Date: Friday 21st May
Time: 1900 hours Tahiti Time (GMT – 10 hours)
Position: Opoa Bay, Raiatea, Leeward Islands
Bula Viti kei Rotuma
Raiatea and Tahaa share a common fringing reef with ten different passages through the reef. We passed through Teavamoa Pass at 9.30am this morning led by Faafaite, Marumaru Atua, us then, Hine Moana and finally Te Matau a Maui.
We anchored in the same order close to the Taputapuatea Marae, between two red shore beacons.
Prior to entering the pass, we had already changed into our traditional costumes. Everyone on board except for Oscar and Lomaloma were wearing traditional clothing.
Johnathan and I had our faces painted in Red and Black by Ratu Manoa. Carson wore a traditional warrior loincloth outfit with a spear (moto) in one hand and a war club (toto kia) in the other. Carson’s friends and family won’t believe it but yes Carson was in full costume (letting it all hang out) and I have the photos to prove it. He looked spectacular and was the centre of attraction today.
Once anchored, we raised the awning to get out of the scorching sun and waited for a ride to shore. A double hull paddling canoe made of two V.6 canoes with a large platform in the middle pulled up alongside to take the first load.
Ratu Manoa, Johnathan, Steven, Salome, Unaisi, Sonny, and Rupeni were in the first load. As we moved to shore we realised all the other crews were waiting in the water, 25 metres from corralled inside a plaited rope made of green leaves which was held by three priests.
This was a concern as we were dressed in masi which does not like salt water. But somehow the paddlers knew this and took us straight to shore to a small sandy beach where a small crowd was gathered.
As we got off the canoe, the drums started beating and a priest stepped forward to tell us we could not come ashore yet. So we stood in knee-deep water and waited for over an hour in the hot sun.
As we waited I noticed a wall either side of the beach made from volcanic rock and coral slabs. I remember reading that the coral was bought to shore from the outer reefs.
First a fire was lit on the reef at low tide so that the hard coral cracked. Then the pieces were transported ashore and placed upright in a volcanic rock foundation. These rock foundations line the shore for over 300 metres facing the Teavamoa Pass.
I was carrying the kuro, which weighed a ton and I was glad when finally all the crews had reached the rope enclosure. A Tahitian woman and man started chanting out from shore for the others to proceed to shore.
Once all the crews were close to the beach, the high priest stepped forward to make a speech and then he called an elder forward to do a ‘pure’ (prayer). Each crew was then called ashore.
We were led up a narrow walkway and were greeted by the elders on either side. At the end of the line, the high priest waited to greet us in Maori fashion, forehead to forehead followed by the French kiss on both cheeks.
Then we walked along a path lined by drummers towards the main marae. There seemed to be several marae around the area and I hope to explore in more detail tomorrow.
The high priest led us forward onto the marae which consisted of a rock formation I estimated to be 40 metres x 30 metres. The rocks were black volcanic rocks and the surface was quite difficult to walk on because it was so uneven.
Everyone remained standing while the high priest started with a chant then he motioned to the women sitting on the ocean side of us to sing a song. Beside the women was a group of children who sang next.
Then a young girl who would have been only eleven or twelve stepped forward to do the ‘Orero’ or oration as we had heard on Moorea. She started off slowly and at first I thought to myself, this girl is no where as good as the young boy at the Atitia Cultural School on Moorea.
Then her hand motions and voice become more pronounced and demanding of our attention. For the last two minutes there were tears running down her face and you could feel the strength in her message even though we could not understand a word she said.
Later Charley Maitere, our Tahitian guest crew member explained that her speech was very emotional and even he was in tears when he attempted to translate the message.
Following the Orero, the high priest signaled for the crews to reply in the same order we had entered the pass. We waited patiently for Faafaite and Marumaru Atua to complete their unique presentations.
The President of their Voyaging Societies made a small speech which was followed by a haka then the laying of stones on the marae alter. The alter was directly in the centre along the back wall facing the passage. Keep in the mind the marae was actually quite a distance from the shore. I would estimate we were at least a hundred metres from the little beach that we stepped ashore on.
Then it was our turn and Ratu Manoa started directing the ‘Curu ki na mata ni naga’ ceremony. First Carson stepped forward towards the alter and turned to face us a little to the right of the alter.
The rest of us then moved out towards the entrance of the marae to await his call. When Carson yelled “Lave”, we proceeded forward towards the alter and stood in a line to the right of the alter.
Then Ratu Manoa turned to face the back of the marae and called out “mai davo”. Kelekele, Sonny, Moala and Steven moved forward directly in front of the alter and turned to face the sea.
One by one they went down on to their knees and lay face down on the hard uneven rock floor. As each of them lay down Ratu Manoa called out “toso i loma” to get them to squeeze as close together as possible.
Once they were as close as they could get, Ratu stepped forward and made a small speech before stepping on to the backs of the four lying face down. Stepping one foot at a time he walked across their back until in front of Carson.
Then he yelled out “mai o iko” for Johnathan first and then me next to follow what he had just done. You could hear the crowd awe around us but I did not let me eyes wonder for fear of losing my balance as I walked over my fellow crew members backs.
The next instruction was “tu cake” and the four guys stood one by one. Next we prepared the kava ceremony as we have been doing at each welcome ceremony. This was followed by the presentation of a kuro (clay cooking pot) and two breadfruit seedlings which we hope to plant tomorrow with the mayor of Raiatea.
After all the presentations, the high priest led us to another marae which was much the same as the last although much smaller and right beside the ocean. I would say it was 20 metres x 20 metres.
Here we were to have a traditional Tahitian Kava ceremony that turned out to be very interesting. Only three from each canoe were invited to participate in the ceremony.
A priest dressed in a red sulu and with a large turtle tattooed on his chest stepped forward and invited us onto the marae and instructed us to step on left foot first. A circle of thatched coconut fronds lay on the rocks under a large Tahitian Chestnut tree.
At one end of the circle lay a tanoa on the rocks covered in leaves. Behind the Tanoa sat a middle aged man dressed in a white sulu and tunic. Ratu Manoa joked that the way he was sitting looked like a Chinaman at the market. His legs were not crossed. I noticed the tanoa was a Fijian tanoa with four legs. The circle of thatched leaves had a small opening close to where the tanoa was sitting.
Following a long speech from the priest in the red sulu, the high priest called each person forward by name and showed them where they must sit on the coconut fronds.
Everyone entered the circle through the opening near the tanoa. Once we were all seated, a girl came into the circle to serve the kava. As she lifted each bilo up from the tanoa, the high priest called out a name and that person clapped so that they could receive the bilo.
The only female in the group was Onofo from Tonga. When I received my bowl, I noticed the sweet taste of the kava. When I reached the bottom of the bowl, I realised it was mixed with bu juice (young coconut milk).
Everyone had only one bilo then the kava ceremony was over and the priest came around the circle to embrace each person. The whole time this was going on, the rest of the crews were watching from outside the marare.
By this stage we were all very hungry as it was after 2pm and we had all been up since 5am.
We are looking forward to exploring Raiatea tomorrow.
Colin/Uto ni Yalo
Report by Satellite Phone courtesy of DIGICEL