Day 6 – Tahuata & Hiva Oa, Aranui Cruise 2010

Day 6: April 12 – Tahuata and Hiva Oa Islands: Vaitahu and Atuona Townships

We were fortunate enough to visit two islands today. The first being the village of Vaitahu on the island of Tahuata and the second being the town of Atuona on Hiva Oa. Vaitahu is a small little village nestled in a small valley between towering mountains on all sides. The steep mountains raise up on all sides with the somewhat sheltered harbour on the other.

We entered this island using the large metal barge boat and it was a rough landing. Although the harbour is sheltered the waves do come in and create 3 foot swells on shore. Where we landed there was a cement landing constructed with steps up to the platform. As we dismounted from the boat, the swells occasionally rocked the boat up and down. When this happened the crew members directed us to wait a moment until the barge was safely positioned by the steps at a proper height. Each time we dismounted there was also two to three crew members there to help us all the way up to the top of the platform.

After we disembarked and were walking down the short road to town someone pointed out to me a brand new pickup truck that was being prepared for offloading at the dock. They had loaded the truck onto a barge with the ship’s crane, motored the barge up to the dock with the top end on the cement and the back end with the motor pushing the barge constantly into the dock. This was to keep things stable as they proceeded to drive the truck off the barge, first the front end and after about 30 seconds of the truck balancing both on the boat and on land with the barge bouncing up and down, they drove the back end off the boat and safely onto land. It was quite a precarious procedure and I’m sure stressful enough for those involved.

We took our time walking into the village where the local artisans had set up their tables to sell their various handicrafts to the people on the Aranui 3. They showed off their carved masks, spears, tikis and jewellery along with stone tikis, sculptures and poi pounders. Carved jewellery was also a popular item being offered. It is heartening to see the hard work that goes in to each and every handicraft item that is displayed on their tables. To know that many of these people make a lot of their extra income off of the items they sell and that many of them only sell these items when the Aranui ship comes into their port is amazing.

We didn’t have much more time in this village and so we went walking a little further to the beautiful Catholic Church on the island. As we rounded the corner that brought us through a field to the church I saw one of the men from our group whom we had seen two days previous, sketching and he was busy with his Marquesas drawing book creating a new piece of artwork. My 11 year old son Jaeden, who had brought his sketch pad with him on this occasion, proceeded to pull out his pad and drawing pencils and proceeded to draw the same object this 75 year old artist was working on. This artist who has completed many expositions of his own had a look at my son’s sketches and then watched him at work. Occasionally he would give my son a few pointers and watch him in action and in silence. Although he spoke very little English, he tried his best to be a mentor to my son who had this great desire to develop his talent for art. It was one of his best afternoons to sit with a professional and to create art with his assistance.

As I left the two of them alone to have a look at the beautiful Marquesian carvings and stained glass window in the nearby church, the school next door let their children out for a short recess. All of these young and curious six to nine year olds came out of school to see what was going on in the world around them. Some of them started running around in the field while a group of them started to gather around my son and this older artist. They marvelled at the work that they were creating and had a look at the recent pictures that this man had in his book which were all created in the French Polynesian Islands. They were all in awe with the pictures and hung around for some time watching them at work. After a little while the gathering crowd got so large that the two artists had to pack up and find some other things to do with the remaining few minutes on the island. My son had no problem running up to the local children and playing soccer with them while the elderly gentleman slowly wandered back towards the Aranui 3.

Our second stop for the day was in the city of Atuona on the nearby island of Hiva Oa. This larger town heavily influenced by Europeans is one of the main centres of the Southern portion of the Marquesas. The port was located a few kilometres away from the town and so we spent most of the rest of the day being shuttled around in the local community school busses. Our first stop was at a Chineese / Marquesan food restaurant called Hoa Nui. Although this restaurant is only open by reservation (with bookings made a day in advance) they put on an enormous buffet lunch feast for the Aranui 3 as they usually do. To date they offered the widest selection of food we have seen at a single meal.

Our next few stops for the day were up the mountainside to the cemetery where Belgian singer Jacques Brel and French painter Paul Gauguin were buried. These two men are perhaps the most touted residents who have ever lived on the island. Perhaps due to the fact that they both spent their last years on the island, they have been immortalized on this island.

Our final stop was to the Atuona Cultural Centre which houses both the Jacques Brel Memorial and the Paul Gauguin Museum. Being that I am not familiar with Jacques Brel I decided to take in twenty minutes at the Paul Gauguin Museum which houses a collection of “impostor” paintings. Due to the fact that the facilities in this tropical city is not conducive to the preservation of works of art, all of the paintings and most artefacts are simply copies of the works that Paul Gauguin himself created. The museum also provides a good history of his life along with excerpts from letters that he wrote to his family back in Europe. A replica of Mr. Gauguin’s “House of Pleasures” is also on display in a separate building on the site. This final stop to me was interesting from a historical perspective but unless you are a Paul Gauguin fan, his life and lifestyle in the last years of his life while on this island until 1903 were not really of interest to me.

Written by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC

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