May 25 Thursday, Taiohae Bay, Nukuhiva
Fresh provisions are not easily available around here; we’re lucky to get (imported) potatoes and onions from the local stores and they never have things like greens and other perishable items. Kevin, of Nukuhiva Yacht Services here at Taiohae Bay, told us that the morning produce stands are open Wednesdays and Saturdays, but you had to get there early, like at 5:30. And the friendly woman at Magasin Larson had told me to get to the store at 5:30 if I wanted fresh baguette. They were both right as on Wednesday I arrived at 6:30 am to find all the fresh produce sold and the baguette long gone. So on Saturday I dutifully dinghied ashore at 5am in the pre-morning light and once there found a bustling set of fresh produce stands. I was able to purchase three bunches of green beans, four heads of something like bok choy, bell peppers, carrots, turmeric (for which the island is traditionally known), ripe bananas and several incredibly delicious looking mangoes – all fresh and locally grown, which means it will all keep well on board. Lots of locals and a few French ex-pats (are French ex-pats here? maybe not, but feels like they are) kept the business brisk. Asking if I could leave my large, full and heavy bag of fresh produce with one of the friendly woman vendors, I set off for Magasin Larson in search of baguette. As I arrived, around 6am, the smell of fresh baked bread permeated the front of the store – an excellent sign indeed. Inside, the storekeeper, who laughed at my early arrival as I had mentioned it might be difficult to get there that early, pointed to the large sacks of baguettes that had just been delivered from the boulangerie. I helped myself to four fresh loaves and noticed a variety of Saturday morning pastries, so I had to also ask for a couple of chocolate croissants, 2 plain croissants, 4 chicken spring rolls, and two small loaves of sweet bread made with coconut milk. Things were really looking up in the food department. I made my way back to the quai where the produce stands were, picked up my large bag and on the way back to the dinghy passed by the fish mongers, who were cleaning, packaging and selling the fish that had been caught during the night on the small motor launches that locals use. Large tuna (3-4 feet long), octopus, and several types of smaller fish were being prepared and sold. I purchased 2 kilograms of sushi grade maguro tuna (Bluefin?) for 1,000 Polynesian Franc ($10 US). We were really set now. A nearby fisherman engaged me in conversation and I learned that while the locals fish with one hook per line and only for the local market, a deal had recently been struck with a company out of Papeete to open up an ice house and fish processing center in the Marquesas with the aim of exporting fish to Tahiti (and beyond?), and procuring fish with larger vessels and lines with several thousand hooks. He was concerned about the effects of this plan (which is already underway) on local fishers, and illustrated his point by grinding his heel back and forth in the ground. This appears to be yet another story of capital-intensive fisheries development, deeper market penetration, surplus accumulation for “outside” interests (and local elite?) and local socio-economic marginalization and possibly degradation. Sounds like some activist political ecology research is needed on this issue
At any rate, back on Anthea the crew, when they woke up, was delighted with the pastries and later that day we set off for Daniel’s Bay, only a short sail away. Kim has already described our hike up to the waterfall at the head of Daniel’s Bay. I wanted to add a bit about the wonderful fresh fruit we purchased from Teiki and Kouha, the couple who live at the mouth of the bay and who maintain a garden and fruit orchard that some have described as a tropical Garden of Eden. It was while returning from the hike to the waterfall that we passed back by their homestead. On the way up we had expressed interested in purchasing some fruit from them. Teiki was ready for us, watering down several large bunches of bananas, which he had cut down and had hung from a tree branch near their house. Nouha had also prepared several large bags of ripe guava, mandarin oranges, starfruit and limes. After choosing which banana stalk we wanted and paying for all the fruit, Teiki carefully cut down the stalk and placed it on my shoulder. It was heavy. Weighed down by our purchases, we continued the last quarter mile to the dinghy. I had to call to Anson to help me carry the banana stalk the last bit to the dinghy (he and Devon had gone ahead of us and were waiting at the dinghy). Back on Anthea, he strung it up on the backstay, where it remains, slowly ripening. Devon estimates that the stalk holds upwards of 200 bananas.
That evening, what a feast we had. The lightly seared tuna in sesame oil with sesame seeds was extremely delicious. The fresh greens and beans were excellent and the fruit salad we prepared was one of the best of my life: fresh guava, thinly sliced star fruit, mandarin orange, and mango, with fresh squeezed lime juice to hold it all together. We actually took a photo of the salad to help us remember the visual beauty of all that tropical fruit. Mind you, this is a far cry from our usual fare aboard Anthea, but the meal was a joyful and healthy expression of the bounty of this land and ocean, of what the possibilities are of living primarily off of locally grown or caught produce and fish.
Our “feast” also perhaps harkens back to the important Marquesan cultural practice of koina, or feasting, which was one of the primary ways of consolidating political authority, remembering/honoring ancestors and strengthening inter-community friendships. Of course, those feasts were incredibly elaborate, included pig and goat, and required weeks of preparation and inter-community communication. Greg Dening, in his book about the Marquesas (Te Henua), titled Islands and Beaches, describes the transformations in political authority under the French in the 1840s and 1850s as a shift from the currency of feasts to the currency of liquor, when the powerful local ruler Temoana traded food for liquor from the French instead of food for feasts within the local community. He also notes the centrality of koina, when Marquesans (Te Enata) sought to reinstitute/revive the practices of koina as a last ditch effort to resist the cultural disintegration and depopulation from disease and violence that occurred as a result of contact with European and Australian sandalwood traders, whalers, missionaries and soldiers. While reviving the practice of koina in the mid-nineteenth century could not turn back the tide of genocidal change, the thread of feasting and its associated inter-island and inter-community competitive dancing and singing has continued through to this day and is a central component of the cultural revival that has occurred throughout these islands in the last decades. I hope that current political-economic changes, like the plan to locate a large ice house and fish processing facility here, will not undermine the important local efforts to (re)strengthen cultural integrity, identity and autonomy.