Mysteries of the Marquesas. By Rosemary I. Patterson, Ph.D., author "Mission Mururoa,"
Set in the Marquesas and Tahiti. Nuku Hiva, UaPou, Ua Huka, Tahuata, Fitu Hiva - they are the inhabited, serene, rugged, isolated, incredibly beautiful islands of the Marquesas. A visitor to the islands, trudging through the overgrown vegetation along the myriads of fast flowing streams, senses it immediately. There is a sense of missing people, of a people long gone, but whose presence is still eerily felt. It's as if the spirits of the eighty thousand victims of slave traders, western diseases, war with the French invaders and cultural genocide live on in the rugged valleys of the Marquesas Islands.
What were these people like? What were the components of their culture? Did they really practice ritual sacrifice and head hunting? What did they eat? Does anyone know for sure the answers to these questions? The population of the Marquesas Islands was reduced to only twenty-five hundred people by 1926 and even now only approaches eight thousand. Those who survived among a foreign regime of Catholicism, French language and even culinary genocide (French Bread, French Beer, imported, canned fish and meats) were still reeling from the rapid and unstoppable removal of family, ancestors and friends around them.
Perhaps Dr. Sinoto knows some of the secrets of the lost culture. He's the Hawaiian archeologist who restored some of the old meaes (temples) on the Marquesan Islands after decades of neglect and traced the development of the fish hooks in Hawaii back to the Marquesans. The ancient Marquesans were a formidable, talented and determined people. They were master mariners, carving out their giant, voyaging canoes from the mighty trees of the forests. Marquesans were the very people that are said to have occupied the rugged, sloping valleys of the Na Pali Coastline of Kauai. That meant a journey across challenging seas of over twenty-five hundred miles.
The Marquesans used the locations of the planets and stars to navigate as well as the flight patterns of sea birds, the compositions of the varying ocean currents, and swells. Even the intuitive guidance of now-unfathomable, Marquesan Gods was used to successfully undertake such incredible journeys. Marquesans were conservers of foodstuffs. In times of plenty, trees loaded with Breadfruit were harvested, the breadfruit peeled, fermented, trampled by the feet of warriors and carefully stored in pits inside the old temple platforms to be used in times of war or famine.
There was time in the old Marquesan culture for art, particularly for the incredibly intricate carving of whale bone, lava rock and precious woods. There was time for talented tatoo artists to adorn Marquesan men with body and outer extremity tatoos, the meaning of the symbols of which have been unfortunately lost to our time. Marquesans of today are rediscovering and rebuilding the old culture. Wonderful dance troupes recreate the old dances such as the mating dance of the white-tailed tropic birds that soar in the fierce winds of the islands. The winds are so strong that the birds (as they are imitated in the dances) are perceived to be flying backwards by watchers below. Marquesan young people dance male initiatory dances plus dances that question whether westernization is good for them. Tatoo artists thrive again as modern-day Marquesans try to recapture their ancient identities.
It is possible, that with the collaboration of the inhabitants of the nearby Society Islands, such as Moorea, Huahini, Bora Bora, Tahiti and Raiatea, Marquesans may recreate the secret ceremonies such as fire pit walking and contact ceremonies with their gods that gave them great spiritual power in the long-ago past. Perhaps, on Raiatea, the sacred run up Mount Temihani at dawn, to gather the sacred Tiare apetahi flower for one's beloved still takes place even though it is now forbidden by law. The ridges surrounding the inhabited valleys of the Marquesas are so steep that each village is a separate entity all it's own. Few roads link communities and each center has it's own diesal generator for the televisions, video recorders, radios and computers that villagers utilise. The magnificent and detailed carving of Marquesan ancestors was passed on.
Today, in the Marquesas, lava rock and wood tikis are still lovingly carved plus intricate whale-bone pendants and wood bowls. As well, little Catholic Saint images are painstakingly carved with elaborate detail. Perhaps, the ancient religion that served so well for hundreds of years, is blended with the mysticism of the French Catholicism that flourishes in the scenic and musical churches on the Islands.