The Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands
Our first tourist stop on this high octane day out was the Cultural Museum. I asked Bear to stand and pose next to what is known as Cook’s Anchor, of course his trigger finger was at the ready. Cook’s anchor we read was more of a towage anchor than that of a main anchor. It has a fold away metal stock, originally having a wood covering. The ten foot shank is topped with an eighteen inch shackle ring which seemed to have once been protected by heavy cloth strips. Processing of the anchor revealed a rope and course canvas that were inside the shackle. Metal stock appears in the French navy around the nineteenth century, but at that time England was far more advanced in the metallurgy department.
By the end of the 18th century, a number of ships sailed the South Seas in order to take back cartographic and scientific information to their homelands. The belief was an “austral continent: lay between Africa and South America and this would counterbalance the weight of the northern lands and maintain the Earth’s balance. This drove the European nations to compete. England launched expeditions to gather data on the austral hemisphere. The Admiralty, backed up by the Royal Society chose Captain James Cook to search for the Terra Australis Incognita and staking a claim for King George III. Tahiti was discovered by Samuel Wallis in 1767 followed in 1768 by Louis Antoine de Bourganville, the island becomes a privileged port of call, rich in food, in water and populated by friendly inhabitants. Captain Cook called in many times during the three voyages he led. On his second voyage, via the Antarctic and New Zealand, Captain Cook arrived in August 1773 and decided to visit the peninsula known for its beauty and generous nature before moving on to his usual anchorage – Matavai.
At daybreak, on the 16th of August 1773, the Resolution commanded by James Cook and the Adventure, Tobias Furneaux her captain, come near the Tautira village coast, about a half a mile out from the reef. The crews were enjoying their morning, some resting their sea weary selves in the sunshine. No sooner than the villagers awoke, than they were paddling their boats toward the visitors. As was the custom, envoys from the island, waving plantain branches as a sign of peace, these were the first people to go aboard after accepting a peace treaty. Relations were very friendly between the locals and the visitors. The ships were soon surrounded by hundreds of canoes and a floating market began with fruit, fish, vegetables and beads being traded for nails and trinkets. During this fun time the ships had been drifting toward the reef, Resolution hit first. There was little breeze, the sea was calm enough to launch the barges and the crew were soon towing the ships out to sea, through a gap in the reef at around two in the afternoon. The current took the ships dangerously close and Resolution sustained some damage. Captain Cook dropped a bower anchor but it didn’t hit the bottom quick enough to help and the stern hit the reef several times. The Adventure was not only in a similar situation, she was bearing down on Resolution. Two small towage anchors were used by Adventure and slowly the two ships pulled clear of each other. A land breeze began to help and Cook ordered the bower anchor to be cut free. The Adventure got her sails up, cut her two anchors free and fled to deeper water. The next day the two ships were anchored in Vai-te-piha Bay,Tautira, two longboats and a cutter rig were sent back to try and recover the lost anchors without success.
Two centuries later, in January 1978, a team of film makers from England and New Zealand arrived in Tahiti to make a film on Captain Bligh (HMS Bounty) and a documentary on the three lost anchors. The lead investigators were the producer Phil Keilog and the English director, David Lean and his deputy – Eddie Fowlie – in charge of carefully studying the journal of Captain Cook for the film. The latter was able to locate exactly where the incident took place. David Lean requested permission from the Council of Government on the 25th of January. Decree No. 074/AA of the 30th of January granted exclusive rights to search for the anchors with the stipulation that any finds be the property of the island.
Tahitian diver Charles Lehartel, a personal friend of David Lean, discovered on his first dive, what seemed to be Adventure’s anchor in about a hundred and forty feet of water. Two thirds of it was embedded in coral. It took a month to clear it. Immersion and electrolytic reduction processes cleared the metal from chlorides which had impregnated during its long holiday. After months of restoration, the anchored was dried and treated with preservative, As for the other two, it was deemed they were too well hidden by the coral reefs of Tautira.
Inside the modern, very air conditioned museum I bimbled over the bird exhibit.
The houses of the French Polynesian were very smart. In Tahiti people usually had several houses. A large oblong house with round ends – fare potea – thirty to sixty feet in length. A smaller shed like structure used for cooking and eating. Another shed for tools often used to build parogues. Around the buildings was an area for growing vegetables, often surrounded by a wooden fence. The house could have a stone or wooden curbing. The roof was thatched.
A typical domestic scene.
Tools of the tattooist.
The body of Tee – Chief of Otaheite
Funerary Rites: Were performed to please the deceased spirit to prevent him or her haunting the living. The body was bathed and rubbed with perfumed oil. Mourners wailed and cut their faces with sharks teeth devices. Parents cut their hair and to purify the area the deceased home and personal effects were burned. Burials were different according to the social position of the deceased. In the Society Islands the body of a chief, was enveloped in tape cloth, put on a covered platform – fare tupapau. The body was embalmed, dried and taken for burial at the sacred marae (cemetery). Commoners were wrapped in tapa or mats and buried in the foetal position near the family marae,
Families hired a “mourner”, a priest or a relative, wearing the sumptuous parae costume. A poncho of tapa, a cape of black feathers, a tropicbird feather headpiece over a mask made from mother-of-pearl, a collar of wood decorated with mother-of-pearl shells over a breastplate made from thousands of small slivers of mother-of-pearl, a waist apron of coconut shell discs. A spear edged with shark teeth.- paeho and two pearl shells – tete (castanets) completed the costume. The mourner along with body-painted young men – neva neva ran from place to place hitting people, forcing them to flee and hide.
Journeying through the islands we have seen many simple graves in gardens, not far from a house, we hadn’t realised many were interred in a coffin.
Sacred Objects: The cult of ancestors turned into guardian gods characterised religion in Polynesia. Anthropomorphic wood or stone images (ti’I or tiki), single or double represented these deified ancestors. Objects - to’o or toko in various forms, could be anything from common sticks in hardwood or basketry covered in feathers and tapa, represented important gods. The spirit of the god called up during a ceremony was believed to dwell temporarily inside the image.
In the Society Islands, a stick wrapped in coconut fibre with bundles of red feathers hanging from the ‘handle’ – to’o – represented the god Oro. Cords represented a makeshift face. Weaved and hollow containers may contain relics such as bone, hair tooth or nails; others – to’o mata, with numerous knotted cords were mnemonic devices for genealogies, legends and chants.
Games: Men, women and children were very keen to to fill their spare time playing, competing or practicing a wide variety of games and sports. Competitions and exhibitions were well attended, also during religious ceremonies, seasonal festivities or as part of preparation for war. Most common in Polynesia was wrestling, boxing, races, club combat, Tahitian style javelin throwing, slingshot, stone lifting, stilts, toboggan, swinging, various ball games including hockey, cock fighting and more. On the Society Islands archery was common. In Hawaii surfing was reserved for chiefs. Kites were used during specific rituals.
War and Weapons: There were various reasons for clans, islands, districts or valleys to go to war. Insults, neighbourhood conflicts, revenge or jealousy, to bring a too powerful chief into line or just to confront an opponent. War was an element of balance and prevented chiefs and social groups from having too much hedgemony.
Weapons usually made from ironwood were carefully carved, smoothed and maintained. Clubs were favoured in hand to hand combat, spears were used more like a club to hit, rather than thrust of throw. Several items of the short and flat club – patu have been found on archaeological sites in the Society Islands, made of wood, stone and bone. The most formidable (and my personal favourite) was the slingshot – maka, ma’a, made from finely braided plant fibre. Twirling them above their heads, sharpshooters threw with deadly force and precision, the pebbles having been carefully chosen. Bear thought the bag of stones was not to be messed with.
Items used in fishing show neat weaving and design.
Fishing: characterised by the wide variety of materials used shows a deep knowledge the ancient Polynesians had of their marine environment. Fishing techniques resulted from millenary practise,some of which are still in use today. No daily fishing went without its associated religious rites, with marae visits to get the favour of the sea gods, to avoid danger and have abundant catches. Hooks were fashioned from bone, nets and traps were woven.
Fish traps were made of fern stems and ironwood for ‘ouma fishing – live bait tuna fishing. Octopus lures were made with an ironwood stem surrounded by pieces of porcupine shell, linked together with a – ro’a – tie. Missing above is the stick which kept the device horizontal in the water was tied. As soon as the octopus sighted the lure, it came out of its hidey hole and encircled itself tightly around the lure, then the fisherman just had to pull it slowly into his canoe and kill it with an ironwood stick. Lobster pots seem to be similar wherever in the world you see them.
King Otoo and Queen Pomare.
King Pomare I in Tahitian and in English.
Outside, we saw, incredibly – a sea going vessel.
The canoes we have come to know.
We had a quick look round in the modern art building, but, all Bear could do was perform silhouettes, still full from New York on this c - - p. Right then, time to have a quick look in the shop, wander through the courtyard, admire a wire statue, thank the people at the exit and head onward.
ALL IN ALL WELL PRESENTED AND VERY ENJOYABLE
INTERESTING AND DETAILED HISTORY