South Pacific Travel Adventures

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After lunch I sat on deck and manicured my nails, which attracted a fascinated audience of both men and women. Although none of them had seen a manicure before, it was the men, not the women, who wanted to try all the implements, oils and lacquers. When they got carried away using my precious supply, I told them that only mahus (homosexuals) in America used this stuff. That ended their play as abruptly as if I had told them it was strong acid, but it didn’t dampen their curiosity. For an encore I pedicured my toenails. My audience was totally engrossed until the very end.

After the pedicure, I brought some sewing up on deck. While Rachel helped me with my sewing project, she taught me some insulting words in Tahitian and cued me when to spring them on various visitors from the crew. Everyone laughed uproariously at each recitation of insults and a few choice words. One of the milder ones was “Puaa nike,” roughly translated as, “You swine in heat!”

I brought out my Tahitian dictionary to raise our level of conversation. Our visitors were amused to see their language written in a dictionary, but not trusting the Tahitian dictionary, they asked me to explain the English meaning in French.

Next day, as we rowed ashore at Makemo, Louis pointed out his mother who was waiting in the welcoming crowd. She hadn’t seen her son for two years since he left Makemo at age 15 to attend school in Papeete. Louis ignored her until he had worked his way through the receiving line with a ceremonial kiss on both cheeks of each person.

His mother received no more, no less a greeting than any other friend or acquaintance. Louis clutched my hand in his – familiarly for being the first time – as if he were bringing home a trophy. He showed me off to everyone and clung to my hand

His mother was a handsome woman with just a hint of Chinese blood. Her hair was combed sleek back in a chignon. She had the confident air of one who capably assumes responsibility, commands respect and doesn’t tolerate any nonsense.

Standing next to her, Louis’ stepfather had a rugged, square-jawed, handsome face and a wide well-developed chest and shoulders that narrowed into trim waist and hips. He appeared much younger than his wife, as do all the Islanders because physical labor keeps their bodies young and strong, even when they are old men. The women, being much less active, grow fat and flabby with age.

Louis’ mother and stepfather owned the general store so they were much more prosperous than their neighbors who lived off copra sales. Their house was one of the nicest I had seen on the islands, a crisply painted cement building with wall to wall peue (woven pandanus mat). The beds, which are the major pieces of furniture in any house on these islands, were good double beds covered with colorful Polynesian print spreads. Everything was fresh, bright and clean.

They asked me to be seated and immediately boxes of shells were brought out. I was draped with five shell necklaces and a couronne for my hat. Several choice shells were dumped in my lap.

Louis, his stepfather, cousins and all the neighbor kids then took me on a tour of the island. When we returned, I was treated to cake and lemonade and a real luxury – an orange. The stepfather carefully removed the skin with a knife. He then handed the orange to Louis’ 14 year-old sister to finish the delicate operation. She carefully slipped off every bit of the white membrane until the orange was completely naked. She opened it into wedges and presented it to me on a plate. Then a tin of cocktail potato sticks was opened and placed before me. This certainly was another rare luxury for them.

While his mother prepared a Tahitian feast, Louis, his sister and cousins took me swimming. We swam to a beautiful coral garden that had a wide variety of coral in clean clear water. Returning to the house, they led me straight to the bath house. Islanders are very clean.

Dinner was a feast of poisson cru, uru (boiled breadfruit), and popoe (jellied breadfruit), fermented grated coconut, boiled fish, and a coconut to drink. Everything was eaten with the fingers, although I was given a fork.

After dinner I suddenly became aware of time. Too late! The stepfather came up with the disconcerting news that the Namoiata had gone up the coast, not to return until 10 the next morning. I said I wanted to go down to the dock anyway, but the stepfather insisted that it was too far a walk, although I had not remembered it to be when I arrived.

They consoled me and told me that I was welcome to stay at their house for the night. Once that was decided, Louis and I took another walk. It was cooler now and suddenly I felt that zoom of energy and waves of joy that often creep up on me just before sunset on these beautiful islands. I felt like running and leaping and dancing. I shouted to the sky that I would love, love, love to stay in this paradise forever.

A coconut palm frond was lying alongside the road. I ripped off a side of it and started weaving a panier (basket) as we walked. “You see what a good vahine I’d make if I stayed here?” I joked, seeing my weaving take some immediate form.

Evidently I was too carried away with my enthusiasm because after 10 minutes in the bath house upon returning to the house, I found Louis and his stepfather deep in conversation. As I approached them the stepfather gave me a grave, soul-penetrating gaze. In deep serious tones he asked, “Do you want to stay and live on Makemo?”

I was taken aback. I awkwardly spluttered something about the beauty of the island, not knowing exactly what I had gotten myself into...and slipped out as well as I could by saying I had to get back to Tahiti. Louis looked very dejected and ashamed of himself. His stepfather looked at him reproachfully. I felt sorry for all three of us in this awkward and embarrassing situation.

Louis and I went out to the road in front of the house to sit and watch a group of men playing a sort of ground pool with heavy metal balls, a popular form of amusement in the islands. Louis’ cousin brought him a guitar and a small group gathered to sing. Louis was king since his return home. Rachael joined the group and told me the boat was leaving shortly. I was relieved.

I said thanks and goodbyes to everyone and Louis walked me to the dock. We sat and watched the unloading, and then were rowed back to the Namoiata. I ducked into my cabin for a minute to drop off my cameras. When I came out, Louis had been hustled into a row boat to be taken ashore. I shook hands with him from the Namoiata, but he would not let go of my hand. The rowers waited patiently for Louis’ painful farewell.

The next day in Nihuru was uneventful. But the following day, we arrived in Raroia, which to me is the most beautiful island in the Tuamotus. Rachael and I crossed the island to the lagoon side. We followed a wide path strewn with dried fallen palm fronds that softly and unobtrusively wound its way through a forest of palm trees.

Raroia is a very small atoll so I could see the entire circle of island around the shallow aqua-colored lagoon. Raroia was truly an island paradise. Rachael and I took pictures of each other in this beautiful setting.

Then we barged into a house and asked the owner if we could use her facilities. After we bathed, Rachael combed her hair and rubbed Monoi Tiare Tahiti coconut oil on it to make it grow luxuriantly. She re-tied my pareu, which is a two meter length of material used as a skirt or dress, depending on how you tie it. When I tied my own pareu, it hung unevenly and was way too long. But Rachael tied it to perfection, giving it a jaunty air.

I started wearing a pareu when I realized how practical it is. Quickly wrapped around the waist with the ends tied in a knot, as a skirt, it gives complete freedom of movement for the legs. It can be tied long for decency or short for wading in deep water. A pareu can be wrapped from the back and the top ends crisscrossed in front and tied behind the neck, making a blouse unnecessary. Or it can be used as a blanket to lie on, a sheet to cover, a towel to dry with or to carry fruit, or as a curtain for the porthole in my cabin.

I told Rachael to ask the woman if she had any couronnes, which are sea shells strung to fit as a hat band. I wanted to buy one as a present for my sister. The woman did have one and Rachael looked it over closely before laying it aside to attend to her toilette.

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