Fatu Hiva - O Lady Fair, Star of the Sea…

July 11, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

9 May: May is the month of Mary. How many times had I heard that over the years, brought up at school by Southern Irish nuns. I was surprised to be reminded of that in Fatu Hiva, as I had not appreciated, until arrival there, that The Marquesas is predominantly Catholic. 

On our walk back from the waterfall, Xavier got out his drone at the dock, and was suddenly surrounded by adults and children alike, as he gave them a demonstration. Meanwhile I slipped away to the whitewashed Catholic church opposite, to give a quite prayer of thanks for our safe passage across the Pacific. 

I returned to the church the following day with the children. We admired the carvings and the flowers, but, maybe because there was no-one else around, felt we shouldn’t reallly be there either and didn’t linger. Further along the road we came to a shack that was the Lady Chapel, that somehow was much more inviting. Maybe it was because, at the centre of the altar, there was a statue of Mary crowned with exotic blooms, the real Queen of Virgins Bay! We sat down for a minute and I taught the children quickly the Hail Mary in French for good measure. I thought of Stella Maris, Our Lady Star of the Sea. In santería working in Cuba, she is fused with Yoruban deity Yemayá, goddess of the sea, and I wondered if there had been any similar acts of cultural resistance here in the Marquesas when devotees of Kon Tiki assimilated Christianity. 

Back at the dock, we had time on our hands. We had done a reccie of artisan workshops (post to follow) and still had an hour and a half before Xavier, back at the boat in Skipper mode cleaning the hull, had arranged to pick us up. A grandfather (to be fair, probably about the same age as me, I did the maths later!), babysitting his one year old daughter, beckoned me over. He had 15 pomelo in a box at his house, waiting for Xavier as a thank you for showing the drone! He was so kind. As the children played beside us with local kids, he and I whiled away the rest of the time talking about life, the universe and everything. We had some funny twists and turns in conversation. At one point he was trying to fell each of my arguments as to why I didn't want any more children. Eventually I gave up trying to persuade him and simply told him my age as justification. Ah, he nodded sagely, you are over the hill… there may have been a twinkle in his eye, but there were no more questions on that score! 

His grandaughter was called Vai-kuhane. It talk me several goes to get the hang of the pronunciation, and separate out each vowel sound. Robert Louis Stevenson in his memoirs is quite derrogatory about Herman Melville’s linguist ear (or lack thereof), and spelling of the Marquesan language. I laughed then, and now sympathised.  Her name means spirit of water. My daughter-in-law had some fun getting that name past the priest at Baptism, he smiled. I learned the priest was over on the other side of the island at Ooma for the time being, so there were no services at present in church, although daily prayers in the Lady Chapel at 4.30pm, but mon Père would be returning at the end of the week with the bishop, for the Confirmation Service, a great event that only happens in Fatu Hiva every few years. The teenagers being confirmed would be returning too - Fatu Hiva has a primary school, but all children of secondary school age are sent to the government-subsidised boarding school in Nuku Hiva, and, because of the cost of transport, normally only return for the holidays. There would be much to celebrate. 

Xavier arrived at the dinghy dock, time had flown, and it was already time for prayers in the Lady Chapel. The service was all in Marquesan (French was a fat lot of use!) with members of the congregation taking it in turns to read out prayers or readings from where they were seated, and heavenly singing, accompanied by a set of tambour drums and a guitar. We slipped into a bench at the back, and over the next half hour were transported by the harmonies. Boy, do the Marquesans sing. They practice daily, and the melodies lift spirits skywards. Afterwards, already recognising a couple of friendly faces, we were caught up in chatter with various members of the congregation, just like back home in Hampshire at St Agnes, a small  chapel, where families would chat for ages after Sunday Mass was over. We were half way round the world, in the most exotic of locations and yet in many ways it really did feel home from home.



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