July 15, 2011

La Fête Nationale

There is nothing that says Bastille Day better than a celebration of Polynesian Sports. Sure, it might seem a bit Orange March-ish (that’d be an Irish reference) to encourage your conquered nation to parade their traditional sports on a day that celebrates your own independence. But then again, we come from Canada—a place where Quebec gracefully (bwahaha) accepts Canada Day.
 I really have no idea of the politics of Bastille Day in French Polynesia. We do know there is a very distinct separation of the two cultures. The Polynesian culture—which is heavily influenced by the French and truly there are no ‘pure’ Polynesians left—has adapted and reclaimed many of its traditions. While the French, most of whom are here for short ‘hardship’ postings, remain stubbornly (maddeningly?) French. And we also know that what we attended today isn’t called Bastille Day locally—it’s called Heiva, which pretty much just means festival.

But the point (yup, I may have one…) is La Fête Nationale is celebrated here by husking coconuts, hurtling javelins and eating poison cru. It reminded me of our first summer of cruising, the first time. When we spent Canada Day (community day) in Bella Bella and rather than a parade there was a potlatch.
There were a variety of events going on yesterday. In downtown PPT there was a sparsely attended military parade (the women got to march at the back…) and some canoe races but the highlight was the Heiva Tu’aro Ma’ohi.
 The skills displayed were ones that must have been vital to the culture during its heyday. The stone lifters were hoisting rocks that were 160kg—one look at an area marae and it’s clear the stone lifters were important. Then there were the coconut huskers (the winning man husked an entire sack of coconuts in under eight minutes), while the teams of three women split and removed the copra (the meat) from three sacks in about the same time frame.
 This afternoon there are fruit carrying races—not sure if we’ll make those or not. We’re sort of planning to leave tomorrow.

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