We arrived into Nukuhiva late Saturday night, yesterday (Sunday)we got up at 5.30am to prepare for the welcome ceremony. We changed our rig to the traditional Sails. All the Vaka were anchored in a bay called Haka Paa on the eastern side of the island we then sailed around the point into Taipivai for the Ceremony…WOW!
Taipivai is an inlet surround by 150m high ridges on either side, the cliffs run straight into the sea, the wash foams on a rugged rocky edge, goats roam the steep inclines. It is spectacular, on the windswept side (to port as we enter) of the bay the trees are bent at right angles almost leafless, across the bay Coconut trees are in abundance. We sail maybe a kilometer into the bay and anchor a 100 meters off the shore, there is a 2 foot swell rolling into the black sandy shore…we can see a crowd on the beach. The ceremony has started…we hear the drums…Cook Islands drumming is awesome, but this is different, it is guttural almost, the pau are shoulder high and hit with the palms to a heart racing beat. You can feel the beat in the pit of your stomach, I can’t wait to get ashore. We squeeze into our rubber ducky and paddle in, carefully landing through the small shore break we race our dinghy up the beach. We are embraced by the locals with ei tiare maohi and plaited rauti and pape a’ari (nu) ”Kaoha” the welcome is warm and genuine.
As I look along the beachline there are makeshift huts of Kikau for shade, all the leaves from the au trees are raked, the are umu are just 30 metres inland, the smell of food wafts towards us, my stomach reminds me I am hungry. The ceremony has started, the drums are thumping…he hah heh…he hah heh! It is Marquesas culture – we have arrived! The dancers are having the time of their lives some of the men are in the fifties and still going strong. Each Vaka has the opportunity to respond, Faafaite is recognised first, we know their songs now (sort of) and sing along. The call goes for Marumaru Atua to come forward. Harry starts our Amu, he is tall and proud, his voice thunders over the crowd..we line up behind him the adrenalin kicks in…”Ivitu ka Ivitu” before I know it our amu is complete and we are off stage and mingling with our Vaka family. Hugging and backslapping, for want of a better word, the camaraderie, maybe its Ohana, it is pulling the Seven Vaka together. Is this Te Mana o Te Moana? Maybe.
The NZ Maori Vaka of Te Matau a Maui and Haunui combine for a hair-raising Haka. They are inspired, they are pumped, in a word awesome. The Fijians, the Samoans, the combined Nations of Hine Moana, performances are improving everytime. But this is different it is not a performance, it is not an act, it is pure desire to show our best to our hosts. We are simply grateful to be here. All the men of the Vaka of invited to join te henua Enana (the land of Men) in a kind of “ura puaka” the actions are simple but effective. We grunt the sound of the pig, slap our thighs then just the right thigh as we stamp our right leg forward “he hah heh..he hah heh” then we swing our heads to the right…heeeeeh!
At this stage the rumbles from my stomach are matching those of the drums..almost in time too. Kaikai time, same here as at home. We start with fresh fruit, watermelon, coconut, oranges, a version of Varaoa Manihiki, sweet grapefruit. 4 members from each Vaka are taken by bus to the venue for the Cultural Festival to be held in December this year. Here they plant sandalwood trees. When they return, the main kaikai starts, the pork is moist, the beef is tender and the goat is tasty. Ika mata, cooked bananas, salads, moina tai, bottled Vaimato water. Our plates are kapu akari. Wow what a feed…time for a siesta.
Sarah’s family (via Brando in Papeete) turn up with bananas, Vi kavakava, tiporo,pumpkins, goats, pork and more. The generosity is humbling. This is the magic of our Vaka and our Pacific family, they give and they give… and they give and ask for nothing in return, except that we are safe on the sea. I can’t wait until we can reciprocate, it maybe some time away, it may be to their children or even their grandchildren, but this memory will stay with all of us forever.