Every four years, the ‘Festival des Marquises’ brings representatives from all over the Marquesas Islands and around the Pacific to celebrate the culture that makes each island unique. Food, dance, traditional medicine, palm and pandanus leaf weaving, tattooing, sculpture, and various other cultural arts were performed and shared with the other islanders and guests from all over the world (most arriving by sailboat!) Groups from Marquesas, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and the Pacific Northwest performed spectacular traditional dances. This was a very special event. They were not dancing for tourists; I was lucky to be one of not many ‘outsiders’. They were dancing for the pride of their islands, for each other, for their past, and to carry forth what remains of the ways of their ancestors. The old ways everywhere are slowly dying. There is no going back. And as always, modernity brings the bad with the good…But I was delighted by the amount of time, energy, and spirit that the islanders invested in this celebration and preservation of culture.
The men’s grunting and booming ‘haka’ dances were so powerful, it seemed as if the ancestors’ voices joined in too. There was a force nearly tangible in the vibration of their low and guttural ‘ho’s and hey’s’–enough to briefly transport all of us back in time. Despite my secret yearning to dress up in leaves, seeds, and flowers, I would NOT want to go to battle against those men!!
On the last of the four-day festival, everyone came together for a night of music. The representatives from all islands were at liberty to take the stage in a loosely organized concert. The stage was set atop an ancient ‘marae’ or ceremonial site beside the bay. Young and old, from all over the world gathered on the grass under a throng of South Pacific stars and the humbling silhouette of the island’s crater.
The music was other worldly and the mood so positive!…Hearing the young Marquesan reggae band and the incredible mix of voices in the New Caledonian group, I forgot all about mourning the cultural past. That evening was dedicated to the ‘culture of the present’, and those performing gave me every cause to celebrate the here and now…