Despite Declining in Numbers, the French-Administered Marquesas Islands Are Making a Cultural Comeback, Writes DAVID ELLIS; Meet Mahalo, the Marquesas' All Mana of Man

The Northern Star (Lismore, Australia), August 28, 2010 | Go to article overview

Despite Declining in Numbers, the French-Administered Marquesas Islands Are Making a Cultural Comeback, Writes DAVID ELLIS; Meet Mahalo, the Marquesas' All Mana of Man


TRAVEL writer Roderick Eime is not a bloke to scare easily, but on a trip to the Marquesa Islands in the oceanic Never-Never off Tahiti, he thought he'd met his match aboard the unique cargo-passenger ship, Aranui 3.

"Looking into his eyes I wasn't sure if he wanted to hug me or snap my neck," Roderick recalls of the encounter.

"Perhaps he was making that very decision," he adds, referring to his meeting with Teiki Maha'o Nui Pahuatini, the undisputed chief of the Marquesans Co aboard Aranui 3 at least, and Roderick suspects throughout his homeland islands as well.

Known as Mahalo to Aranui's passengers and his crewmates, Maha'o Nui is master of the huge crane that hoists shipping containers, cars, cement, groceries and household goods from Aranui onto the wharf below. The ship is the lifeline for the 9000 residents of these islands, delivering food, staples and 200 tourists a fortnight to some of the world's most isolated communities.

Mahalo is powerfully built, confident and regal, commanding respect through his sheer presence. Polynesians call this Cymana' and his glance is enough to send men scurrying to their posts, while his magnificent tattoos, extending all the way around his shaven head, would make any Hell's Angel draw breath.

"Where you from?" he asks in awkward English of Roderick. …

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