A little of Manihi
18 October 2008
As you may know it has been more than a year since we left the Manihi atoll. We have been writing on this blog posting from time to time since. We want it to feel like we did at Manihi, but it impossible for us to do. So here is the first part of our notes from Manihi. They are not as finished as we would have liked them to be.
...a continuation of a posting made JULY 10th, which read:
[...Shortly after anchoring, a local man came up in his open work boat, welcomed us to Manihi, and handed Steen three fresh baguettes. "Fernand", a bread baker in the morning and a black pearl farmer in the afternoon, looked about 40-something, but said he had five grown children, the youngest 12. He invited us to his home, and offered to pick us up the next morning his work boat. Surprisingly, we are the only cruising boat here, and so we have this part of Manihi, (the beach combing and snorkeling), all to ourselves...It should be a good week.]
First we will say that it was a VERY good week, an amazing week in fact. We were treated with a level of hospitality and kindness that made us redefine our concept of generosity. Generosity in the Polynesian culture is a concept different from the generosity we know. It ties to a much looser sense of ownership. To grossly simplify this sense of ownership one could say that, anything you have, that I ask for, you are obligated to give me. This includes possessions from yams in the ground to your children. If you have some time, look into this on the internet. It is very interesting, and gave Captain Cook a lot of trouble.
We experienced many of these acts of generosity in the week we spend in Manihi. One morning on the wharf Angela noticed a lady with a hand-made lei that she was wearing around her head. It was made of little pieces of bright orange fabric, and it was beautiful. Later that day we meet this lady on the street. Angela complimented her on her lei. With a big smile the lady put the lei on Angela and said, "I am glad you like, it is yours". A similar thing happened to me after church. I had noticed that Ferdinand's oldest son was wearing a very nice tie with a beautiful tropical print. When a complimented him on his tie he said, "I have made it myself. I am very happy you like it. It is yours". I tried to refuse the tie, but got a look from Ferdinand telling me not to be disrespectful. Just a brief glimpse of a culture.
and now for the story of a few more days of our stay at Manihi:
(Our second day in Manihi and we thought Fernand was planning to show us his home, but his invitation turned out to be to his black pearl business on 'his' motu (small island) separated by shallow water from the rest of the atoll; the atoll is basically a series of low-lying motus strung together in a big circle like a necklace, surrounding a lagoon; the remnants of an ancient volcano. The villages are built on the largest motus and Fernand's business is on one of the smaller ones.)
Steen: Around 10:00 am, Fernand picked us up at Radiance in his large workboat to take us down to his motu and pearl farm. The mile long boat ride there took no time at all with his gigantic outboard motor, (all 90 horses running at full gallop). Malou thought that was great fun. Fernand's wooden dock extended out over the reef, and the fish in the clear shallow water looked exactly like what you would find in a big city indoor aquarium. I know that is a pathetic benchmark to have for coral fish, but never the less that was what I thought of. His daughter, son and niece were busy pulling up oyster lines from the dock and at the same time fishing for dinner.
Angela: The small buildings on stilts where Fernand's family operated their pearl business was not actually the 'pearl farm' itself, but rather the place where they did the delicate 'oyster operations' you have to do to eventually end up with a black pearl. The only 'farm' associated with the pearl business is four meters beneath the water a hundred yards from shore.
Steen: We were introduced to Fernand's wife Stella at her workbench. Stella places a mother-of-pearl made from Mississippi abalone, in a little pocket she cuts in the oyster. She places a small piece of black oyster meat in with the pearl, in exactly the right spot. Without this little piece of 'meat' the pearl will not turn black. How anybody figured that out the first time I do not know. Stella has been working with these pearls for many years and can place a pearl in the oyster in 15 seconds. From her workbench the oysters are tied to ropes and suspended 4 meters below the surface out in the lagoon. Every 4 to 5 months each rope is taken to the reef for 2 days. In that time the reef fish completely clean the growth off the rope and the oysters. After 15 months in the water, voila! a black pearl.
Both Angela and I found it very interesting to see how these black pearls of the South Pacific were made. Malou, however, was more interested in a little yellow puppy named Rusty. Malou loved him so much that when we got back to Radiance she named a coconut 'Rusty'. We drew on a face and ears with a marker and he has a bungee cord for a tail. Malou takes really good care of Rusty.
Steen: Fernand had told us that he had plenty of water on the motu and that we were welcome to do our laundry there. So we brought some of our laundry and intended to do it by hand as we had become accustom to. We were very surprised to see that Stella had a 24V washing machine, out back behind a little house. Everything on the motu runs off solar panels. They even had a 24V full size refrigerator.
Lunch began with delicious fresh coconut milk straight out of the nut with a straw. Then we had fresh oyster with lime. We had no idea that Malou liked oysters so much. We looked away for a moment and Malou had eaten half of them. We had to move the plate away from her in order to enjoy some ourselves.
Next Fernand had a dozen fresh sea snails that he cracked the shells on and cleaned in the shallow water right before eating them. They were so fresh that they were still wiggling on plate. Malou was less crazy about these.
Fernand would like to put in 5 mooring buoys outside his motu. Each buoy would be chained to a large coral block. (The biggest headache when anchoring in these lagoons is getting your anchor fouled in coral. Not only is it a headache, it also damages the coral when the chain is pulled free. A mooring buoy would solve both problems.) He also plans to have a small dinghy dock so cruisers could get ashore and eat at the small restaurant he wants to open. Very industrious.
We were surprised to learn that a pearl farmer from Manihi could be so well traveled. Fernand had been to the United States twice. One time on a 40-day coast-to-coast-north-to-south tour. He has seen more of the States than most Americans.
So where does a family from Manihi go on their annual vacation? New Zealand, where it is nice and cool and green. Fernand has taken his family to New Zealand 7 times and had only good things to say about the country. We are looking forward to going there ourselves later this year.
As we motored back to Radiance, Fernando cracked open a fresh oyster, rinsed it off over the edge of the boat and handed it to Malou. She popped it in her mouth and ate it as fast as she could. He was so impressed that he brought 'Malou' two dozen fresh and sliced oysters the next day. We had oysters for lunch and dinner.
Today we went exploring the outside or ocean side of the reef. It is a strange place to be. You are walking one millions of years of accumulated coral pieces piled up on the rim of a volcano. The inside crater of the volcano forms the shallow lagoon. The outside of the volcano drops straight into the ocean. When you stand 50ft from the edge of the outside reef you can through a piece of coral into 600ft of water just outside the reef.
The outside reef is full of life both in the sallow water and in all the small tide pools. Both Malou and Angela found many pretty coral and shells to bring back to Radiance. Instead of walking along the beach back we thought it would be easier to cut across the motu to get to the dinghy. We were very surprised to find dense and tough vegetation across the 150 yard wide atoll. It took a while to get back across. We wished we had our 'old' dog Hank with us. He was a very good bush wackker and would quickly have found the easiest path back.
Once we got back to the lagoon we wadded back through the shallow warm water towards the dingy. There were colorful fish everywhere. This was a great place for Malou since she could walk in the water while looking at the fish. Malou and I did not have the camera and was getting ahead of Angela since she was taking many pictures. When we were almost back at the dinghy a small black-tip reef shark swam by us and over towards the coral block Angela was standing by. I tried to tell Angela where to look, but was so excited that that I got my left, right, up and down all confused. By the time Angela finally looked the right way the little shark was far gone. We have not seen many sharks yet. There was one swimming around Radiance in Nuku Hiva chasing a large school of fish. I saw a 4ft black tip reef shark while diving along the steep cliffs at Nuku Hiva. So I was a little disappointed that this little guy got by Angela without her seeing it.
That night we went to dinner at Fernand's house and saw a local dance performance later that night.
The following days Steen went fishing on the outside of the reef with Fernand and caught his first Yellow fin tuna. Angela helped Stella with baking for the local French pastry competition. We made friends with George and Isabella on a Canadian boat. We exchanged farewell presents from Ferdinand's family.
More about that in a later posting