Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sacred Sites

Pictures are below the text...

Yesterday's tour of Hiva Oa was a feast for all the senses, included the sixth if we had been tuned in at the sacred sites. Our friends on Chapter Two arranged the tour with Marie Jo for eight, so she had a full load with four people inside and four riding on bench seats in the covered rear of the SUV truck. We barely had room for all the fruit we picked en route!

Marie Jo does not speak a lot of English so I was her mouthpiece as no-one else understood as much French.I warned the group that I sometimes use my imagination if I do not fully understand, so the translation may sound more fantastical than the truth. However, the real truth was pretty unbelievable at times.

Our first visit was to a site at Ta'a'oa, dedicated to the god/chief Iupeke of the Tiu tribe. The complex of terraced rock ruins included a large grassy platform which was used for festivals (dancing and singing) and settlement of inter-tribal disputes. The big chief would sit on a paepae (stone platform) above the warriors and common crowds. The chiefess would sit behind the chief on a separate paepae. Having read Herman Melville's book "Typee", which took place on Nuku Hiva, I got the impression that women were not involved in chiefly decisions and kept in the background on these occasions.

We were not altogether surprised when Marie Jo pointed out the cooking pit where prisoners were roasted. Their heads were severed and hung in the banyan trees presiding over the complex like stately sentinels. Maybe roasted pig was on the menu most days? There was also a sacrificial stone platform for offering up the odd virgin. May the gods forgive our irreverent photo poses!

Our guide very graciously allowed us to take some papayas and tiny red chilli peppers growing amongst the ancient ruins. This was the start of our day long fruit fest! Next, we stopped at Marie Jo's home to pick up some sour apples which she cracked open on the ground. They were like under-ripe pear in taste but had thick skin, were more fibrous and contained a lot of edible seeds. I also took a few limes which had fallen off a tree and plucked some unripe mangoes for chutney.

The forty three kilometre drive to the sacred site of Puama'ou was along a windy road which wove through lush valleys of fruits and flowers and up and down the coastal mountains. A lot of it was unpaved and, like the logging roads up north, very rough. Marie used her first gear quite frequently as we either nose-dived down or strained up the steep, rutted and rock strewn route. while on one side we had tremendous views of the ocean and the islands of Mohotani and Fatu Uku, on the other we marveled at the nimble goats hopping up and down the rocky slopes.

Occasionally we passed through a small village at the head of a bay and waved at the few locals walking by. According to Marie these people make their living by fishing or gathering fruits like coconuts and noni for export.

We stopped frequently to pick up guavas hanging from roadside trees and to take photos of the wonderful panorama. I love fruit but even I was guava'd out by the time we reached Puama'u!

The large ceremonial site, Me'ae Iipona, at Puama'u is located on the northeast of the island. We were very impressed at the number of well perserved tikis still standing after thousands of years in an unprotected wet forest area. The largest tiki outside of Easter Island is of the great warrior Chief Takii. There is also a female tiki representing the priestess Tau'a Pepe who died giving birth to a son. Carved by her husband, the statue shows her in throes of death (maki'i). Carved heads placed at various places represented human sacrifices.

In the softly falling drizzle we felt awed by the beauty of the carvings. The hushed atmosphere of the temple was hardly disturbed by Marie Jo wacking pamplemousse from the trees with a huge bamboo stick!

While the rest of the group had a pre-ordered typical Marquesan lunch in the village, Chris and I opted for a beachside vegetarian picnic of baguettes and Camembert cheese. It was quite delicious. We also realised why Puama'u is not a good place for access by sailboat. The rollers are quite ferocious and unless you were a champion surfer you would be in deep peril trying to land on shore.

We barely stopped on the journey home.Of course We had to stop for a short hike in the forest to say hello to the  "Smiling Tiki".

It's a good thing we went on a guided tour yeesterday. Our own attempt at finding a local petroglyph site today ended prematurely where a swollen river blocked the trail, as dark and ravening hordes of mosquitos descended.

Beach at Puama'u

Unusual prone Tiki (possibly used for sacrifices?)

Tiki of Chief Takii at Me'ae Iipona

Maki'i tau 'a pepe

Bird of Paradise Flower

Rani imprisoned

Tiki of Iupeke

Ceremonial grounds at Ta'a'oa

Goats were common along the road

View towards Atuona - note tree ferns

Our tour group

Hibiscus flowers are worn by Polynesian women
Me'ae Iipona site at Puama'u

Prone tiki at Me'ae Iipona

Brian off  S/V Zulu looks at Tiki of Chief Takii at Me'ae Iipona 

Me'ae Iipona site at Puama'u

Marie Jo - our tour guide and Marlene off S/V Zulu

Beach at Puama'u
Ata kua - smiling tiki

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