Celebrating Tahitian Culture on a Spring Equinox

by Whitt Birnie

Seldom has so little meant so much.

Just more pictures and reflections on a calm blue lagoon…?  A thin strand of dark sandy beach with a healthy green tree growing by salt water, a few sailing craft pulled up on the dry land, colourful streamers, a distant off-shore island…?

Point Venus, Tahiti

In reality, here is Point Venus, Tahiti, with Moorea as a backdrop. Here, due to a visit in 1769, whole concepts of western civilization were questioned and overturned; new ideas about the extent and development of humanity were born. The intriguing belief that a supposedly savage people were actually quite noble emerged, thereby partially sparking the Enlightenment, so forth and so on… The E.Ts had arrived. The so-said greatest navigator of all time, James Cook, landed here in 1769, some 250 years ago, and the world changed.

Tahitians were in for quite a surprise. Overjoyed with anticipation, a personality trait which persists today, they behaved as anyone not steeped in religious constraints might, performing as generous hosts and hostesses to a ratty, smelly group of miserable men, tired of strict discipline, wanting to escape the confines of a crowded ship, lacking good food, missing the dearest and deepest human emotions and sensations, that of the unique soft sweet sound, smell, taste and touch of sublimely desirable female company. The kind, warm Tahitians shared their most precious treasures. In exchange, they received nothing but trouble.

Point Venus, just after sunrise, Tahiti.

Believe what you will. History is largely opinionated anyway. I for one first learned all this as a young pre-teen schoolboy in the ’50s, from a teacher who had always stressed the importance of respect for women. He was a fine teacher, and went about explaining a situation that fascinated me. I flipped. I mulled it over while walking in the woods and thought about it and the Indians in canoes. I wanted to go to sea too. I wished I’d been on the Endeavour. I wanted to run a ship and sail to magnificent islands where beautiful women with long wavy dark hair appear in dazzling costumes to put me in a trance with their native dance. I was a dreamer.

Celebrating the Tahitian sailing outrigger.

So, to make a long story short, here is the spot, 250 years on. The Polynesian Tahitians are still a noble people, true survivors, still living in the Fenua as they call their homeland. Compared to elsewhere, they do live in an earthly paradise, or at least visitors tell them so every day, year after year, century after century.

Matavai Bay, Tahiti

Today, the celebration concerned other navigators, courageous Polynesians, who roamed the seas in their large outriggers long before Cook arrived with his supposedly superior civilization. The good sister-ships Hokulea and Hikianalia of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Hawaiian replicas of those double-hulled vessels, were due for a visit. Their voyages brought to mind further changes in early ocean voyaging, building on the balsa-raft Kon-Tiki model for ancient sea travel in the region. The Polynesian culture was being honoured with the arrivals in Matavai Bay.

Students at the base of the Point Venus lighthouse.

In addition, the lighthouse, which guided navigators for generations, is celebrating its 150-year anniversary. Its loom and flashes provide security and joy after long weeks at sea, a sensation unknown to aircraft travelers.

Well-mannered smart Tahitian students, not a phone in sight.

Moreover, this was a Good Friday. The clever organizers of the festival were acknowledging the Christian idea that following the Ten Commandments is a worthy cause, finally accepting a philosophy that had caused serious disruption in their early ways but ultimately proved a calming, pacifying and socializing change.

And last, or perhaps first, but certainly not the least, was a Tahitian dance performance organized by Marguerite Lai. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but she and her dancers opened my heart to the beauty of Tahitian Ori, the exceptional and unique native Tahitian dance. Their skill and talent are amazing.

It was an historical event, a beach party of sorts, a recreation to some, a godsend, a paradise, to others. Once again, they knocked me out, they made me dream.

Matavai Bay, Tahiti. Reception ceremony for Hawaiian Outriggers Hokule'a and Hikianalia.

Polynesian Voyaging Society outriggers from Hawaii visiting Tahiti.Time seems to stand still; outriggers from overseas and welcomingTahitians.

On the first day of southern hemisphere Spring, thoughts turn to the bounty of nature and the beauty of Polynesian culture.

The Fenua, the Tahitian homeland, is a place crowned with bouquets of elegance, health, excitement and happiness, mainly due to the devotion and love of her inhabitants.

These few fleeting sights help me remember the exceedingly delightful days passed on this precious planet, often witnessing an exceptional people perform in ceremonies of their own invention.  Their unique skill at creative expression often leaves me speechless; my admiration of their artistic abilities is apparently boundless.

Seldom has so little meant so much.

 

… to be continued.

 

 

 

 

Nature returns for another solstice

Some views are eternal, as is this one. Moorea, seen from Tahiti. 05:41

In the foreground, sand and coral in warm lagoon water, two meters deep. 05:45

Dawn paints the sky pink as the sun, still below the horizon, nears sunrise. 05:49

 

Nature is fairly remarkable when you think about what she offers. 05:50

An inter-island ship on the horizon plies the channel, homebound to Papeete. 05:50

Banana leaf, small wave on the reef, the freighter, Moorea and the moon. 5:53

The moon turns gold, the ship departs, details in Moorea’s mountains appear. 05:55

Life appears. We need to preserve our precious planet with the Paris Accords. 05:59

If you look closely at the mountain peak to the left, you will see a sacred eye. 06:00

Legend says Mt Mouaputa was pierced with a spear thrown by the demi-god Pai. 06:00

I am forced into words of thanksgiving for another day in an earthly paradise. 06:01

The first rays of sunlight brighten the summit and the endless waves roll on. 06:02

The day begins. Time for a warm swim. Always count your blessings. 06:08

A spring equinox celebration from the Heiva I Tahiti

by Whitt Birnie

 The Tahitian dance group Ori I Tahiti presents …

ri I Tahiti dance group, winners of the best natural costume prize and the jury's special prize, in photos by Whitt Birnie.

ri I Tahiti dance group, winners of the best natural costume prize and the jury's special prize, in photos by Whitt Birnie.WhittBirnie Heiva I Tahiti H2ri I Tahiti dance group, winners of the best natural costume prize and the jury's special prize, in photos by Whitt Birnie.ri I Tahiti dance group, winners of the best natural costume prize and the jury's special prize, in photos by Whitt Birnie.ri I Tahiti dance group, winners of the best natural costume prize and the jury's special prize, in photos by Whitt Birnie.ri I Tahiti dance group, winners of the best natural costume prize and the jury's special prize, in photos by Whitt Birnie.ri I Tahiti dance group, winners of the best natural costume prize and the jury's special prize, in photos by Whitt Birnie.ri I Tahiti dance group, winners of the best natural costume prize and the jury's special prize, in photos by Whitt Birnie.WhittBirnie Heiva I Tahiti H9ri I Tahiti dance group, winners of the best natural costume prize and the jury's special prize, in photos by Whitt Birnie.An exceptional dance group, Ori I Tahiti, returned for an encore performance on the stage at To’ata, at the invitation of Marguerite Lai and Claude Teriierooiterai.  Photo permissions were granted, and Whitt Birnie luckily had his camera, for the group who won the best natural costume and special jury’s prizes.  Special thanks to all.

To Point Venus and the Tahitian Heiva festival

by Whitt Birnie

Time to changeThe lagoons of French Polynesia capture the imagination. It’s difficult to break away, unless you have a better destination in mind. I was torn between nature and civilization, eventually giving in to temptation for a return to Papeete.

WhittBirnie A15-02Tetiaroa Island, Brando’s atoll, just to the north of Tahiti, always belonged to royalty and remains a majestic spot, lost in the warm calm waters of the South Pacific.  It was on my way back to Tahiti, so I made an effort to pass nearby and pay my respects.

WhittBirnie A15-04The mountainous southern coast of Tahiti is in great contrast to the low island of Tetiaroa. Simply navigating the passage through the reefs takes total concentration as the currents can be wicked.Whitt Birnie's photosSwells from the Southern Ocean and the ‘Roaring Forties’ excite everyone in the Fenua, especially surfers, but for navigators, attaining a safe anchorage inside the coral reef is the first order of business. Nature delights in showing off.

toata-gardens-2picture-taking-tahitians-whittbirnie_50742Heiva welcome Temaeva kissestrio-temaeva-soft

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A pearl heiva-star

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Favorite Heiva stars in deep-breath

tahitian-heiva dancers-entry-

les-filles-5les-filles-2les-filles-3Heiva eight-at-selfies

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Temaeva at Heiva A15-08

Temaeva dancers at Heiva -a15-08b.jpg

Good humor, constant laughter, skill, beauty and happiness endear the Tahitians to everyone. They are truly a remarkable people.  I consider it an honor that they permitted me to record their joy in the Heiva I Tahiti.