5/25/2012 Tatiannas' Motu
We met Tatianna while walking down a street in Ngarumoava the one small village on Rangoria atoll. Bill and I and Ann of Blue Rodeo had been wandering the two streets of the village when we saw and heard a woman calling us from the doorway of her home "come on in, come visit." Her huge smile and happy gesturing lead us into a yard full of barking and through the front door of Tatiannas' home and store. Tatianna and her family own the only store on the island and also own and operate a black pearl farm along with several other family members. Tatianna loves people! She once worked for Air Tahiti and then spent years shepherding tourists on island excursions, later she became involved in the black pearl industry and traveled as a wholesaler representing the local black pearl farms. She and her husband Regis are the only people in Rangoria who speak English and boy does she like to talk. She proudly shows off her pearls, sell them when she can and loves to visit with the cruisers. Regis likes visitors too but he loves his wife and knows that if there are cruisers on the island he's probably going to find them sitting in his house.
When Regis returned from cutting lumber for the new garage -Raroia has only a handful of cars, ATV's and scooters but sports two beautiful 1/4 mile long smooth flat roads, a handsome airstrip and an airport for it's 150 people- there we were. Tatianna had already introduced us to her daughter, shown off her pearls -hundreds of them- explained pearl farming for us in detail, sold us cold drinks and invited us and our friends on Buena Vista back for a potluck dinner so off we went to arrange our potluck contributions. We returned at the designated time and shared cheese and crackers, chicken chow mien with rice, pulled pork on fresh bread, a veggie salad and in honor of my 51st Birthday two chocolate cakes! We talked and laughed and listened to music and Tatianna decided we should all go to her families' motu for a picnic in the morning.
Promptly at 7:30am(8:05 atoll time) she and Regis, their daughter, the family dog plus one puppy arrived alongside Island Bound to pick us up. We filled the boat with snorkel gear, spear guns, sun block and picnic goodies along with what looked like half of Tatiannas' kitchen. With quick stops at Buena Vista and BLue Rodeo we were quickly racing across the lagoon. Regis knows the lagoon well which was good because he loves to drive the family pearl farm boat at warp speed. Years of practice made picking our way through the reef bits and pearl buoys look easy and in just a few minutes our little group was safely across the lagoon and beached at Kon Tiki Island.
In 1947 Thor Heyerdals' Kon Tiki Expedition came to an end on a motu at Raroia. There is a monument and plaque commemorating the event though I don't think Heyerdals' group looked at it as a celebration. When they "landed" if there were people anywhere on the atoll they weren't likely to be of much help to the Kon Tiki other than possibly helping them not completely starve to death. The bit of sand and coconut treed ground the disappointed group dried off on lies on the eastern edge of the atoll on a motu that is not much larger than a city lot. It is covered with palms and brush, beautiful soaring white birds and the sound of the breaking ocean swell. There was a timeless feeling to the place, an eon's old rhythm of rising tide and drying reef circling again into crashing waves. The Tuamotu Islands are without a doubt extremely remote even now so Thor's group must have felt like they been deposited at the end of the world. Today you and I look around and see a tropical paradise and dream of hammocks,rum punch and romantic vacations Thor's' group would have been a bit more desperate.
From Kon Tiki Islands' pink sands we powered our way to Tatiannas' family Motu. Their own personal bit of privacy sits almost directly across the lagoon from the main village. It is co-owned by roughly 150 family members who now live scattered across French Polynesia. Tatianna and her family come for picnics and camp over's and have left a table and benches, a fire barrel and bits and pieces of kitchen gear. We dropped the anchor and stepped over the side into crystal clear water to ferry our gear ashore. The boys were off spear guns in hand to hunt for lunch and the ladies fell into step behind Tatianna for a walk around the motu to the reefs outer edge.
Out the beach, around the corner and over the drying reef. The tidal pools were full of life: tiny snails of every description, small fish, an octopus, bigger fish, sea cucumbers and silvery grey eels ranging from a eight or so inches long up to a writhing rope of a pair who were making baby eels. The big male was was nearly four feet long and as big around as my forearm. Sheltering in the tide pools the eels generally run when they can but will hold their ground and gape their mouths at you if they think it might scare you off. The distracted couple paid us no mind until we were nearly on top of them before the male turned to run and the female slithered into the nearest rocky nook. I have only known them as underwater creatures to watching them in the tide pools was amazing. They move along in mere inches of water at an alarming rate and when the water runs out they dart across long stretches of bare reef looking for the sea.
After crossing over the reef gap between Tatiannas motu and it's neighbor we made our way out to the outer reefs edge. There we walked the tide pools and hunted down food careful to keep and eye on the sea just beyond. With help we searched the reef for sea snails and took in all the life around us. Tatianna carried along her hammer and a chisel along with a couple of large bags for our harvest. We steadily picked snails while she told stories and instructed us in staying safe on the reef. "If a wave hits always keep your knees bent," "always keep one eye on the water, never turn your back on the waves." Tips that here are as common to them as "look both ways before you cross the street."
We scattered eels and brightly colored fish, picked up garbage, discovered a wayward weather buoy from South America and finally headed back to our picnic. On our way back Tatianna daughter spotted an octopus. Before anyone could speak she and her mom were bashing it to death with a hammer as it rolled and twisted and tried to get away. It was carried back to camp clinging to the hammer head while daughter kept hold of the handle in two fingers held out away from her body. Half way home she stopped to bash some more and finally still the last curling tentacles. It lay in a plastic tub at camp for the afternoon destined for Tatiannas' pressure cooker and dinner.
They look at things differently here. They have to, their context is entirely different from ours. The octopus was unsettling to the foreigners. All of us would have preferred encountering the puss while we were snorkeling or diving. We would have loved an opportunity to watch him in his natural environment and to maybe have the opportunity to play. They are known for their occasional interaction with humans and are purported to have the intelligence of a two year old. The octopus was already under attack before any of the three of us could even react. In their world it was dinner.
Food is food and life is life here. A supply ship comes once every six weeks to the atoll, electricity is still a relatively new arrival (solar power recently replaced a single village generator, cell phones arrived six years ago and internet one) and land is difficult at best to cultivate the life of the islanders revolves around finding enough food. The dog and puppy that accompanied us were another clear example: mama dog and Puna one of her nine pups are pets but four of Punas' siblings were sold for food to other villagers and four were put into a sack filled with rocks and drowned. Mama is well mannered and Puna is cuddled and watched after but if push came to shove there isn't much question. So we gathered and shelled snails, stoked a fire, opened oysters and clams, cracked urchin shells and tried everything raw -toes in the water heels in the sand. Tatianna coached us along and showed us the best bits to eat and the right stuff to throw away. The groupers were charred whole over a grate and served without utensils and everyone tried a bit of everything. The leftover birthday cake got a better reception.
At the end of the afternoon Tatiannas' daughter gave us a command performance of a routine she has taken to a celebration in Tahiti two years in a row. She was chosen to represent their atoll and flew with her father to perform in front of a crowd of French dignitaries and military, members of the Tourism Board and families from all over French Polynesia. She performed beautifully sharing in the language of her birth a story of strength, power and community, nature, commitment to the land and its people and of continued traditions of the people living in her islands. It was beautiful and we loved watching as her father made an instant costume out of palm frond's. One curled around her forehead a Statue of Liberty like crown and another a grass skirt. Mama watched with eyes full of love and pride. And we got it on tape! Full of grouper and cake, exhausted and really really hot from all the sun we stowed everything back in the pearl boat and headed for the village and the shade of our boats. A truly lovely afternoon, we will definitely tell our friends they need to stop and say hello to Tatianna and Regis and if they are lucky hitch a ride to her motu.
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