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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans
April 30, 2019
The Local Scene
16 43.77’S x 151 26.5’W
ESE Force 5
Woke up, poured a cup of coffee to the creak, creak. tap, tap.ruuuuuuub, of the oversized black rubber fender rubbing a nice mustache mark on our starboard side. As I went outside to the quarterdeck to check out the sunrise, I was greeted with rain coming sideways under the awning usually assigned to blocking the tropical sun. The students had been in pairs all night running dock watches and keeping us all safe and some of them were still mingling about checking dock lines and opening or closing hatches.
Waiting for breakfast, my mind was focused on the wind and the rain and what kind of day off the ship this would be.
Since all the students and most of the staff (myself included) had not been to Raiatea before, we were able to schedule a bus tour of the island. So our morning consisted of 29 people moving with alacrity around the ship, trying to find clothing, sunscreen, and water bottles. ALL while making and packing sandwiches like nutella/peanut butter/jam wraps for lunch.
Our guide for the day met us at the boat and introduced himself. He is an 80 year old man who was born and raised on Raiatea. He made a point to say he wanted us to know some of the realities of the history of the island and Polynesian culture. Right off the bat he told us he had 22 children, has never been married, and his oldest daughter is 67. The bus itself was a large flatbed with a cabin made out of wood and painted quite nicely. On the bus, the first thing that hit me was the smells and different shades of plant life along the roadside. The rain was soft but steady at times and I caught some whiffs of kerosene as we bumped our way out of town.
Our guide explained many things as we drove. One of the first places we stopped was to give an example of how certain burial practices have changed in his lifetime. For example, when his father died, he remembered he was buried inside their house and that his mother would visit and talk to his late father every day. Nowadays it is illegal to do these things and most people are buried in cemeteries. He said this new practice has led to the families not visiting the graves as often and he felt sad for this lack of connection to the past.
He also made it known how important storytelling was to the passing of information from one generation to the next. As he explained, there has been little written down about the Polynesian people through the years. He fondly shared memories of his family telling stories before bed each night. This was before electricity came to the island and he said he could remember so much more before those distractions were brought to the people on the island.
We rode along the coast and after about 45 minutes of seeing small fields of Taro root and other tropical fruits we arrived at our main destination for the day. The site is the Marae Taputapuatea and it is considered one or the most important cultural and religious grounds in Polynesia. I know very little about Polynesian culture, most of it I picked up here and there and recently from our First Scientist Gabo. She has been to these islands a few times and grew up in France. She told me that the word taboo comes from Polynesian culture and that you could look at the word Taputapuatea as an example.
What I learned from Gabo is that Polynesian's had strict rules about the way humans should behave and many of these "Taboos" were passed along at places like Taputapuatea. Some of the rules were geared toward when folks could fish and harvest certain things from the land and sea. This made life not only sustainable for thousands of years on these small islands, but they could also support larger human populations.
At this Marae, I saw an interesting poster of an Octopus set over the south pacific. Its 8 tentacles reached out north to Hawaii, East to Easter Island, South to New Zealand and West toward Fiji. This made Raiatea the head of the octopus and helped communicate the significance of this place in Polynesian culture. The grounds themselves were set on the Oceanside and had many ruins still intact.
On the way back to the boat, Chief Scientist Ben Harden stopped and bought us all 2 large bunches of Lychee fruit. It was very tasty and quite unique and a great question to ask folks from the boat when you'll see them again, "how was the lychee?"
Back in town we thanked our host and made our way to the boat. The adventure made me really appreciate the ability to see, smell and taste things, but also the importance of passing down stories and histories to the next generation.
- Steve Kielar, 2nd Scientist
Hello to Mom, Dad, Dave and Paul!