You've got to see the photos above! So pretty.
What does buffer some of the sadness of leaving the now tightly-knit shipboard clan, is that the crew, finished with their days of hard work, "sings you home." Assembling on deck and lead by Smiley, a cast of characters we have fallen in love with breaks out in local song and dance. It goes on until the sun sets. I head to the back of the boat as I watch the last island disappear in the dusk, the Moon rising on one side of the boat, the sun setting on the other. The sunsets have always been nothing short of magnificent and for my last night in the Marquesas, Mother Nature did not disappoint.
Meeting Mahalo, royal in name and spirit
"Don't be afraid of the tattoos," said Johnone of the passengers making his third trip to the Marquesas, and obvious friend to Mahalo. Maholo, a simply huge Marquesan man who is covered from head to toe in tattoos, commanded my attention. "Can I get an interview do you think?," I ask. "Oh, Mahalo doesn't do interviews, but for you, I'll ask him and see what he thinks," says John. I hear nothing in response later.
With a few more tries, I got the go-ahead to interview this descendent of the last King and Queen of the Marquesas. Mahalo has one of the most integral jobs on the ship, as head crane operator. He's the one most responsible for the freight being moved off and on loaded onto the ship. He is also passionate about his work, and helping his people in the Marquesas gain independence from French Polynesia's main government in Tahiti so they can report directly to Paris, instead.
Mahalo raises his arms to the sky, and says "Hotuni," meaning full moon. I pause and watch mesmerized, as he takes a moment. With respect, I turn to my translator to ask Mahalo to do the interview in Marquesan and to thank him for granting me the time with him. After all, this was his world we were to be talking about. We begin by talking about France and political issues with the Marquesas. I ask him what is the most important to him and he shares: independence for the Marquesas from France. What has to stop is the materialism and dependency; everything is dependent on French money. (I flash to those expensive cars on Nuka Hiva). Although he has respect to a certain extent, he hopes for this change for the young people, but it's unclear when change might occur.
Mahalo mentioned that it's important that the Marquesas control their resources such as fishing as they did before, which I immediately understood to mean when his family had been the royals in power prior to the French takeover. His disdain for the French is apparent, and the years of political unrest creep into our conversation, when he says flat out that he wants the French to leave and they "are so long never trusted to the people, now the people have a voice."
I ask about his tattoos. From his middle finger to his elbow is a heavily designed stripe, and the history of the islands is literally written on his entire stomach. I hesitate to ask about the ones on his face, and divert to the one on his shoulder. "This is Nuka Hiva," he says in Marquesan, the island from which his family ruled and where he was born.
I learn that he started on the Aranui in 1970, and then left to the French military for 3 years, followed by working for the government in Tahiti, followed by odds and ends jobs. In 1989, the Aranui again came calling, and he jumped at the opportunity. He worked his way up to crane operator, and finds pride in what he does because he brings his people the things they need. "I'm very happy," he says in Marquesan. Before we leave I thank him again and, for the first time, he smiles at me, and says he'd like to give me a Marquesan name passed from his ancestors. "Hei Tai" he says to me. The translator is pleased and says "necklace of the sea is what he will call you now, it's his family name".
Tomorrow: Adventure Girl rounds out her Marquesas Island travels with a return to Tahiti and Bora Bora
[All photos: Stefanie Michaels]
· Adventure Girl Ships Out to 'Un-Cruise' The Marquesas Islands [Jaunted]
· Curried Goat and a Rainbow: Adventure Girl's Marquesas Islands Adventures Continue! [Jaunted]
· Adventure Girl in Macau [Jaunted]
· Aranui ship [Official Site]