The authentic Pacific islands: a mix of plenty and scarcity

Herman Melville jumped ship in this beautiful bay and was taken in by the cannibalistic tribe who lived here.  He earned his way as a translator but left the island, suspecting they may have been fattening him up for a future feast!

This here cauldron was filled with water. You might say it was used for the most powerful potion of all: self-reflection. Whereas most people we know see themselves in the mirror every day, Marquesans did not. One of its uses was to view the tattoo art on their bodies.

When people talk about traveling to the Pacific Islands, they're usually referring to the tourist hubs like Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, and Bora Bora. But if you really want to experience life as a borderline castaway while drifting through daily panoramas of lush landscapes fit for a topographical soap opera, a place where locals really do greet you with flowers and fresh fruit because it is the custom and not because the hotel hostess is paid to do so, where heaven was thought to reside beneath the waters instead of high in the skies, where the roads are only two years of age and people you could have graduated high school with tell you about life before electricity, where horses run wild and flowers are in constant bloom, and waterfalls are more plentiful than are grocery stores, then you might just think the Marquesas is a decent place.

Unlike today, Marquesan tattoos were never a symbol of individuality. Quite the opposite. Not only were they obligatory, the person being tattooed did not have much of a say on what was written on their person. Tattoos were intended to convey tribe identity, social status, rank, family, and identity otherwise imparted to that person by the gods and their community, as written onto them by the priest.

A tween girl would receive her first tattoo after a week of isolation in a hut, away from the community, upon her first menses. The boys were usually tattooed between the ages of 13 and 15, depending on when the chief's son received his. The boys would then be marked in the chief's son's honor, which culminated in a bare naked dance by the chief's son for the rest of the tribe. The “old-fashion” way was “jail-style,” as the artist impelled pigment by tiny individual pigment into the skin, the ink made from berries. Eventually, men were covered from head to toe in tattoos. Coconut oil infused with ginger was used to make the tattoos shine during dance and to prevent infection.
The more tattoos you had, the more important you were!

(Photo credit: Polynesian Maori Tattoo)

All the better if you bring your own boat to enjoy anchorages in uninhabited, or sparsely inhabited bays surrounded by striking rock formations and verdant landscapes, minus light pollution, the sounds of traffic and bar music, litter, and high speed power boats and ferries kicking up waves that send your Passion Fruit juice on a Kamikaze mission across the table and onto the cat's head.

On the other hand, if your boat isn't self-sufficient out here, then you'd be up a creek without a paddle. No watermaker? Welcome to lugging your own water from the spring out to the boat. No solar panels or wind gen? Welcome to shortening the life of your engine by running it every day, or have fun lugging gallons of gas out to the boat for the generator. You need an engine part? It might take two to six weeks to receive it in the mail. You have some sort of health emergency? The hospital here seems quite nice, but there's a good chance you'll have to hold your breath until your flight arrives in Tahiti. You want to go shopping just for fun? There are about three clothing stores and a wonderful local artisan market on Nuku Hiva, but unless you love perusing the hardware store shelves, mall rats and Parisian haute couture addicts are plum out of luck. You know what else there's just about none of here? Crime. 

The market has oodles of delicious fresh produce, much of it new to us. Every variety of banana has its own unique flavor. Or take a walk down the street and pick your own fruit right off the trees. Check out the docks after the fishermen come in with their catches. Barter with a local friend for some chicken. Go surfing with some local kids and you might receive an invitation to the family BBQ and Bocci Ball game. Even if your French is just as bad as your Chinese, we've found the gesture of doing your best to speak the language is more than worth the effort.

Those who wore whale teeth were of high status in their tribes.  Landing a whale meant you were a good provider for the community.

Marquesan kids enjoy the simple pleasures of surfing at the local beach.

Posted on May 2, 2015 .