Thursday, December 31, 2015

Roots: Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands

Got out of town on a boat goin' to Southern islands
Sailing a reach before a followin' sea
She was makin' for the trades on the outside
And the downhill run to Papeete

Off the wind on this heading lie the Marquesas

You understand now why you came this way
'Cause the truth you might be runnin' from is so small
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a comin' day

                                                                                    Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills & Nash

As a child reading Nat Geo magazines, I dreamed of becoming an anthropologist traveling to some mystical  place learning about new cultures and perhaps, myself, in the process.

Almost 40 years later I’m standing on the deck of a ship that has carried me across the South Pacific Ocean for over six weeks. Although I had already seen incredibly beautiful islands, as the sun rose through the mist while approaching Nuku Hiva, an inexplicable excitement stirred within me.

On one side of the ship lie untamed mountains with jagged edges and indentations forming ominous faces and figures in the shadows. On the other side, the partially submerged rocks collectively resemble a fat man lying on his back exposing his chin and belly toward the sun. The sun’s rays poke through the clouds, highlighting parts of the mountain and the moored sailboats sprinkled throughout the harbor.

The air feels electric with anticipation.

And then I feel the drums--deep, carnal, visceral, tribal, and hauntingly familiar.
They rattle my bones and stir my blood as if an untethered cord within me has been waiting until this visit to connect me to my roots and my story. Here, in this wildly beautiful island, I have found one of the few places that I feel rooted.

Arriving on shore I wondered what the explorers must have felt hundreds of years ago when they first arrived if they received the same welcome. The massive drums, carved from tree trunks and covered with animal or sharkskin, resonate in your bones. The dancing lifts your spirits, and the singing shifts from playful to wailing.

Nuku Hiva, the largest island of the Marquesas, has natural majestic beauty in its soaring spire-like mountain peaks, secluded valleys, and waterfalls. It also has an interesting heritage. Some studies suggest the earliest discoverers came from Samoa 2000 years ago. Over time the population exceeded the available resources. Notably, cannibalism was observed and documented by the missionaries, and different theories have attempted to explain why many Polynesian tribes adopted the practice.

Like many other ports, the churches re-directed part of the island’s history. Nuku HIva, though, still has many ancient sacred sites with petroglyphs—remnants of their previous beliefs carved into stone. Other parts of the island are currently being excavated for the ancient relics from sacred sites.

At one such site, I could see and hear powerful waves slamming into the rocks. Then, as the water receded over the lava rocks and pebbles I could hear a soft little melody. This contrast offered a beautiful metaphor for the ebb and flow of life. As ancient as the petroglyphs are, a visible spiritual reverence appears in the stones, as well as in the other tikis and carvings observed throughout the island. Spirituality speaks to our soul’s connection to heaven and earth, and each other, through our heart. Regardless of location or time, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. We are all connected.

People here appear happy and peaceful, acquiring all they need from the land and sea. The tales of their life and their values, their connection to the earth and each other can be seen permanently memorialized in the designs of their tattoos. As I walked along the black sandy beaches sparkling with mica-like gold flecks, I observed one man washing his horse under a palm tree and another playing with his dogs in the ocean.  I saw families swimming and barbecuing by the ocean, and musicians hanging out playing the Tahitian ukulele. At the market craftsmen displayed their hand-carved woodwork and women sold handmade shell and pearl jewelry. People laughed and shared papaya, mangoes, and coconuts. And everywhere there were flowers. The women wear fragrant flowers like frangipani or tiare (gardenia) as garlands and head bands, and the vibrant colors of flowering trees can be seen everywhere you walk.

The lyrics of CSN’s Southern Cross ring true: I understand now why I came this way.