Marquesas, Nuku Hiva: 09:31:26S 140:18:35W

Zipadedoda of Dart
David H Kerr
Wed 9 Apr 2008 11:55

We departed from the Marquesas this afternoon, on route for Manihi, in the Tuamotu Islands, some 480nm to the south west.


The Marquesas are a fascinating group of Islands with a tragic and somewhat scary history.  It is worth remembering that these people were cannibals, and there are records of active cannibalism right up until the 1960’s. These people have the same Polynesian routes as the Maoris’ and they still enjoy a war like culture where strength and endurance and pride in the past achievements is very important. Most of the men are heavily tattooed, as are the women, but less so. Body tattooing came from this group of islands.


Herewith a (very)  brief back ground. There are thirteen volcanic islands in the group, of which six are inhabited today. In the 17th Century, these islands were inhabited by some 300,000 natives, who’s primary occupation seems to have been fighting  with their neighbouring villages and tribes. Then along came the white man. First the Spanish, next the  Brits, then the Americans and finally the French, who colonised them. The white man introduced many things. Christianity, monogamy, order (as we see it), and best of all European diseases. Notably Small Pox, pneumonia and Venereal disease, to which they had no natural resistance. By 1813 the population had dropped to 80,000 and by 1923 down to a 2,093! Then along came a caring committed French doctor who built a hospital in Nuku Hiva, and set about eradicating disease and improving infant mortality. The population today stands at more than 8,000.


Although the Marquesas are part of French Polynesia and in effect administered from Papeete in Tahiti, they do have local mayors and they have some local political power.


What is very clear is that the locals benefit greatly from French “largesse”.  I have never seen an island village such as Taiohae, where the locals live in quite basic houses, constructed of wood and corrugated tin sheets, or simple banana tree leaf roof’s………, but drive around in new Land Rover Discovery’s and Defenders and new Toyota  4 x4 pick up trucks. By all accounts they get and 80% subsidy for these and a guaranteed 7 year bank loan. But other than working in government related jobs or in Restaurants and shops, there is no industry to speak of. So they are poor. But the place is expensive. A tin of local beer is £3. A cabbage is about £2 a bottle of fresh (concentrate) orange juice is  around £4.As for French wines…….£45 for a bottle of Chablis in a restaurant! Needless to say we fund the Chilean perfectly acceptable!


Tourism is not at all well developed. Partly because it is so far from anywhere. Partly because it is French speaking, so Americans tend to avoid it. But also due to the fact that there are no accessible yellow sandy beaches, and even if there were. You then have to worry about going for a swim, because there are Tiger and Hammerhead sharks to play with……….But the icing on the cake is the NoNo fly. This is a tiny sand fly, that is active during the day. They are so small that they can defeat mosquito netting. But thy bite well above their weight (I am scratching just thinking about them). But the really nasty part is that if you scratch the bites they become septic and can then cause you serous infections….which can last for up to six months. Oh, and then at night there is the regular mosquito to play with. But the good news is there is no malaria in the whole of French Polynesia.

The other thing for the visiting yachts person is the need to raise a bond with the local bank, lodged with the authorities on arrival. This is to be valued at the cost of an economy class airfare from your home port….for each crew member. So, if we had arrived as an  independent cruising yacht, we would have had to lodge some £5,000 with the bank on arrival. (BWR sorted that out so that we were not troubled on that front. In fact the clearance was simple, easy and a pleasant experience).The good news is that you get it back. AFTER you leave Papeete, in Tahiti.   So all in all you can see that the local tourist board are doing a great job!


But we loved it!! So clean and so tidy. No garbage in sight anywhere (except where visiting yachties had dumped it). The people are fascinating and unusual. They are noble and very laid back.  The climate is kind, average temp 27°C, with quite a lot of rain. The landscape just stuning.



They are very keen horse men. They let them roam all over the place, but each one is owned. They use them for hunting wild pig, which is a major delicacy and part of any festivity. More of which anon.


The Tiki Sites are truly amazing.



This was at a large Tiki site in the north of Nuku Hiva, The raised platform where I am standing would have had the main dwelling on it. The stone area in front was the terrace. From this terrace, the residents of this home could watch festivities and events such as markets on the common area in front.



This same site was littered with Tiki “God” symbols.


It also had the largest Banyan tree I have ever seen.



When the Christian Missionaries first made it to this site with camera’s, back in the 1920’s. This tree was decorated with 100’s of skulls……………….human ones that is. Apparently they were rather partial to missionaries. The local name for them being “Long Pigs”. This was not a derogatory term. It was because they tasted like pig, only longer! I will not go into details here about how they kept the food, or how it was  cooked… they needed it (bit at a time). But in the next issue I will detail the local dancing and feasting with pictures……of short pigs!


Until then………………