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Puaa oa in the Marquesas - Long Pig in the Land of Men Previous Log
Date: 3 May 2008 Next Log
Pacific Ocean > French Polynesia > Hiva Oa > Atuona Log Menu

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We have arrived to the legendary shores of the Marquesas, a small group of islandsHiva Oa - Approach to Ta'aoa Bay at sunrise. in the eastern portion of French Polynesia. This archipelago is often the first landfall for sailors on the "Coconut Milk Run" after the long 3000-mile passage from the Galapagos - and are known as the farthest islands from any continental land.

The Marquesans are historically known for cannibalism, tribal warfare, tattoos, sexual immorality and all sorts of other cool stuff that beckons to the young, pleasure-seeking adventurer! They stand out as a sort of Shangri-La of the South Seas.

But alas, the good ol' days are long gone and the hedonistic pagans of yore are dust in the ground. As the temples lay lost and forgotten under the rotting leaves of the pandanus, ones can only console themselves with $8 bottles of imported beer and the sinful taste of pilfered breadfruit.

The Ta'aoa place of worship - A cannibal high place, restored early-90's.I managed to find some abandoned ruins up in the forest and laid down among them. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the war drums beating. I'm no writer, but lucky for me, it turns out a REAL writer had found the same ruins about 100 years earlier, so I'll let him tell the story instead!

Exploring a Cannibal High Place

The following is an excellent excerpt, written in 1919 by Frederick O'Brien, in his book "White Shadows in the South Seas".

"We climbed steadily, jumping from rock to rock and clinging to the bushes. A mile up the valley we came suddenly upon a plateau, and saw before us the remains of an ancient Pekia, or High Place, a grim and grisly monument of the days of evil gods and man-eating.

"This, in the old days, was the paepae tapu, or Forbidden Height, the abode of dark and terrible spirits. Upon it once stood the temple and about it in the depths of night were enacted the rites of mystery, when the priests and elders fed on the "long pig that speaks," when the drums beat till dawn and wild dances maddened in the blood.

Basalt Tiki - The place is littered with these things."When it was built, no man can say. Centuries have looked upon these black stones... created by a mysterious genius, consecrated to something now gone out of the world forever. For ages hidden in the gloom of the forest, it was swept and polished by hands long since dust; it was held in reverence and dread. It was tapu (origin of the word "taboo"), devoted to terrible deities, and none but the priests or the chiefs might approach it except on the nights of ghastly feasting.

"It stood in the grove of shadowy trees, which even at mid-afternoon cast a gloom upon on the ponderous black rocks of the platform and the high seats where chiefs and wizards once sat devouring the corpses of their foes. Above them writhed and twisted the distorted limbs of a huge banian-tree, and below, among the gnarled roots, there was a deep, dark pit.

"This was forbidden ground until the French came. No road led to it then; only a narrow and dusty trail, guarded by demons of Po and trod by humans only in the whispering darkness of jungle night, brought the warriors with the burdens of living meat to the place of the gods."

Mt. Temetiu - Highest point of the Marquesas (1190m).Eye for an Eye?

Cannibalism due to starvation has occured in virtually every single culture on the planet, yet according to O'Brien:

"(Marquesan) cannibalism, was due to a desire for revenge, cooking and eating being the greatest of insults. It was an expression of jingoism, a hatred for all outside the tribe or valley, and it made the feud between valleys almost incessant. It was in no way immoral, for morals are the best traditions and ways of each race, and here the eating of enemies was authorized by every teaching of priest and leader, by time-honoured customs and the strongest dictates of nature."

The Arrival of the White Man

Since cannibalism was fueled by the desire of revenge (and to gain the strength and courage of a foe in battle), it is important to note that the white man was rarely eaten here. Tell that to the 8 survivors of the Whaler Essex, who shipwrecked near the Marquesas in 1820. The sailors feared being killed and eaten - so floated all to Chile in their lifeboats instead, enduring 3 months and 3000 miles of open ocean. It was a cruel and ironic twist that 12 died along the way and the survivors were forced to eat 6 of the bodies out of starvation.

In fact, the white man's fear of the Marquesas was so powerful, schooners Oh, to be a bumblebee! Am I experiencing a flashback?would sail into the bays and open fire at the shore with their cannons, destroying entire villages and their inhabitants. Sailors claimed it "put the fear of God into their hearts", but it is obvious that the white men were terrified of cannibalism - they wanted the Marquesans not to fear God, but the white men themselves.

The End of an Era

Smallpox changed everything in the Marquesas; it was by far the largest killer of the old culture - even more than the cannons and kidnappings from Peruvian slave ships. The population dropped from 100,000 in the 16th century to 20,000 in the 19th, and even to 2,000 at the beginning of the 1900s. The population is now farily constant at 8632 (August 2007), and stable, at around 8600. A large portion also live in Tahiti.

An excerpt from O'Brien's encounter with one of the last great man-eaters sums it up poeticly:

Bring forth the Long Pig!"We vanish like the small fish before the hunger of the Mako. The High Places are broken, and the pahue (vines) cover our paepaes (platform for dwellings or places of worship). It does not matter. E tupu te fau; e toro to farero, e mou te taata. The hibiscus shall grow, the coral shall spread, and man shall cease."

Onward to Tahiti...?

Rob has decided to sail back to Canada. He is ready to stop this madness and live on solid ground and perhaps even buy a farm. So that leaves me in the most remote archipelago in the world, looking for a ride headed west - and only 30 days to reach the opposite end of French Polynesia (which is as wide as Europe itself) before the French Gendarme kick me out! Stay tuned...

Stick it behind your ear and strut.
Great place til a landslide.
A legendary place.
Nice digs!
:: Inukshuk ::

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