August 16, 2011

Life in Tomorrowland, er, Tonga

Yesterday we crossed from today into tomorrow. Actually it may have occurred the day before. It could be that it’s been tomorrow for a few days… The problem is the dateline isn’t defined in this area. Technically the dateline is found at longitude 180—where west becomes east. But in this area the islands themselves decide which side of the dateline they want to be on. Samoa, for example, is tired of being a day behind her neighbours and is defecting to tomorrow come January. American Somoa will stay in yesterday.
 On first view—through the drizzle of a currently very mobile Southern Convergence Zone—The Kingdom of Tonga looked remarkably like BC’s Gulf Islands--with palm trees. And this morning, through the drizzle, it still looks this way--but with some very lovely sounding birds.

 After anchoring across from Neiafu (a town about the same size as Ganges on Salt Spring…) we headed in for groceries and to explore. Our first stop in any town is always the public notice board—we love seeing what’s going on. It also gives us an idea what to expect. If it is covered in ‘stolen’ notices we head back and lock up the dinghy, if it offers up a celebration we make note. This time it was a listing of the week’s events which included a ‘Ladies Night’ and a ‘Real Ladies Night’.

Polynesian men who dress as women or seem feminine are considered a third gender here. In French Polynesia they are called Mahu (in Tongan they are called fakaleiti and Samoan fa'afafine) and traditionally they were a highly respected part of the culture. It was explained to us that the Mahu were responsible for celebrations, feasts, tending to chiefs and hosting strangers. Their social skills were (and still are) so respected that a party wasn’t considered a party without a Mahu present.

When the French began nuclear testing in the Tuamotus though the Mahu began to develop a different culture—it was explained that when the French soldiers and workers visited the cities and villages some Mahu began working as prostitutes to meet the demand. This is also when the Mahu began out dressing the local girls (typically we can recognize Mahu because they are so much more made up and attractively dressed than the girls…) and this change probably lead to things like the need to distinguish between a ‘Ladies Night’ and a ‘Real Ladies Night’.

 From the notice board we wandered through town—noting the roving pigs (they seem to outnumber dogs), the traditional dress and the general friendliness of everyone we met. We loaded up on a few groceries (the fresh local stuff was manageably affordable—eggs $4 a dozen, onions and potatoes $3 for 8 but meat and cheese were pricey.

Today we’ll head out to the outer anchorages and explore while we wait for a weather window to get to Fiji.

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