Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cannibals – Don’t Go There

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The Marquesians are well known for being cannibal tribes. There are about 9,500 people, primarily Polynesians, living in the Marquesas today. Its estimated that when the European ships first started stopping by the islands the population was 130,000. The tribes were fairly isolated from each other, living in valleys that had such steep mountains around them that direct connection between tribes was somewhat limited. On the island we are at now, Nuka Hiva, which is the largest in the Marquesas, the tribes were basically allied on a NW to SE line dividing the island into two teams. These teams were pretty much continuously at war. The explanation given to us was that they didn’t have anything else to do. When the wars tapered off between the groups, then each group had time to have some war bonding time with their closer by allies.

The results of being captured by your enemy were not pleasant. Likely a sacrifice for the chiefs and priests- to eat.

nukahivaIMG_0374We got to view a Marquesain dance. There has been a concerted effort to recover the old ways and tribal history over the last few decades. These dancers put on a great show and clearly enjoyed what they were doing. And those are real tatoos.

nukahivaIMG_0383 It could have been a contrived cruise-ship moment – but it wasn’t. If you’ve ever seen the New Zealand All-Blacks do their pre-game Haka, it is pretty obviously derived from these Marquesian dances.

 nukahivaIMG_0405 Vessels hanging in Taeohe harbor, Nuka Hiva. The biggest sailboat you see in the center of the harbor is the 203 foot Athos. (Georgia is one of the specks on the left.)

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We took a tour of the island with some other cruisers. Both Chris and I have been reading Herman Melville's book ‘Typee’. This covers his time when he jumped from a whaling ship in Nuka Hiva and worked his way to the Taipivai valley and lived with the Taipi (or Typee) tribe. We visited some of the religious/ceremonial sites he talks about in his book. Above are the deep holes in a stone platform, called a meae, up the valley from Taipivai. The back one is the larger. It held drugged prisoners captured while warring. The forward one is smaller. It held the next sacrifice to be on deck.

nukahivaIMG_0448 That’s Chris and I sitting in front of the prisoner holes. The ceremonial platforms were built around sacred banyan trees, like the ancient one behind us.

IMG_0400 This was tool actually used – and witnessed by a missionary – in a sacrifice.

NukaHivaIMG_0480 The curved stone here has broken off from its platform. In its day, it would have been upright. This is a cruisers re-enactment of a sacrifice. Apparently the sacrificee was face down and a large stick with a stone on the end was smashed down on his head. Then the delicious eyes, heart and liver were shared among the upper class.

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Some ancient petroglyphs.

NukaHivaIMG_0470 Today there are many Catholic churches on the island, this one with a tiki in the front.

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The iconography in the church includes the classic baby Jesus holding a breadfruit, sacred food of the Marquesians.

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The Marquesians are master carvers, as demonstrated by this beautifully carved pulpit in one of the churches we visited.

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A larger look at the breadfruit carrier.

nukahivaIMG_0397 Rose (center) is famous among Pacific cruisers. She has had a restaurant, pension, gift shop for decades, having arrived with her husband in the 1970’s in Nuka Hiva. Here she is showing us her small but impressive collection of very old Marquesian artifacts. She is looking for a museum to take over and preserve the collection.

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Rose keeps guest books signed by the cruisers who have stopped by her establishment over the years. The older ones are really interesting. Some of them have red notes written in the margins such as: sunk on reef in the Tuamotos, lost in Cyclone…. The page above is from our friend Karl from the Edmonds sailing club (Edmonds CYC) when he passed through on his boat Arkenstone in 1990.

Paul

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