Penhryn - part 2

Pacific Bliss
Colin Price
Sun 1 Jul 2012 22:51
Penhryn, Te Tautua Village -  Part 2
When we left French Polynesia our plan was to visit fewer and perhaps less visited places, yet stay longer.  This plan allows us to hang out with Island folk more and really get a feel for a way of life and  community.  Well in Penrhyn we achieved this with gusto.  So much so this is the hardest entry we've writen.  So much happened, never a boring day was had. For us it is perhaps the most interesting and involved we've been anywhere  - however I'm afraid it might just be the most boring to read.
'What a lot of laughter',  this is the place we have howled more than anywhere else. This atoll sits far away from anywhere and lives in a very Cookie world of it's own.  Everyone is related to everyone and your told on a daily basis that the person your talking about, in a good light, is their Cousin and perhaps that's why they're a good person.  As with every family there's good, bad, hard working and plain idle  and because it's a family, busy folk look after the others.  Along with being a family it's also a microcosm of a world population.  With that in mind we have retired each evening to discuss the personalities and our stories of the day, far too many to retell but reel with laughter we have.
 Warren   Colins Twin Soloman   Ma P
 Mike, Penwee, and Mama Aroha  Tamu  
Teina Headteacher   Minister Joe
 Aroha making making Poki   Ma P and Henry 
Some of the Characters:(when reading these names remember that the 'r' is replaced with a 'L'.  It something that still perplexes us, why so many names with R are repeatedly chosen!)
Soloman -  larger than life, Dressed in a Diamond and dollar shirt and seeming more akin with Mr Big from 'Lock Stock and two shooting barrells' than the born again Penrhyn Christian he is.
Rio - Short, round and packed with energy. He resembles a blind Sole singer, doned in over sized black suit, flipflops and dark glasses when leaning against the church post  every sunday belting out some deep harmony.
MaMa P - The rather beautiful, toothless. chainsmoking forever yaking or kakling but quite the most canny old bird.
Ricky - Gold toothed 60 something, just returned from NZ.  Determined not to make any friends with the spongers that are his people, lives like a recluse at the end of the motu having evicted everyone living on his land.
Papa Saitu - The self proposed Village elder. If stories about his past antics are to be believed 'it's a shocker!'.
Warren - Possesses astonishing powers of lethargy.  He has a lazy eye - but we decided it wasn't his eye that was lazy, his eye was fine, it is the rest of his body that has the problem.
The Head Teacher - Not so much a teacher and not from these parts. He is more an administator, this man has more programmes and initiatives than any government in waiting.
Minister and Wife - Obviously we're new to Penhryn understanding  the role of a minister is sacrosanct.  It seems 'you haveuth, then you shareth it with me'  is an accepted sentiment.
Tamu - an incredibly hard working give-all chap who is definitly the 'Queen' of the island.
Art - Certainly not a slave to housework.  As one rather posh friend once told me, "House-work darling is soooo middleclass!'  Having known she was leaving for Rarotonga any day soon her home looked like a tornado had just driven through it and then back again.  Having peered through the window, out of interest, once she'd departed for perhaps a year.  The opened half eaten tin of 'pork and beans' was still sitting on the table.  whilst  clothes and cups of juice and coffee carpeted the floor.
Tarua and Aroha - Very gentle folk immensly happy to have returned to there spiritual home and people after 20yr overseas.  They're just coming to terms with the idiosyncrasies of the community.
Mike - the rare speaking, fix-it man on the island.  A gentle giant
Like the Brits talk about the weather,  Pehnryn folk's preoccupation, other than the family lineage, is when the next supply boat might be arriving.  It's horrifying the Cook Island Government have simply forgotten this end of there national geography, so these little populated atoll have to rely on commercial trading boats from Samoa and Hawaii.  On our second week, at huge expense, a vast New Zealand Naval ship (N Z Aide) arrives with emergency supplies of Deisel.   At least the generator won't shut down.  But what a fiasco and a royal waist of money.  The vast lump of steel is unable to enter the lagoon so the fuel supplies have to be helicoptered ashore, this mean bringing another ship up from NZ that carries a Helicopter equipped for the job.  Goodness know how much it must have cost to get these vessel up here but the island is still out of any basic provisions, along with petrol for there outboards.  Now supplies are at an precariously low state.  Fine as everyone can survive on coconut and fish but soon the fish will become a problem as  only a few folk still have enough petrol to go fishing and the art of sailing is long lost.
We've been here a couple of weeks now so tobacco supplies really are at an all time low,  The pattern goes something like this;  Smoke constantly until your papers run out then go and blag papers off someone else, only Mama P seem to have papers left at the end, and the marvelous old bird keeps those hidden away and happily doles out cut up white paper  that previously housed loo-roll.  Ma P also appears to have rationed her supplies, she's the last person to have to carve up something called 'Irish Cake'.  Given I'm Irish and have been baking none stop since arriving here I too have provided the community with 'Irish Cake' . However not quite as foul and lung rotting as the stuff these guys resort to.  What I think it is, is a large block of 'Tar' that has been dried and compressed so the folk now have to carve it off the block before using Ma P's loo Paper packaging  to roll the leathal stuff up.  And if that's not bad enough once this supply has come to an end it's over to the kids and the grannies to go hunt 'fag butts' from an earlier less waste concious time'.  It truely is like hanging out at a Betty Ford clinic, enmass.  We make an unconcious decision to hang out with the non-smokers (not many) as everyone else is going through detox. Poor 'Mr Big' Solomon is visibly inflating and  is looking and sounding very depressed.   Having not had a supply boat for 6 months the island is literally running out of everything - rice, flour, milk powder, nappies.  But it is increadible how well everyone is managing,  again the coconut saves the day and by grating the soft new innered of a budding nut, 'utto' you're able to make a rather delicious suety cake type of carbohydradate much like raisin free 'plum duff' -  if only we had a bit of Birds custard we could be back to Post War Blighty in a blink.  It is very enlightening to be living somewhere that has no shop and where deliveries may or may not come every six months.  Some people still have stock piles which are variously shared or horded secretly - as property is pretty much communal if someone has something then if its is asked for then it is given.  On the last week of our stay the cry goes out that Ma P has finally come to the ends of her smokes,  but her very loyal and lovely toothless old friend, old Cora, is trying to help save the day and is still hunting for the butts!
Our weekly election to leave by the end of that week continually foxes us and another week of adventures roll on, along with the Minister each Sunday thanking us for coming and hope that our "onward journey would be a peaceful and safe time".  He gave up with any expectation of us leaving by week five. Given English is a second language and alot of the older generation barley speak any English. We enjoyed being thanked by church deacon Papa Saitu who made a rather interesting mispronouciation, or so we thought,  as he thanked us for teaching the children to sail and many other thing and 'hoped' we would leave soon,  we think he meant had 'heard', but we'll never know. 
Week 2 and we arrange to collect a couple of Oppies from the village on the other side of the motto so that Colin can start to teach the eager kids to sail.  We're accompanied by six of the senior citzens of the village on our way over, far more comfortable than the aluminium bone shakers they're used to.  Our boat now resembles 'the Monday Club Bus' in Bosham (read OAP weekly bus trip in to Chi and Tesco's) . Most of the folk are off to the bank, Ma P of course is just coming for the ride and to sit and yak with the cousins.  The six cardboard boxes filled with tinned fish, don't ask, is not a particularly welcome sight on the return trip - its 'roach o'clock.
  Penhryn stamp collection at the telecom station in Omoka
'Mr Colins' sailing lessons are a massive hit, although he did manage to shout himself hoarse.  They love it so much it's becoming an incentive for the kids to go to school, well for a few at least.  Given these kids have never sailed before it is incredible how quickly they get it. If only they had someone to teach them regularly and if they had some boats I think we'd find some real stars in the making.  Within the first lesson they're out on the water racing, it's the best thing we've done for kids on any island so far and it's magic to watch them lapping it up.
'Badly' religious these folk are, but no-one is afraid to ask for something, and some more than others!  Mr T asks me one day if we might have a spare alarm clock on the boat.  He seems at pains to ask but it is for a very good reason.  Each day 7am and 7pm a bong is rung, on Tuesday, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays there's an additional bell rung at 6am just to let folk know it's half an hour til church.  However the clock in the bell tower isn't working.  This turned in to a bit of calamity some months ago when Papa Situ was on bell ringing duty.  Having woken and seen the state of the moon he was assured that it was time for action and up and off  to engage with the call to church.  This is not a noise you can ignore and roll over, everyone blearily got out of bed, dressed and stumbled to church - only to find it was 3am.  Sadly for the village we where unable to accommodate the islands time issues.  Despite the time checks morning and night there seems still to be some confusion over the island's time zone.  When late to deliver the kids lunch one morning Colin bumped into Mata (know as Moody to us ,we love her.  but she has a very determined unimpressed facual _expression_), she's the kindergarten teacher, walking away from the school.  In a bit of a rush Colin asked what time it was. Stoney faced, Mata looked at her watch and replied, "Here, its half past ten".  Colin, half jokingly, asked, "So what time is it over there then?", pointing 50mtrs  towards the school.  Mata, quite unperturbed  replied, "Oh . .  over d'air is a quarter past ten".  Sure enough, Colin wasn't late.  Flipp'  we do feel we're in a rather Irish version of Local hero being so close to the 'date line' perhaps these guys know something we don't and infact the line starts here in the middle of the motu.
Kai Kai is a very big thing on this little motu, whilst escaping breakfast KaiKai during the first week when doing the school run Colin quickly circumes to the daily call of "Hana mai, kaikai", from each occupied house he passes, "Come, eat eat" - and then duely sits down for a fish, coconut milk and rice breakfast.   Everywhere you go people are always eating something, or just having a weak coffee, drunk from the spout of a 2 litre jug, otherwise known as a 'Penrhyn teacup', accompaniesd with an otto pancake, all of which are to be shared.  Folk here have time to do this, something we so lack in the UK, being so wrapped up in our fast-paced lives.  Perhaps this is how French Polynesia used to be years ago, but thats all changed now, partly due to TV - we hope Tautua will stay in its laid back ways.  You have to allow at least a couple of  hours for a simple walk through the village to school..
Over the last weeks we have begun to reasses our trip and one morning Liz wakes with one of those Eureka moments - should we perhaps not go to Australia in November as planned, but instead spend this season in the Cooks, Samoa, and Tonga before dropping down to NZ for the summer (cyclone season) and then back up to Fuji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia in 2013 and then sell the boat, missing out bureaucratic Australia completely.  It will add a few months, and delay our return to the UK a bit, but nothing on the grand scale. Now we are here it seems better not to rush.  Never one for a quick change of mind, but after a few hours mulling it over, the skipper sees the sense in this and the new plan is settled.  The Eureka is actually based around the childrens return to school in Britain.  We have been hugely aware that we need to get Z back to the UK in readiness for the 11yr old school shift.  Since we started this trip is has been a major concideration whether or not to hold Z back a year, all acedemic reports seem to indicate children born late in their year group struggle on many counts.  So whilst observing Z at school here in Penrhyn we see how confident and enthusiastic she is about learning, now she's top dog.  This finally helps us answer that long pondered question,  we now know it's the right thing to do. 
With new plans in place it allows us to stay for, what has been billed as, the event of the island, Johncin's hair cutting.  This is the little boy I met at the Ministers house that first Sunday and wondered if the very long haired child dressed head to toe in 'Ben-Ten' paraphernalia was in fact girl or boy.  It all fell into place once we had learned about this Cook Island ritual of a boy coming of age.  Post Sunday Lunch with Tamu, Ma P and Papa Henry we're given the low down of the event, oh and shown a lump of hair from another infant who's been shaun in public.  Only this event has to wait and be structured around a very busy Penrhyn schedule.  Originally scheduled on Saturday the party has to be bought forward so that folk from Omoka are able to stay in TuTuaua the night and still make it back to attend church on Sunday.  The use of any sort of motor is disallowed on the 'lords day' so they have to be able to move on Saturday.   Not only that, the official open season to harvest calms (pasua) is announced for the Monday and Tuesday of the same week.  This makes the preparation for the Mammouth KiaKia squeezed into two and half days.  And that is some mean feat.
Passua - clams to you or me.  We where treated to this much loved cook island speciality on the first Sunday.  On first taste it wasn't an immediate hit.  These are the beautiful bright creatures, colin and I have been captivated by since we reached French Polynesia.  However the Cookies don't see the assetic in them only there salivating delight.  Due to Penrhyn being the only place in the cooks that still has a large quantity the major has sensibly banded any commucial harvesting other than on 4 days a year. It's now law so much so  folk and packages leaving the island are checked for smuggling out of season with high penalties if found.  This change in law seems to have been a rather brilliant decision.  Now the price of the Passua has risen 6 fold, the work has reduced to only 4 hard-core days a year and the stock remains healthy.  With this in mind Colin volunterred his services for a days experience.  He returned a weak man, however feeling a community commitment volunteered his services to another family the following day.  Something he later regretted, but at least Tamu and Papa H where not the work horses Solo's lot where. (read Colins Fishing Stories)
The preparation for the Hair Cutting began in earnest on Wednesday.  Scooping out coconut, grating and the making of Poci seemed to be the main event but by Wednesday night Rio had organised a fishing trip to the other end of the Atoll.  Colin ever keen to experience something new departed at sunset expecting to return at 2am'ish.  When he finally came into sight at 7.30 the following morning he was a broken man with pale face with a rather determined grimace on his face (see Fishing stories).
With much excitement and expectation the grand event arrived on Friday afternoon.  Everyone dressed up for a party and perhaps 20mtrs of table growning under the weight of the food.  Lobster, fish, the meat of 6 pigs and numerous concoctions.  My rather poultry offering of Sushi seemed a little out of kilter.  
Everyone is called into the sunday school hall whilst Johncin (we've only just realised his name is not Johnston but Johncin (an anagram of his aunt Cindy and uncle Johnathan) is carried from the mission house by his grandmother  covered by a white satin hair cutting cape which he uses to shrowd his head and hair now that it has a total of 27 ribbons each tieing a little clutch of his very long hair.  He, poor fellow, is understandably, finding the experience hugely distressing.  With Grandpapa (the Minister) as M.C and after a very long prayer from the Minister from Omoka the call for the honoured individuals to come and cut.  We are pretty sure this is done in order of seniority on the island. With so many folk enlisted even Colin is in the pecking order, one from last.  Most folk give a little speech  before the snip. Mama P's is of course the most passionate.  Goodness know what anyone says, it's all in Penrhyn Maouri.    It transpires that Ma P's  passion and fist shaking is just letting everyone know why she's doing the cutting and this is due to family ties, of course.  Finally he is  given a full head shave with a set of clippers, pretty darn difficult for the guy with the blades as Johncin is in an ever increasing state of horror and is refusing to raise his head above the cape.  As each person takes the snipe it's then traditional to post an envelope stuffed with cash into his hand.  Once the shaving is complete then he is honor with a beautifully hand woven hat with all the money dangling off the brim.  Quite an event, but still no one has seen a glimps of poor 5 year old Johncins face.
 Colin cutting the 26th lock of hair 
Johncin before and after after the event still trying to escape - all the cash donations have been tied to his hat
Before the Kia Kia commences there's a massively powerful hymn sung, goosebump sort of stuff, and then the big feed commences.  Due to fuel shortages the turn-out from the other village is low, only about eight boats. But still the race for food is a frenzy.  Everyones plates are over loaded with a plethora of flavours.  There are of course a few who just hold back and observe.  We are urged to go 'kai kai' but I just want the bun fight to abait.  With everyone seated in little parties it doesn't take long for folk to return to the buffet to gather yet more stuff, only this time it's for later, I still remain shocked to see most chairs with large bottoms on them and a mountain of doughnuts and lobster nestled beneath covered in clingfilm.  The food is delicious but so many different things it's impossible to sample a quarter of the assortment.  Even the Mayor arrives with a tray of doughnut that he kindly orders us to take home, the kids are gleeful at the sight, but duly get told to discreetly return them to the serving table.  Two hours later the whole event is over and we scurry off with two enormous lobsters for tomorrows lunch. 
  The Mayor singing, as with most of the men their eye remain closed during all performances
The amazing thing about Cook kids is they are very obedient, especially to there fathers. All the young folk of 14 up ,are expected to and do,  do all the clearing up, even after a meal on this scale.  This has with out a doubt been an wonderful sight for our kids to observe.  Whilst a lot of this seems to be rubbing off on Zinnia, Cosmo continues to show signs of SOS (selective observation syndrome).
More to follow.......