November 26, 2022
Jan Witting, Chief Scientist
To fly from Boston to Tahiti you are chasing the sun, and so it was that the circadian rhythms of our jetlagged bodies were almost in sync with the sun that first morning in Fare Hape. This was one of the first lessons our bodies and minds learned, the tuning into the solar day, waking up with the sun. This is very much the rhythm of life on these islands, and the facts of geography (Woods Hole longitude 71.4˚W, Tahiti longitude 149˚W) made this foundational piece of physical learning and adaptation easy for us.
This was an important lesson, because from the very first morning in Fare Hape our days have been full, we have experienced and learned at a cadence that have left us all breathless most evenings. Dr. Josiane DiGiorgio, our Ethnohistorian professor, had given us good tools in Woods Hole to help understand the significance of this magnificent cultural center sited at the foot of an ancient Tahitian village. Another colleague, Moohono Niva, an archeologist and expert in Tahitian oral genealogies, joined us here for five days. He helped bring alive the impressive remains of the many ceremonial Marae sites in the valley, now at the center of the cultural renaissance the Association Hauruuru is building through their work at their Fare Hape center. Hikes to archeological sites (rain or shine!), horticultural and botanical walks, traditional meal preparation, swimming in the streams flowing through the valley, the talks by Josiane, Moohono and Papa Heifara, president of the Association Hauruuru, are highlights of our stay, with each one of us having many more memories to share.
Other blogs have written about what we did and learned in Fare Hape but thinking back to it all it gave us a perfect start for what was to come.
Descending from Fare Hape and the embrace of the mountains, we began to learn about the contrast and contradictions posed by modern day life on these islands. A round-the-island tour took the students from Papeno’o Valley to the bustling port of Papeete, where we all boarded a catamaran fast ferry to the neighboring island of Moorea. While visits to a vanilla bean farm and fruit juice processing plant gave us ideas about rural livelihoods, our stay at a local pension gave insights to the dominant tourist economy on the island. A highlight of our stay was a visit to Te Pu Atiti’a cultural center where executive director Tera Atger told us about their important work to connect the young people of the island with their ancestral knowledge of dance, use of medicinal plants, and horticulture in securing food security for the islands in the face of increasing imports and changing eating habits.
It was in Moorea we learned that one of the crew members joining our ship Papeete had, despite all precautions, contracted Covid. While the ship reacted to this by implementing pre-planned isolation protocols, we had to alter our plans. Our next planned island destination of Huahine was also reachable by ferry, and with the help of Josiane and our Woods Hole staff we quickly secured housing there to allow us to both carry out our programmed activities and to allow the ship to undergo a 10-day quarantine prior to our boarding. With the help of our steward and foodways program component instructor Sayzie Koldys we settled into Villas Bougainville in Maroe, Huahine. The Villas as our base, Josiane DiGiorgio had arranged a range of activities around the island, beginning with our observation of Matari’i Nia, the start of the (rainy) season of plenty marked by the co- occurrence of the rise of the constellation of Pleiades and the setting of the sun. In a truly memorable evening, we celebrated it with a beautiful Kava ceremony on the edge of the sea, hosted by Josiane and her friends in the community.
Looking back to it now, the six days we spent in Huahine hold so much.
During a visit to the mayor’s office we received by proxy the greetings from the mayor (or Tavana, who happened to be in France at the moment), but had a deeply moving and informative meeting with one of the deputy mayors Claude Chong. He told us about the community-initiated conservation efforts on the coral reef in his district implemented along traditional management methods. The practice, termed Rahui meaning respect in Tahitian, places a prohibition on the collection of certain vulnerable species like giant clams and crabs for three months at a time, and has already resulted in increased resource of crabs.
Another highlight was our visit with Josiane’s friends Sofia and Gus, are remarkable couple embarked in creating a life and community around the values of sustainability and self-sufficiency. Their compound, from the simple design of the buildings to the lush garden, serves both their needs but also double as a place for workshops and demonstrations for others in the community to share their skills with one another in everything from horticulture to building furniture.
All too quickly our visit ended, but I suppose if there is a compelling way to leave Huahine then boarding the Robert C. Seamans and heading out to the Pacific and other islands beyond the horizon provides one. We’re very much looking forward to meeting the ocean and the islands to come, but also the community of people already onboard. I am writing these last words from onboard the ship, anchored just a few hundred yards from our Huahine base with all students and crew aboard, ready to weigh anchor and begin the next phase of our learning voyage.
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