Sunday, July 30, 2006

July 20, Papeete, Tahiti

Last night I took my crew out to dinner. We walked down the empty street, blocked off for the fruit carriers' race. When we found the center of activity we found that the race was over and the participants were being congratulated and pictures taken. These guys are big, burly fellows in loin cloths, all sweaty, with leis around their necks. Young women were standing close for the photos. As we walked on we saw a temporary venue set up similar to temporary music venues we see at home. People were streaming in so we investigated. Some people had tickets and some didn't. Those of us without were seated together near the large stage though on the sides. It was the night of Polynesian traditional athletics which gave context to the fruit carriers' race. On stage were four stations, each with a large pile of coconuts. in another part of the stage there were large, smooth stones of various sizes. These items turned out not to be stage props but rather the objects of competition. The coconuts were used in the copra speed game, the stones for weight lifting.The copra competition involved teams of three, one chopper and two diggers. the chopper swung a short axe, splitting coconuts in half then pitching them back to the diggers who, with a special tool dug the coconut meat out of the shell. Of course with every swing of the axe coconut milk would fly everywhere. The diggers flung the empty shells into a messy pile. It looked like mayhem to me. After all the coconuts were split and dug the contestants collected the meat and filled a burlap bag. the first to be declared finished by the judges won the contest. There were women's and men's divisions. the women completed 50 coconuts, the men 100. The stands were full of cheering as the teams neared the finish. The winners did a little victory dance. And to think that two months ago I didn't even know what copra was! And if you too don't know, copra is dried coconut meat that is pressed to extract the oil. Copra production is a cottage industry among the South Sea Islands.
Interspersed between the competitions was dancing with music accompaniment. Young men and women danced. There was some singing as well as drum accompaniment. The women looked alluring and the men looked fierce. first off in the stone lifting competition was the women's division. They were to hoist a 50 kg stone from the ground to rest on their shoulder. The lift was timed and the fastest lift won the competition. Each had two tries. All but one woman wore some type of one piece dress sort of thing. The remaining one wore a two piece outfit in bright red. Each woman in turn stepped up on the dais, squatted behind the stone while working to find the right hugging hold on the smooth surface. Then when all was just right she attempted to lift it to her shoulder in one smooth motion. It often didn't quite work out and the attempt was wither slow or failed. The skinniest woman seemed to have the best technique and a matter-of-fact style that caught the attention and appreciation of the audience. But not as much attention or appreciation as when the woman in the two-piece red number made her first lift. As she rolled the stone across her chest she suffered a wardrobe malfunction exposing her breasts to about two thousand cheering, laughing fans. But bless her, she finished the lift to her shoulder before throwing down the stone and grabbing her halter. For a guy who hasn't seen his wife for three months she was definitely best of show.The men's competition followed with several weight classes. In each class the stone weighed more than the competitor. The flyweight men lifted 80 kg. The big dogs lifted 150 kg. For those of you metrically disinclined, that's 330 lbs.
My crew, Mark and Shelly, left the boat today. I was sad to see them off. We have had a lot of fun together for the last month. they are headed to New Zealand by plane. My sister, Ann, is flying in tonight and will be aboard for almost a month.

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