Here's Sockdolager in a back corner of Atuona Harbor, among all the other cruising boats. That's Jim in the dinghy. But we are not the smallest boat here--there's a 20-footer named Emma, which is a 40 year-old fiberglass boat sailed by a solo German guy who seems to be unflappable. The boat's fin keel is beginning to separate and his electronic chart plotter failed, and so did his watermaker. He isn't concerned about the keel because he made repairs that he says should last until he gets to New Zealand, and we gave him a bunch of open source material (including Google Earth scans of harbor entrances) to help replace his electronic charts. But wow--his voyage from the Panama Canal to Hiva Oa nonstop took 49 days.
We’re going to leave Hiva Oa tomorrow and sail to the nearby island of Tahuata, where there is a beautiful beach and good snorkeling. Also a world-renowned tattoo artist to whom cruising sailors have been flocking. Tattooing is high art here; these people are talented. It seems that nearly every cruising boat has someone aboard who has gotten a Marquesan tattoo, and they are inked drawings of exquisite beauty. I (K) was tempted, but decided not to get one, and will instead admire everyone else’s tattoos. Shane Barry, aboard Clover, anchored next to us, has major tattoos already, but he got a gorgeous one on his right arm and hand in Atuona yesterday. This isn't Shane, but is a local Marquesan getting a tattoo by a local artist. Heavily tattooed guys are the norm here, and we've seen several with faces heavily tattooed as well.
I stand corrected on the idea that cruising boats are the only tourists in the Marquesas—a cruise ship pulled up this morning outside the harbor for a few hours, but left before anyone went ashore. We know of a supply/passenger ship called the Aranui, a cruise ship called the Paul Gauguin, and this one was named the Regatta.
Shane just told us a story, and I feel compelled to pass it on, of an off-the-beaten-track tour that he took with friends, to see a part of Hiva Oa’s history that tourists don’t usually get to see: the place where human sacrifices were made and people were eaten. It’s not way up in the mountains, but right near here, just up the hill from Traitor’s Bay outside Atuona Harbor. He described the rock pit where the prisoner’s legs were trapped while allowing the victim to still see everything above that pit (and he got into it, too.) The victim could easily see the rock fire pit where the fire was being prepared to cook him (ugh), and this, said Shane, felt positively freaky. There was also a flat rock where tattoo ink was pulverized and made (evidently a separate thing from the human sacrifices.) Some accounts say cannibalism was practiced here until the 1950s, others say it wasn’t eradicated until the 1960s. The young Marquesan tourguide told them “long pig” (human flesh) was delicious, like fatty bacon, but didn’t say how he knew. (Yeeks!) Shane figured the guy’s grandfather must have known firsthand, and had probably described it vividly to him.
Although a German sailor disappeared last season on the island of Nuku Hiva and was thought to be the victim of a local criminal known to be crazy (his charred bones were found up in the forest and it’s uncertain what happened,) cannibalism is not practiced these days. Marquesans are open about having it in their history, and even joke about it at times. But next time someone says, “We LOVE our tourists!” I will think twice before asking if tourist season has been good for them.
Hiva Oa is also the final home and grave site of artist Paul Gauguin and composer Jacques Brel. Gauguin’s paintings and sculptures are lovely, sensuous and familiar to many, and we enjoyed a traveling exhibit of them in San Diego, but the stateside museums don’t tell the whole story. They only say he was an alcoholic whose life became dissolute and that he died of drink and drugs, but what they don’t tell you is that Gauguin was a pedophile, a sexual predator who took every twelve and thirteen year-old girl he could find into his bed. In Tahiti his desire to “live the life of the savage” made him persona non grata, and he abandoned his young mistress and their child to fend for themselves. He went to Hiva Oa, where he bought wine at a little store that’s still here, for seducing young girls.
His behavior was so egregious that the church decreed every young girl in a 2 ½ -mile radius of his cottage had to board at the church school (for protection by the priests and nuns) but eventually Gauguin found a young girl outside the radius, whose parents traded her for a sewing machine. He died in 1903 (owing money to the little wine store,) and our cruising guide says, “It is ironic that a man as perverted and disdained in life as Paul Gauguin found artistic renown in death.” When we were out walking the other day searching for the cemetery (before we knew all this), we asked a couple of Marquesans for directions. It was obvious that they didn’t think much of him, and now we know why.