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Day 1,671 - Baie de Cook, Moorea (17° 30S 149° 49W)
12:24hrs - December 27th 2011
Watching With Wide Eyes

Two thousand years ago, when the Pacific Ocean was unexplored and its tiny islands, scattered across a vast area of unimaginable size, lay quiet and uninhabited, a pioneering people from Southeast Asia pushed their double-hulled canoes from familiar shores and sailed deep into the unknown.

For over a millennium they migrated east, toward the rising sun, settling on islands never before seen by mankind, raising families and building communities before a brave new generation set sail to explore further beyond the horizon. And while the remote islands evolved over generations into the separate regions and countries we know today as New Zealand, Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia, they remain connected by the wakes of their ancestors, like the lines of an ancient family tree. And remarkably, while separated by time and by a vast ocean, the connection between the Ma'ohi, the Polynesian people, is not only remembered, but is celebrated, even today.

For centuries the rich culture and untamed beauty of the Marquesas, Te Henua Enana or 'Land of Men', islands that lay over 700 miles northeast of Tahiti, have drawn artists and writers to her remote shores: Paul Gauguin, Herman Melville, Henri Matisse, Thor Heyerdahl were each seduced by the dramatic archipelago, and either on canvas or on paper, tried to capture her wild beauty. The Marquesas awakened something deep within them, a raw, primitive emotion that influenced not only their work, but the rest of their lives.

And so it was here, in the Marquesas, far removed from a busy and distracted modern world, that the Matava'a o te Henua Enana - 'The Eyes Open' Festival was born, a unique arts and cultural event celebrated only every four years. An event held not for tourists, but rather for the proud Ma'ohi people themselves,
a people who, even after two thousand years, remain connected by a primitive spirit, one that spans an ocean and continues to unite its true discoverers.

Catherine and I first heard about the festival during our own migration east across the Pacific. We had arrived at the remote island of Raivavae after an arduous 24-day passage from New Zealand back to French Polynesia, and although at first the Marquesan cultural event seemed more rumor than reality (no one we spoke to could agree on when it would begin, which Pacific Islands would attend, even the island hosting the festival was in question - some claimed Nuku Hiva while others assured us it was Ua Pou) the uncertainty and mystery surrounding the unique festival only made it more alluring. And so we set-off, sailing Dream Time northeast, tracing the ancient wakes of the Ma'ohi canoes up to the Society Islands, across to the Tuamotus and towards the Land of Men.

We arrived in Nuku Hiva just three days before the festival. Delegates from Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Rapa Iti (Austral Islands), Tahiti and New Caledonia had already gathered, and an energy was building, you could sense it, like an approaching summer storm. The air - heavy, humid, and unsettled, carried with it the rhythmic and alluring rumble of distant drums as groups practiced into the night. Something powerful and primitive was coming. The remote villages of Taiohae, Taipivai and Hatiheu, hidden in ancient valleys and shrouded in jungle, were awakening.

For four exhilarating, spell-binding days Catherine and I lost ourselves to the rhythmic beating of the pahu, the drums, and to an energy that seemed to swell up and saturate the ancient stone me'ae sites, sites where long ago distant ancestors performed tribal ceremonies and ritualistic sacrifices. We sat not in bleachers or behind barricades, but on smooth volcanic boulders beside dancers. In the midday sun we stood under the shade of a 600 year old banyun tree behind the booming tiki drums, close enough to feel the vibrations resonate deep within us. And in the evening we sat amongst the long dancing shadows of over 200 performers who stirred the earth with bare feet, and shook the air with one voice. A voice that seemed to reach back through the ages, echoing down through the craggy folds of valleys and out to sea.

We walked amongst performers dressed in tapa cloth and adorned with shells, flowers, seeds, pearls and bone. Cracked paint and detailed Marquesan tattoos, the birthplace of tattoos, covered bare skin. We came to recognize faces and personalities, we felt connected to them. We found ourselves rocking and moving with each performance, to drums that, even in the tropical heat, raised goose bumps on our arms. Drums that flowed and ebbed like the wind, their rhythm, seductive and possessive, carrying the dancers on and on and on.

Through song, dance and gesture, each cultural presentation told a story - an elegant rotation of a wrist, a subtle movement of a finger, an aggressive tilt of a head, a suggestive swaying of the hips, bared teeth, wide eyes - every action and motion held a message, a message from the past, and even though we could not understand the words, we felt like we came to understood their meaning.

The eighth Matava'a o te Henua Enana has come to an end, and for the first time in weeks the giant tiki drums stand silent, the black volcanic sand lays undisturbed, and a familiar peace has settled back over the remote island of Nuku Hiva. Delegates and performers are returning home, back to their own land, but their energy, like their footprints on the deeply churned soil within the hidden valleys, will remain here long after they have gone.

I can still hear the rhythmic and provocative beating of the great drums, the haunting cries of the female dancers, and guttural murmurs of warriors preparing themselves for dance. I can still feel the black gritty volcanic sand on my skin, and smell the rich, sweet scent of Monoii oil in the air mixed with the smoke from burning coconut husks. And my eye, my eyes have been opened to an experience that now feels a part of me, and I will never forget what they have seen.

 
 


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December 14th 2011 (day 1,658)
Quick Fix: 8° 54.02 S / 140° 06.32 W

Conditions:  Wind: 10/E     Sky: Mostly Cloudy
                    Boat SPD: 0   (Anchored)

Eyes Are Opening
Across the island of Nuku Hiva a restless energy is building. You can sense it, like an approaching summer storm. The air - heavy, humid, and unsettled, carries with it the rhythmic and alluring rumble of distant drums. Something powerful and primitive is coming. The remote villages of Taiohae, Taipivai and Hatiheu, hidden in ancient valleys and shrouded in jungle, are awakening - preparing themselves for Matava'a o te Henua Enana - the eighth Marquesan
'The Eyes Open' festival, which begins tomorrow. Over 2,000 Polynesian performers from far across the Pacific have gathered, and I sense that we are about to experience something unforgettable. - NH

      NOTE: Yes, we made it to Nuku Hiva in time for the festival! We will be here all week, but unfortunately due to internet and WiFi restrictions, we will be unable
      to post the videos and photos until after the four-day event.

 



December 8th 2011 (day 1,652)
Quick Fix: 17° 28.02 S / 149° 10.58 W

Conditions:  Wind: 17/E-ESE     Sky: Mostly Clear
                    Boat SPD: 5.6 Kts  HDG: 245°

West is Best
For the first time in over two years we are sailing west, towards the setting sun, carried downwind by the South Pacific trades. And even though we're heading in entirely
the wrong direction from the Marquesas, our destination,
we're having a great sail.

With the wind behind the beam, Dream Time is ambling comfortably along without a care in the world, and the ride
is smooth and mellow. We're heading to Tahiti to take care of a little business. But we haven't given up on the Polynesian festival, we may just have to plot a different course. That's all for now, stay tuned... - NH