27 January 2017 in Discovery
French Polynesian Francis Gazeau is one of those people who elicits respect due to his courage and actions. To say that his entire life has always been extraordinary would not be entirely true; but he can certainly be praised for the noble example he has set since his heart transplant ten years ago. Today, this seventy-year-old accomplishes amazing feats to spread awareness about organ donation. His next challenge: one year alone on Clipperton Island.
On April 21, 2004, Francis Gazeau received a heart transplant. After years on a waiting list for a heart, this was a rebirth and a chance at a second life for this senior citizen. Gazeau honors the amazing gift he received in the most beautiful way. He became the ambassador for organ donation in French Polynesia through engaging in extraordinary challenges to spread awareness about this generous lifesaving act. For the fifth anniversary of his transplant, and in the spirit of a modern day Robinson Crusoe, Francis Gazeau left to live on a motu off Tahanea atoll in the Tuamotus. This was an international first made possible through the assurance of his doctors, the support of sponsors, and his unswerving faith in life.
Then he crossed the Tuamotu Archipelago in his outrigger fishing canoe, Takoa, that he transformed into a skiff with a rudder, a mast, a sail, a second outrigger and trampoline nets. This odyssey in a sailing canoe was an opportunity to promote the Tuamotus and highlight French Polynesia while spreading his message. Each of his epic adventures calls for a documentary, for Francis Gazeau’s determination, confidence, and courage are intriguing and captivating. Already, his exploits would be deemed out of the ordinary for someone in excellent physical condition, never mind someone who underwent a heart transplant.
In order to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his life in symbiosis with a new heart, this man will again push the limits of the mind and medicine. Gazeau will exile himself for an entire year on Clipperton Island, the most isolated French atoll in the world. Located in the Northern Pacific about 1,300 km (808 mi) to the west of Mexico, it is about 5,600 km (3,480 mi) from Tahiti. No one has tread ground on Clipperton Island for that long and to be there alone is a first in the world.
Clipperton Island: a crazy challenge for Gazeau
This island has always fascinated Gazeau. Today, this island is dying and he hopes to breathe new life into it through broadcasting live lessons to French Polynesian children about its ecosystem. How timely that his dream will coincide with the tenth anniversary of his transplant! Clipperton Island is 4 km long (2.5 mi) and 3km wide (1.5 mi) with an area of 4.6 sq mi. The French discovered the atoll in 1711. It became the site of scientific expeditions, but they had nothing in common with Gazeau’s plan. To get to Clipperton, Gazeau will embark on a French Navy ship in January or February, 2015.
Before arranging this, he had to convince the French government to bestow him with the status of volunteer representative of France, which assures him an extraction back home in case of any problems. Thereafter, the organization of his stay remains the same as it was on the deserted Tahanea atoll. After six months, a team of scientists will come and make sure Gazeau is in good physical health. Although he will be less cut off from the world than he was on Tahanea, thanks to the long distance environmental conferences he will be conducting, Gazeau will nonetheless not be there without risk.
However, Clipperton is not a very welcoming island. There are frequent storms and the fish abandoned the lagoon. With its semi-tropical climate, this island gets about 10-15 violent storms per year. Storms and rain are to be expected. This is a first for Gazeau, who was relatively protected during his retreat to the Tuamotus. Further, in order to get ready for his expedition, this adventurer is collecting advice and information while preparing mentally. He needs to bring in all the food he needs to survive since he cannot rely on the scarce marine resources. At least Clipperton atoll has a small coconut grove. Besides this local food supply, Gazeau will bring miki miki (a shrub common along the Tuamotuan coastline that is very resistant to salinity) and fruit trees. He will plant more coconut trees. He wants to give this dying islet new life through becoming Clipperton’s master gardener for a year.
After much thought about what would be the most efficient means of transport to sail Clipperton’s large lagoon, Gazeau traded in his traditional outrigger pirogue, or va’a , for a hobie cat (a small catamaran). He will build two shelters. The first will be in the coconut grove, and the other on the island’s highest point, a volcanic rock 29 meters high (95 ft) that emerges from the lagoon on the southeast side of the atoll. From there, Gazeau will have a survival and surveillance post. Before spending a year alone, this seventy-year-old adventurer will have company for the 15 days he will spend on the ship with the French Navy; which is the length of time it will take to get to Clipperton. They will stay on the island for four days to help get Gazeau situated and to assure he has everything he needs. Then…the adventure will truly begin!
Kidney transplants are the new French Polynesian challenge.
Organ donations impact us all, for all of us may someday either need a transplant or become a donor. It is therefore critical to discuss the issue with loved ones and to let them know our take on the matter. Since 2013 in French Polynesia, kidney transplants take place, although donations are rare. This is not only due to a lack of knowledge about the issue, but also tenacious religious beliefs. This is why Francis Gazeau spreads a positive message about organ donations in French Polynesia through connecting with the people and taking on exceptional challenges. What motivates him is to honor his donor and the 35-year-old heart that beats in his chest. Each day is a joy as long as he follows certain rules: to respect his medical treatment, to respect his transplant through healthy living, and to respect the opinions of others as far as organ donation.
Gazeau’s exploits turned into documentaries
His first solitary adventure on Tahanea atoll was retraced and immortalized with the film, Les as de cœur (Champions of the Heart). The second aventure, which involved crossing the Tuamotu Archipelago in a sailing pirogue, received a lot more coverage because Gazeau was followed by teams from the magazine Thalassa (a well-known journal dedicated to the ocean
and broadcast over a popular French public television channel), Bleu Lagon productions (a video production company) and Grand Angle (a French video/documentary production company). La pirogue du cœur (Pirogue of the heart) was broadcast throughout France and French Polynesia. Each challenge releases a film over Gazeau’s exploits, which allows for even more exchanges and connections.
A book over Tahanea
Always hoping to spread awareness about organ donation to large audiences, Francis Gazeau will release a book over his 2009 adventure on Tahanea atoll. The manuscript, written by Gilles Anziluti and published in France with a preface by Professor Christian Cabrol, a renowned French cardiologist, is almost finished. Part of the proceeds from the book will benefit Dr. Cabrol’s charities.
19 January 2017 in Culture
One hundred and fifty years ago in March 1865, 337 laborers of Chinese origin arrived in Tahiti. This event marked the birth of a Chinese community in our islands. As you’ll discover here in the first of a series of two articles dedicated to the Chinese population in Tahiti, this community, inextricable from our country’s recent history, has vacillated between tradition, modernity, assimilation and a return to the home country. This first article explores the first century of Chinese-Tahitian history, from the arrival of the first “coolies,” up until the law of January 1973 that granted them French citizenship.
A cohesive community
Living conditions were extremely harsh on Atimaono. Men lived in confinement on the plantation, slaving away for 12-15 hours a day to grow cotton, coffee and sugar cane. Many lost their lives. Others escaped to the Leeward Islands, which were still not under the rule of the colonial administration. Add to that the tensions between Hakka and Punti tribes, which often ended in brawls. In 1869, a man was killed during one of these fights. Several Chinese were immediately arrested and four were sentenced to death. Three of them were pardoned, but the fourth was guillotined. His name was Chim Soo Kung. Was he really guilty? According to the stories, he sacrificed himself to save his comrades from group punishment. To this day, the Chinese community considers Chim Soo Kung a martyr, and gathers in front of his mausoleum once a year in the Chinese cemetery in the district of Arue. Conflicts aside, this man is the symbol of a solid, united community.
Hong King Harbor, 1865: three hundred and thirty-seven Chinese were crammed into the Ferdinand Brumm, a Prussian three-masted ship. The natives of Guangdong, a province in southeastern China, belonged to the Hakka and Punti (a Cantonese group). Most of them were poor peasants ready for any adventure in order to make a fortune, and especially to better lives for the families they left behind in a country ravaged by war, natural disasters, famine and uncertainty. The ship took them to Tahiti, a French protectorate where a work-contract was waiting for them. Tahiti Cotton and Coffee Plantation Cy Ltd had hired them to exploit the land of Atimaono, one of Tahiti’s rare vast plains (located on what is known as the current district of Papara on the western side of the island). Since the abolition of slavery in France in 1848, big landowners needed to find cheap, solid, fearless laborers. Chinese immigration in 1865 totally fit the bill. On March 25, 1865 after 83 brutal days at sea in extenuatingly difficult conditions, the “coolies”—a term used for laborers of Oriental origin—arrived at the plantation. Two other convoys of immigrants were expected within the following months. In all, more than 1,000 Chinese were registered in 1866. This first wave of immigration authorized by the French administration marked the true installation of a Chinese community in French Polynesia, even if some Chinese were marginally present on the territory prior to 1865.
This solidarity became evident in 1873, when the plantation company went bankrupt and abandoned its laborers. Left to themselves, they found help from some Chinese people who had set themselves up in town. This mutual assistance, known as Tungka kanh, becomes increasingly expressed during two periods of mass immigration of Chinese from 1907 to 1914 (2,512 immigrants) and from 1921 to 1928 (2,152 immigrants). This practice originated with
the development of small businesses within the Chinese community throughout the islands and districts (the term for communes throughout Tahiti outside of Papeete).
Tungka kanh involved a wholesaler or a big retailer in Papeete who helped a small retailer through providing him with merchandise on credit based on a handshake without a written contract. Furthermore, there were self-help organizations for businesspeople, such as the Société de Secours Mutuels (Society of Mutual Help), which in 1911 became the SCI Si Ni Tong still in existence today.
Temporary status to a more long-term presence
With the disappearance of the large plantation, many Chinese (mostly Punti) left Tahiti to return to China or to pursue more adventures in other countries. An 1892 census accounted for fewer than 350 Chinese in what was then known as the French Establishments in Oceania, which more or less corresponded to what is now French Polynesia. They were all identified by a numbering system established by the French administration in order to reconcile issues of language, the complexity of their names, and to better control them. The former “coolies” had a residence permit and they leased land, became merchants, grocery store owners and farmers. They quickly opened small boutiques in the districts or the outer islands where Polynesians really depended upon them. Although they were bachelors when they arrived in Tahiti, the first Chinese assimilated into local life through often intermarrying with Polynesians. The children from these marriages tended to not receive any Chinese education. This is why to this day, descendents of this first group of Chinese immigrants are still integrated into the Chinese community. However, starting in the 1880s, this ended with the successive arrivals of Chinese women. Better living and working conditions prompted them to come to Tahiti to find a husband or a “fiancé” within the framework of an arranged marriage between two families. These women became the keepers of tradition.
Victims of discriminatory taxes
Whereas up to that point, the Chinese had been considered meek farm laborers registered within the limits of temporary and controlled immigration, the advancement of their situation and the arrival of new immigrants did not sit well with aggressive settlers and European business owners. They insistently denigrated and vilified the Chinese community, accusing them of debauchery due to their penchant for gambling and opium. In reality, as Gérald Coppenrath highlights in his book, Les Chinois de Tahiti, the retail profits of large European businesses were suffering due to competition with the Chinese shops. Under pressure, the General Council decided to establish a registration tax of 2,500 Pacific Francs for all immigrants arriving in Papeete.
This amount, quite substantial at the time, was eventually reduced; however, it also pertained to registered nationals. The Chinese deemed the practice as discriminatory. Consequently, fifty Chinese business owners hired a lawyer, Mr. Goupil, to take their case. It took two years for the State Council to make its decision. In 1899, it was declared that authorized Chinese residents would not have to pay a registration tax and that they would be treated as equals with the other business owners. However, the Chinese still had to pay other taxes, such as a residency tax…
The settlers were furious at the State Council’s decision. One of the disgruntled settlers was the famous French painter Paul Gauguin, who was living in French Polynesia at the time. He was particularly offensive and brutal towards the Chinese community: “…this yellow stain that defiles our national flag makes my face redden with shame…Foreigners, like us, live with a certain degree of luxury, and if they become rich, they spend more, maintaining an economic system while contributing to public assets; with the Chinese, there is none of this. Their money goes into the till then gets sent back to China…We can see with which ease and speed the Chinese absorb all we have to offer, then they leave us behind in the dust…those of us to whom Tahiti is home, this French land…they leave us with nothing to chew on.”
The constant idea of a return to China
Despite discrimination and these attacks, the Chinese-Tahitians never revolted.
Except for mobilizing other registered aliens to protest the taxes, they maintained a low profile. They sent their children to Chinese schools. French schools had long been inaccessible to them due to the language barrier, but there was also hostility toward them because simply put, it was not cheap and they did not want to pay the school fees. They had their own organizations everywhere, and even celebrated their marriages within their own community rather than have them conducted by an official of the French State. This explains to some extent the Chinese attachment to tradition, their ancestors, and their very strong ideas about returning to the home country. Outside of the large immigration waves between 1921 and 1928, there were always expat return movements. At the end of the Second World War when China became liberated from the Japanese, the idea of going back to the home country became more urgent for some members of the community.
In 1947, 757 Chinese boarded two Messageries Maritimes ships that had taken a special detour to Papeete. Most of the passengers were elderly who wanted to spend their final days in China, but there were also young people whose parents wanted them to be educated in China. This return to the home country proved to be a bad move for many Chinese in Tahiti who found a very different China in 1949. It was a China under the Communist regime of Mao Zedong. Many of them wanted to return to Tahiti but couldn’t get back. Guy Yeung, President of the Wen Fa Association writes at the beginning of the book, Histoire et portrait de la communauté chinoise de Tahiti: “This unfortunate experience in 1949 made us aware that the future of the Chinese population in Tahiti was to remain in French Polynesia. From this point, we made a definite decision to put an end to any idea of returning to China.”
Towards naturalization and assimilation
This event and new approach shaped attitudes. Education, which up until that point had taken place in Chinese schools, quickly shifted into a French curriculum. The arrival of Christian missionaries in Tahiti deported from China helped promote the conversion of the Chinese community to Christianity and the importance of educating their children in private Catholic schools. In 1964, the Chinese school shut down. At the same time, and at a diplomatic level, France recognized the existence of the People’s Republic of China. This immediately created a lot of anxiety within the local Chinese community for it did not support Mao Zedong’s ideologies. Suddenly, the question of French naturalization became the focus of discussion and interrogation. Up until that point, it had not been a pertinent issue for the Chinese (except in regards to the right to buy land reserved for French citizens). L’Union, the association for the future of French Polynesia, became particularly active in an assimilation movement that had started a few years prior. However, progress had been slow and disorganized. Then the geopolitical events sped things up and l’Union became very engaged.
In October 1964, China detonated its first atomic bomb. The international race for weapons took off full throttle. France, led by General De Gaulle, was thrust into a vast nuclear military program. The first launch took place in the Sahara in 1960. In order to engage in experimental weapons testing, a site was built in 1964. It was located 1,200 km (745 mi) southeast of Tahiti on the Fangataufa and Moruroa atolls in French Polynesia. Known as the Centre d’expérimentation du Pacifique (CEP), it launched its first missile in July 1966. Consequently, French Polynesia became a highly restricted strategic area for the State. There was no doubt that government authorities wanted to quickly assimilate Chinese immigrants. Genealogist Louis Shan Sei Fan remembers that, “they needed citizens who would vote, since there was already an Independentist movement in place.”
In 1965, 378 naturalizations were granted. In 1966, there were 414. It was a start. Almost 100 years after their arrival, the law of January 9, 1973 finally granted French citizenship to almost all the 10,000 Chinese in French Polynesia. A new page in the history of Chinese in Tahiti was now on record, along with a slew of upheavals in French Polynesia. These include the economic boom generated by the activities of the CEP and the building of the international airport that opened up our islands to the world.
The world in the middle of the 19th century
During the 19th century, the Qing Empire experienced immense social unrest, an explosive demographic growth and increased intrusion by Western powers. The British decision to open up trade, more notably for its opium exports deemed illegal by imperial rule, resulted in the First Opium War in 1840 and the Chinese defeat (Treaty of Nanjing, August 29 1842). The British not only gained free trade of opium, but importantly, the concession of Hong Kong, which would facilitate migrations.
Starting in 1850, Chinese, lured by gold rush fever, migrated to California where they primarily worked in construction of the railroads. The American Civil War, which insisted upon an economic separation between the north and south, weakened the entire country. Cotton and slavery were at the heart of this conflict.
From 1851 to1870, France was under Napoleon III’s Second Empire. Slavery had been recently abolished in 1848 and the industrial revolution was in motion. The French textile industry was in full development and needed a lot of cotton. Overseas, Napoleon III’s marines lay the foundation for a new colonial empire to fulfill the third Republic’s vision of expansion.
The remainder of Europe
Industrialization, population explosions, democratization and nationalism became key words of the 19th century. Aspirations of nationalism, which were becoming particularly obvious in Europe, gradually changed the continent’s political map. These changes also marked the fall of a certain “European order” that led to the outbreak of the First World War.
A professional surfer for more than three years, Steven Pierson, at thirty years old, is tenacious and passionate. Today, he is one of the top 100 best surfers in the world (83rd at his latest ranking). Alongside the other big Tahitian surfing star Michel Bourez—currently ranked fifth in the world—he is one of the elites of Tahitian competitive surfing. This very high competitive level rivals large nations such as the USA, Australia, Brazil, and South Africa. As such, despite its population of fewer than 280,000 inhabitants, French Polynesia has managed to climb the ranks to become one of the best countries in the world in this discipline.
Born in Remiremont in the Vosges Mountains of France, Steven Pierson came to Tahiti when he was three months old. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence between the districts of Mahaena, Tiarei, Papenoo, Punaauia and Papara on the island of Tahiti. He started surfing at 11 years old. He dominated the sport at the local level with at least nine Tahitian championship titles in an array of categories: youth, junior, and open. The home spots, his “favorite spots,” are located in the commune of Papara at the mouth of the Taharu’u river, and in the open sea and on the reef (known as the Maoti). Steven Pierson had the chance to be able to train and surf on these two spots with their entirely different characteristics. The mouth of the river has an ideal wave that perfectly uncoils in front of a beautiful black sand beach. As to the Maoti , this is a dangerous reef that is surfed by only the bravest. These two sites are typical of the diverse array of surfing spots available in Tahiti.
Steven regularly leaves his “island paradise,” as he calls it, to travel the world to compete internationally where the conditions are far removed from the familiar ones in Tahiti, a prime surfing location due to its year-round favorable climate, its regular swells and clear, warm waters.
“In Tahiti, we don’t have the same waves to train on as the ones we come across on the World Qualifying Series circuit (WQS),” he explains. Tahitian waves are perfect, and quite a different type than those encountered on European, American, or African coasts. This is a challenge that all Tahitian surfing competitors must keep in mind.
The home spots, his “favorite spots,” are located in the commune of Papara at the mouth of the Taharu’u river, and in the open sea and on the reef (known as the Maoti). Steven Pierson had the chance to be able to train and surf on these two spots with their entirely different characteristics. The mouth of the river has an ideal wave that perfectly uncoils in front of a beautiful black sand beach. As to the Maoti , this is a dangerous reef that is surfed by only the bravest. These two sites are typical of the diverse array of surfing spots available in Tahiti.
Steve Pierson grabbed his first big victory in September 2013, when he won Spain’s Pantin Classic. His goal is to catch up with Michel Bourez , who is among the top 34 elite surfers of elite professional surfing. In the WQS, Steven showed tremendous pugnacity. In 2013, he was ranked as the 6th top European surfer, proof of this native son’s high level of achievement.
Respected and renowned for his performance, he remains a simple athlete who loves nature. From this huge adventure that is actually his career, he wants to thank all those close to him, including his girlfriend Tehani and his numerous sponsors: Hee Nalu, Mundaka Optic, Xsories & Go Pro, 69 Slam, Cool Shoe, Teva Surf Board & Crabe Surfboards, Surf N Supply, Oam & Future Fins. His power, as he states it, is his will of steel that allows him to advance and excel far from home even if his heart is in Tahiti.
18 January 2017 in Culture
We continue our exploration of Papeete, Tahiti’s capital city, via its architecture through which contemporary mindsets foresee a Polynesia evocative of ancient times. This provides an unanticipated reflection of the people of our islands. Between tradition and reinterpretation, between the past and the future, here is a stroll through the Papeete of today.
The modern era that we refer to as the post-CEP period (Centre d’Expérimentation du Pacifique or Pacific Testing Center) marked profound architectural changes in French Polynesia’s capital. Everything was built efficiently and cheaply. Papeete’s city center was quickly transformed into concrete. Buildings juxtaposed against each other possessed a logic unique to each structure. Importantly, the 1970s brought a new dynamic to French Polynesia that led to the Tahitian cultural renaissance. This dynamic refers back to a “pre-colonial golden age” to renew ties with a cultural identity that was squelched after the arrival of the missionaries at the beginning of the 19th century.
A striking example from this period that merges modernity with the revival of a long-abandoned Polynesian culture is Vaima Centre. Indeed, its architectural qualities are extremely debatable. However, it is important to notice the efforts made to engrave the concrete beams with traditional Polynesian motifs. Although downtown’s 20th century buildings may not all reflect a local style, some of them still reflect a connection to the Polynesian world though using similar motifs plastered onto the façades.
Individual homes, the fare (word in Reo Tahiti, the Tahitian language, for house—pronounced fa-ray), built during the second half of the 20th century tend to be out of cinder block. The corners and openings are reinforced through cement poured over rebar. The fare are almost always single-family homes with a roof overhanging a porch. This overhang usually rests over steel beams. The sheet metal roof is practical since it is light and inexpensive; however, it does present shortcomings as far as thermal efficiency, even more so in regions where protection from the sun is vital. As it isn’t feasible to lay rooftop tiles that hold their own weight, wooden splints are sometimes nailed to the roofs, but this requires frequent re-roofing. There are still a few hotel roofs made out of pandanus leaves, but this is a luxury reserved for tourists.
In recent years, a new trend has surfaced with the construction of public buildings that may bring a smile to those who have always hoped for the emergence of an architecture reflecting Polynesian culture. This style consists of merging innovative contemporary architecture with undeniably Polynesian shapes and designs that will certainly beautify the constructed Polynesian landscape. These steps must be encouraged for the future. Thanks to new technologies, they bring a new identity to the capital that indicate a true connection between the local culture and feats of architecture. However, it must go hand in hand with the establishment of safeguards to prevent abuse and destruction of natural landscapes amid significant financial investments that may override respect for the building site. As far as neo-Polynesian architecture, there are several examples in Papeete.
A challenge for tourism
It is easy to see while walking the streets of the French Polynesian capital that it has never been subjected to drastic urban regulations (one may even wonder if there ever were any). This raises the question as to why almost all the buildings in the city center follow the same principle with arcades on the ground floor overlooking the street. Perhaps they serve as protection from the weather in a way that optimizes available space or entail an unconscious link to the colonial period
Two things appear to limit the quality of the buildings. One the one hand, there is the absence of norms, and on the other, the quality of the finished project. For a longtime, construction has been performed with a base of steel beams that rust if installed without protection from the sea spray. Concrete is hardier; however the rebar must not have contact with the air. Prefabricated components would obviously increase the quality of concrete structures and their use would become more common as well.
Architecture and urbanism need to be reconsidered in regards to tourism and society in general. However, Papeete has potential. Imagine biking and walking paths, exclusive public transport lanes, and an emergence of a neo-Polynesian architecture within the capital city. Hopefully, these changes are already in process.
High Commissioner of the Republic
During extensive renovation work in Papeete during the 1960s, the ancient residence of the governors was demolished. It was rebuilt in 1966 in a neo-Polynesian style. Its five very sloped roofs represent the five archipelagoes of French Polynesia. This residence is occupied by the high Commissioner of the Republic, known as the “haussaire.” He is the highest ranked Representative of State in French Polynesia.
L’Assemblée de la Polynésie française (French Polynesian Assembly)
« Tetuna’e » is the name given to the new French Polynesian Assembly building in honor of the first Polynesian legislator. This six-story office building, created by architect Michel Baccino, has a high glass front. The building is located on Rue du Docteur Cassiau, right across from the site of old Assembly on Tarahoi where the Pomare royal palace once stood. The former president of the institution Philippe Schyle explains, “The initial project included a complete renovation of the Assembly, but could not be adopted due to budgetary reasons. This ecological project includes a remediation system that reuses wastewater from Mc Donalds and the EOM (Institut d’Emission d’Outre-mer).
Tahiti’s Chamber of Commerce
October 15, 1956 signaled the official inauguration of the offices of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the French Establishments of Oceania. The site was renovated in 2010 and received a new glass front to enclose the old 50s-era façade. This exemplary feat of architecture reconciles the past and present.
Taaone healthcare center
With its immense nave covered with a monumental overturned pirogue, Tahiti’s new hospital is a perfect example of this new tendency to develop neo-Polynesian contemporary Tahitian architecture.
16 January 2017 in Culture
They are in a sense our ambassadors who highlight Polynesian culture throughout the world. These creations and works of art are located in the biggest museums in the world and are a source of permanent wonder and curiosity. In a series of articles, we will take you on a journey of discovery, beginning with A’a, an extraordinarily mysterious sculpture.
A’a is unquestionably the most famous carved Oceanic wood sculpture of all time. This masterpiece measuring 117 centimeters high (almost 4 ft) was carved sometime in the late 18th Century on the Austral Island of Rurutu in French Polynesia.
There is debate about which of the Rurutu gods this figure represents. This deity embodies the process of creating other gods and men. Thirty small figures he created cover the surface of his body. The figure itself is hollow. A removable panel on its back reveals a cavity that originally contained twenty-four small figures, which were removed and destroyed in 1882.
In his 1837 book, Missionary Enterprises, Evangelist Reverend John Williams gave the first written account of A’a. In August 1821, Williams and his colleague Lancelot Threlkeld (both were members of the London Missionary Society or LMS) were resident European missionaries in the chapel on Ra’iatea when A’a was handed over to the LMS. On August 9, 1821 Reverend John Williams gave the following account of that day, “After an absence of little more than a month, we had the pleasure of seeing the boat return [to Ra‘iatea], laden with the trophies of victory, the gods of the heathen taken in this bloodless war, and won by the power of the Prince of Peace… A meeting was held in our large chapel to communicate the delightful intelligence to our people, and to return thanks to God for the success with which he had graciously crowned our first effort to extend the knowledge of his name… In the course of the evening, the rejected idols were publicly exhibited from the pulpit. One in particular, A’a, the national god of Rurutu, excited considerable interest; for, in addition to his being bedecked with little gods outside, a door was discovered at his back; on opening which, he was found to be full of small gods; and no less than twenty-four were taken out, one after another, and exhibited to public view. He is said to be the ancestor by whom their island was peopled, and who after death was deified.”
A snippet of history
The Missionary Society was founded in London in 1795. The following year in 1796, the Society started sending missionaries to the South Pacific. In 1818, the Missionary Society changed its name to The London Missionary Society and declared: “our goals are not to promote any particular denomination of Protestantism, but rather to propagate the Christian gospel among the heathen, to bring “light” to “darkness” and to save those poor souls.” One of the accomplishments of these Missionaries’ early work was the public destruction of the Polynesian Idols. In a letter dated February 19, 1816 by Tahitian Chief Pomare II (who reigned from 1803-1824. He converted to Christianity in 1815), he writes: “If you think proper, you may burn them all in the fire; or, if you like, send them to your country, for the inspection of the people of Europe, that they may satisfy their curiosity, and know Tahiti’s foolish Gods!”
Triumph over idolatry
The missionaries realized that if preserved, Pomare’s idols would be undeniable proof of their triumph over idolatry. They jumped on this extraordinary opportunity and sent the idols to England, where along with Pomare II’s letter, they were featured prominently in the third issue of Missionary Sketches that appeared in October, 1818. As reported in this church pamphlet, the appearance of these idols in London prompted the London Missionary Society to encourage their display for purposes of “instructive contemplation.”
By 1821, a series of missionary stations had been established throughout the Society Islands. Each was manned by one or two missionaries with their wives and children. They were supported in their work by local deacons and recently converted teachers, whose role proved critical in the eventual Christian conversion of islander populations throughout many parts of the Pacific. They erected chapels, established schools, and distributed printed material, mainly from a printing press set up on Moorea in 1817. The costs of the missions were offset by local contributions of refined coconut oil, arrowroot and other products shipped back to England to be sold on behalf of the London Missionary Society. These offerings were strongly endorsed by missionaries and converts alike as an integral part of the local religious practice.
From anonymity to celebrity
In 1822, A’a was sent back to the London Missionary Society collection in London. The missionaries used the figure as a visual aid while they traveled around the country talking about their work and soliciting funds to further missionary work. A’a was evidence of what “pagan” people did without western religion, just as their cultures and art were regarded as “primitive” by western standards.
In 1890, the London Missionary Society Museum lent a significant amount of its holdings (including A’a) to the British Museum. The cost of maintaining the London Missionary Society Museum put a great strain on their finances. Around 1910, the British Museum authorized Messrs Brucciani & Co. to make casts of A’a from molds. Then in 1911, A’a was sold to the British Museum, where it has remained ever since. In 1912, the Bishop Museum in Hawaii ordered a cast, then so did the Dominion Museum in Wellington New Zealand. After that, several other casts were sold to Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Harvard University and Auckland, New Zealand. Subsequently, Roland Penrose, an English artist, historian and poet best known for his exhibitions and books over the work of Picasso, purchased a cast.
In the 1950s, Picasso saw this cast in Penrose’s studio and fell in love with it. He immediately wanted one and ordered a cast of A’a. A photograph of Picasso in his studio La Californie in Cannes, France, taken by Edward Quinn circa 1960, shows the cast. Moreover, Henry Moore, the greatest English sculptor of the twentieth century, ordered a plaster cast in the early 1970s that he cast in bronze. Moore placed the bronze A’a in the hall of his house, where it could be viewed from the long sitting room. Moore felt A’a was so powerful that it was difficult to find an appropriate place in his house to put it. My dear friend, Hermione Waterfield, commissioned a cast from the Cast Department at the British Museum. She very generously donated A’a to the people of Rurutu for the hospitality they so kindly offered her when she visited the island in 1983. She personally told me that the “two dozen small bodies on A’a had to be cast separately, which was extremely difficult and time consuming”
Laurance Alexander Rudzinoff
Air Tahiti Nui Brand Ambassador, Cultural Attaché, Writer and International Art Dealer specializing in twentieth century masters, Laurance Rudzinoff views the incredible ancient Polynesian artifacts as Ambassadors from our Islands. After all, they promote good will and interest in our islands, which is an important part of an ambassador’s duties. Starting with this edition and for each of the next issues, Laurance Rudzinoff will teach us about a different Polynesian Ambassador on display around the world.
16 January 2017 in Culture
“To stop painting graffiti is to stop breathing,” says Romain Picardi, known by his artist’s name, Abuz. He was born with a pencil in one hand and an aerosol can in the other. For the past fifteen years, graffiti has been his life. He took the award for the Fenua Student-ATN during the first Ono’u International Graffiti Festival that took place in Tahiti in 2014—an event that brought forty artists together from all over the world to decorate the city of Papeete and participate in a competition. Ever since, Abuz has become a key graffiti artist on the French Polynesian art scene.
“This award brought me amazing professional and personal outcomes. People request my work, I am recognized and people look for me. This is all so new to me!” reveals this humble young thirty-something. He is sitting at the table in a restaurant located in the Fare Ute neighborhood, close to the Papeete harbor. The artist knows this neighborhood well. His work is visible from almost every street corner. It is impossible to not recognize his signature style. It is either colorful or sad. His themes are abstract but always perceptive. His soft lines are often cut to the quick.
“I decorate a lot. I paint stores or shop walls, hotels and private homes.”
Abuz has no qualms about saying it—decorating is his living. He is not just a street graffiti artist. This young man survives off his passion thanks to commissions. The world of graffitti does not always appreciate this business aspect and opinions can vary. Some artists advocate tag graffiti, done on the fly, stealing spaces to paint illegally and freely. Others decide to not set limits on themselves and attempt to make a living at it. “Graffiti art comes from the streets but it is evolving. Today, money has become a part of the game. Americans get it and aren’t embarrassed. I respect those artists who do graffiti on the fly, but I have decided to go further and earn a living doing what I love,” states this artist who is distinctive from the other graffiti artists from the Fenua due to his themes and particular style. “I often take on the topic of the subconscious or do abstracts. I am also really into graphics, characters and décor. I don’t really care for tagging, which is more traditional graffiti. Over the years, I have sought my own signature style and improved it,” says Abuz. He admits that he readily uses Polynesian motifs from time to time in his work. “Sometimes, I reinterpret shapes or symbols from French Polynesia. I am careful not to fall into traditionalism. I want the message in my designs to remain universal.”
It is after receiving a degree in English from the University of French Polynesia that this young man, who first became initiated into graffiti during a brief stay in France while in high school, decided to become an artist. With the support of his family, he found some paid gigs and his first major work: the logo for Morisson’s Café in Papeete, a popular bar-restaurant in the French Polynesian capital. “In the beginning, it was quite difficult. I had very few commissions. I was making about $900 a month and I wasn’t creating the type of work that I wanted. But I had no choice. I had to make do with what I was doing,” says this same person who four years later would create one of his greatest works on a wall of the famous Four Seasons Hotel in Bora Bora. “I always strived for a good work ethic. It is so important to do good work. This is what makes a graffiti artist lucrative. This is how I learned and how I evolved.”
A promising Tahitian graffiti scene
Persistant and determined, Abuz never gave up despite material and financial difficulties. In the beginning, even though graffiti has been around for the past twenty years in Tahiti, it wasn’t that widespread. To find aerosol cans to paint the city walls was truly a challenge. Graffiti artists had to import their supplies from Europe. By the end of the 2000s, sales started to develop in the country with the opening of the Old School shop in Papeete, now known as the Mata Store. Local artists could then buy supplies on the island, and therefore paint more regularly.
Quite the opposite of their fellow artists in the big cities of Europe or elsewhere who are used to the disdain of passersby as they paint walls in the streets, French Polynesian graffiti artists are encouraged and even admired. “Here, people stop and watch you and often complement your work. In their eyes, we are not hooligans being destructive, but artists embellishing the walls of the island. It is so enjoyable!” explains this artist who is happy to see new work and new murals occur every day in Tahiti. “The movement is still fresh. It exploded about ten years ago but it is evolving very quickly. Today, there is a true graffiti scene in Tahiti. You can see all kinds: tagging, wall art or canvas,” confides Abuz before adding, “more and more young people around 14 are starting to place their signature everywhere. There dare to do it and it is a good thing.”
This is one of the outcomes of the 2014 Ono’u Festival that gathered the best international graffiti artists in Tahiti last May. “All the big names in graffiti were there! For the first time, we had the opportunity to go up against other artists. It was a true blast of fresh air.” Besides having the chance to rub shoulders with bigger artists, what was even more important for Abuz was that the festival united local graffiti artists. “Before, we were more or less in our own little corners. The festival brought us together. For some, we got to discover new artists among us. Some of the international attendees were impressed by our level of artistry. Five Tahitians were selected as some of the best out of all the others. This was a huge accomplishment!”
This exploit is even more impressive since two local graffiti artists, including Abuz, were among the ten finalists. Mast, a NewYork graffiti artist, was awarded the grand prize. However, Abuz walked away with the Fenua Student Award and an Air Tahiti Nui ticket for Los Angeles. However, this is an opportunity and reward that he almost missed.
A sensitive and brave artist
A few months before the beginnning of the time to register for the festival, Abuz went through a difficult period. In the midst of a breakup, the artist, a young father of a little boy now three and a half years old, started questioning things. He felt lost and decided to walk away from graffiti. Abuz rebecame Romain Picardi and left to find a job “like regular people. “ He found a position as a store clerk in a garage. This experience lasted three months until he realized he was on the wrong path. “I had to test myself. I did it and I understood that graffiti was my life. So I quit the job and grabbed my aerosol cans.” What happened next justified his decision. By the end of 2013, a rumor about a graffiti festival and competition in Tahiti turned into a reality. Abuz registered right away. He was selected and found himself thrust into the finals. “I believe this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I grabbed it and dove in,” said the artist, who has signed up for the second annual Ono’u festival that will take place in Tahiti May 5-9, 2015.
From one day to the next, this French Polynesian artist found himself painting a wall in the famous Melrose neighborhood in Los Angeles alongside the winner of the 2014 festival and some other international artists. “The experience was awesome. The guys are so good at what they do, yet they remain humble and cool. Coming up against them, I realized that I, too, am a graffiti artist. I know my stuff but I also know I have a lot to learn.” Since this lesson in humility, Abuz has also understood that in order to exist as an artist, he must show his work. He must go outside of the Fenua (home country) and open himself up to the world. “The big names in graffiti merge styles. They leave traditional graffiti styles behind to create a new identity for themselves. I want to be free like they are and not limit myself.”
Abuz attempts to not only hold onto this line of conduct while he decorates walls, but also with projects that are more artistic and humanitarian. “I have have been recently asked to paint in a psychiatric hospital and a prison. These projects don’t pay but they are spiritually enriching.” This humanist side also helps create the signature of this talented and promising artist.
Artist contact information: Facebook : Abuze.ink
Event : The 2015 International Ono’u Graffiti Festival will take place from May 5-9 in Tahiti.
6 January 2017 in Nature
How do the Polynesian islands come into being? What will they become? How is it that they are so unique and beautiful? The answers are in this informative voyage through time and space.
I am lost in the middle of the immense Pacific, and already, by default of my geographic location, I am the thing dreams are made of…I am uninhabited and alone, bordered by a beach of immaculate white sand, having but a few coconut trees and bathed in deliciously warm turquoise water. I then become the place of everyone’s fantasy…of course, you have guessed by now what I am. Don’t tell me you need even more hints, such as Robinson Crusoe, Pitcairn, Rapa Nui as well as Tahiti, Bora Bora, the Tuamotus, the Marquesas. Yes, you figured it out ! I am …an island, a tiny piece of earth encircled with water. There are hundreds of these dustings of the earth poking out of the immense Pacific Ocean. They are usually small, ranging from a few hundred square meters—often called islets—to several dozen square kilometers. We refer to the two large landmasses that make up the north and the south of New Zealand as islands. However, these two large “islands” have origins that differ greatly from the miniscule points on a map, but we won’t discuss that here. As far as Australia, it is not even an island but a continent, which is also out of bounds for our discussion.
The origins of the oceanic islands in the Pacific
How did these tiny bits of confetti show up in the middle of this immense ocean? This question has been around for a long while and some with an overactive imagination believe they are what is left of a vanished continent, such as Atlantis and its so-called mysteries, or remnants of “Mu,” another lost or engulfed continent…you decide! After the work of German scientist Wegener in 1912 and the studies that ensued, it became evident that these theories were far-fetched. It was then understood that the earth’s crust was not static. It was formed of giant plates and that these plates, and even continents, shift. The theory of tectonic plates—the shifting of continents—came into being and has been largely corroborated ever since. Our Pacific islands are closely tied to this theory. Here, we will follow the life of one of these islands—that seemingly appeared in the middle of nowhere—from its birth until its death.
First, it is a good idea to picture the geological situation of the Pacific basin. A solid lithospheric plate, known as the Pacific plate, comprises most of the Pacific floor. This largest plate on earth has been continuously shaping itself for millions of years at the level of a zone called the “mid-ocean ridge” that is situated to the east. It is created through a permanent supply of new basaltic substance. A ridge is a true fracture in the earth’s crust, a chain of underwater volcanoes where basaltic substance rises up from the mantle and pours out from two sides, creating an oceanic crust. We became aware that the farther away one gets from the ridge, the older the Oceanic floor…as much as 180 million years old towards the west of the Pacific! Recent substance shapes the older substance into a type of rug that literally floats on the greatest part of the earth’s mantle called the athenosphere. Within the athenosphere, complex phenomena produce enormous quantities of heat, which fuses the substance. This in turn creates convection movements of the magma, somewhat like what occurs in a pot of water on the stove. Between the pushing that takes place by the supplies of new substance and convection movements, the plate slowly makes its way northeast. Based on the ages of the different zones, it is possible to determine the speed at which it progresses. Depending on the location, the speed varies from 8 to 18 cm per year (3-7 inches), sometimes creating what are called transform faults. Hence, the Pacific Ocean has a tendency to get larger. However, since the earth is not expandable, the oceanic plate disappears from one side of the Pacific all the way to the west through sliding under continental plates in the subduction zones, such as the east coast of Japan or New Zealand’s north island. Unfortunately for these regions of the planet, this sliding does not occur without friction. Sometimes they create earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. This is the Pacific Ring of Fire that has the most active volcanoes on earth.
During very ancient times
However, let us return to our islands! In current-day French Polynesia, the rising seabed shows a several hundred-meter bulge in the earth’s crust (the ocean floor has risen almost
600 m/2000 ft). This type of immense “blister” results from a considerable accumulation of magma. It is the super-bulge of the South Pacific on which lay numerous islands and undersea mountains. Most often, these islands are spread in succession over several hundred kilometers and make up the archipelagoes of the Cook and Austral Islands, Society Islands, the Tuamotus, the Marquesas and so on. For a long time, these archipelagoes have attracted the attention of geologists because all these islands are aligned in a neighborly direction. Once geologists were able to date the rocks on the islands, they realized that the more they ventured northwest, the older the islands. As such, Mehetia island south of the Society Islands is only 25,000 to 70,000 years old; whereas Maupiti on the other side of the archipelago dates to about 4.4 million years. Between these two extremes, the ages are staggered. Tahiti is 1 million years old, Huahine is 2.6 million, and Bora Bora is 3.4 million. The same phenomenon exists in the Marquesas. Fatu Hiva to the south of the Marquesan archipelago is only 1.6 million years old; whereas Nuku Hiva is 4.2 million and Eiao to the extreme north of the Marquesas is the oldest at 5.5 million years old.
I am born at the bottom of the ocean…
Geologists have concentrated their research on the extreme southeastern point of these alignments, and through conducting underwater research, they discovered the summit of young volcanoes still beneath the surface. In 1963, J. Tuzo Wilson, the Canadian Geophysicist, came up with his hypothesis about the existences of hotspots, which are areas with a fixed location which the lithospheric plate passes slowly over. From time to time, due to mechanisms we still know little about, a plume of magma perforates the lithospheric plate and flows onto the ocean floor. This causes the birth of an undersea volcano. Due to the thick layer of water that sits on top of it, this underwater eruption goes by undetected from the surface. Eruption after eruption, the magmatic mass grows into a volcanic cone. It takes several hundred thousand years for it to grow 4 or 5000 meters (13,000-16,000 ft), and for its summit to emerge out of the ocean to create an island. The study of different archipelagoes shows that the lifespan of the island averages about a dozen million years. These volcanoes, 9,000m – 12,000m above the ocean floor (29,500 – 39,000 ft), rival in size with the largest continental volcanoes.
French Polynesia has six known hotspots of which only three are active: Mehetia’s active volcano south of Tahiti (the last eruption was in 1986); Pitcairn to the southeast of the Gambier Islands, and the undersea volcano McDonald (1988) located to the extreme south of the Austral Archipelago. The tip of the volcano lays at only several dozen meters under the surface of the water. Pumice eruptions have already taken place. No doubt, that in a certain number of years, this volcano will emerge. This spectacle will be similar to the small island that recently emerged from the depths outside Japan. As the eruptions continue, birth of the island occurs through sheaves of molten rock and steam. The seawater vaporizes upon contact with lava at 2,000 °C (3,632°F), which creates huge white plumes. This is the marriage of fire and water. These aerial eruptions take place at the same time as various projections, such as volcanic bombs and gases. This is how an island is born. This island is fragile despite the fact its birthing takes place under frightening chaos that brings together fire, rocks, and water. Swells can quickly destroy the pyroclastic substances. However, if the emissions are abundant, and if the lava flow consists of strong, solid basaltic matter, then there is a chance that the newborn can resist the natural elements.
The Marquesan hotspot, just like the ones by Rurutu Island in the Australs and Rarotonga, doesn’t have any recent volcanic activity on record. Of course, there are other hotspots in the Pacific. Hawaii is a perfect example. Mauna Kea volcano rises up at more than 10,000 meters (33,000 ft) above sea level and is one of the most significant volcanoes on earth.
A young island is but a chaotic mix of black, raw volcanic rock beaten by the wind and ocean swells that must commence the slow process of development. Bit by bit, the coastal shores take form. The ocean rips entire sections of volcanic slag, hurtling them down the underwater slopes of the volcano into the abyss.
Life takes form
Bit by bit, life progressively settles on which is for the moment, nothing but a sterile mineral world. This isolated rock in the middle of the ocean presents an excellent stopover place for certain sea birds to nest. They transport spores of ferns and grains of grass that have clung to their legs and mixed with their excrement to the island. If some of the grains don’t make it, then others will find the moisture and the nutrients necessary for their germination and development in microcracks, which result from the chemical weathering of the basalt. The first ferns, the first lichens, and the first grasses will colonize the island over time, creating perfect nesting conditions for some birds. The droppings from these birds enrich the soil. Sea currents beating against the coast may carry larger seeds. They also bring lizards, ants, spiders, and other insects clinging to debris from another island or even a faraway continent. Wind, birds and sea currents play a critical role in dispersal and colonization. Larger plants, such as trees, will start to grow, creating a richly diverse environment for animals and vegetation. A forest will develop, providing food and shelter to its hosts. This situation will endure millions of years. Due to their long isolation and following an array of mutations, plants and animals will become slightly altered from their original species. Species found only on a certain little island will become endemic. The number of endemic species in the Pacific islands is particularly significant. A natural balance will start to form.
Sea currents bring cup coral larvae from under the surface of the water that affix themselves to the highest slopes of the volcanic cone. They colonize and eventually build a coral reef. The tiny polyps that build these structures hide algae inside their matter that need light and oxygen. Consequently, they prefer to be close to the surface and benefit from water that is usually salty and rich in oxygen. They will not develop within the paths of fresh water charged with organic and mineral particles stripped from the island. These paths will become passes.
And then it is time for humans…
Then one day, aboard double pirogues, the first humans set foot on its shores. The Polynesians arrived, bringing with them new types of vegetation—some for food, others to build houses and make tools and clothing. They inadvertently brought other types of plants that found excellent conditions to thrive and therefore invaded the entire island. The natural balance fell at risk.
These human beings also brought animals, either voluntarily or not, such as pigs, dogs, rats, mice, spiders, and other insects. These creatures quickly settled throughout the tiniest corners of the island in an attempt to regain their freedom and find their ideal environments.
Other than humans, they did not have many predators. Century after century, humans started to alter the landscape to suit them through chopping down trees, burning land, putting in agricultural terraces and irrigation ditches, etc. Later on, Europeans brought more species of animals and vegetables. Soon after, in the name of progress and economical development powerful engines replaced pickaxes and shovels. People built tracks, then roads, works of art, countless more urban buildings, and created various facilities. Our tiny island has indeed changed since its birth 4 or 5 million years before. However, this upheaval is but a stage of its life. It still has another 5 million years or so to go…
Over the course of one or two generations, the island appears to be unchanged. The reality is entirely the opposite, because the island shifts. Importantly, it moves relentlessly towards its end. First, natural phenomena, such as erosion, alter the landscape. Running water modifies and decomposes even the hardest rocks. Moreover, volcanic rocks are subject to chemical reactions and disintegrate. Small vegetal roots infiltrate the tiniest cracks that they stretch open after time, plus blocks of rock split off during volcanic flows. Sometimes, these huge masses come loose. Day after day, the island loses altitude and size. Particularly during the past few years due to global warming and its consequences, there is a slow rise in sea levels that is evident through observing the change in coastlines and a loss of the islands’ surface area. Tides, swells and cyclones all compete to destroy the edifice. Block by block, particle-by-particle, mechanical actions caused by streaming water, swells, and sometimes human interventions, destroy the island.
This destruction is significant, but there are more serious and inescapable issues. Through getting farther from the ridge, the oceanic plate gets cold, which provokes a thickening. A few kilometers from the ridge’s level, its thickness will attain 100 or even 200 km (60-125 mi) before subduction occurs, which involves sliding under the continental plate. Its mass increases even more, exerting significant pressure on the asthenosphere. As a result, when it progresses to the west, the Pacific plate sinks, which is an occurrence known as subsidence. This creates a significant depression, for while the ridge is at a depth of only 2,500 meters beneath the sea (8,200 ft); the depths from east to west increase to 6, 8 or even 12, 000 meters (20,000 or 26,000 or even 40,000 ft) from the location of the gulf where the plate slides underneath the continental plate. Islands shifted by the movement of the plate also sink in.
The coral reefs that surround them, desperate for light, survive through growing towards the surface, a true crown of coral encircling the island’s agony. Soon, only the island’s summits that escaped erosion will stick out of the water. This is what we see happening in Bora Bora and Maupiti. In a few million years, these last summits will have disappeared. Subsidence will have eventually dragged them away. Only rings of coral will remain. The high islands will have transformed into atolls, such as those in the Tuamotu Archipelago. However, even atolls will follow their path toward the west and join the sinking of the plate that carries it to its death. Only a sandbank will remain, then an underwater mountain, called a guyot, that several million years later will also be dragged away by the ocean floor, only to be swallowed by subduction. The final remains of our island will disappear, engulfed by magma and swept up by convection movements. Fortunately, we will not be around to witness this, and tourists can be reassured that they still have several thousand years to visit our beautiful tropical islands.
6 January 2017 in Culture
A journey towards the outside starts from within
This is the first exhibit of contemporary Polynesian indigenous art to take place outside of French Polynesia. Manava opened in December 2014 at the WUHO Gallery in Los Angeles. This exhibit was conceptualized by the Centre des Métiers d’Art (Center for Careers in Art), which is an art school located in Papeete. Here is an account of this adventure.
Assimilating French Polynesian cultural, aesthetic and ethical values
“What is our rapport with history and how can we consider the issue of our cultural representation today?” is the rallying question French Polynesian artist Alexander Lee asks. He collaborated with students and teachers of CMA during workshops he conducted at the school.
“Manava marks the beginning of a new phase in the cultural and artistic fabric of French Polynesia. The world is changing and we must shift along with it, starting with re-examining ourselves, our relationship with the world and the signs with which we represent ourselves to the world. This is a journey towards the outside that starts from within: MĀNAVA!” Viri Taimana, the Director of the Centre des Métiers d’Art – Te Pu Haapiiraa Toroa Rima i passionately explains. Created in 1980, the CMA offers a curriculum that revisits history and French Polynesian cultural heritage through sculpture, engraving, drawing, painting, weaving, photography, video and installation projects.
Although it resonates like a word of welcome, Manava is above all the word for the gut, the stomach, the Polynesian belly, which is where the seat of emotions is located, where consciousness reigns. CMA’s contemporary art exhibits, such as Manava, reveal themselves as introspections—specific views of French Polynesia that offer an itinerary into a Polynesian world fully immersed into the 21st century. These introspections establish the existence of contemporary indigenous Polynesian thought surrounding visual arts. Polynesian artists question their society as well as their immersion and participation in the world.
When the contemporary art of Manava was exhibited at the Musée de Tahiti et des îles in 2013, it crossed a major threshold. Its message of a living artistic culture was positively received by the museum, a public institution in French Polynesia that strives to preserve the ancient heritage. The contemporary works of Manava are inscribed as an extension of the ethnological collections of the museum. Each created piece of art is at once an act of restitution and transmission. As such, the arts allow the regeneration and diffusion of French Polynesian heritage while preserving characteristics that are passed down and that integrate the crucial evolution of cultural heritage.
The conceptual power behind the works of Manava did not slip by Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter, Assistant Dean of the School of Architecture at Woodbury University and Director of the WUHO Gallery (Woodbury University Hollywood Outpost), located on the prestigious Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. She visited the exhibit in Tahiti for an experimental media workshop at CMA. This workshop was organized in partnership with Woodbury and CMA students (an exchange that began in 2010). Consequently, Wahlroos-Ritter invited the Manava show to the WUHO Gallery in Los Angeles for December 2014.
The contemporary works created for Manava reflect an assimilation of French Polynesian cultural, aesthetic and ethical values. These values stem from individual expression influenced by a local collective memory connected to ways of life, the environment and the conditions of the existence of a cultural heritage. The culture brings together a collection of perspectives transmitted from generation to generation. This is done through orality, the written word, gestures, audio-visual means or by any other way in relationship to the arts, technique, expertise, daily life and the acknowledged value of collective events from ancient and contemporary times. The creation of contemporary art allows Polynesians to recognize themselves in the art in a way that gives them a sense of identity and continuity.
– A Manava II exhibit is scheduled to take place at the Musée de Tahiti in Octobre 2016, and will show in the WUHO Gallery (and beyond) in 2017.
– Air Tahiti Nui is Manava’s official sponsor and transport for its international tour.
2 December 2016 in Events
Based on the variety and difficulty of the Bora Bora Liquid Festival KXT Ironmana and Waterman Tahiti Tour trials, athletes are challenged to totally surpass any preconceived limits they may have set for themselves and their abilities. Va’a (sailing canoe), open water swimming and prone and stand up paddle boarding competitions take place within the stunning backdrop of our islands. Here is a meeting with Stephan Lambert, an extraordinary world-class aquatic athlete and competitor who created these events.
“It is not the destination, but the journey.” This gypsy proverb could very well have been coined by Stephan Lambert. Today, he is renowned as the creator of what are considered to be among the most beautiful races in the world of aquatic sports: the Ironmana and the Waterman Tahiti Tour. His path seemed to have been preordained, but he preferred to change direction. He is the son of Alain Lambert, the coach of famous tennis champions Guy Forget and Yannick Noah and trainer for the French Davis cup team. He should have become the champion tennis player he was promising to be. He knew how to hit the yellow ball almost as soon as he learned to walk. He won individual and team French championships. Then at 16 years old, he left to do an exhibition match in Hawaii. His eyes became wide open. What already existed in him became very clear: “I am going towards the beach,” he told Guy Forget who had accompanied him. Champions of surfing and va’a (Polynesian outrigger canoe) whom he met during this trip turned him onto the sea. While in the south of France, the sea “was part of the environment;” after Hawaii, it became a lifestyle. He had only one desire: to go live over there. His mother reined him in. First, he had to graduate from high school, then attend university. With five years of higher education in his pocket, he left to go live in Hawaii.
Coaching was also part of his life. He had what it took to make it happen. He initiated training programs and became a consultant. In 1994, he arrived in French Polynesia “due to fishing.” He worked as an evaluator for bluefin tuna, determining the price of fish and feasible export distribution markets. “Working 14 hours a day, there is no time to surf…there is a moment you realize you’re doing the wrong thing.” He dropped everything and moved to Bora Bora. After organizing a Jet Ski club, he again changed direction to refocus on sailing canoes. “The moment I stop creating, I become bored,” he admits. He had a new challenge, a new life. “It involved bringing noble values into this disappearing symbol of the sailing canoe. It is a feature that unites people. Riding a jet ski and sailing a canoe generate a very different energy,” he says. Finally, time now flows at a rhythm that Stephan Lambert had always been seeking, punctuated with solitary crossings between the Leeward Islands on his prone paddleboard and shooting photos for famous brands.
Race for the “taravana” people, the crazies in Tahitian…
He is still coaching, and between Tahiti, Hawaii and California, he naturally gravitates towards athletes. He continues to offer unique training programs with a foundation that involves a close, spiritual connection with the water. Those who desire to train for the Heiva, a marathon or a va’a race, came to see him. Foreign athletes arrive from abroad to attend his isolated workshops on his Bora Bora motu. He then got the idea to fuse these programs into a sportive event and to bring several aquatic disciplines together in order to perpetuate the waterman spirit.
In 1999, he organized the first edition of the Ironmana, which involved thirty kilometers (18 mi) on the Bora Bora lagoon in a va’a. At the time, people said it was a race for the “taravana” people (crazies in Tahitian). Fifteen years later, the same people are on the start line. The race has since increased from 30km to more than 60km (37mi). From its beginnings as a one-day competition, the challenge has turned into a five-day long festival of trials. With open water swimming, stand up paddle boarding and prone boarding as now part of the program, participants change their mode of transportation three times to engage in a type of triathlon.
2014 brought the first edition of the Waterman Tahiti Tour, which includes a championship in five stages, each taking place on a different island from April through September. The idea is to use this event to prepare for the Ironmana, which lasts a week and is always held the first weekend in December.
These events are considered “progressive”: the same course and distance never occur more than once. As the years pass, so do the degrees of difficulty. “One must always do more than the previous year. There is this greed for effort plus reward which equals pleasure,” Lambert states.
The philosophy for these events is the same for the trainings that Lambert offers: always exceed your limits and don’t worry about your adversaries. For the participants, there is only one motto: “expect nothing, be ready for everything.” Many have embraced this way of life. According to open-water swimming champion, Californian Grace Van Der Byl: “If you want to be a Waterman, you have to do the Ironmana.” The Ironmana and Waterman Tahiti Tour have become key competitions for men and women who seek water challenges.
«You are your own adversary»
« You are your own adversary. You have to have faith and believe that things will work out all while being aware that there are very difficult challenges ahead. To give up is not an option,” Lambert explains. “Attitude is the first domino that affects everything else.” Attitude. A word that comes up quite frequently in the conversations of this former tennis champion.
Beyond the physical challenge, Lambert encourages a spiritual quest. “To not give people a challenge is a great way to control them. If they are reminded that anything is possible, they become free electrons,” he asserts. Lambert attempts to train everyone on a path that is difficult, yet gratifying. “It is the spirit that animates the participants. These events have a spiritual dimension. They become an interior journey. The doses of endorphins that the body delivers with a workout are even stronger if you are in competition with yourself. It is only once you pass the finish line that the story can begin.” For after such exertion, a blast of energy takes over the participants that can last months after the competition. Ironmana and the Waterman Tahiti Tour encompass mental and physical challenges. For Stephan Lambert, the motto is, “I bet I can do it.”
Today, about a hundred people participate in these two events. Lambert doesn’t know why he feels the urge to train all these people in this type of journey. He just “found a way to share and to not be alone doing what he loves. I am not there to convince people to participate. I just propose an option. I try to encourage people to appreciate the present moment and to love what they are doing the moment they are doing it. To breath fully in the “now”…
Ironmana and the Waterman Tahiti Tour are more than just competitions. They are a unique concept in the world and Lambert hopes to develop it abroad to eventually create, why not…a Waterman World Tour! Since endorphins are a free drug, why deprive oneself?
WATERMAN TAHITI TOUR (WTT)
WTT 1 : Sunday, April 5 (Blue Banana) Punaauia, Tahiti
WTT 2 : May 23 & 24, « children’s day,» Punaauia, Tahiti
WTT 3 : June 20 & 21, Coco Beach, Moorea
WTT 4 : August 15 & 16, Tahiti-Mahina (Pointe Venus beach)
WTT 5 : September 19 & 20, Raiatea
IRONMANA BORA BORA LIQUID FESTIVAL 2015
– Channel Crossing: November 23-30, 2015
This adventure trek executed in a sailing canoe consists of departing Tahiti to link the islands of Moorea, Huahine, Taha’a and Bora Bora.
– Bora Bora Liquid Festival : December 1-6, 2015
For other events, show sports events schedule