Thursday, July 19, 2007

July 19, Papeete


Still in Papeete, still working on a myriad of minor boat repairs and improvements. The wind is gone so we are not missing much out on the sea. The Heiva festival is almost over. We have seen dance shows with casts of close to 200 hip swaying women, tattooed men of war, costume changes, orchestras and singers depicting creation myths, pop bands singing American covers (Rollin on the River and Blue Suede Shoes being particular crowd favorites), quilting, basketry and elaborate shell jewelry contests, stone lifters, javelin throwers, fruit carrying races, and military pomp and circumstance for Bastille Day.
July is a big month around here. This is –supposedly, I hope I am not here long enough to find out – the coolest month of the year here. A good time for the athletes who have sweated it out all year to show their stuff. My personal favorite has been the outrigger canoe races.
Canoe, va’a in Tahitian, is really big here. When I first arrived I was thrilled at all the small boats but I did not imagine in my wildest dreams how many there were. (I suppose that living at anchor out in the lagoon it is only natural that this would be what was all around me. Better than cars and vehicle noise!) Boats are stored everywhere along the shore and across the street from the beach. Inside, outside, lots of them. Cars are sold with “racks va’a” (canoe racks) just like ski racks in the US. There are singles, triples, sixes, twelves (2 sixes rigged together), and for special occasions, sixteens. Novices learn in 12-kid barges with life vests. In the morning, at lunchtime, near sundown, the boats move onto the water for a spin. Some look to be recreational, some competitive, some single sex, some mixed boats. (This is in the big city, apparently in the old days canoes were tabu for women). The bow oarsman steers and directs the other oarsmen with what sounds like singing or chanting.
The races ranged in distance from 6 km to the big marathon around Moorea of 84 km (roughly 50 miles). The winners of the senior women’s marathon (I didn’t get the distance) completed in one hour and 46 minutes and that team, an elite group that competes internationally, was way ahead of the other 18 boats. The Moorea race is men only, and there were about 50 boats competing. This year the seas were calm and the winners, Shell Va’a (sponsored by Shell Oil), broke a record by completing the course in just under 6 hours. Small boats lined the passage between Moorea and Tahiti to watch the finish. Having sailed the ten miles between islands on a windy day with high seas really gives one an appreciation for the courage and tenacity of these athletes and their Polynesian ancestors who colonized the South Pacific in these small craft.
Tomorrow night we see the winners of the song and dance contests. Should be memorable.

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