Capital of the southern islands of the “Land of Men”, Hiva Oa illustrates the Marquesan authenticity which combines calm, the beauty of natural scenery and memories left by exceptional men, all in a lush casing, but at first sight, little upset by external influences.
Hiva Oa Sleeps soundly, feeling secure in its power of seduction. The Archipelago’s second island (after Nuku Hiva by its surface, its 2,500 inhabitants only occupy permanently six of the forty valleys that marks the scenery. Arriving by plane over the Marquesas is fascinating. After several hours of ultramarine blue as far as you can see, the vertical aspect of the scenery of the Land of Men (the meaning of of the vernacular name of the archipelago) immediately catches the eye. The valleys are as many cuts through the massive volcanic cliffs leaving deep, almost scary cuts. So is the Marquesan scenery: it impresses you with the feeling that it was caused by a violent instability of natural elements, from the coast with its cliffs slashed by almost incessant swell to the valleys eroded by streams that sometimes turn into steep waterfalls. Two colors are needed to describe the splendor of the setting: the intense green of an ubiquitous vegetation which contrasts with the black color of the cliffs or the shadowy areas that enhances sharp reliefs when the sun is not straight above.
Priceless Archeological Riches
Hiva Oa contains priceless archaeological riches, traces left by the ancient civilization which disappeared since the confrontation caused by the arrival of Europeans. More than 500 ancient structures are listed and can be discovered by new visitors, whether they are adventurous or simply casusl hikers, from inhabited valleys to almost inaccessible peaks. Eminent testimony to the expertise, the social organization, the remarkable artistic and symbolic level reached by Marquesans, the stones remains visible today are multiple dwellings platforms (paepae), ceremonial places (tohua) sacred places (me’ae), stone tables, erected monoliths, statues (tiki), bas-relief carved slabs, carved petroglyphs on rocks or stone slabs, work slabs with wells, and surfaces for sharpening polishing or grinding. Ppaved and unpaved paths, silo pits (ua ma) or pit traps, taro fileds built in terraces and irrigated, burial caves, fortresses, rock banks along rivers complete this amazing inventory.
Brel and Gauguin
Among the exceptional men that the island counted, along with the first builders of the pre-European civilization is someone named Paul Gauguin, who died in 1903 in Atuona after living three years on the big southern island of the archipelago. The people of Hiva Oa were indifferent to his painting and his other works, though they knew to appreciate his fight against stupidity and injustice of the two powers in the island at the time, the French administration and the Catholic mission. His taste for certain “forbidden pleasures” still leaves an ambiguous memory among the Marquesans. Another famous French language artist is also buried in the small cemetery of Atuona (1978), singer Jacques Brel was, above all for the island’s inhabitants, a philanthropist.
Such breathtaking beauty should, in the coming years, contribute to, among other things, include the Land of Men on the list of UNESCO World Heritage with universal outstanding references. Moreover, one only has to read or see the wonderful scenery descriptions by Jacques-Antoine Moerenhout (1837), Max Radiguet (1860), Robert Louis Stevenson (1890), Paul Gauguin (1903), Charles Alfred Monk (1914), Alain Gerbault (1941), Jean-Yves Le Tourmelin (1962) and Jacques Brel (1977) to understand how the myth of the wild beauty of the Marquesas Islands was conveyed and maintained.
Experts estimate that the island of Hiva Oa could have had a population up to 25,000 before undergoing European colonization. The first contacts with the outside world with navigators Mendaña in 1595 and James Cook in 1774, did not have any significant impact. But towards the very end of the eighteenth century, the Marquesas become a stopover for whalers and sandalwood seekers. This intensification of contacts upset the values of the prehistoric Marquesan civilization and the new settlers, whether they were secular or religious, are convinced of the benefits of a civilizing mission needed for those they called “the last savages.” From the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, the Marquesas were decimated almost to extinction. Only 2,094 inhabitants left in the entire archipelago in 1921. The traditions were gradually watered down and certainly a whole section of the pre-European culture was permanently lost during those dark years. And at the same time, increased trade led to an increasing artistic production (sculpture, tattoos, etc.) driven by the modernization of tools and creativity in response to the economic challenges developed.
He was virtually unknown on the island, and began helping a population, which at the time, was still very isolated from the rest of the world: between outdoor cinema and his inter island flights with his small plane called Jojo, were filling many gaps in mail transportation and medical evacuation, Jacques Brel left tha memory of a man with a big heart, open and available, to the islanders. Jacques Brel, seeking anonymity, justified his desire to move to Hiva Oa to Marc Bastard, a Catholic college teacher who became his friend, with these words: “The country is beautiful, its people are nice, and thank God, they do not know me … “the residents have keot a certain detachment” about seeing foreigners. Hiva Oa and its inhabitants pursue their destiny at their own pace, regardless of appearatly being concern abou the outside world, leaving for the visitor an image of a bubble island a timeless capital “city” both sleepy wth many abundant treasures to be discovered.
Two valleys are particularly open to this approach: Hanaiapa and Hanapaaoa, both located on the north coast of the island. They have in common a limited number of inhabitants (fewer than sixty when each college and other students are not on vacation) and an isolation that has long weighed heavily on the community’s structure of social life. Hanaiapa, a 15-minute drive from the airport, shows its originality at the entrance of the village, with a single way road throughout its length. The speed is necessarily reduced, each will have the opportunity to be seduced by a roadside lined with old stones laid out by the ancients and where people often take the time to converse while sitting in the shade of fruit trees. From the top of the village to the beach, are copra dryers around colorful houses, almost all grouped on both sides of the road. Two places symbolize Hanaiapa’s social life: the center of the village and the beach. The first includes the Catholic Church, the dominant religion in the Marquesas, the arts & crafts exhibition center (open during the passage of the Aranui ship) and the school with its small square.
Rural activity is evident in Hanapaaoa. It has some big coconut groves under which some cattle grazes. Agricultural products of the valley are many and often for food. However, the beach is an unwelcoming space, relentlessly beaten by north-east waves. Very few fishermen venture against these waves that have damaged the small dock. Community life is essentially organized around the river, where children bathe on weekends, and the House of Youth at the village’s entrance. It is where, on Sunday, all the women of the village gather for the traditional game of bingo, that very popular game which gets the spotlight with a pictorial vocabulary. The men play volleyball on the neighboring field or chat under the trees on the beach. These two valleys, Hanaiapa and Hanapaaoa illustrate the smooth lifestyle in the heart of the Marquesas, in a social environment heir of the community’s solidarity necessary to overcome the constraints of isolation.
The beach is the economic center of the valley. From there, fishermen and hunters leave, and from the old wharf, sacks of copra are loaded and the merchandise arriving from Tahiti is unloaded. It is also from this dock that visitors can dive and snorkel over a flat coral reef with many reflects. The beach symbolizes particularly well the social life with the natural reciprocal help that animates every one when the canoes return, when they have to be lifted up to the rocky beach. Similarly, when the “schooner” stops by, the dock is busy collectively loading and unloading while everyone is pleasantly involved to keep the pace sometimes imposed by chaotic movements of the long boats pushed by the swells. Hanapaaoa is somewhat more isolated, but portions of cemented road facilitates it access. The valley is wide and the village extends from one side to the other and is more spread than Hanaiapa.
Tefa Yuen, Beekeeping in the Heart of the Marquesas
In a calm and confident voice, with a mischievous look, Tefa Yuen talks about his beekeeping job with passion. With most of his apiary located in Hanapaaoa, one of the valleys of the island. He is now the largest honey producer in Hiva Oa. However, his future seemed rather to become a city person. After finishing eight grade, he left his Hanapaaoa valley to go to Tahiti and pursue graduate studies in management. There was no lack of opportunities for employment on French Polynesia’s main island, but he could not bring himself to live in the city. Returning to live in one of the most remote valleys of Hiva Oa was also a challenge. Speaking clearly, he says things lucidly: “Here, the only constraint is that you can not cheat,” alluding to a beautiful natural but often bitter environment. Elaida, his wife, from Moorea, fits into this approach: “I learned to live simply, to get rich with values other than those of Tahiti.” Initially, Tefa was a coprah famer, a cattle rancher, a farmer and of course a hunter and a fisherman. About ten years ago, he started a beekeeping venture while maintaining its previous activities. As a result, he certainly did not lack work. And this life very close to nature, he wouldn’t trade it against anything else. “There is happiness in it,” he prefers to say modestly. Very open to the world, he always takes pleasure in conversing with visitors passing through the valley. Honey from the Land of Men has become a reference in the archipelago: in addition to enjoying a rich nature preserved from human pollution, this nectar is worked in the traditional Marquesan tradition with the pride of offering a quality product.