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Power of the islands LOOKING INTO HIS EYES I wasn’t sure if he wanted to hug me or snap my neck. Perhaps he was making that very decision? Teiki Maha’o Nui Pahuatini is the undisputed chief of the Marquesans - aboard ship at least, but I expect his influence extends beyond the gunwales and well out into his homelands. Known playfully as Mahalo to the passengers and his crewmates, Maha’o Nui drives the huge crane that hoists everything from shipping containers to cars and bags of cement and copra off the deck of Aranui 3 onto the wharf below. The ship is the lifeline for the 9000 residents of the Marquesas, part of

Trip tips ■ Aranui 3 sails year round on a 13-night itinerary among the Marquesas with as many port stops at nine islands. ■ Prices start at $7999 for an 18-night package ex-Sydney inclusive of pre- and postcruise accommodation, transfers and economy airfares. Contact: www.ultimatecruising or 1300 662 943. ■ Air New Zealand flies to Tahiti twice a week via Auckland and with over 130 flights from Australia to New Zealand each week. Contact www.airnew or call 13 24 76.

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French Polynesia, delivering food, staples and 200 tourists to some of the world’s most isolated communities. Mahalo symbolises many things. Powerfully built, confident and regal, he commands respect through sheer presence. Polynesians call this ‘‘mana’’ and Mahalo has it in spades. His glance is enough to send men scurrying away, not one daring to question him. His magnificent tattoos, extending all the way around his shaven head, would make any Hell’s Angel purse his lips and draw breath. ‘‘Where you from?’’ he asks me in awkward English. ‘‘Australie!’’ I gleefully announce in equally awkward French and a hand is quickly extended. He crushes my right hand, nods knowingly and gives me a subtle thumbs up with the other. ‘‘Come drink!’’ I’m instructed and an icy Hinano beer is thrust into my hand while almost instantly I am surrounded by his massive henchmen, all grinning like Cheshire cats and obviously a few beers ahead of me. Michael Koch, an expatriate German yachtsman now in voluntary exile in Fiji is conducting our culture and history seminars. ‘‘Don’t worry,’’ Michael assures me, ‘‘I told Mahalo you like beer and women and don’t speak French,’’ apparently a suite of endearing qualities that instantly earns me another chilly Hinano. Sadly it’s true that despite the

Republique francaise providing much of the important infrastructure and administration, they are not universally admired throughout the Marquesas. Although the Marquesan civilisation was already in pronounced decline when the French finally took control in the mid-19th century, they oversaw their almost total annihilation through disease and stifling overbearance. Originally populated by as many as 100,000 thriving Polynesians before European arrival, the six inhabited islands now maintain a paltry 9000 having dipped as low as 2000 in the early 20th century. The ravaged Marquesan culture, nevertheless, is experiencing a concerted revival. At each island visited, we are feted with song, dance and feasting in a way something like the first Europeans may have experienced before it all went belly up. Young maidens dance energetically to drum beats after the fashion that sent the first missionaries scampering for their rosaries while lean, oiled warriors confront us with their own recreated haka sending the ladies into a spin. In the little markets intricate and ornate carvings are offered in natural materials such as basalt, bone and the much coveted flower stone - a kind of volcanic anomaly that produces tiny starbursts in the metal. Turtle, manta ray, tiki and whale motifs dominate. One of the most prominent features of the revival is literally there in their faces. As evidenced by Mahalo and his crew of playful Polynesian pirates, the ancient art of tattooing is enjoying such

resurgence that it’s almost impossible to find a Marquesan man without them. And not some half-hidden scribble either, a Marquesan tattoo is an intricate saga that adorns a man (or woman) that speaks directly of their status. Those examples seen by early explorers would have almost covered the entire body with intricate and highly symbolic patterns. Today’s explorers are still treated to the sight of the authentic Polynesian tattoo although almost all are now applied with sterile electric tools instead of the sharpened pig’s bone and stone hammer of old. ■ The writer was a guest of Ultimate Cruising and Air New Zealand.


A Marquesan tattoo is an intricate saga that adorns a man (or woman) that speaks directly of their status

Like the people themselves, Marquesan tattoos are experiencing quite a resurgence. THE WEEKENDER Saturday, February 27, 2010 13


The remote islands of the Marquesas were once the font of Polynesian mana but, as RODERICK EIME writes, they’re not done with yet.

Power of the Islands  
Power of the Islands  

Clipping from Illawarra Mercury 27 Feb 2010