be placed. One after the other, the delegated person or persons from each crew once again stepped forward, holding a stone. They first proceeded to the opposite end of the clearing from the platform, then walked slowly and solemnly forward while the drums beat furiously. Sometimes a speech was made, sometimes not. Once there was a whole ceremony for the giving. Several times I wanted to move for a closer look, but could not bring myself to break the respectful stillness of the crowd. The sund was frying the back of my neck, I was desperately thirsty, and they would NOT stop TALKING!

Once all the gifts and sacred stones were given, the sponsor for the whole regatta came forward, was introduced by a female announcer, gave his reasons for sponsoring, and was applauded. Or at least, I think that is what happened, for most of the time he spoke in French with an American/New Zealand accent. It was so FRUSTRATING not to know or understand what people were saying. Several other speeches were probably made, I do not know, I had given up and wandered down to the beach. At long long last, all the talking and dancing was over. Everyone moved to find shade and to socialize, the crews to the now uncovered fruit table to gorge. MOST unfortunately we did not linger for the feast. I for one was relieved. It was an amazing cultural experience, but boy could those French Polynesians TALK.

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judith said...

Great post Mera! Tell Mom that she's done a great job at the Homeschooling, most US kids (public schooled) your age would not have posted such a long well written post with as much detail. Perhaps you should think of employment with National Geographic in a few years...

long island used boats said...

I agree, jomamma. I almost can't believe a child wrote this. Mera definitely has a bright future ahead in writing.

Toast said...

Heyla @long island used boats, agreed on both Mera and the need for pics. These were all posted when I was at sea. No way to post pics out there easily. If you note, posts since our arrival in NZ include them. If you want to see these things, I've since posted pics at