TAHITI
 
RA'IVAVAE - A SHORT HISTORY
 
           

It was early on a stormy September morning that we came into sight of Ra'vavae-High island, as it was named by sailors in the last century. Far in the distance the tiny black silhouette stood out against a backdrop of streaming clouds stained as deep a red as the human blood which had once run upon its pagan altars. Even with the black seas raging around, each peak was precisely etched against the early dawn.

An hour later the skies had cleared and the seas were calm. Our ship, the Mareva, moved slowly toward the island. Mareva is one of those lovely Polynesian names which can only be translated by a handful of English words. It means "she who flits by without visible means of support, is seen for an instant, and then quickly is gone." And as we edged closer to shore I thought of how far this splendid shi had come since the day of her launching. She was built in 1937 by Hodson Brothers of Maine, and her fifty-five-foot wooden hull, rigged as an auxiliary cutter, had known the waters of the West Indies and the Great Lakes under a half dozen different names. In her time she had been sailed by an amorous Italian industrialist and later by a more serious group of American scientists. I liked to think tat this was her most extraordinary voyage. The members of the expedition joined me at the rail as we sailed through the barrier reef which rings Ra'ivavae. Jim Scott began talking about the unique beauty of the island, with its great turreted fortress dominating the waters for miles around. Jim had seen other islands - Guadalcanal, Guam, Iwo - for he had been a Marine. But now he was the artist of the expedition. He carried his materials in a simple paper bag and even as we moved up the lagoon he began to sketch the dramatic contours of the island before us.

Zenie was silent. She was the only woman on the expedition and I had written to her months before to ask her help on the trip. Part Tahitian, widely travelled, fluent in the native tongues as well as in French, her presence was necessary if any researches were to be successful. Life among adults in Polynesia is characterized by strong segregation between the sexes. Once a man takes a wife he gives up almost all social contact with other women. In fact, he rarely makes an appearance with his own wife in public. thus Polynesian men know little of the intimate details of female life. Of necessity, I had to deal with the mature men of the community, for I was in my thirties, married, and interested in such subjects as religion, sex, leadership, and economic. Yet I needed to know what went on among the women. Polynesian matriarchs are a powerful force in the life of both family and village. This was to be Zenie's job; and, as we shall see later, she did it with uncanny skill.

For Alan Seabrook, the approach to Ra'ivave let loose a flood of old memories, for it was here that he and Stimson had worked together twenty years before. Alan is one of that br3eed who prefer living in Polynesia to anywhere else in the world. He is a thinker, a writer, an intellectual, who now works a beautiful plantation in one of the far valleys of Tahiti, where he lives with his wife. I had persuaded him to join me and give me the benefit of his experience and his contacts on High Island. And just as he had gone with Stimson in the old days, so he came with me. Besides Jim, Zenie, and Alan, I had two full-blooded Polynesians with me on the trip; Tautu and Tioti. One was to return with Captain Temari'i on the Mareva when she sailed back to Tahiti. But Tioti stayed and he was to prove of enormous value. Soon birds began to swoop around the ship and we started to pick out details of the reef islets, the hills behind Ra'itua, and the slopes and cliffs of Anatonu. the morning sunlight glinted from the wave-tossed surface of the water as we ranged the markers of the channel through Tetobe Pass and entered the lagoon. As our craft moved rapidly to the long pier which marks the main village and administrative centre of Ra'irua, the waters became completely still.

The "Ra'ivavae welcome' is notorious throughout Central Polynesia. On other islands the population crowds down to the landing place to cry greetings, sniff the new arrivals in the Polynesian hongi, and to ask for the latest news from the outside world. But the people of High Island are curiously restrained. Even when a relative arrives it is commonplace for kinsmen to sit nearby on the shore for a long period before going over to shake hands. No exception was made for us. there was scarcely a sign of life in the village. Not an adult was to be seen; no one was at the dock to help us tie up. Just as we made fast, a few children trotted down to watch us solemnly with their great dark eyes. There was a curious emptiness about the scene, a tantalizing lack of life which contrasted strangely with the high spirits of other Polynesian places.

Our stop at Ra'irua was brief, merely long enough to pay our respects, deliver the mail to the gendarme, and to meet Taupoa, the medical aid man who had been a friend of Zenie during the war. I had previously decided that the best location is set up headquarters would be at Anatonu, the village where Alan and Frank had worked a generation ago. It was the largest and most active of the population centers - with the biggest church on the island. Moreover, Piahuru, the man who might turn out to be our chief informant, the only French-speaking inhabitant of the island, lived there. Besides, I knew that Anatonu was bright and clean, a good place to live and work. By noon we had completed our administrative formalities and headed round rocky Vaianaara Peninsula, the northernmost point of land jutting from the heart of Ra'ivavae. Ahead of us and to our left were the motu, reef islets of many sizes. to our right ranged the mountainous backbone of the island, crowned by Mount Hiro, the tallest peak-height 1,434 feet - a silent witness to the long history of High Island.  

No one knows who discovered Ra'ivavae originally, but there is a rich lore surrounding the island. Long ago, the myth goes, one of the Polynesian Sea Kings, the Maninika, commanding a boatload of the Children of the sea, fished up this lovely island out of the Great Ocean of Kiva. Behind him in the west - a direction still termed muri, "rearwards," - lay his ancestral Havaiki, famous in song and tale. Nothing is known of this era, but it is possible to infer that Ra'vavae was the heartland from which later voyagers spread out to the r4st of Central Polynesia. The first name of the island was Ragiha, "sacred Heaven," and later Tahiti Nui. Nearly five hundred years ago, when the young priests and royalty - the first-born sons - departed to extend their sway over the other nearby islands, they remembered it with sad nostalgia as Rangivavae - "Sundered Heavens."

Over the centuries the inhabitants of Ra'ivavae multiplied. The descendants of the original settlers intermingled with those who came later; some, explorers like themselves, others, voyagers and fishermen who had been blown off course into the haven of Ra'ivavae. As the population increased, the volleys were gradually terraced and irrigated so that the staple food of Polynesia, the taro root, could be cultivated. Lines allegiance and kinship hardened, and some groups took authority over others. Soon more massive divisions arose. Tribes were segmented and sub-tribes multiplied. Land grew scarce and time hung heavy. Warfare became a constant activity, with certain tribes extending their sway over others, and then being completely wiped out by massacre or migration. By the seventeenth century Ra'ivavae was the home of adventurers who sailed their ships to other lands - to the nearby Austral Islands of Tubua'i and Rurutu, to faraway Tahiti and Ra'iatea in the Society Islands, and even to mist-hung New Zealand. Raiders moved back and forth between the Tuamotus, contemptuously bringing their womenfolk, and even now specific details of the Anaa warriors, "the killer sharks who overrun the seas," are still recounted by the old folk. The history of Ra'ivavae is filled with tales of conquest and defeat, valor and treachery, invasion and defense. The names of the heroes still echo in the tales of the islanders - Narai, Mauri, Tangihia, Te Ehu. From their loins stemmed the generations of today. But between the heroic days of the far past and the lackluster life of the present which we were to witness, there is a terrible abyss.

On February 5, 1775, the frigate Aguila and the bark Jupiter came to this island, rich in colour and adventure, already filled with the memories of history. In command was Lieutenant Commander don Thomas Gayangoa, en route from the abortive Spanish attempt to colonize Tahiti. In the parochial view of Western history, he is officially credited with the "discovery" of Ra'ivavae. The brief offshore visit of the frigate's yawl was substantially aided by two Tahitians who were being carried to South America. They could make out a few words of the local tongue and persuaded the inhabitants that the Spaniards had not come to war upon them. Indeed, the exploring boat had deemed it wise not to land, but rather to lay offshore. When the hundreds of "Indians," as the Europeans called them, heard that the white men had not come to fight, they swarmed out to the boat and tried to steal anything they could lay their hands on. 

"Our people saw themselves obliged to repel them with feints and blows," wrote Don Gayangoa in the journal "But finding this treatment failed to instill any fear in them, and that they did not desist in their efforts, they hove up the grapnel and lay off under oars some distance farther out to make it more difficult for the Indians to reach them. They are so daring, and such thieves, that they collared the coxswain of the boat and likewise the Master's apprentice check by jowl and snatched the caps off their heads, diving hurriedly into the sea and making off with their booty to shore, where they skipped about with delight at their exploit. Others grabbed the oars and tried to carry them off: in short, they had no other aim but to rub and make off with any of the many objects, so strange and unwonted in their sight, that met their eyes."

This audacious thievery was the main reason why the Spanish commander was reluctant to remain for a longer period near Ra'ivavae. A charitable and sensible officer, he believed that the behaviour of the natives stemmed from curiosity and a natural desire to possess strange things rather than from any evil intent and he wanted to do them no harm. However, the two native Tahitians had difficulty in carrying out extended discourse, even with the chiefs, and succeeded only in learning that the name of the island was Oraibaba (the Spaniards called it Santa Rosa), and that their "ruler" was Tarabaraoi. The Spaniards concluded that the natives had never before seen a European vessel.

A few observations were made by the captain of the bark, Raimundo Bonacorsi. He reported that his men had received a mother-of-pearl necklace, a paddle, and a spear "which looks as if turned on a lathe" in return for some nails and small knives which seemed completely unfamiliar to the Ra'ivavaeans. He noted that the hilly but non-rugged slopes were well timbered, with fertile red soil. Breadfruit, plantain, ironwood, chestnut, candlenuts, and hibiscus extended halfway up the hill; groves of coconut palms stretched along the beach. He commented on the fair skin of the inhabitants, some of whom "look like Europeans in hue," and saw no tattooing upon their bodies, which were tall and well made. The hair was worn tied into a tufted topknot on the upper part of the head. Long beards and large perforations  in the ears were common while clothing was similar to Tahitian wraps of dark gray, red, and yellow. The men of the island carried well-made wooden "pikes," and contain short "cudgels," but gave no intention of harming anyone or of making war. Although no villages or houses were seen it was thought that the island was thickly populated. The five or six canoes sighted were twin-hulled, with bows and stems which sheered upward. Not only were they better constructed, but they were of finer wood than those of Tahiti.

In all the literature about Polynesia there is no indication that another European arrived on Ra'ivavae for almost fifty years following the Spaniards. This is one of those strange omissions of written history. For we know that by 1819 - the date of the next recorded visit - the place was known as High Island and had a reputation among whalers and other seafaring men for the fine craftsmanship of ceremonial paddles, bowls, food scoops, spears, drums, and other souvenirs. These articles had been traded for over a quarter of a century. Sailors brought home to their families these beautiful mementos which now fill museum shelves and cases throughout the world. Like other islands of the Austral, Society, and Marquesas archipelagoes, Ra'ivavae had become a regular port of call for the men sailing the Pacific - crews hungry for a touch of land, famished for women and recreation. surely if one could search the unpublished logs and journals of New England whalers, ample testimony to such visits could be found.

Don Thomas Gayangos may have discovered High Island, but the next visitor who has a place in history was to change Ra'ivavae and its way of life completely. He was Pomare II, who had already made himself King of Tahiti and various other Society of Tuamotuan islands with British missionary support. In 1819 Pomare decided to extend his domain (and that of the Lord God Jehovah) to the Austral Islands. Supported by Captain Samuel P. Henry, an American trader-ship-owner who sought sandalwood, the King, his Queen, several of his chiefs, and followers of both sexes embarked for Ra'ivavae on the three-masted ship Arab. He arrived at High Island to find the inhabitants at war. One tribe had already fled to the hills. 

Pomare's reputation had gone before him, and through the force of his personality and an elaborate tracing of genealogical connections, he was able to bring the defeated tribe from the hills, enforce a state of peace, and obtain an oath of loyalty by his rule. He then converted the entire island from paganism to a rude form of Christianity. It is recorded that his stay on the island was a continuous celebration, though in retrospect it is hard to understand why. Despite the professed Christianity of Pomare and his followers, they were enchanted with the place and took enthusiastically to the customs of Ra'ivavae. The officers of the Arab, on the other hand, were reported to have been revolted and scandalized by the natives' behaviour, for they "gave themselves up without scruple to all the pleasures of sensuality." The American captain was particularly unhappy, for he failed to obtain sufficient sandalwood to satisfy his needs.

Pomare left one of his Tahitian chiefs, named Para, on Ra'ivavae when he sailed. Variously described as a "political agent" or "native missionary," he seems to have done his work well. Eighteen months later when Captain Henry had occasion to call in at High Island, he found the natives piously assembled at their newly built church. Under the direction of Para they had not only defaced their ancient gods, but had even converted many of the divine images into stools for the church. The good captain was much impressed. In a letter to Boston, he reported: "There were 88 assembled at the church for Christian worship to the universal God. The very quiet and orderly manner in which they conducted themselves, not only in church, but during the Sabbath, awakened my highest admiration. The whole of their gods are mutilated; removed from their maraes (or places of worship) and even converted into stools at the entrance of the church, which is very neatly built; the ground is covered with grass, and provided with a sufficient number of forms; its length is 117 feet; and breadth 27. there are only twenty-five on the island who have not adopted the religion of the Saviour, but who have nevertheless removed idolatry. They say, We have no books, or proper missionary to instruct us, and we will wait till one comes before we become Christians.'"

They did not have to wait long. Shortly thereafter three Polynesian missionaries from the island of Moorea were sent to replace Para, who had failed to satisfy the English missionary leaders with his knowledge or practice of the doctrines of "the first principles of Christianity." Inspectors Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet, who landed on Ra'ivavae on Christmas Day in 1823, were strong in praise of the three good men. "The gospel as preached by them, not only with their lips, but by their lives, has evinced much of its power directly and indirectly, in the moral and social improvement of the people, who gladly received it." They had supervised the building of a new chapel, this one of wickerwork and lime, one hundred and eighty feet long and forty feet wide. The eighteen-foot-high walls contained "forty three windows for light and ventilation and three doors." Fifteen pillars, some with wreaths of human figures carved out of the solid wood, supported the ridge pole; other pillar were ornamented with varicolored matting and other devices. In other districts the chapels were equally beautifully ornamented, and the inspectors commented upon the beauty, ingenuity, skill, and good taste involved. They also noted the images of the deposed gods which were exhibited nearby, remarking that despite their large size they were by no means despicable examples of sculpture.

Tyerman and Bennet probably stayed longer than any of the other early Europeans. They remained until after the first of the new year, giving services in the various churches, baptizing new members, and exploring the island. Their favourable report caused later writers to regard the Ra'ivavaeans as "less cruel, and, in some respects more ingenious" than the other South Sea Islanders whom they resembled, particularly as "infanticide is said to have been unknown to them." The two inspectors were particularly pleased to see that the greater proportion of ground toward the northern and southern shores was planted with taro, and the valleys - which were of several hundred acres in extent - were in good order and well cleared. They explained this by the large population of "over two thousand people." Their visit was culminated in good Polynesian fashion. On January 21, 1824, a new chapel was opened in the presence of sixteen hundred persons, twelve hundred of whom were seated within. The district king and his wife, dressed in crimson cloaks, received tribute. Among this were a number of the famed carved ceremonial paddles, thirteen full bales of the best doubled black tapa cloth (in sections twenty yards long) and mounds of coconuts, bananas, taro, and fish - a "larger quantity than had ever been given as a present in Tahiti and the Society Islands." It was all presented as a farewell gift to the inspecting missionaries; together with a parting promise to provide house and garden room to future missionaries who might settle there.

The next year Rev. John Davies arrived to find the three native "teachers," as he termed them, hard at work, together with their wives. He was pleased to find that the natives now read their service in "good Tahitian, but with the accent of Ra'ivavae." In general, however, he took a sterner view of things than the preceding inspectors. His journal is rather an astringent affair with entries such as this: "In the afternoon a meeting was appointed with the baptized, as I wished to see them all, and converse with them. About 122 adults, including the seventeen selected as candidates for communion, had been baptized here by Mr. Henry and others. Most of them attended, and after singing, reading and prayer, I called over their names, and asked them various questions, but cannot say that I was satisfied with all their answers. I then addressed them on the design of baptism, and afterwards admonished them to attend diligently to their learning, to the instruction of their children, and other relatives as well as personal duties, and encouraged the teachers to go on with their work, looking to the Lord for a blessing, giving them such directions as to the mode of carrying on their work as appeared to me proper."

Mr. Davies must have forgotten something, for within a short time after his departure in 1826, Ra'i vavae was crushed by disaster. A contagious epidemic brought in from Tubua'i ravaged the island. Ten to fifteen deaths occurred daily and often whole families died at the same time and were buried in a common grave. Of the sixteen communicants of Mr. Davies' Christian society, twelve were dead by 1829. Two English visitors reported: "never have we witnessed a more melancholy spectacle; houses are left without inhabitants; land without owners; that which was formerly cultivated, has now become desolate." Even now memories of this terrible period still haunt the island. Descendants still tell of the horrors of a time when survivors were too weak to bury the dead who lay exposed alongside the island paths, food for pigs and dogs. By 1830 there were but one hundred and twenty survivors of the more than three thousand inhabitants who had sworn allegiance to Pomare in 1819, and in 1834 the explorer J. A. Moerenhout counted less than one hundred. The glories of Ra'ivavae were gone. Its rich pagan past snuffed out. Only tantalizing memories of a culture saturated with erotic ritual and religion remained and even these had begun to wear thin. The survivors had to adopt a new kind of life.

This most aesthetically satisfying of all of the Central Polynesian ways of life had been built entirely on oral knowledge. there was no writing, no means of passing on the rich, complex culture. Knowledge could only be transferred by the lengthy and tedious technique of memorization; and when the teachers died suddenly, there could be no more schooling. All teachers died suddenly, there could be no more schooling. All of known history, from the time of the birth of the gods, was irretrievably lost when the repositories of this lore died. The crafts of wood carving, stone cutting, feather mounting, and artistic plaiting had rested in the nimble but aged fingers of the Tahunga who had absorbed the knowledge through decades of practice. With the death of the old men came the loss of economic techniques: when and when not to fish; when and how to plant the taro patches, and when to let them lie fallow. Lost, also, were the marvellous pagan art forms. Even more stunning was the death of social control and the basis of customary law. Discipline disappeared, and the sudden drop in population wiped away the need for social sanction. Political control and religious inspiration now had to come from a new source.

In 1842 France assumed the protectorate over Tahiti, and Ra'ivavae (as part of the kingdom claimed by the royal descendants of Pomare) became a French Protectorate; in 1880 it became a part of France proper. Oddly enough, the wave of death which swept the island did not undermine the power of the London Missionary Society. Louisa Barnes Pratt, the first Mormon woman missionary, wrote rather tartly about the efforts of one of her fellow missionaries to establish a toehold on Ra'ivavae: "There is great contention on Ra'ivavae about the Gospel; through the influence of English missionaries, doors of public worship were closed against him. He is anxious to leave there, and go where he can do more good. Those who have embraced the truth are greatly disturbed." Ra'ivavae remains staunchly Protestant until this day.

Politically, the French went about the business of organizing the government of the island with typical Gallic neatness. For administrative purposes the several districts of the island were amalgamated into two, Ra'irua and Anatonu, and these were provided with a full French colonial paraphernalia: chief, assistant chief, three councillors, and five assistant councillors, police agent, and schoolteachers. All of these served under a gendarme who was not only chief of station, postmaster, civil-affairs officer, and head schoolteacher, but was charged with the unwelcome task of supervising the collecting of taxes and acting as chief of police. He in turn was supervised by the lieutenant in charge of the government schooner which periodically visited the island. Geographers of the period reported that some two or three tiny trading vessels visited the island each year in order to pick up arrowroot starch, sweet potatoes, rosewood or sandalwood perfumes, or the newly planted coffee, oranges, tobacco, or cotton - or buy livestock and produce for their own use. There were some years when no trading vessels arrived. The blustering local wind and the poverty of the population discouraged them. Although the islanders were considered more hospitable and harder working than Tahitians, visitors discontentedly noted the women "moins correct" than Tahitian girls, their hair less well cared for, and their untidy dresses dirty. For the rest, the dry official reports which are our main documents about life on Ra'ivavae until well into this century tell little. They do not describe how the people lived, nor what sort of island they were living on - except in the broadest terms. More important, they give no sense of that intimate relationship between man, his land, and his climate which is the basis of understanding a society. True, I was in search of the past - a life now vanished - but to reach this goal I had to understand the present, and this is where I began.

HIGH ISLAND

As the Mareva moved around the northern peninsula of Ra'ivavae and coasted under the peak of Mount Hiro, I caught my first glimpse of the village of Anatonu, in the shape of a large white church. This introduction was an appropriate one, for the church was the reason for the village's existence. During the pre-European period people lived in small thatched houses within the borders of the family planting lands. today, they still maintain the pandanus plantation house, as a place to rest during the heat of the day, or even to sleep in for several days on end if their taro patch is some distance from the village. But the main life and hopes of the family center in the town, for everyone wants to be near the church and take part in the continual round of services. With the money from a good coffee crop, the families take pride in improving their iron-roofed limestone or frame houses, purchasing the windows, doors, mirrors, beds, and heavy, closet-like armoires from Tahiti.

Anatonu means "cave of the giant fish." It is the name of both the village and the district around it, but no one could tell us exactly why such a name had been given. Of the four villages of the island Anatonu was the most vigorous and densely populated, although it was part of the least fertile section of Ra'ivavae, lacking he rich valleys, extensive taro fields, and more plentiful waters of the others. As we neared the shore we could see ahead of us the scattered reef islets to the east. On our right, to the south, the mountainous backbone of Rai'ivavae stretched out in a long line of vertical cliffs and steep talus slopes, the houses, the fertile taro fields, the streams and fields, all lay on a narrow strip of coastal land which was hidden behind the young ironwood, or toa, trees which fringed the shore.

Within a few hours after our arrival on Anatonu we found a headquarters for our work. A solemn, taciturn old man named Toari'i, whom I was to know well in time, offered to rent us his wooden frame house. I accepted the offer on the spot, since I could see it was located right beside the church and was thus ideal for my purposes. The rent was modest, and the house, though old - was completely satisfactory for our particular purposes. Like its twin to the right, it had been built during a "coffee boom" shortly after the turn of the century. Set upon posts, it was by now somewhat rickety and swayed with every wind and each footstep. But it was tightly constructed and the European-style windows not only kept out the wind and rain but let in a good amount of light. There were both front and back porches, a large central area which we used as a combination living, dining, and study-work room, and three bedrooms. We converted a fourth room into our kitchen. (The Polynesian habitually cooks and eats in an area apart from his sleeping house, but this practice, which is fine for keeping rats and ants out of the bedroom, takes too much time for hard-pressed European field workers.) When we arrived at our new house it was filled with the many beds which Toari'i had provided for members of his numerous family. But within two hours our landlord had cleared out all the extra ones and left a well-swept and tidy building in which we could immediately set up our apparatus and go to work. We started moving our supplies and equipment in from the Mareva, anchored offshore in the channel, landing them directly on the beach with our little dinghy. By the end of the day we were settled in our new home. Only then did we discover that we had set up shop in the same house used by Frank Stimson just twenty years before.

One of the first lessons an anthropologist learns in that things are often different from what they seem to be. I had this lesson driven home when I climbed down the notched log from the back porch of our new home and entered the fare iti, the small outhouse in which some wag had cut a crescent moon. Carefully closing the door to keep my privacy from the children who now were starting to cluster around, I suddenly discovered that there was nothing there but the exterior frame. It was as much a sham as a movie set - a good beginning and nothing more. The villagers preferred the seashore in the early morning. Toari'i and his sons, however, soon realized our plight, and within a few hours had constructed a handsome large combined outhouse and washhouse from some galvanized iron they had stored away. They covered the sandy floor with dried coconut leaves, and finished it off with towel rack, washstand, water jug, and a companionable two-hole chic saler - foreign to Polynesian ideas but well suited to American tastes. Ours was the only outhouse in all of Anatonu.

Before the Mareva was to sail away, Tautu had the idea of leaving tioti behind with us to handle the cooking. At first, I did not realize how important a step this would be, but within twenty-four hours he had proved himself to be soinvaluable that I don't see how we ever could have gotten along without him. Another most fortunate move was to hire Toari'i's daughter Pogi to act as a sort of girl Friday. She, too, soon proved her value. Working closely with Tioti, she was on the job before we rose in the morning and carried on until bedtime at night. She helped in the kitchen, served all the meals, made the beds and swept out the rooms, kept the yard picked up, did all of the laundry - and together with her twin sister was one of Zenie's most useful sources of information. She was quiet and withdrawn but had an attractive though exceptionally fleeting smile. (Zenie also noted her cleanliness and remarked that she alone of all the local girls lacked the characteristic smell of fish and cooking smoke.)

Once all our supplies and equipment were ashore, I made my final inspection of the Mareva. Toari'i had sold us a pig in order to give our men fresh meal during the trip back to Tahiti, and Tioti roasted it for them before they left. We paid off the crew, cursing the overtime and double-time system of pay which has now reached the islands and caused the payroll to total more than twice what we had expected. I hauled down "Peabody," a nickname Zenie had given to the museum's flag, and sent the good boat back to Tahiti. Finally we were on our own! Fortunately all of our suplies came through in good shape. It was only when we began cooking and housekeeping that we discovered the trivial necessities that had been overlooked. A small funnel may be nothing at all, but try to pour kerosene from a five gallon tin into lamps and stoves without it. At moments like this Tioti proved his worth, for he knew how to cope with tasks which would have taken us ages. His first chore was to fashion a small stove from an old gasoline drum. On this he could boil water, cook taro, and perform other heavy jobs. The gasoline camp stove I had brought along turned out to be inadequate.  

A day after we arrived, Jim became very sick. We put him to bed at once and started him on a course of the powerful drugs which I had brought with me. He needed quiet and rest, but this turned out to be a difficult thing to secure. Right in the middle of one of Jim's low moments a young chap walked into the room, trying to sell us a cowrie shell. Although I angrily sent him packing, I soon realized that we had become the center of attraction for a crowd of curiosity-stricken children and adults. There is almost no such thing as personal privacy among the sociable Polynesians. Used to living out their lives in the midst of a large family packed into a single small room, they do not conceive of our need to be alone. In self-defense I had to draw a "privacy line" around the exterior of one house. We made it clear to our new friends that our needs were different from theirs, and that privacy was one of them. This achieved some results, but every so often, I could catch a glimpse of staring eyes peering at us through the slits between curtains, or through open doors.

The household soon settled into a regular routine. We asked Tioti to set up our little portable dining table early each morning with a buffet breakfast of coffee, biscuits, cheese, or whatever other cold food was available. Thus those who wished to get off to an early start on their individual projects could begin the day with something in their stomachs. Once he had recovered his health, Jim was usually off to paint while the day was still cool. Zenie either went with Pogi to the river to gossip with the girls or called upon some of the many friends she soon made among the women of the village. Alan spent most of the morning talking with Piahuru, who was a fount of information. He did his writing during the evening, or in the early hours of the morning before the rest of us were about. I generally brought my notes up to date the first thing after breakfast, and then went off on my village rounds or had Piahuru or Tauira'i come to my room for our discussions.

Periodically several of us would make a trip around the island, working over the ancient temple or fortress remains, studying the local system of raising taro, or otherwise searching for information. What we found is in this book. But what I remember most fondly about those days were the late afternoons, when work was over until after supper and Tioti had a tin of hot water for me, heated upon his homemade stove. As the first cool breezes of the early evening came whistling through the crevices of our iron outhouse I would take a luxurious sponge bath, for hot water was a luxury which could not be enjoyed even in the posh hotels of Tahiti.

I hold many memories of our life together: Alan working at our writing table, hat pulled low over his eyes to shade them from the Aladdin lamp; Him returning from a painting tour with another work to be hung on the walls and discussed; Tioti and Pogi contentedly at work on the back porch; Zenie telling us with enthusiasm of her adventures. We lived and worked with professional intimacy and friendship, and we soon discovered that the villagers were fond of us too. Although Ra'ivavaeans generally were not fond of Europeans who had come there, they found us "simple and friendly to everyone." They pitied us for not speaking the language fluently or fully understanding the church services, but within a few days after our arrival they spoke possessively and boastfully of their visitors when they talked to people of the other districts. Before I settled down to the hard business of immersing myself in the ways of High Island, I wanted to have a panoramic look at my new home. True, I had studied the few available maps of the island. There was one which Alan Seabook had drawn with meticulous care when he worked there with Stimson. It was a beautifully precise affair on which the rivers, valleys, peaks, and temple sit4es had been carefully situated after a personal visit to each place. Then there was another which Henry Pambrun of the Bureau of Lands in Papeete had kindly furnished me. It was a detailed map of the land-holdings for Ra'ivavae, a necessary aid, for every foot of land on the island, however, sterile, is the property of some person not enough. They were good maps, but they told me nothing of the environment of earth and sky, of wind and water. They gave me no knowledge of the life-zones of the island. to learn about this I had to spend weeks strolling, trudging, and exploring. but first I wanted to see the island in one panoramic sweep and for this I had to climb to the topmost peak of Mount Hiro, the highest point on High Island. It is not much of a mountain by the standards of those who live on great continents, but a young Ra'ivavaean, overwhelmed by joy at seeing his homeland again, once chanted:

Oh my mountain!
  -soaring to the domed skies above.
From thy cloud-capped peaks the dotted lands,
Rising above the ocean's rim, become visible,
There beside thee falls thy mighty shadow
Upon meadows blooming with high-climbing flowers of the gods

That was in another age. Nowadays, few native Ra'ivavaeans bother to make the arduous climb, and I had to turn to the friendly gendarme, Georges Arnaud, the lead us up the mountain. Besides understanding just what kind of weather would insure a dry enough terrain to make the climb possible, he knew of a path. On the day of the climb, our party gathered for a predawn breakfast. Outside our headquarters little groups of men passed by on their way to the fields, and somewhat later the church bell rang, summoning the oldsters to the thrice-weekly dawn service. Georges was carrying a small, ancient .22-caliber rifle, a weapon which aroused great excitement among the young men whom he had invited to make the ascent of Mount Hiro with us. They, it seemed were less interested in the opportunity to see the mountaintop for the first time than in the possibility that the trip might mean wild goat to east that night. The path turned out to be a combination of a goat trail and an imaginary direct line to the ridge top. We made the preliminary ascent in less than thirty minutes from the flat shore-lands to the knife-edged ridge which led to the peak. By the end of this I really knew what the Polynesians mean when they liken the journey of life to a mountain climb. One moves up to a peak of physical and sexual ability and then inevitably begins sliding down the other side. I was truly in the midst of my "slide down," and I wheezed and puffed and my heart thudded as I hauled myself up, tugging at the tufts of grass or small bushes which grew from crevices in the soft vertical rock. Many of the carefree young chaps, who climbed like the goats which could be seen on the rocks around us, made a good deal of fun of my predicament, but one of the quieter youths gave me a helping hand.

The comparative ease of the first vertical climb was  more than balanced once we began the delicate feat of moving up the razor-back ridge to The peak above. the sun had now risen and below there was a seep of magnificent colour: the deep-blue ocean, the white wash of the wave-smashed reef, the turquoise hues of the lagoon, the red earth of the eroded foothills, and the rich colours of the mountain flowers. The arid vertical northern face which we had just climbed differed markedly from the much gentler slope to the south. This had received most of the rain which fell from the predominantly southern winds and was covered to the rim with rich vegetation, huge tree ferns, guava gushes, and orange and candlenut trees. During one breathing spell, as we neared the peak, I had a moment of horror. One of the boys disappeared from view, and I thought he had tumbled over the precipice. Instead he had spotted a tropic bird nesting on a tuft of vegetation which grew a hundred feet down the vertical face of the cliff. As we watched from the brim with fascination, he moved like a spider over what seemed to be bare rock. Nearing the nest he suddenly reached out and took the white bird before she had a chance to move away. He calmly pocketed the egg on which she was sitting and then floated back up. His first move, upon reaching the top, was to pull the two long red filamentous tail feathers out and stick them in his hat. Then he showed us the quivering bird. Her feathers glistened like white satin, and fear caused her tail to curve out in a lovely fan. As we discussed the tropic bird and its habits in a rather detached academic fashion, the young chap suddenly beat the bird's head on a rock, tore a hole in its throat, ripped the skin and members from the still-squawking body, and stuffed the carcass in the hip-pocket. When we protested, too late, he only grinned and threw away the unwanted skin and limbs. This was not the last time that we were to see a sudden eruption of brutality toward animals.  

Perhaps we should not have been so horror stricken. This chap and his fellows must do the same thing to the fish they catch almost daily. Periodically they also must wring the neck of chickens, or cut up still quivering carcasses of pigs and goats for their family larder. And was not our gendarme's gun (and the possibility of fresh meat) the inspiration for their climb today? But later we again had to helplessly stand by as they gleefully stoned to death a young kid which had fallen to an inaccessible stone outcropping below. Despite my groping for justification I could not help but feel these brutal acts were a residue of that bygone era when their ancestors had raided enemy tribes in the night, thrust spears into still-sleeping women and children, and then boasted of these acts in the vaunting songs of a victory celebration. As we moved upward, many small flat goat stands and winding goat paths became noticeable, and we now could ue the animals' trails to make our own way. In places we moved along a ridge with precipitous drops only inches from each side of the slim trail. After a final breathtaking and difficult stretch we reached the pinnacle of Mount Hiro. Below stretched Ra'ivavae -0 a small island only four and three-quarters miles long and no wider than a mile and three quarters at most - a world in itself. To the east of our route the mountain peak sloped down to a great saddle-shaped plateau - a mountain meadow upon which escaped horses and bands of goats ranged. Running down in a direct line between Mount Hiro and the village of Anatonu, which lay far below us to the northeast, was a rush-filled ravine which ended in a small pond at the very brink of a precipice.

The contrast between the grass-covered meadows of the eastern half and the precipitous western ridges and cliffs is as great as that between the northern and southern sides of the dividing range. To the north the only vegetation other than grass and ferns seemed to be the miniature gnarled Metrosideros trees, with lovely red flowers whose spiked petals are tipped with gold. On the southern hills great blackened areas could be seen. These indicated that the islanders knew nothing of the disastrous effects of burning over the soil. to be sure, the French have made a law against this practice, but no one pays much attention to it. But I was not interested in scenery alone. In one sweep I could grasp something of the complex pattern of life which marks this island and relate it to the areas where each activity is carried on. Encompassing all are the dark-blue waters of the Pacific. The ancestral knowledge of these ocean deeps, however, is known no longer to the present-day descendants of the Children of the Sea. This is the great4est and most poignant change that has come over Ra'ivavae. Where once the ocean was understood and loved, Te Moana Nui o Kiva is now feared. Christian though they are, the Ra'ivavaeans still feel that the sea habours tupapa'u - demons waiting to drag them down to the spirit lands which lie below - and they dare not brave this danger. They still tell stories of a witch-woman of the sea, ensnared by fishermen of a p0receding generation, who was mated with a High Islander and left her human descendants to multiply here when she returned to her former home. But now, only the ships of foreigners sail where once vessels of discovery, war fleets, and venturesome fishermen regularly embarked upon Kiva's Ocean. Even during the turtle season few canoes venture beyond the reef to hunt the beasts which were once so hungrily sought. The island is passive, receiving what the Pacific washes up on its shores: an occasional iron buoy torn from foreign harbours, dozens of green glass Japanese fishing floats, and great trees from other lands. Moreover, the intimate knowledge of the fish-bearing ocean currents and the grounds and holes where different kinds of fish could be caught has vanished together with the ironwood spear and club. 

It is the barrier reef which provides the boundary which sets off the familiar from the strange. The work of myriad minute animals, this massive defense encircles the island's mile or so from the shore. The exterior slopes form a subterranean coral plateau which blunts the waves rolling in from far distant seas and protects the shallow waters and fertile shore-lands within. Most of the wide reef is shallowly swash with the sea, but at irregular intervals some forty sand banks rise sufficiently high above the ocean to form atollons or islets. These are called motu. Most are covered with vegetation and for centuries have been a major economic asset. All are owned and the lots are neatly marked off with boundary stones. The primordial cover, which once provided great groves of toa for the war spears and pandanus for both house construction and food, is now being burned off and replanted with coconut trees in order to provide another source of cash revenue. Immense gnarled toa trees, split and warped by centuries of exposure to the wind, are being given up to fire. One can still walk through knee-high depths of pandanus leaves and ponder the fertility of the seemingly and bare coral.

Once these reef islets were the site of pagan temples and houses. Now their only permanent inhabitants are the rats which live there in large numbers. But the islanders till visit them to collect pandanus leaves or coconuts, to search for marketable sea shells, or to grill a few fish when en route home from their excursions into the lagoon. The Ra'ivanaean woman who otherwise seldom sets foot in a canoe occasionally sails out to gather shellfish or a special variety of the sea slug. There the men seize great numbers of ocean crayfish for which Ra'ivavae is famous throughout the central islands. When the tide and sea are fifth one can easily walk from islet to islet along the reef, listening to the roar of the surf, the crashing breakers which cause a fine mist to hang in the air. Though the coral base is sharp and rugged, banks of pure-white sand extend far out into the lagoon. Two breaks in the reef, probably a result of fresh-water runoffs from the steep northern and western slopes, provide navigable passes at Tetobe and Totoro Abau though which strong currents surge. These passes could be valuable assets to the island's commerce.  

During our weeks on Ra'ivavae we were to make many visits to the lovely islets, looking for temples and habitation sites, trying to understand the economic cycle and varied life scenes of the people. We found that the clean white sand was actually composed of countless fragments of broken sea shells, most of them bleached white by the sun. Surprisingly, this sand provides a rich soil for growing fine coconut trees, better than the poor ones which are to be found ashore. In all, the barrier reef was the equivalent of a full-scale atoll of the kind that make up such Polynesian island groups as the Tuamotus, the Northern Cooks, or the Tokelaus. This means that the few inhabitants of Ra'ivavae have economic assets which are usually of a high, volcanic central land mass comparable to such islands of Tahiti. And they can reap the fruit of the barrier reef - the southernmost of Eastern Polynesia - the full equivalent to such atolls as Hao or Anaa.

The barrier reef also forms a deep lagoon between the motu and the fringing shore reef. The channel of the lagoon, though studded with huge coral heads, provides a passage through which a schooner can reach most of the island. Varying in depth, the lagoon offers a great variety of fish to the present-day High Islander without driving him to the danger of the deep seas. toward the shore is another reef, the very shallow fringing surface. This keeps out the waves which form in the lagoon and provides a calm belt of water around the island. This is Ra'ivave's chief avenue for getting from one place to another. Every part of the island is rapidly available by canoe transport. Heavy and bulky loads are easily carried in canoes, which are propelled by polling rather than by the more arduous labour of paddling. The shallow and sandy waters also provide needy widowed women, the aged, and the infirm with an endless supply of easily accessible shellfish and sea slugs.

At the heart of the series of concentric rings set in the broad Pacific is Ra'ivavae, less s than eight square miles of bristling land. An easy morning's walk will bring one entirely around it, wave for the precipitous western extremity, which lacks a path and must be visited by canoe. A range of mountain peaks splits the island in two from east to west, and, in turn, this jagged backbone is divided in the western part by mountains rising to the north and south. These heights form several relatively segregated lowland areas which slope to the sea and which were the natural bases for the boundaries between the independent districts into which the island was divided. The many rivers and the runoff from the mountains are the source of five great taro-growing areas. These are subdivided, in turn, into many smaller valleys by steep ridges which finger out from the major hills almost to the lagoon shores. Just offshore from the eastern tip of the island is the twin-peaked high islet Hotu Atua, whose bizarre shape is the subject of many numerous folk tales. Now it is a place where the islanders stop and rest after their trips into the lagoon.

Over the years, the narrow shore plain was formed by runoff from the steep hill slopes above coupled with a slight over-all emergence of the island from the sea. Nowadays this slender belt of land is the site of all habitation and of most economic activity. Once, great taro fields were scattered throughout the island, rising in man-made terraces well u into the hills. Now they are modest affairs handy to the needs of a more apathetic, greatly reduced population. permanent homes are scattered along the inland side of the narrow path which parallels the shore of much of the island, but most tend to cluster near the churches and singing-houses which are centrally located in each of the four sub-districts of Ra'ivavae. The muddy, poorly kept trail with its shaky pole bridges spanning the small streams is mainly used for foot traffic or an occasional horseman. There is not a motor vehicle or even a wheeled cart on Ra'ivavae. Splendid as it is, seen at certain times, there is a depressing look to High Island. On both sides of the tawdry path there is a strong of lime pits dug at intervals of a few hundred yards. Lime is made by burning coral chunks from the lagoon together with huge  quantities of wood. this produces a fire which is sufficiently hot to reduce the coral to pure lime. Over the years, these pits have consumed much of the rich vegetation which once covered Ra'ivavae.

Landward are great masses of hibiscus trees, used by the islanders for a variety of purposes, from fashioning bandages from its bark to interlacing its leaves to make blankets. But even these trees cannot redeem the air of neglect which seems to have overtaken that part of Ra'ivavae where people live and work. With the change from the old ways of growing taro in water to the modern "dry-land" cultivation, the finer points of island agriculture seem to have been forgotten. The streams, which now pour from the hills and form foul backwaters and malodorous pools, are used for both baths and laundry. How different from that fervent past when people chanted:

Clasp - ever clasp us in thy lover's embrace,
O Pool-reflecting-the-white-clouds!
Thou whose cold waters are gazed upon each day
by the young women.
Thou art caressed by the chill fingers of the
highland breeze,
Wafted from the brow of the bold mountain
named of old Ridged-crest-of-the-awakened one,--
A breeze heavy with the fragrance of kavaro flowers,
Drifting
Drifting
Drifting down
into the pool reflecting the white clouds of the sky!.

The loss of a sense of beauty, together with the degeneration of pride in order and cleanliness, have lead to the replacement of order by disorder and of loveliness by ugliness. Even nature herself was affected by contact with the West. For with the whalers and missionaries came weeds and new flowering plants. And the ornamental plants, lovely in the domestic gardens of Europe, escaped from the cultivations of man to become monstrous weeds which turned picturesque parkland valleys into tangled morasses. In the foothills that rise up from the inhabited coastal strip there stand occasional banana plants, and here and there bread-fruit, candlenut, chestnut, and banyan trees. But the ancient upland taro fields and the temple and assembly grounds of old are overgrown with the coffee tree, now the main economic mainstay of the island. Beloved by Ra'ivavaeans for their beauty, the mountains have little economic value. Their steep ridges have been thrust up through fractured layers of both igneous and sedimentary rock, and the resulting caves serve as refuges when hurricane winds and high seas smack down the coconut trees, flood the taro beds, and flatten the frail houses. Once, splintery outcrops of the volcanic uplift provided ready-made phallic uprights for the temples and slabs for the altar walls. While layers of sedimentary coral-sand rock, easily split into squares, were used in the decoration of the marae and now make excellent building blocks for home or church. The talus slopes of mountain debris support a few guava bushes, and though coconut trees sprout from the crevices in the face of the cliff, their fruit is contemptibly small and lies rotting and unused at the hole of the trees. 

Bands of wild goats ranged on the grassy plateaus and saddle-like tops of the mountain ridges which spread out below us. Before their ancestors were forced to these heights there was more forest land and a higher water table than at present. But years of grazing wiped away the cover, and where once the verdure-clad mountaintops held the excess rainwater, now it runs off in torrents during a storm - lost to nature and man. A as the ancient vegetation had gone, so had the land birds. Not even the peaky European mynah bird, now a normal part of the wildlife in other Polynesian islands, disrupts the stillness of Ra'ivavae. Occasionally one of us would startle a blue heron into stately flight, and frequently, as we worked over the hills and ridges, a red and white tropic bird would soar around us. On the mountains there were exactly three wild ducks. Georges had taken pains to prevent their extinction, hoping that they might propagate.

The cold wind from the south whistled around us as Jim sketched, Georges watched for game, and I pondered. I was trying to visualize the difference between the ways of life of those Polynesians who lived on the high islands such as we were now exploring and those who lived on the sandy atolls similar to the barrier reef and motu which surrounded Ra'ivavae. I realised that despite the dramatic beauty of these mountains, despite the economic value of the stone for making adzes and altar walls, they had little if any greater cultural significance than did the central lagoon of the low islands. For the mountains were barren and impeded communications, while the lagoon provided fish, shellfish, pearls, and pearl shell, and was a convenient ocean waterway. Although the valleys of high islands could support taro and breadfruit and provide a more constant source of water, dwellers in the low islands raised their essential Polynesian foods on the motu and dug wells for their water.

This brought me to the conclusion that the term "Children of the Sea" was more than a boastful self-appellation of the Polynesians. They are essentially a sea people, not a land people. Whe4ther dwelling on the narrow strip of humus soil which encircles the mountainous cones of Ra'ivavae and Tahiti or living on the atolls of Anaa or Hikueru, the Polynesian is never more than a few yards from the sea. He either spends hours a day fishing in it, or imbibes it in the salt-water sauces which accompany his daily meals. He once sprinkled it on temple pavings to render them sacred, he still uses it to heal the newly super-incised penis of the adolescent boy and to cleanse and soothe the woman who has just given birth.

The sea is the most permeating element in Polynesian life. So important is it, I leaned, that one does not seek the embrace of women before venturing upon its surface, or defile it by allowing a woman in new menses to pass over it. He who plans to fish over the reef is careful to abstain from relations with his wife the night before - and if a wife betrays the fisherman at sea, he will not be allowed any catch. From these revelations I realized that in Ra'ivavae, despite the great beauty, despite the geographic complexity, we were dealing with a typically Polynesian culture. Certainly the local geographic condition had affected to some degree the way of life derived from the original Polynesian ancestors, but I knew that in making my analyses I could rely upon my knowledge of Polynesian and upon comparative material from other islands to aid me to comprehending the local way of life.

Source: Ra'ivavae
By Donald Marshall
Doubleday & Company, New York, 1962

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