Penhryn - Part 1
Sat 30 Jun 2012 23:07
Penhryn, Cook Islands - renamed by us, 'The Calamity Islands'
We arrive at 6pm as the sun is setting and wind through perilous coral field to the anchorage off the village. A bit bumpy but good holding. The following morning we are checked in by Customs/Immigration, health, and quarentine who all come aboard the boat, charge us a bit and then leave - also with with gifts.
All having dreams that no-one will understand us because we can only speak French.
Crickey it's odd not having to string together a few incoherent words. But English is definitely the islanders second language and suspect our stronge British accents aren't helping either. To our hearing most folk speak with a very strong Kiwi accent. But given everyone holds a NZ passport and with 80% of the Cook Islands population live and work in Oz or NZ it's not hugely supprising.
A brief stroll around Omoka we meet William
Noticably, no dogs. No, they haven't been eaten - its just that the island council many years ago decided that there would be no dogs in Penhryn - no noise, no danger, no poo. Great!
Te Tautua Village
7nm East across lagoon with Mr Terua as a local guide through the coral minefield - actually not that bad. Much calmer here.
My first impression of the villages on the motu was rather depressing, so many of the houses are derelict and abandoned as there have been a continuous stream of folk departing these remote atolls. The three industries that had been working over the years - pearl farming, commercial fishing and Copra - have over the past 30 years stopped being luctative in anyway thus leaving nothing other than traditional hat, fan and basket weaving, helping provide enough money for sugar, flour, oil and the all important smokes. Other than these things life is pretty much free. Coconuts, Fish, Pumpkin , Papaya being the main staples. There's no rent to pay, so if you don't mind having a simple diet and not being in a hurry to go to hospital or for a supply boat to arrive then lifes good. The supply boat comes in every 6 months'ish. So it makes it the most remote place we've been so far.
Finally time for a Birthday coconut and some presents
Windward shore like the Tuamotos
On the trip here I decided that I needed to enrole in a spot of exercise, swimming each day for 20mins shouldn't be beyond even my levels of apathy. So stronge with resolve we arrive in the most shark infested place thus far. From day one we have an army of about 12 black tips circling the boat at any given time.When the dighy is 20m from shore a couple of nurse sharks would flank us in in hope we're a returning fishing boat. Once on shore we find the other hopeful sharp teethed loiters waiting, about 30 all told. They're all rolling around one another like a bowl of huge slithery eels, the kids fascinated by this of course. So with eyes on full allert my daily swim was a little more challenging than originally considered. Each swim was a mental challenge but my day one plunge was more nerve racking that any. Having not seen the above frollocking nursy nursies. Having swam about 100m from the boat I was rather unnerved to see a large dark thing approaching me through the water. Rather like a stealth bomber approaching. My only option being stand my gound, or tread water, as this large dark creature approached. Not only was he far too nosey for my liking he continued to circle me twice, each time with in arms reach. Giving me every opportunity to examine his beady eyes and other markings whilst breathing very heavily and loudily through my snorkel. Luckily he found me rather dull on the second round and made his way on to better fodder. I in the other direction made a very fast Olympic speed sprint for the boat. Having spent a week or so swimming with sharks I'm now almost, only almost, noncholant about the grey things.
Sharks and clear water are a feature
Local industry is woven hats and baskets and strings of shells. Papa Henry's house is strung with them.
Tamu weaving the new roof for his shelter Colin trying his hand.
The low shelter is used day and night, to keep out of the sun and to sleep in the cool breeze. Being low it is a good place to be in a cyclone we are told.
Tamu giving the roof a 'haircut'
Given this is the most remote place we've been we rather suprised to find another boat here, an old hand hippy German captain and his young American crew, these young guys have taken the role of teaching whilst here the poor Penryn folk are now about to loose any teaching assistance and gain two more students. We quickly enroll the kids into school, And on the first day of their Penhryn education we're given a Lobster for lunch, pop goes the cork in the bottle of rose and hello to our Penhryn Holiday.......
During our stay here we were never short of protein - there was always someone out fishing and invariably they would pass by the boat and drop of something for us.
Lobster for lunch. Headteacher fishing for our supper
Our Penhryn Holiday doesn't last long, before the first day is out Colin has a small, but ever growing list of electrical equipment to mend - given this village only has a total adult population of about 26 it's seems every house we visit there's something that needs attention. We've arrived a month before the first supply ship since December last year, that's near 7 months so everything is running out, I've stocked up for the next 6 months but supplies quickly reduced. The first week I'm resembling Marie-Antoinette with my cake supplies and Colin Francis Drake with the tobacco supplies but after a week to off loading we're realising our stocks are not ever lasting. Having not initially fallen for the place we considered pushing off after a week, it just isn't French Polynesia we kept on harping on.... But the longer we stay, the better and better it is becoming. The kids are at school for the second week at the moment, and far from Liz and I thinking we'd be sunning on the deck, we have never been busier - there is always a fishing net to mend, a torch to fix, cake to make, or a dinghy to look for, or some shells to carve or just sitting chating and trying to get a really good understanding of what life is like in this remote island with it's strict religious beliefs and customs. Folk here are not unworldly, most have lived, holidayed or given birth in NZ or Aus and often most of their families are now residing overseas but life here is different.
Trying to fix the computer. Its never quite the same again!
Mr T and Aroha his wife were so kind. They have recently returned to Tautua and do have a house, but really spend most of their time living on the platform under their tree. Colin was often waylaid here for many breakfasts of fish and rice on his way into the village.
We know this Island is devoutly Christian, but Sunday is like none other. The first Service is at 6.30 and then onto Sunday School, followed by the 10.00 Am service followed by more Sunday School and Bible Practice and Qand A session then back to Church for the 3.00pm service and just incase you haven't sang enough it back to Choir practice that can last until 10pm. All of this is obligitary, and inbetween times it's time to rest, and given the energy it must take to belt out the unaccompanied wonderful church music, a lot of sleeping should be done in between along with a lot of throat lozenges. Sunday is most definitley a time for rest and reflection of Gods great work. Outside fires are banned on a Sunday, and as most of the cooking here is done on small outdoor charcoal fueled fires (home made everything), most of the preparation is been done the day before. There is also a dress code, Women aren't allowed to bare shoulders or bare heads. So with rapid unearthing of clothes not otherwise seen on this trip thus far we're looking mightly fine. The ridiculous high heals I packed three years ago have been stowed away for the entire trip thus far, it's only here on the remotest place we've been that we need smart shoes and if Colin still had a tie and blazer he'd be wearing these too. We, not being very devout, decide to forgo the Friday, Sunday and Wednesday 6.30 services, but it's wonderful waking to the Penrhyn voices drifting over the water.
Church here is an experience and though not normally the regular Sunday type, here is mandatory, and quite extraordinary. We go to two services each Sunday out of choice - the singing is quite the most beautiful I have ever heard and so so powerful. you might find some on YouTube, not sure, as you are not allowed to take cameras into the churches - look under 'Penhryn Cook Island Church singing' and see what comes up. The harmonies, screeches and grunts are totally mesmerizing. The congregation sing in multipart acapello harmony with no music and mostly no hymn books - all from memory, passed down from generations. We love it, Z after giving much thought about the folk here and there dedication to the church came out with ' Daddy the people here are badly religious, aren't they?' . . . . I can't argue with that.
Penhryn Cook Island Church
After church on our first Sunday we are summoned back to the Minister's house with Steve, Cheryl and Bob from s/v Gershon II, where we are treated to lunch of fish, clams, lobster and turtle. Until now we've been avidly trying to save this wonderful old men of the sea, it's not helped by the fact that a friends email earlier that day tells of there wonderful experience at a Turtle Sanctury in Turkey, Guilt , I think so. I'm finding it hard to enthuse about the plate in front of me but the kids have been brain washed into trying everything, except McDonalds, and are instant fans. Z to my left leans over and whispers that it's just like 'Dog Food Mummy' our family name for Corned beef. Moments later Cosmo is tapping me on the back exclaiming the same taste experience only he is less subtle and much louder! A few days later, I managed to track down the shell in the hope that this Old boy didn't die in vain and we will remember him for the rest of his life. Only this very nearly back fires as the shell in question is very old and scratched, so Masters suggests that he'll go out and find me a better one, noooooooooo.
Minister Jo Saitu-Ford-Marsters, famliy and friends
'Key' - Rios pet boobie bird
We had being saying to the kids for months that when we got to Penhryn they could go to school with some other English speaking kids. School here is almost 'optional' and if the parents dont want their kids to go, then they don't - School in Pnehryn is known as the 'Penhryn holiday'. Having said that the new school building is pretty good, and well equipped - it just needs the kids to turn up more regularly. Colin went to do his 'World Tour' talk on morning, and also the 'rudiments of sailing' on another day.
Dressed for school Homework
Eventually the kids sailed to school in the morning
So having dispatched the kids off to school each day they seem to appear far too quickly at 2pm always surrounded by the small army which are the school kids. We've made it known that all the children will come to the boat for a play during our stay, but only two at a time - damage limitation. Given there are only about 12 kids eligible we should get through the crowd pretty quickly.
School visits to the boat each afternoon LaLa, Ben, Rebecca, Rosalin, Zinnia and Animal
Initially our image of the island was that of a depressed abandoned state, derilict houses the contents of an roofless house or two rotting away. We found the people listless and rather lazy, but slowly we discovered that for most that is not the case. However that 'lazy' title is infact a label given to the people of Penhryn by the people of Penhryn and the largest culprit in the society is thought to be the Minister. It's amazing what you find out when you stay around abit. Slowy but surely we are being sucked into this place - we thought we'd be out in a few weeks, but there is just too much to do.
Shortly after we arrive there is a huge 'hu ha' as Mr T has lost his boat (everyone has 4m aluminium dinghys with outboards here). He was fishing on a nearby island and had gone to spend the night there. During the night the wind had come up from a strange direction and his boat was washed offshore into the lagoon. The whole village was mobilised to look all over the lagoon for the missing dinghy. All the boats were out, and on a Sunday, with special holy dispensation, Colin went out with the minister and Tamu to look - their own dinghy broke down and they were towed back, this was perhaps our first incling of the calamities that lay ahead. On that first rather strange Sunday all the people involved (ie. all the village) in the dinghy hunt where treated to a mamouth 'Kai kai' prepared by all the mamma's. It was here that prayers, extraordinary powerful singing and speaches where made, and poor Mr T had to fall publicly on his sword for disturbing his people on the lords day, ohh and having lost not his own boat, but his cousins! After days of looking and counteless wasted litres of fuel the dinghy was assumed to have drifted out to sea. Then two days later Big MIke goes out to collect wild tern eggs and finds it tucked in behind a moto where it has rested undamaged since it was lost. He said he had been having dreams about finding the dinghy and even where he would find it- strange eh?
You can imagine in a small village like this, that everyone is related. We have great fun trying to link everyone up and end up with a family tree of everyone who is living on the island at the moment. There are about four family 'strains' and many people are related in some way to William Marsters a, rather randy, British Naval First Mate who picked up two Penhryn wives, and one from Manihiki before finally settling in Palmerston Island further to the South, with wife number four. With a record like that, small wonder everyone seems to be related to him in one way or another.