Ever since the famous French impressionist painter Paul Gauguin painted the Tahitian maidens, Tahiti has always had a mysterious allure. Officially known as French Polynesia, it consists of 118 islands spread over four million square kilometres of ocean in the eastern South Pacific.
Grouped into five archipelagos, they are the Society Islands, Austral Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu Atolls and the Gambier Islands. The main islands are Tahiti (Papeete), Moorea and Bora Bora. Well worth a visit also are the Outer Islands.
CAPITAL AND MAJOR CENTRES
Papeete is the capital of Tahiti, the largest island, nicknamed "the island of love". It is a visitor's first port of call because of the International Airport which is located here. Moorea is the sister island some seventeen kilometres north west of Papeete. Here the tranquil of Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay lap at its majestic volcanic peaks which thrust into the sky. Bora Bora is 240 kilometres north-west of Tahiti and is in the Society Islands, as is Huahine Island, which comprises two islands joined by a narrow isthmus and enclosed by a protective necklace of coral.
Rangiroa with its 42 mile long turquoise lagoon in the largest atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago, and Tikehau atoll in the same archipelago is an almost circular atoll with an interior lagoon, twenty-six kilometres across and a safe pass for small boats through the coral reef.
Tahiti is a multi-racial mix of Polynesians of Maohi (Maori) extraction, Europeans, Asians and mixed races. A handsome people, they are noted for their hospitality, friendliness and easy going nature. They speak French and Tahitians which are the two official languages, but English is spoken in the hotels and shops.
Hundreds of years after the ancient Polynesians created a Pacific base for their huge voyaging canoes, explorers like Mendana, Quiros, Le Maire, Schouten, Roggeveen and Byron made brief unplanned visits to the Tuamotu atolls and the Marquesas islands in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Later in the 18th century, explorers such as Bougainville, Wallis, Vancouver and Cook "discovered" Tahiti and called it the "Garden of Eden". Captain Cook returned three times to study the transition of Venus, Captain Bligh came to collect seedlings from the breadfruit tree and insubordinate Fletcher Christian returned to the island that caused the Mutiny on the Bounty.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the islands were divided into districts each governed by a chief when Pomare V abdicated in 1880 the islands, previously a protectorate of France, became a French Colony, and in 1957 French Polynesia became a French Overseas Territory.
Lush vegetation grows high above the lagoons and bays and floral scents permeate the tropical air. A myriad of tropical flowers grow throughout the Tahitian islands. The national flower is the Tiare, a heavily scented gardenia which forms the basis of the traditional lei necklaces.
You can visit Point Venus where Captain Cook camped to observe the transit of the Planet Venus in 1769, visit the Faarumai waterfalls, and at Taravao on the strategic isthmus joining the two Tahitis, wander through an old fort built by the French in 1844. Don't miss the Gauguin Museum which is set in exotic botanical gardens and the fruit, vegetable and flower market in central Papeete.
WHERE TO STAY
International resorts and hotels rest alongside motels, lodges, small pensions and for the budget conscious, rooms for rent in a family home. There are also huge hostels and camp sites with cooking facilities.
Le Truk is Tahiti's public bus service. The destination is posted on top of each le Truk, which always begins and ends its round trips at the public market in the centre of Papeete. It is possible to travel between islands not only by plane, but by high speed ferry, the Ono Ono. It takes approximately six and a half hours to get to Bora Bora from Papeete.
FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT
Tahitian 'tamaraa' or feasts can be arranged through local tour operators. Most hotels offer regular Tahitian entertainment and there are nightclubs, bars, and sidewalk cafes open all hours.
Diving, snorkelling, windsurfing, sailing, deep sea fishing and surfing are available throughout Tahiti. Tennis is played at many resorts and at the country club. There is also squash, golf and bowls, bush walking, horse riding and mountain climbing. Speed boats are available for water skiing and there are glass-bottom boats for viewing the coral reefs.
Bright 'pareus' or T-shirts are popular souvenirs, and also Polynesian fashion, shell jewellery, the famous black pearls, French perfume and handicraft.
Tahiti, the largest of the isles in French Polynesia is a place for beginners or rusty divers who wish to brush up on their skills. Tahiti's dive sites offer an average of 30 metres visibility along with masses of coloured fish life, canyons and caves. Hand feed the moray eels or even dive the wrecks of an ocean schooner or seaplane. Dive operators here are Tahiti Plongee, Yacht Club of Tahiti Diving Centre, Tahiti Aquatique and Ta'itua.
MOOREA, the perfect South Sea Island is ten minutes by air or 30 minutes by luxury catamaran from Papeete. Moorea is probably best known for its fish and shark feeding. During feeding time, the marine life is so dense that the view of your dive guide can become somewhat obscured. Dive sites include the blue island, Napoleon Plateau offering large 80lb Napoleon fish plus sharks, the Canyon, and Shark Dining Room where you will be pleased to know that they are on the menu - but the shark and eel feeding is quite exciting. Taoiaha Pass, Atiha, Bathy's Club, M.U.S.T. and Scuba Piti are your operators here.
BORA BORA, the jewel of the Pacific, is a central emerald island surrounded by a myriad of islets. The colours of the lagoon vary from pale turquoise to deepest cobalt, and the range of depth almost assures you of sighting the gentle manta rays. The reefs are home to a great deal of smaller lagoon dwelling species, and locals can introduce you to the 1.5 metre barracuda named Romeo. Operators are Calypso Club and Bora Bora Diving Centre.
RAIATEA-TAHAA, the two sister islands, attract large schools of pelagic fish. Dog-toothed Tuna, Barracuda, Leopard Rays and sometimes Manta Rays when in season. Divers can assist with shark feeding - a hair-raising experience! The operator here is Raiatea Plongee.
HUAHINE, the garden island, is where Pacific Blue Adventure can take you to see Avafehia Pass, Coral City notable for formations rising 3 metres off the bottom and the 7kg red snapper. Yellow Valley rich in multi-coloured fish, the aquarium for beginners and the dive school. At Huahine you can see giant Jewish or Black Sea Bass weighing in at 180kgs.
RANGIROA is the place where drift diving or shooting the pass can be done any day. The steady five knot current offers an exhilarating dive and the regular scheduled dives are run on a 12 hour cycle so as to get the slack water. This cycle advances 45 minutes each day. Rangiroa dive sites include Napoleon Manta Point, Motu Fara Pass, Mahuta, The Avatoru, Tiputa Aquariums and Tiputa Shark Cave. All of these sites and more are offered by Scuba Diving Centre, Raie Manta Club and Paradive.
The different danses:
-The o'te'a, the most spectacular of the Polynesian dances, is performed either by a group of male dancers (o'te'a tane), or by women only (o'te'a vahine) or mixed (o'te'a amui). It is usually inspired from local legends and is caracterized by the dancers costumes ("more" or skirt made of vegetal fibers, head pieces, necklaces, feathers) and the acompanying percussions of the to'ere( wooden drum with one longitudinal slit struck with 1 or 2 sticks, imported from the Cook Islands at the end of the 19th century), the pahu (tall cylindrical wooden drum made out of tamanu, pu'a or miro wood, with a shark skin membrane struck with the hands) and the faatete (a small drum with membrane struck with two sticks in a very fast rhythm).
Among the male dance movements, the most used is the "pa'oti" meaning scissors,for the back and forth movement of the knees, legs bent and the heels slightly above the ground, with arms apart and fists closed. The paoti to'ere has a very fast rhytm and the paoti pahu is slow. This dance requires the dancer to have great physical resistance especially for the thighs.
The female dance movement is a hip movement created by the alternate bending of the knees, with the feet as flat as possible (heels to the ground) and arms spread apart, horizontally, it is the ori Tahiti or tamure.
The ra'atira (group leader) shows his creativity in the choreography and direction of his group. -The aparima, thanks to a smoother rythm, is an expressive dance that tells a story gracefully with the help of slow hand movements and gestures.
To illustrate every day life scene, the aparima vava is performed seated and not sung. The aparima himene is danced and sung, acompanied by the guitar, ukulele and pahu. Some gestures are defined but many are adapted or invented. For this dance, a colorful « pareu » is worn as a short or long skirt for women and tied « tihere » -style for the men (kind of trousers with one end pointing down on one leg) or rolled on the hips.
Head flower / fern wreaths and flower / fern necklaces complete the costume. The « maro » or traditional loin-cloth has made a come back in folkloric performances.
-The hivinau is a "in-between" or "recess" dance performed either at the beginning, or in transition, or at the end of the performance. This dance is inspired by the manoeuver of lifting the anchor performed by the european sailors on their ship. In the hivinau, two concentric circles of dancers criss-cross, with impromptus of couples dancing.
-The Paoa is an improvised and sometimes very sensual dance performed by a couple dancers, dancing to the rythm of the percussion orchestra and the dialogue between an orator and a mixed choir seated. The origin of the paoa is not really clear: some say this dance is linked to the fabrication of tapa cloth by women singing together, others link this dance to a royal couple embracing each other, with the theme of fishing often present.
English missioners were the first to print books in Tahitian after they decided to use the occidental alphabet to write down Tahitian that was until then only spoken. On March 8th, 1805, a uniform alphabet proposed by John DAVIS (Welsh historian and linguist) is adopted by the missioners. It uses 8 consonants (f, h, m, n, p, r, t, v) and 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u).
If the Tahitian language includes only 1,000 different words, its structure and pronunciation - very different from European languages - make it difficult to learn for foreigners. R's are rolled, H's are aspired, U's are pronounced "oo". Moreover, some Tahitian words are mixed with French like motu (islet), api (new), popa'a (Europeans), tinito (Chinese), poti marara (fishing boat), uru (bread fruit & trees), tane (man), vahine (woman), fare (house) ....Remark : another language is used in Tahiti : the eye language ! Don't be surprise, lifting eyebrows means yes or hello...
Reo Tahiti rehabilitated
In 1975, the Tahitian Academy composed of 20 members is created and after having been considered as a foreign language for over 40 years during the 20th century, Tahitian reappear in schools in 1982.
Actually, in 1980, the Territorial Assembly decides to consider Tahitian as an official language with the same status as French. But this decision was not included in the 1996-status of French Polynesia as the French Constitution does not allow to have several official languages on French territories. Consequently, from an official point of view, the Tahitian language can be considered only as a regional dialect. Since 1999, reo ma'ohi language is celebrated every November 28th and it is now taught alongside with French.
Island Girl Workouts - Tahitian Cardio (video)
Not long after Tahiti was moved away from Ra‘iatea,1 there lived in the district of Mahina (Clear-Gray) in Tahiti-To‘erau (North-Tahiti) a fine elegantly formed woman of high rank, whose name was Nona (Of-hushed). She had long carnivorous teeth, and as she had acquired the terrible propensity for cannibalism, which obtained for her the sobriquet of Vahine‘ai-ta‘ata (Man-eating-woman), her husband, who was high chief of the house named Tahiti-To‘erau, forsook her, and she lived alone in her home shaded with coconut trees on her own hereditary land near the sea. There she gave birth to a beautiful little girl, whom she named Hina (Gray) and whom she brought up tenderly, as befitted her rank, concealing from the child the human prey which she procured for herself.
At the foot of the great projecting cliff of Tahara‘a (Barrenness), conspicuous for its red clay, is a great cave bordering on the sea, forming a tunnel open at each end, through which pedestrians can pass at low tide so as to save going round the hill, and it is famed to this day as Nona's hiding place, where she waylaid passers-by and slew them to eat, sometimes cooking and sometimes devouring them still warm and bloody.
In the days of Nona, people gradually became very scarce in that region, and homes lay mysteriously desolate. But a handsome young man named Mono‘i-here (Favorite-perfumed-oil) had escaped the wily woman, and he had become much attached to her daughter Hina, whose affections he won as she verged to beautiful womanhood. They clandestinely met at a cool sequestered spot, called Oro-fara (Fara-fern), where there is a spring, called Rati (Splash), which watered Hina's bathing pool-still called Te-hopura‘a-vai-o-Hina (The bathing pool of Hina)-and close by a cave, which in their time it is said, was not known to exist, as at their bidding it opened and closed in the solid rock.
Protecting the Bay of Matavai (Face-of-water) is a broken line of reefs, called the Chain-of-Light-Rocks (To‘a-tea), and there Nona, who was an expert fisherwoman, frequently went to obtain fish for herself and her child. While she was thus employed the two young people, Mono‘i-here and Hina, met, feeling safe and free. Hina had the habit of carrying a basket of food to her lover when he was concealed in the cave, and in approaching him they would exchange the following passwords:
Hina. "Mono‘i-here is the man, Hina is the woman!"
Mono‘i-here. "Where is your mother, Nona, with long teeth?"
Hina. "She is on the long reef, on the short reef, catching fish for us, my lover. Oh foundation of rock, break open!"
Then the rock would burst open and out would come the lover, and they would pleasantly while the hours away until the time approached for Nona to return home, when Mono‘i-here would either return to the cave or go to his home in the distance, as circumstances guided, always cautiously avoiding an encounter with her.
But there came a time when the mother began to miss the food and so wondered how her daughter could consume so much in her absence, and she determined to solve the mystery. So one day, after cooking their usual supply of food, she feigned indisposition and went to bed, then she snored deeply and appeared to be in the soundest sleep. Finally Nona saw her daughter stealthily approach the food, take out choice morsels, place them in a basket, and go noiselessly out. When Nona saw the course girl was taking she took a short cut, halting here and there to keep sight of her, until she turned up into the shady nook; then Nona, arriving before her, ascended into a pua tree, where she could see and hear unobserved. As Nona had never known of the existence of the closed-in cave, she was soon astonished at what she witnessed, and she repeated to herself the passwords, so as to remember them. She kept motionless until the lovers had held their interview and parted, when she quickly descended from the tree and returned to her bed at home, while her unsuspecting daughter leisurely followed and found things there just as she had left them.
The following day, after partaking of food and putting some by, Nona took leave of her child, saying she was going to prepare torches for night-fishing. But she quickly went to the lovers‘ haunt, and standing by the cave she spoke, imitating Hina's tone as nearly as she could. But Mono‘i-here, detecting the fraud, replied: "You are not Hina; you are Nona the woman with long teeth!"
But she had learned the magical words, and fiendishly said: "Oh foundation of rock, break open!"
Then the cave opened. She entered quickly, seized the hapless young man, and killed and feasted on him. She looked for his heart but could not find it, and leaving his bones and vitals thrown together she left the cave, which closed after her, and she returned to prepare her torches as she had planned.
Meanwhile, Hina went with her basket to the cave and was surprised when no response came to her from within, and as the rock opened at her bidding she encountered the ghastly spectacle in the cave. What remained of Mono‘i-here was still warm, and Hina at once sought for and found the heart, which was still pulsating. This she placed next to her own heart and guided by it went home to act.
In the absence of her mother she got the trunk of a banana tree and laid it in her bed to counterfeit her body, and to simulate a head upon her pillow at one end of it she placed an ‘a‘ano (coconut-water-bottle). Then she covered all up in her tapa sheet and fled in fear from the home of her childhood, until she arrived at the adjoining district of ‘Uporu (Ha‘apape or Point Venus). Still guided by the pulsating heart of her lost lover, she stopped at the house of a fine young chief, named No‘a (Sweet-odor), who was famed for his hairy though handsome person and who with all his household received her cordially, and she was at rest.
When Nona returned home with her torches she prepared supper, and thinking Hina was having a nap in her bed she called her; but no voice came. After calling several times, Nona became enraged and threatened to eat her daughter. But as there was still no response she furiously exclaimed: "Here I come, O Hina; will devour you!"
So saying, she rushed to the bed, laid hold of the banana effigy of her daughter, and bit into it through the sheet, when, to her great surprise, she found that the girl had outwitted her, and she exclaimed: "Ah, you have escaped!" Early on the following day, Nona set out to recover her daughter. Ascertaining the course she had taken, Nona went on and on enquiring for Hina until she also arrived at the house of the hairy chief, No‘a. When she saw Hina, she made a rush to seize her, but the chief seeing how terror stricken the girl was, and hearing her say that Nona was a savage woman and would kill her, he intercepted Nona's grasp. Then with muscular strength, Nona grappled to strangle him; but he overpowered and strangled her and so ended the life of the famous Nona of the cave of Tahara‘a.
In course of time, Hina who married her protector and deliverer, gave birth to a son, who was named Pu-a‘a-ri‘i-tahi (Cluster-of-first-small-roots).
Another son, named Hema (Deceived), followed and she had no more children. The two boys became fine young men, and they were adepts in surf-riding. One day as they were preparing to go out for their sport, the mother asked the elder son, Pu-a‘a-ri‘i tahi, to dress her hair. But he did not comply, and she said, "Ah, your wife will not be a woman of distinction."
Then, as Hema came by, she asked him to dress her hair, which he readily did. As he combed out her long glossy locks and braided them, he discovered a louse and taking it out he showed it to her. She said: "Your wife will be a notable woman." As time went on, Pu-a‘a-ri‘i-tahi took to himself a wife named Te-‘ura (Redness), and she bore him five sons, named, Arihi-nui-apua (Great-enchanted-cord), Ta-oe-a-pua (With-deviation-of-dolphin-head), Orooro-i-pua (Rub-dolphin-head), Te-mata-tui‘au-ia-ro‘o (The-changing-eye-of fame), and Te-mata-a‘a-ra‘i (The-eye-that-measured-the sky).
The son Hema obtained a goddess for a wife in the following manner:
One day his mother told him to go in the early morning and dig a hole in the eastern bank of Vai-po‘opo‘o (Hollow-river) at Ha‘apape (Point Venus), in which he must conceal himself, and then he would see a beautiful woman from the netherlands who would come to a pool close by to bathe. He would find her very strong, and so he must catch her from behind unawares by her hair and before putting her down carry her past four houses in bringing her home. So at daybreak Hema went and did as directed, and just as the first rays of the sun appeared he completed his hiding place and concealed himself within it. In a little while he saw approaching from an opening in the earth the goddess described. She quietly entered her bathing place, dived and swam in the water, and when she had bathed herself and wrung out her long flowing hair, which covered her graceful form, she stood upon the bank adjusting it close by Hema with her back turned towards him. Then he approached her, quickly twisted some hair around his wrist and thus secured her as she strongly endeavored to escape him. He at last bore her up in his arms and was carrying her homewards when, after passing two houses, she begged to be released. So he let her go, thinking she would walk by his side. But in a moment she sped away and disappeared through the opening in the ground which closed after her.
Hema returned home dejected, and when he told his mother what had happened she told him to go again the following morning for the goddess, taking heed not to release her until they had passed four houses in coming home. He could not eat that day from overanxiety to obtain the beautiful wife, and before daybreak he was again in his hiding place by the river awaiting her return. She came earlier than on the previous day intending to avoid the intruder, and hastily she bathed herself and stood again upon the bank near Hema, who then caught her as before and carried her, struggling to be released, all the way home.
Finding that the people of the upper world had seen her in company with Hema and that they regarded her as his wife and becoming attached to him and all his, she consented to remain with them, and she, a goddess married Hema a mortal man, according to the religious rites of their time. The name she received in this upper world was Hina-tahutahu (Hina-the-magician), because of her supernatural origin and her power to do many wonderful things, such as healing the sick, reading people's thoughts, and foretelling things to happen. She bore Hema two children, Arihi-nui-apua (Great-enchanted-net-cord) and a giant red-headed (‘ehu) child, who was hairy like his grandfather and whose names were Ta-fa‘i-‘iri-‘ura (By-revelation-the-red-skinned), Vai-ta-fa‘i (Fixed-by-revelation), and Ta-fa‘i-uri-i-tetua-i-Havai‘i (By-revelation-piloting-in-the-sea-of-Havai‘i), evolutions of appellations that were caused by the development of circumstances, but all of which have resolved themselves in Tahiti and other groups into the name Tafa‘i simply.
At an early age Tafa‘i showed that he inherited from his mother supernatural powers and that he was in touch with the gods; the elder son was simply an earthly chief and was obscured by his illustrious brother. The early childhood of the two boys was pleasantly spent with their cousins and other children, their chief amusement being top spinning, sailing little canoes ih shallow water, light ball playing, and bathing and swimming.
But a time came when they wanted new games. Tafa‘i's cousins made balls of clay, which they rolled along the ground, and the first one whose ball cracked in revolving became the loser in the play. So Tafa‘i asked his mother how to make solid balls, and she directed him to get fine-grained sand from the sea to mix with the clay and then to dry the balls well before using them. This he did, and when he went to play with them, his cousins cried: "Ah, dear Tafa‘i, come and let go yours."
But he answered: "No, the first must be first, and the last must come in last." So they rolled their balls in regular turns until all were cracked but Tafa‘i's and he became the winner. So it happened that to the great vexation of the others he always won the game.
Then they took a fancy to the game called totoie (toy canoe), in which was used a stick sharpened at one end, and steadied at the other with a rudder made from the rib of a coconut leaf. The toy was placed on the surface of the waves a little way out in the sea, whence it floated to the shore, and the winner in this amusement was the one whose totoie arrived on shore first. Tafai's mother directed him to make his toy of a piece of convolvulus stem, which being very light proved a great success, and again he came out victorious. Then his cousins were so vexed and jealous that they fell upon him and stunned him, so that they thought he was dead, and they buried him in the sand. But his mother, knowing at once what had happened, went to the spot where he lay apparently lifeless and resuscitated him. But when questioned about the matter, he tried to screen his cousins.
So it happened that as Tafa‘i grew up he excelled in everything he did; and that out of spite and jealousy his cousins often used violence upon his person and left him as dead just as often his mother rescued him and restored him to life, and he never complained. At last his father, Hema, becoming aggrieved at the unkind treatment of his son by his nephews, took leave of this world and went down to Po (Darkness) to live. When Tafa‘i was still a youth, his mother imparted to him all her magical powers, which he received by opening his mouth over the crown of her head, and then he felt prompted to do great deeds and to travel, which his mother let him do with suitable men.
At length Tafa‘i reached man's estate. A great red man was he, modeled by the gods. He had bright curly auburn hair, his head and shoulders towered above all other tall men in Tahiti, he had penetrating brown eyes, his hands were large and strong, and his fingernails were long and pointed. Whenever he walked his majestic tread left footprints upon the most hardened ground. He became famous throughout the land for his wisdom and skill in all he did. Without tuition he excelled in every art of his time, and his bravery and generosity won for him the respect and love of all in Tahiti, so that he was unanimously elected toa-upo‘o-tu (chief-warrior) by all the warrior chiefs contemporary with him.
Tafa‘i 's first great deed for the good of his country was the cutting of the sinews of this fish, Tahiti, to render it stable, and after accomplishing this he said they must cut the sinews of all the islands around Tahiti, which were detached parts of the fish, and that they must also go on and draw up new land from the sea. So a great double canoe was built, which he named the Anuanua (Rainbow), and valiant navigators and a priest were chosen to accompany him. He himself was the pilot and astronomer. He took his ta‘o (an ironwood shoulder spear 12 feet long and pointed on both ends), which no other man in Tahiti could lift, and his paddle, which no one else could wield; and he prepared a great long line of ro‘a, attached to an immense wooden fishhook, which was filled with magic at his touch. His men prepared their fishhooks and lines, which he also enchanted, and after the usual religious ceremonies they set out to sea.
They went northwest to little Tahiti (Mo‘orea-the-offshoot), and they thrust their spears into its quivering sinews and made it stable; they went southwest to Maia‘o-iti (Little-claw), which had fallen away from Mo‘orea, and soon made it stable. They went north of Tahiti and found the islets of Tetiaroa (Standing-afar-off) struggling to rise above the foaming sea. So they threw down their hooks and drew them up one by one. Then with their spears they cut the sinews and fixed the islets in their present positions. They went on eastward and found that Me-tu (Standing-thing; the island of Meti‘a) was already fixed in its place. Then Tafa‘i said they must go to other regions and fish up land, and they came to the Tai-o-va‘ua ( Shaven-sea ) and there beneath the mighty breakers, found the extensive Tuamotu Archipelago, which they fished up and which ever since has remained as beautiful atolls and islets fringed with beds of coral of all hues and with pearl oysters. To these he added the high Mangarevan group and other hilly islands eastward that were also struggling to rise.
They went on exploring the trackless ocean northward and drawing up islands, which they discovered by observing the sea dancing over them, until at last they perceived a mighty commotion apart from all others, and on approaching it they found the Hawaiian group all huddled close together beneath the surface. Tafa‘i first drew up Ai-hi (Bit-in-fishing, now called Hawaii), whose high twin mountains rose from their watery bed and went on rising until they reached an amazing height and were lost among the clouds, and whose shores extended beyond the horizon. Owing to the great volcano perpetually burning, this island was afterward named Havai‘i-‘a (Burning Hawai‘i) by the Tahitians to distinguish it from the island of Havai‘i to the south. Tafa‘i next drew up Maui, which he named Maui after the hero, Maui of eight heads, who detached the sky from the earth. This island also rose to a wonderful height. So they went on until all the islands were drawn up, and then those intrepid navigators went south and returned with people to dwell on the beautiful new land, bringing with them their gods, their chiefs and bread-fruit and other plants.2
At length the emigrants of the north and their kindred in the south, regretted that they were so widely separated from each other, and Tafa‘i, who had returned home, conceived a plan to remove the Hawaiian islands to the south. He and his seaman prepared strong ropes, and invoking the gods to their aid they attached each island to the canoe. When all was made ready, Tafa‘i warned his people to be guarded against breaking the sacredness of the spell that was to pervade their great undertaking. No one must speak or look back when in motion, on pain of displeasing and losing the aid of the gods. The great canoe moved off drawing the ropes, united in one, each man plying his paddle and looking steadily ahead, when soon a magical spell caused the islands to yield and follow in a most orderly manner, and onward they went.
Shouts of applause which the navigators were rejoiced to hear, arose from the land but they swerved not from their purpose and still kept silence. All nature chimed in rejoicing, and above the sound of the steady breeze and rippling sea arose the chorus of people and birds singing, cocks crowing, hens cackling, dogs barking and occasionally pigs grunting, while overhead the sea gulls screeched their contentment. Still the mariners did not look back, nor did they speak, and the islands moved on.
But finally the sound of hula drums and flutes arose, with songs of rejoicing from the people, and this so stirred the hearts of the seamen that all except Tafa‘i could no longer contain themselves, and with one common impulse they stood upon their seats and looking back began to dance and sing also, when suddenly the charm was broken, the ropes snapped, and they were forsaken by the gods! As a result of the impetus, before the islands became stationary, Havai‘i-‘a went forwards and Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau backwards, the middle islands remained close together, and detachments from the island coasts formed islets. In vain did the seamen and people offer invocations and oblations to the gods to return, nor did the prayers of Tafa‘i, who was blameless, prevail. So they were obliged to abandon the enterprise, and the Hawaiian islands have remained forever an isolated group, standing grandly away in the north.3
The next great thing Tafa‘i determined to do was to explore the interior of the earth and recover his father from the region called Po. His mother agreed to show him the road down, and his brother, Arihi-nui-apua, begged to be allowed to accompany him, and no fear of hardship on their way could dissuade him from his purpose, as he had smitings of conscience for having been one who had caused his father to leave this world.
Hina-tahutahu caused the earth to open for the travellers, who after passing through long tunnels at last came to an open place where they saw a house, which was inhabited by an old blind woman called Uhi (Yam). By this time Arihi-nui-apua, who unlike Tafa‘i was merely mortal, became very tired and hungry. So they went quietly into the house, where they found Uhi setting out her food to eat, talking to herself as she did so. She laid together two pieces of breadfruit, two pieces of taro, two packages of pota (taro-top-spinach), two cups of coconut sauce, and two cups of water. Then as she was eating Arihi-nui-apua took one portion of each thing before her and ate also, so that when she felt for more she found nothing and at last exclaimed: "Who is this little maggot that has come here to Po?"
Tafa‘i answered: "It is I, Tafa‘i." The old lady said: "Ah, be seated properly." She took a beautiful thing that was covered with ‘ura (red) feathers, which Tafa‘i motioned his brother not to touch. This was her fishhook, which was attached to magical cord, and as she threw it out Tafa‘i evaded it; but Arihi, fascinated with its beauty, picked it up, and as she pulled it in, caught him under the arm. She drew him to her like a fish, and he drew back with all his might, running in centrifugal motion. Feeling grieved for his brother, Tafa‘i exclaimed: "Oh Uhi, set aside your fish lest the great shark approach you! His friend [shark] is in the sea." There were sharks and whales in the sea and a great octopus in a grotto ornamented with trumpet shells. But Uhi replied exultingly: "He shall not escape. This is the fishhook Puru-i-te-maumau (Sodden-by-holding-fast), and the line, Shark-in-the-Milky-Way, not that of Hina." Then Tafa‘i seized the line and rescued the prisoner, and the old woman finding her hook loose exclaimed: "Ah! There is a person here by me, can you restore my sight?"
Tafa‘i replied: "I can restore it." So saying, he took a coconut and cast it on her eyes, and immediately her sight was restored.
The old woman saw the young men for the first time and expressed her pleasure at seeing them. When she inquired what service she could render them for this great cure Tafa‘i asked her to tell them where his father dwelt and what she knew about him. Uhi replied that Hema dwelt farther on in a forest, where the gods heaped their garbage, that they had taken out his eyes and given them as toys to the girls who braided mats for the orators; and that they had filled his eye sockets with excrements of birds. Then she charged two little attendants to accompany the two brothers, who went to rescue the poor man. Finally they arrived at the woody region where Hema was, and quickly snatching him up Tafa‘i bore him away in his arms with all the speed that his wide strides could give and before any of the gods were aware of it the three fugitives from the lower regions arrived safely up in this world of light. Tafa‘i bathed and clothed and fed the unfortunate Hema, and though blind, Hema was made happy with his wife and children, with whom he then found his brother's family on most friendly terms.
Some years had elapsed after the travels of Tafa‘i when the fame reached Tahiti of Te-‘ura-i-te-ra‘i (Redness-of-the-sky ), a beautiful princess in south Havai‘i-‘a, who was to be obtained as a wife only by some valiant hero. Tafai's cousins, the five sons of Pu-a‘a-ri‘i-tahi, decided to go as aspirants for her hand, so they prepared a double canoe for that purpose. Tafa‘i told his mother that he wished to go also, and so she took a coconut blossom sheath and laid it upon the sea, and it developed into a beautiful single canoe, which they named Niu (Coconut) and which was soon made ready for the voyage. His mother told him that his ancestral shark, Tere-mahia-ma-hiva (Speedy-travelling-with-fleet), would accompany him, and that he should address it as his guardian ancestor, which he agreed to do.
The two canoes set out together. The double one was well manned with seamen, a pilot, and an astronomer; the single one had Tafa‘i alone, escorted by the faithful shark, and it soon went far ahead of the other. Finally when the five brothers approached the shores of Havai‘i-‘a, they saw awaiting them their cousin Tafa‘i, who was the first to greet them on landing. The royal family of South Havai‘i-‘a was soon apprised of the arrival of the young chiefs who had come to offer themselves to the princess, and they were well received by them.
In the course of a few days the prowess of the young Tahitians was put to the test, and the beautiful young Hawaiian princess was herself chosen to be umpire for them. They were all girded and armed with spears for the encounter. First they were told to pull up by the roots an ‘awa tree which was possessed by a demon, and which had caused the death of all who had attempted to disturb it. Each man was to come forward according to his age. Beginning with the eldest, Te-ura-i-terai said: "O Arihi-nui-apua of Tahiti, come and pull up this ‘awa, and chew it to drink and intoxicate Havai‘i."
He went forward and thrust his spear in the stump of the tree, which like a living thing immediately darted forth its roots and pierced and killed him. Then came forward the second brother, Ta-oe-a-pua, who met with the same fate, and so it was with the three older brothers, Orooro-i-pua, Te-mata-tauia-ia-ro‘o, and Te-mata-a‘a-ra‘i. Seeing that they were all dead, the princess said to her parents: "That will do perhaps." But the parents replied that the last man must try. Then it was Tafa‘i's turn and the princess said: "O Tafa‘i, pause! Tafa‘i with red skin, who raised up Hawai‘i, born to Hema, my sympathies! Come and pull up this ‘awa, and chew it to drink and intoxicate Hawai‘i."
The noble red giant advanced undaunted and thrust his spear at arm's length into the stump of the ‘awa. As the roots moved forwards to pierce him, he held tight the end of the spear, and they twisted around it like the arms of a devilfish, while he pushed the spear farther and farther into the taproot until the whole plant yielded. He drew it out, raised it still attached to the spear, beat and bruised the roots until they became powerless, and laid it down. Then he turned to his cousins lying lifeless upon the ground, and to the amazement of all the spectators he restored them to life.
Soon the Tahitians were ready to make the drink from the ‘awa roots, and as it was customary to have a feast on such an occasion, they asked for a pig and necessary accompaniments. To this the royal family willingly agreed, and the pig they were to have was the renowned Mo‘iri (Whole swallower), a monster that swallowed live things whole and whose fame had long ago reached Tahiti. The slaying of this scourge to humanity was to be the last test of dexterity to which the young men were to be put; and they were to advance again according to their ages. So the young men, girded for the encounter, stood with their spears, and with sennit in their hands to tie the pig. The princess called out: "O Mo‘iri, be sennit bound!"
Then rushing out of the woods, amid a cloud of dust which flew up under its heavy tread, came the terrible snorting and grunting monster. As the first champion dashed forward to catch the feet and throw the pig down, he was swallowed whole, and one after the other of his brothers shared the same fate, their spears making no impression upon the thick hide of the animal. But as Tafa‘i advanced, he thrust his spear down into the throat of the pig as it opened its great jaws to swallow him. The pig was slain, and immediately Tafa‘i caused it to render up his five cousins, whom he once more restored to life. A great shout of applause rent the air, and Tafa‘i was unanimously acknowledged to be the greatest hero that Havai‘i-‘a had ever seen. The pig was the principal feature of the great feast that followed, and all ate of it. The ‘awa that the Tahitians made was pronounced excellent and it rejoiced the hearts of the drinkers.
Finally the time came for the hero of the day to claim his bride. The king and queen looked expectantly at Tafa‘i and the princess, who had conceived great admiration for him and was willing to give him her hand. But what was their surprise when in the name of himself and his cousins he bade them all farewell, saying: "Now fare you well. We are returning to our own land." Then the Hawaiians of the South realized that they had offended the Tahitians by their rigid treatment, and they could not prevail upon their visitors to change their purpose. Soon the Tahitians departed in the same way that they had come.
When they returned home after their fruitless errand, the Tahitians no longer aspired to seeking famed beauties of other lands, but took suitable wives from among their own countrywomen. Tafa‘i married a fine young chiefess of North Tahiti, named Hina (Gray), famed for her beautiful raven hair, which when let loose, flowed down in waves to her feet and covered her graceful, majestic form; and their attachment for each other was strong and lasting.
Tafa‘i was prompt to go wherever duty called him in his own land and also in other lands and, as old records everywhere show, was beloved for his goodness and kind, generous deeds. On one occasion when he returned home from a long voyage he found to his great grief that his wife was dead. She had just suddenly died, and her body, still warm, was lying in state upon an altar in the ancestral marae (place of worship), guarded by the priest and elders of the family. Soon, in his sorrow, he determined to contend for her even with the gods! So he inquired of the priest whither her spirit had fled, and he told Tafa‘i that it had left their sacred precincts and was now with the spirits of other departed ones at Tataa about twenty miles west of ‘Uporu, which was their place of rendezvous on Tahiti before taking flight for Paradise or Hades in Ra‘iatea.
Tafa‘i lost no time in seizing his great paddle and launching out into the sea his single canoe (Niu); and then he swiftly darted over the smooth water within the friendly reef and arrived at Pa‘ea just at dusk, the right time to meet the souls departing. There he found that his wife's spirit had left some time before for Mount Rotui (Soul-despatching) on Mo‘orea, whither the spirits went to take their final departure for Te-mehani (The-heat) in Ra‘iatea, which was the last place whence they could return to this world.
Onwards he sped across the channel to Mount Rotui, towering steep and high up into the clouds, and soon he was upon its summit. But there too he found that his lost Hina had gone on some time before! With unshakeable purpose, Tafa‘i descended the mountain and again took to his canoe, and in the dim light of the waning moon, aided by a favorable breeze, he made his canoe almost fly across the wide channel that separates the windward islands from the leeward group. Then he took the shortest route up to Te-mehani and he did not stop until he arrived at the spot on the mountain plateau where the roads radiated, one to the cliff on the right, called the "Stone of Life," from which spirits ascended to Rohutu-no‘ano‘a (Paradise-of-sweet-odor), somewhere up in cloudland above the highest mountains of Ra‘iatea and the other to the cone on the left, from which they descended down in the yawning crater of Te-mehani, which led to Po (Darkness).
The moon was almost setting and the morning star was heralding the day when Tafa‘i arrived at that place and was met by the god Tu-ta-horoa (Stand-to-permit), who guarded the roads. Tafa‘i inquired if Hina, his wife, had passed by, and to his great relief the god replied that she had not yet come. But he told Tafa‘i to be quick and conceal himself in the bushes in a precipitous nook close by and that he must rest to gain strength for his undertaking to capture her in her flight, as that was the last place whence spirits could be recalled to this world. Breathlessly Tafa‘i seated himself in his hiding place, and just as he recovered breath from his late exertions he heard leaves rustling a little way off, and the god told him to be ready, as Hina had just arrived.
Soon Tafa‘i perceived the tall, familiar form of his wife with her hair streaming down her back, and as she arrived upon the ridge of the rock by which he stood she drew back as she scented a human being. Just as she was about to ascend into the air to fly to the Stone of Life, where she would have escaped him, he made a desperate leap up onto the ledge and into the air and caught her by her flowing hair with his long fingernails. Hina struggled to be released, as she was intent on going to the happy spirit world, but her husband held her fast, and when Tu-ta-horoa told her that her time had not yet come to leave this world she was prevailed upon to remain longer with her husband. So they returned to ‘Uporu, and as soon as Hina re-entered her body, which was still well preserved, and opened her mortal eyes, there was great rejoicing in their home and in all the district over the safe return of Tafa‘i and his wife from the border of the spirit world.
It is not recorded in Tahiti that Tafa‘i ever again went away from his native land, but it is stated that he and his wife lived long and happily together and that to them was born a son whom they named Vahi-e-roa (Far-off-place), probably in commemoration of the long voyages of Tafai‘i to strange lands.
In the manuscript dictionary by Mr. Orsmond, under the heading of the name Tafa‘i are found these words: "A god was Tafa‘i of red skin, who raised up Havai‘i. Charming is the legend of Tafa‘i." In Tahiti his memory is perpetuated in the form of the beautiful club moss (Licopodium clavatum), named rimarima Tafa‘i (fingers of Tafa‘i ), which is said to have sprung from his fingers after he left his earthly body and which grows prolifically among the ferns over all the islands; the spores of the plant are called Maiuu Tafa‘i (fingernails of Tafa‘i), which they are said to resemble.
This Tahitian version of the story of Tafa‘i is from Teuira Henry's Ancient Tahiti (552-565).
The story of Hema and Tafa‘i is told throughout Polynesia. He is known as Kaha‘i in Hawai‘i, Tawhaki in Aotearoa, Tahaki in the Tuamotus, Ta‘aki in Rarotonga, and Tafa‘i in Samoa. (See Beckwith, pp. 238-258, for summaries of the variants of this tradition.)
In the Hawaiian ‘Ulu-Hema genealogy, Hema is said to be the ancestor of Maui chiefs. He was the son of ‘Aikanaka ("Man-eater"; cf. Nona, the cannibal grandmother of Hema in the Tahitian version). He was raised in Hana, Maui. A chant tells of his birth and his deeds. After the birth of a son named Kaha‘i (Tafa‘i), Hema sailed to Kahiki to get the ‘ape‘ula (red tapa; or apo‘ula, wreath of red feathers) for his son. During the voyage, Hema was seized by a bird and died in Kahiki. Kaha‘i sailed in search of his father, learned of his death, and returned to Hawai‘i (Kamakau 139-143).
1. The story of how the upwind islands of Tahiti Nui move away from Ra‘iatea is told in Peter H. Buck's Vikings of the Pacific: According to one tradition, Tahiti and the other upwind islands in the Society group were created from the land between the islands of Ra‘iatea and Taha‘a. The story goes that in preparation for a ceremony for ‘Oro, the war-god, kapu were imposed on the the district of Opoa: no cock could crow, no dog bark; no person or pig could leave its dwellings. The wind died off and the sea grew calm. However, a young girl named Tere-he went bathing in a river. The gods drowned her for breaking the kapu. A giant eel swallowed her and was possessed by her soul. The angry eel tore up the land between Ra‘iatea and Taha‘a and swam to the east, becoming the windward islands of Tahiti; its back fin formed the mountain of Orohena, which dominates the western end of Tahiti. Another fin fell off and became the island of Mo‘orea. Other bits of the fish became the islands of Meti‘a, Te Tiaroa, and Mai‘ao-iti.
Buck interprets this story as meaning that the people who settled the windward islands of Tahiti had fled Ra‘iatea because of the tyrannous, oppressive rule of the priests of ‘Oro. The drowning of Tere-he may have been an actual event that caused her people to flee.
2. The tradition of Hawai‘i-loa by Kepelino and S.M. Kamakau (Fornander, Vol. VI, 266-281) attributes the discovery and settlement of Hawai‘i to a mariner named Hawai‘i-loa. A second version of the Hawai‘iloa tradition is found in Kepelino's Traditions of Hawaii (Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1932, 74-77) under the title "Hawaii-nui." A discussion of this tradition is found in "The Legend of Hawaii-Loa" by Bruce Cartwright (Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 38: 1929, 105-121).
3. In Hawai‘i the story is told of the demi-god Maui's attempt to pull together the islands of Kaua‘i and O‘ahu-the two major islands that are the farthest apart.) Like Tafa‘i, Maui failed because a helper (or his brothers) looked back after being told not to. (For the Maui story, see J. Gilbert. McAllister's Archaeology of Oahu. Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1933; 126-7; Lyle A. Dickey's "Stories of Wailua, Kauai" in Hawaiian Historical Society, Twenth-fifth Annual Report, Honolulu, 1917; pp. 17-18; and Thomas Thrum's More Hawaiian Folk Tales, Chicago, 1923; 248-260.
The Story Of Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin first came to Tahiti in 1891 via Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, and Noumea, New Caledonia. He saw in Tahiti a chance to develop his art as well as developing an affinity with the indigenous people of Tahiti for whom he had a great admiration. The life and times of Paul Gauguin are vibrant and interesting and his work of art will be a lasting memorial to the people of Tahiti and to his own artistic genius.
Carved panel from the door frame of Gauguin's house at Hivaoa
One great interest in Gauguin today has come about not only because of the value of his work and its influence on modern art, but also because he had one of the most colourful lives of any artist in the nineteenth century. The impression which we receive from him is of a powerful nature struggling to fulfil its destiny, a man driven by himself to extremes and to self-destruction. On the one hand, the cultured European involved in the most sophisticated art movement of his time; on the other, the man who turned his back on western civilization in order to become a savage, a Maori.
Paul Gauguin was born in Paris in 1848. His father was a journalist of liberal tendencies, and his mother, Aline Chazel, was the daughter of Flora Tristan, a political speaker and follower of "Saint-Simon, of Peruvian-Spanish extraction. In 1849, a few months after the election of Louis Napoleon as President, the family left for Peru, where Aline had influential relations, the father dying en route. Although they only remained there for six years, it may well be that the boy retained impressions of that strange and remote land which, in later years, stirred his wanderlust, for in 1865 he enlisted in the merchant service and made voyages between Le Havre and South America.
In 1871, however, he left the sea and entered the Bertin bank in Paris as a stockbroker. by 1873 he was in a financial position to marry Mette Gad, a young Danish girl, and in the following years made a very comfortable income. He seems to have begun to paint in the summer of 1873, shortly before his marriage, encouraged perhaps by his guardian Gustave Arosa, who owned a fine collection of pictures by Corot, Delacroix, Courbet and the artists of the Barbizon School. Arosa's daughter, Marguerite, herself a painter, gave him instruction in the technique of painting in oils and went with him on Sundays to paint on the outskirts of Paris. At Bertin's he found that another employer, Emile Schuffenecker, had also developed an enthusiastic interest in painting. The two of them soon began to take their hobby so seriously that they went to the evenings to the Atelies Colarossi, one of the ateliers libres where artists could work freely without the discipline of the Academic des Beaux-Arts, to draw from the model and receive a certain amount of tuition.
Gauguin's early paintings were in the tradition of Daubigny, Corot, Jongkind and Courbet. Maturing rapidly, he exhibited a landscape at the Salon of 1876, but apparently never mentioned this to Arosa or to his wife. The turning-point in his career was his meeting with Camille Pissarro, which seems to have taken place about 1877. The two became good friends and Pissarro gave Gauguin a great deal of useful advice; they even worked side by side, painting from the same motif, as Pissarro and Cezanne had done a few years before. With the older artist's encouragement, Gauguin began to form a fine collection of Impressionist paintings, including important works by Cesanne, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley, Guillaumin, Monet and Renoir; he also contributed to the last five Impressionist exhibitions of 1879-86. His works of this period show the typical Impressionist handling and broken colour similar to Pissarro, but without much personal quality. As Gauguin said later of Pissarro: 'He looked at everybody, you say? Why not? Everyone looked at him, too, but denied him. He was one of my masters and I do not deny him.' Gaining confidence, Gauguin began to tackle the human figure, getting his wife Mette and the maid to pose for him, or making studies from one or other of his children.
By all accounts, however, he was still not taken seriously as an artist, and probably himself felt uncertain of his powers. His first true success came when he exhibited Study of a Nude (plate 3) at the Impressionist exhibition of 1881; and earned the enthusiastic praise of the naturalist novelist and critic J. K. Huysmans: 'I don't hesitate to state that among the contemporary painters who have depicted the nude, none has yet given so vehement an expression of reality...' Gauguin became less modest, more assured; the stock market began to take second place. Nevertheless it came as a complete surprise to his wife when he suddenly announced in 1883 that he had decided to give up his job at the end of the year and become a full-time painter. About the beginning of January 1884 he moved with his family to Rouen, where he hoped to find a market for his pictures among the wealthy bourgeois, but he met with no success and after three or four months was in a precarious financial position. It was decided that Mette should return to Denmark to try to earn a living by teaching French and by making translations. Gauguin joined her there in December, but unfortunately was soon on bad terms with his wife's relations. Embittered by the hostility of the Gad family and by the failure of his one=man show in Copenhagen - a failure which he attributed partly to intrigue - he returned to Paris about the end of June 1885, leaving his wife behind.
The sacrifice of family, security and peace of mind to art had already begun. The successful business man was set on a path which would lead to renunciation of western civilisation, bitter poverty, an early death... and artistic greatness. 'I am a great artist...' he wrote to Mette later by way of explanation. 'I am a great artist and know it. It is because I know it that I have endured so many sufferings in order to proceed on my way, otherwise I should consider myself a brigand.' Gauguin was not only influenced by Pissarro. he owned, for instance, at least five paintings by Cezanne including works from the period when Cezanne showed the most pronounced interest in simplification, pattern and the use of almost flat areas of colour surrounded by definite outlines. the influence of Cezanne can be seen in his still-life of 1885 reproduced as plate 6, and more strongly in certain other works of the same period. Afterwards, in 1890, he included the still-life from his collection in the background of one of his portraits (plate 22), a picture which may be regarded as a kind of homage to Cezanne. He even took a fleeting interest in the innovations of the Neo-Impressionists, whose contributions had been the main attraction at the last Impressionist exhibition of 1886, though he was turned against Neo-Impressionism and referred contemptuously to its exponents as 'confetti painters'. He insisted that the juxtaposition of complementary colours produced discord and not harmony. The very rigid, doctrinaire approach of Seurat and Sugnac was bound to clash with his own desire to liberate painting from every kind of restriction.
In June 1886, he moved to Pont-Aven in Brittany, which was then a favourite resort of painters. He was attracted to it partly because it was a country with archaic customs and partly because living there was very cheap. 'I love Brittany,' he said later, 'I find there the savage, the primitive. When my wooden shoes reverberate on this granite soil, I hear the muffled, heavy and powerful note I am seeking in painting.' This surge to seek primitive, exotic terrain was carried a stage further in 1887 when he set out with the painter Charles Laval for Panama and Martinique.
On Martinique the two artists lived in a negro hut, ate fishes and fruit, painted palm trees, banana trees and especially natives, and thought for a few blissful days that they had discovered Paradise. but Laval was taken ill with fever, while Gauguin himself suffered violent attacks of dysentery. Nevertheless, so far as work was concerned, this visit was not unprofitable. Gauguin made on Martinique a number of paintings which show him gradually freeing himself from Impressionism, simplifying his forms and, in the clear sunlight, using bolder colours including patches of blues, purple-mauves and reds (see plate 9). 'Despite my physical weakness,' he said, 'I have never before made paintings so clear, so lucid.'
On his return from Martinique, Gauguin sought the hospitality of Schuffenecker (who had likewise given up his job at the bank to become a painter), then returned to Pont-Aven. In August he was joined there by Emile Bernard. Bernard had met Gauguin briefly during his first stay at Pont-Aven in 1886, but thought arriving with an introduction from Schuffenecker, had not been well received - the two had in fact seen very little of each other. (At the pension Gloanec at Pont-Aven, Gauguin and his friends dined apart from the academic painters, and were referred to pugnaciously as 'The Impressionists') In 1888, however, Gauguin was very much interested in Bernard's recent paintings, executed in a style which Bernard and Anquetin had created under the influence of Japanese prints and Cezanne. this style was known as cloisonnism because or its areas of unbroken colour surrounded by bold outlines; the forms being made to stand out in clear-cut silhouette. When Gauguin saw Bernard's Breton Women in a Field he was, so Bernard assures us, greatly impressed, and forthwith painted his own Piston after the Sermon (plate 12) in which he used a similar convention reminiscent of Japanese prints and strained-glass.
The Vision after the Sermon depicts the moment after the sermon when the peasants, in their simplicity, almost imagine that they can see Jacob wrestling with the angel. The priest himself appears in the bottom right corner. Instead of a painting executed in front of nature, this is a work executed from memory and imagination - what Gauguin called an 'abstraction', 'Real' figures - the peasants - are juxtaposed with imagined figures. The unreality of the scene is further enhanced by extremely arbitrary colour, in particular a background of flaming crimson. Instead of the typical Impressionist touch, there are flat or only slightly modelled areas of colour surrounded by bold strong outlines. the forms are simplified and in places given a distinct Art Nouveau curvilinear character. A slight suggestion of recreation is created by the over lapping of the forms and by the diminution in scale of the figures, but the general effect is rather like a polychrome bas-relief. The wrestling figures themselves were derived from a Japanese print, probably from one of the groups of wrestlers in Hokusai's Mangwa. When this picture was finished, Gauguin offered it to a church near Pont-Aven - not out of piety but because he wanted to see its effect in the setting of the Romanesque and gothic forms of the granite chapel. but it was refused by the priest.
The Vision after the Sermon is a key work for the understanding of Gauguin's development - and indeed for the development of modern art - as it marks his clear break with Impressionism and the naturalistic movement. this was the period when the Symbolist literary movement was getting under way, when writers of the new generation were attacking naturalism for its subservience to nature and were exalting the creative power of the imagination. though Emile Bernard was only twenty years old, he was a reader of of Baudelaire and a friend of young writers like Albert Aurier.
'Attentive to the Symbolist literary movement,' he wrote, 'I wanted a parallel kind of painting.' Gauguin from this time on became likewise anti-naturalistic and spoke in the highest terms of the god-like creative capacity of the artist. for instance, in August 1888, probably just after painting The Vision after the Sermon, he wrote to Schuffenecker: 'A word of advice: don't paint too much direct from nature. Art is an abstraction! Study nature, then brood on it and think more of the creation which will result, which is the only way to ascend towards God - to create like our Divine Master.' (There are echoes here of the ideas of Delacroix, Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe, all of whom Gauguin admired.) 'My latest works,' Gauguin went on, 'are on the right lines and I think you will find a new note, or rather the affirmation of my earlier experiments or synthesis of a single form and a single colour in which only the essential counts.'
From the time, in 1891, when Gauguin was acclaimed the originator of this new style, Bernard waged a bitter campaign to establish that he was the innovator and influenced Gauguin, that he was the true founder of the School of Pont-Aven. And up to a point, this was true. There does not seem to be much doubt that he did exert a very definite influence on Gauguin's style with paintings such as the Briton Women; on the other hand Gauguin was receptive to his cloisonnism precisely because he had begun to develop along similar lines under the influence of Cezanne and Japanese prints. he carried the style to a new point of completeness and perfection and it is beyond question that it was Gauguin and not Bernard who influenced Serusier and the Nabis.
Gauguin and Bernard had both met Vincent van Gogh in Paris in 1886-7. Although van Gogh had gone to Aries in February 1888, and was working there in isolation, he was by no means out of touch with events at Pont-Aven. Bernard sent him many letters describing his new pictures, some of which he even illustrated with sketches. Vincent was at this time preoccupied with the idea of establishing a community of painters in his yellow house at Arles similar to the associations of Japanese artists: he specially wanted artists to exchange self-portraits as a token of sympathy and live together in a state of mutual help. In exchange for one of van Gogh's self-portraits, Gauguin sent him a self-portrait with a portrait of Bernard in the background (now in eh collection of Vincent's nephew, V. W. van Gogh), while Bernard sent a similar picture.
On 8 October 1888, Gauguin wrote to Schuffenecker: 'This year I have sacrificed everything, execution and colouring, for style, intending to compel myself to do something different from what I usually do. It is a transformation which has not borne fruit so far, but will, I think, bear it.
'I have done a self-portrait for Vincent, who asked me for it. I believe it is one of my best things: absolutely incomprehensible (upon my word) so abstract it is. It looks at first like the head of a bandit, a Jean Valjean (Les Misirables), but it also personifies a disreputable Impressionist painter burdened for ever with a chain for the world. The drawing is altogether peculiar, being complete abstraction. The eyes, the mouth, the nose, are like flowers in a Persian carpet, thus personifying also the symbolical side. the colour is a colour remote from nature; imagine something like pottery twisted by the furnace! All the reds and violets streaked like flames, like a furnace burning fiercely, the seat of the painter's mental struggles. The whole on a chrome background sprinkled with childish nosegays. Chamber of a pure young girl. the Impressionist is such a one, not yet sullied by the filthy kiss of the Beaux-Arts (School).'
The painting is therefore done 'out of his head' not direct from nature; and the distortions are intended to convey symbolical ideas. Ever since June van Gogh had been urging him to come to Arles, promising that his brother Theo, who was an art dealer with the firm of Gopupil, would provide for him. Gauguin and van Gogh lived in perpetual tension, arguing long into the night: the stmosphere was electric, dangerous. Though they used fairly similar conventions in art, their temperaments and tastes were strongly opposed. 'Vincent and I,' wrote Gauguin, 'are in general very little in agreement, above all with regard to painting. He admires Daumier, Daubigny, Ziem and the great Rousseau, whom I cannot stand. And on the other hand he detests Ingres, Raphael, Degas and all those whom I admire... He likes my paintings very much but when I have finished them, he always finds that I have made a mistake here, or there. He is romantic, while I am rather inclined towards a primitive state. When it comes to colour, he is interested in the accidents of the pigment, as with Monticelli, whereas I detest this messing about with the medium.'
These differences are very apparent of one compares, for instance, Gauguin's Old women of Arles (plate 13) with a rather similar painting by van Gogh, Promenade at Arles - Souvenir of the Garden of Etten. Gauguin uses simple, almost geometrical forms; those of van Gogh are twisting, flame-like, emotionally very highly charged. And whereas Gauguin 's brushwork is very restrained, van Gogh's is extremely personal and plays an important part in the effect. 'It is odd, wrote Gauguin, 'that Vincent feels the influence of Daumier here: I, on the contrary, see the Puvis (de Chavannes) subjects in their Japanese colourings. Women here with their elegant coiffure have a Grecian beauty. Their shawls, falling in folds like the primitives, are, I say, like Greek frenzies.' Though the exact dates of these two two pictures are not known it seems probable that Gauguin's was done first and that van Gogh used it as his starting point - for, unlike Gauguin, he needed to have something in front of him while he was painting, either nature or another work of art. The fact that Gauguin was trying to impose his method of working from memory upon him was one of the factors which led to the final crisis.
Gauguin and van Gogh painted each other's portrait. when Gauguin finished his picture of van Gogh painting sunflowers, van Gogh exclaimed: 'It is certainly me, but it's me gone mad.' 'That very evening,' wrote Gauguin, 'we went to the cafe. He took a light absinthe,. suddenly he flung the glass and its contents at my head. I avoided the blow and, taking him bodily in my arms, went out of the cafe, across the Place Victor Hugu...' On Christmas Eve, after trying to attack Gauguin with a razor, van Gogh cut off his own ear and sent it as a present to a girl in a brothel. Gauguin thereupon summoned Theo to Arles by telegram; then returned to Paris, without seeing Vincent again. In Paris he stayed once more with the Schuffeneckers. His portrait of the Schuffenecker family (plate 14) executed at this time shows how his style had become suppler. there is more space, the figures are more directly treated, yet the simplification and strength of design have been retained. Schuffenecker - 'the good Schuff' - a timid, well-meaning little man is said to have been dominated by the assertive personality of Gauguin who practically took over the house while he was there, removed Schuffenecker's pictures and hung his own in their place, appropriated his studio and, at least once, even locked the studio door in his host's face.
Gauguin paid a number of visits to the Paris World's Fair, which opened in the spring of 1889, and was particularly interested in the Javanese village and the Hindu dancers. though not included in the official retrospective exhibitions of French art, Gauguin, Bernhard, Schuffenecker, Laval, Monfreid, Fauche, Anquetin and Roy found an opportunity to show some of their paintings unofficially within the grounds of the exhibition, at the Cafe Volpini, under the title 'Groupe Impressionniste et Synthetiste'. However, nothing was sold. About the end of May 1889, Gauguin returned to Pont-Aven. This third stay in Brittany, which lasted except for a break of four months until Novembe4r 1890, was a period of great activity. Now more than ever Gauguin tried to capture the rustic, primitive character of the Breton scene, its melancholy and remoteness, in paintings of peasants working in the fields and in pictures inspired by their naive religious faith. The Yellow Christ (plate 16), for instance, was based on the wooden polychrome sculpture of Christ in the ancient chapel of Tremalo, near Pont-Aven, which he transposed to an open-air setting. Some of the artists in Brittany had found in him an outward resemblance to the figure of the Messiah, suggested by his grave, imposing manner, his wearing of a short beard and moustache, and his position as the leader of a group of disciples. In several paintings, notably in Christ on the Mount of Oliver, Gauguin seized on this resemblance as a means of alluding simultaneously to his own loneliness and suffering. Yhe Breton Calvary (plate 17) - painted after he had left Pont-Aven and moved to Le Pouldu on the coast - was inspired by one of the stone calvaries characteristic of the region, most probably the Romanesque calvary at Nizon. The colours were used for their emotional effect, to enhance the mood of brooding melancholy and poetry. On a visiting card found among the papers of Albert Aurier, he made some notes evidently related to this composition:
'Calvary cold stone from the soil - Breton idea of the sculptor who explains religion through his Breton soul with Breton costumes - Breton local colour ... passive sheep', and ...' All this in a Breton landscape i.e. Breton poetry his starting-point (colour brings the setting into a bluish harmony) etc... Cheerless to do - In contrast - (the human figure) poverty (illegible word) of life ...' Unlike the Impressionists, who tried to eliminate the literacy element from their paintings, Gauguin was now very interested in subject-matter and was even prepared at times to define it in words (though words that were deliberately imprecise). Gauguin moved to Le Pouldu towards the end of September 1889, and on 2 October settled at the inn kept by Mlle Marie Henry. he was accompanied by Meyer de Haan, a Dutchman who had ceded an interest in a prosperous biscuit factory in Amsterdam in return for a monthly allowance, in order to devote himself to the fine arts. He had begun as an academic painter, but had soon developed an enthusiasm for Impressionism. he became a gr3eat admirer of Gauguin, to whom he had been recommended by Camille Pissarro, and helped him financially, even keeping him supplied with tobacco. Under Gauguin's direction his own talents matured rapidly and he produced several interesting works.
At Le Pouldu, Gauguin was also joined by Seruier and Filiger. Mlle Henry's inn became the centre of great artistic activity. The small living room was entirely transformed by Gauguin, de Haan and Serusier. The window-panes were covered with painted scenes of Brittany, like stained-glass windows. Wherever there was a space, mottoes and saying sere written on the plaster walls. Two landscapes and a portrait of Marie Henry by Meyer de Haan filled one wall; an over life-size bust of Meyer de Haan by Gauguin was placed on the mantelpiece; little statuettes and pots stood on shelves around the walls. A picture entitled Bonjour, Monsieur Gauguins (sic) was stuck on the upper panel of the door opening into the hall, and on the lower panel Gauguin painted The Caribbean Woman directly on the wood of the door. Outside the room, over the doorway, was a canvas entitled The Terrestrial Paradise.
A self-portrait and a portrait of Meyer de Haan were painted directly on the wooden doors of a massive cupboard, and the ceiling of the room was decorated with a painting of a swan and the head and shoulders of a woman (presumably a reference to the Jupiter and Leda myth) surrounded by the inscription 'Honi soit qui mal y pense!' Gauguin referred sardonically in his self-portrait (plate 18) to the contrast between his outward resemblance to the Messiah and his arrogant and sensual inner nature, introducing as attributes not only a halo but the snake and applies symbolic of the Fall. In the companion picture, Meyer de Haan, who was best and almost dwarf-like, was portrayed as the Devil. Thus the decorative scheme referred in part of the twin themes of Paradise and the Fall of Man.
It was at Le Pouldu in 1889 that Gauguin carved the bas-relief Soyez amour et vous serez heureuses (figure 9) - a clear reference of his own ideas on free love. 'Gauguin (as a monster) seizing the hand of a protesting woman and saying to her: 'Be in love and you will be happy. the fox, an Indian symbol of perversity, then some little figures in the interstices.' Stylistically, this relief is developed out of each pictures as The Vision after the Sermon, though it has a much more pronounced earthy and primitive character. The Art Nouveau curves present in The Vision after the Sermon likewise play a larger part in the design. One only needs to compare it with an Impressionist landscape painted three years before to see how radically Gauguin's conception of art has changed. In Seyez amoureuses et vous serez heureuses there is an imagined event, a projection of the artist's fantasy, a symbol, conceived in a manner which is entirely arbitrary.
Towards the end of 1890, Gauguin returned to Paris where he came into touch with Symbolist writers like Jean Moreas, Charles Morice, Stephance Mallarme, Paul Verlaine and Octave Mirbeau and was welcomed by them as the leading representative of Symbolism in painting. He became an habitue of the cafes where the Symbolist writers foregathered; he att4ended several of Mallarme's 'Tuesday'; Octave Mirbeau wrote the preface to the catalogue of the sale of 30 of his pictures at the Hotel Drouot; and, shortly before his departure for Tahiti, a banquet was held in his honour at the Cafe Voltaire presided over by Mallarme and attended by some thirty writers and artists of the symbolist circle including Carriere, Redon, Morice, Moreas and Aurier. Gauguin had been considering for some time the idea of going to the tropics, perhaps taking Emile Bernard, Laval or Meyer de Haan with him. His original intention had been to go once more to Martinique, or to Tonking or Madagascar, but Pierre Lot's novel Le Mariage de Loti and an official description of enchantments of the Pacific islands made him decide on Tahiti.
To the creative artists of the Third Republic, who found themselves in a society where they had no proper place, where money values alone seemed to count, the age-old dream of a lost Paradise and golden Age was particularly compelling. Artists felt themselves stifled in a hostile environment from which they needed to escape. some escaped by turning towards, by cultivating the world of their imagination and by cutting themselves off from ordinary life. Mallarme, villers de I'Isle-Adam, Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau did this. Others escaped by physically leaving Europe and going away to some remote part of the globe where more primitive and congenial conditions prevailed. Loti did this. Rimbaud did first one and then the other.
Gauguin was attracted to Tahiti however not only as a means of escape and renewal (by a return to origins) but also because it provided new subjects for his paintings and because life there was said to be free from all money difficulties' ...one has only to raise an arm to find food'. In some respects he was to be cruelly disappointed. Tahiti was a French colony. On arriving at Papeete, the capital, he found that the Europeans were already established there. 'It was Europe, the Europe from which I had thought to free myself, and, into the bargain, all the irritating kinds of colonial snobbery.' After several months he moved some 25 miles from Papeete and went to live in a bamboo hut, with a thirteen-year-old Tahitian girl as his vahine; he dressed himself like the natives, went on fishing expeditions with them and tried to familiarise himself with their customs and way of thought. Whereas Loti, who had also visited Tahiti and taken a native wife, remained always the civilised westerner, conscious of his own superiority, Gauguin felt he had much to learn from them. He interested himself in the most primitive aspects of Tahitian life and the account which he wrote later of his experiences - Noa Noa - characteristically plays down the fact that even the most remote country districts of Tahiti had already been partly Europeanised.
The pictures executed during this visit to Tahiti show a further move towards a more direct treatment. Instead of the large areas of uniform colour bounded by firm outlines of his Beeton period, we find a definite modelling achieved through a more traditional use of nuances, and less conspicuous outlines. In most cases the foreground and middle distance are clearly established; there is no longer a bizarre cutting of figures by the edge of the canvas. The tendency is away from Japanese art, towards a more traditional treatment of space, modelling and composition. certainly one never again finds paintings as analyzed as The Vision after the Sermon or the Self-Portrait with a Halo.
A few of his Tahitian paintings - In Orana Maria, for instance - are of Christian themes, though the Biblical figures are enacted by Tahitians - Gauguin argued that the simple native folk would imagine them to be people like themselves. Another group of pictures is inspired by the traditional and pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices of the Polynesians. Gauguin stated in Noa Noa that his knowledge of the ancient pagan religions was mainly communicated to him by his wife. We know that this could not have been so. Not only were the religious secrets never revealed to women, but the traditional beliefs were more or less extinct by the time Gauguin reached Tahiti. His knowledge of them came from a book by a French consul to the South Sea Islands, named Moerenhout, published in 1837: Voyage aux Illes du Grand Ocian. He transcribed passages from this book in his own manuscript Ancien Culte Mahorie, compiled about 1892, and used them again later almost word for word in the preparation of Na Noa. His 0;ainting of The Moon and the Earth (plate 31), for instance, was clearly inspired by the legendary dialogue between Fatoo and Hina (the spirits of the Earth and the Moon) regarding the eternity of Matter.
When Gauguin portrayed the Tahitian worshipping their idols, he therefore depleted a practice which had ceased at least fifty or sixty years before. similarly he looked back nostalgically to the days when Tahiti was ruled by Maori kings and queens (ef. Te Arii Vahine, plate 34), and by the secret society of the Ariois, who practiced the ideal of free-love. Not content with Tahiti of his own day, he also sought the primitive, pre-European civilisation. When Gauguin returned to Paris in September 1893, his first desire was to organise an exhibition of th4e works he had brought back with him from Tahiti. The exhibition opened at Durand-Ruel's two months later, with a catalogue preface by Charles Morice. though it aroused considerable curiosity and was very much admired by his writer friends, only eleven pictures were sold; the public was bewildered not so much by the technical originality of Gauguin's style as by its own ignorance of Tahitian history, religion and customs.
Fortunately Gauguin had a windfall: through the death of his uncle he received an inheritance of about 13,000 francs. This allowed him to rent an apartment in the rue Vercingetorix, an apartment which he decorated in characteristic fashion, just as he had previously decorated the living-room at Le Pouldu and his hut in Tahiti. (It seemed as though everything around him was turned into art.) He covered the windows of the tiny hall with paintings and embellished them with the characteristic motto 'Ici faruru' (here people make love). He painted the walls of his large studio chrome yellow and hung them with paintings by himself, van Gogh and others, and with barbaric boomerangs, axes and spears. On Thursday evenings he gave informal receptions which were attended by Julien Leclercq, August Strindberg, Charles Morice, Paul Roinard, Aristide Maillol, Paul Serusier and many other writers and artists.
His own person was equally remarkable, for he strode the streets of Paris wearing a long frock coat of blue, with buttons of mother-of-pearl. Beneath this was a blue waistcoat which buttoned down the side and sported a collar embroidered in yellow and green. He wore a hot of grey felt with a sky-blue ribbon; he carried, in place of a cane, a stick decorated by himself with barbaric carvings and inset with a splendid pearl. to complete his accountrement, he took with him his mistress, a half-Indian, half-Malayan girl known as Anna the Javanese. In April 1894 they went to Brittany, where Gauguin was joined once more by artists sympathetic to his ideas, including Armand Seguin and Roderic O'Connor. One day, as he and Anna were walking with Seguin at Concargeau, some boys began to throw stones at them and this ended in a brawl with four sailors of the locality. Gauguin was holding his own well enough until he caught his foot in a hole and in falling broke his ankle. Anna took advantage of his convalescence to return to Paris, where she ransacked his studio of everything except the pictures and then disappeared.
In September Gauguin told Monfreid that he had resolved to sell all his works and go and live for ever in the South Seas. The sale, which took place at the Hotel Drouot the following February, proved a disaster: he had to buy back the majority of the paintings and barely covered his expenses. Fortified, however, by a contract with Levy and Chaulet, who promised to ensure his financial security, he left for Tahi8ti in June 1895 - never to return. His first visit to Tahiti had included much that was idyllic, the second was on the whole a time of misery: ill health and money difficulties plagued him almost without respite. His broken ankle had failed to heal completely and, in addition, he was suffering from the effects of syphilis. Within a few months, his legs were covered with open sores which caused intense irritation and for long periods the pain was such that he was quite unable to work. With no money from Levy and only small, irregular sums from Cahudet, he had to rely on what his faithful friend and correspondent Daniel de Monfreid could sell for him. repeatedly in debt, he suffered spells of intense depression which reached their climax in January 1898 when he tried to commit suicide by taking arsenic. It was only after March 1900, when Vollard made a contract with him and arranged to send monthly remittances, that his financial position began to improve.
The atmosphere of tragedy is reflected in a certain number of his paintings executed in these years. It is very apparent, for instance, in the Portrait of the Artist (at Golgotha) (plate 37) painted in 1896 at a time when a succession of misfortunes led him to exclaim: 'I am so demoralised, discouraged, that I don't think it possible anything worse could happen.' The tired, haggard face reveals his suffering and his weakened physical condition. It is clear also in the sombre, anguished colour harmonies of D'Oa Venons Nous? Qui Sommes Nous? Ohi Allons Nous? (plate 41) and The White Horse (plate 40). Gauguin has written of his Tahitian art in general:
'Wishing to suggest a luxuriant and wild nature, a tropical sun, which sets aflame everything around it, I have had to give my figures an appropriate setting. It is indeed life in the open air, but at the same time intimate; among the thickets, the shadowy streams, these whispering women in the immense palace decorated by Nature herself, with all the riches that Tahiti affords. He3nce all these fabulous colours, this fiery yet softened and silent air.
'- But all that doesn't exist!
'- Yes, it exists, but as the equivalent of the grandeur, the profundity, of that mystery of Tahiti, when it has to be expressed on a canvas a metre square.
'She is very subtle, very clever in her naivety, the Tahitian Eve. The enigma hidden in the depths of her child-like eyes remains incommunicable... It is Eve after the fall, still able to walk naked without shame, preserving all her animal beauty as at the first day... Like Eve's, her body is still that of an animal. but her head has progressed with evolution, her mind has developed subtlety, love has imprinted an ironical smile upon her lips, and, naively, she searches in her memory for the why of present times. Enigmatically, she looks at you.'
Being himself a highly cultured western European, Gauguin was fascinated by the problem of Man's emergence from the primitive state, the life governed by instinct. Hence his recurrent references to Eve, to the Fall and to the Tree of Knowledge (themes which had begun to interest him even before his first visit to Tahiti). This can be seen for instance in his largest painting D'Ou Venons Nous? Qui Sommes Nous? Ou Allons Nous?, which Gauguin has described as follows - though warning
'Emotion first! understanding afterwards';
'In the big picture
Where are we going?
Near the death of an old woman
A strange stupid bird concludes.
What are we?
Day-to-day existence. The man of instinct wonders what all this means.
Whence do we come?
'The bird concludes the poem by comparing the inferior being with the intelligent being in this great whole which is the problem indicated by the title. 'Behind a tree are two sinister figures, shrouded in garments of sombre colour, recording near the tree of knowledge their note of anguish caused by this knowledge itself, in comparison with the simple beings in a virgin nature, which might be the human idea of paradise, allowing everybody the happiness of living.'
Gauguin contrasted his attitude to the literary content of his pictures with that of Puvis de Chavannes. 'Puvis explains his idea, yes, but he does not paint it. He is a Greek whereas I am a savage, a wolf in the woods without a collar. Puvis will call a picture Purity and to explain it will paint a young virgin with a lily in her hand - a hackneyed symbol, but which is understood by all. Gauguin, under the title Purity, will paint a landscape with limpid streams; no taint of civilised man, perhaps an individual'. He rejected the academic symbolism of Puvis de Chavannes in favour of a more indirect, personal and evocative treatment. 'In painting, one must search rather for suggestion than for description, as is done in music.' Various contemporary poets were, of course, trying to do much the same - Verlaine, for instance, for whose Roman ces sans Paroles Gauguin had a particular admiration; and also Mallarme. In the avoidance of the anecdote, the substitution of a situation that is equivocal and suggestive, demanding the imaginative co-operation of the observer, there is much in common between Gauguin's attitude to his subject-matter and that of the Symbolist poets. Odilon Redon, the only other painter of his generation developing along these lines, was also in close touch with the Symbolist writers.
At the same time, Gauguin referred repeatedly to the colours in his paintings in 'musical role which colour will henceforth play in modern painting' - and he insisted that colours should be used arbitrarily for their direct effect upon the emotions. When questioned on this, he replied:
'They are intended, absolutely! They are necessary and everything in my work is calculated, premeditated. It is music, if you like! I obtain by an arrangement of lines and colours, with the pretext of some sort of subject taken from life or from nature, symphonies, harmonies which represent nothing absolutely real in the vulgar sense of the word, which express directly no idea, but which provoke thoughts as music provides thoughts, without the help of ideas or images, simply through the mysterious relationships which exist between our brains and these arrangements of lines and colours.' These theories, which were an extension of ideas to be found in the writings of Delacroix and Baudelaire, again led on to modern art, even to abstract painting.
'The painter hasn't the task, like a mason, of building, compass in hand, a house to a plan furnished by an architect. It is good for the young to have a model, but let them draw a curtain over it while they paint it. It is better to paint from memory. then what is yours will be yours; your sensation, your intelligence and your soul will get across to the beholder...
'Who tells you that it is necessary to seek colour contrasts? What is sweeter for an artist than to pick out in a bouquet of roses the hue of each?... Seek harmony and not contrast...
'Let everything suggest calm and peace of mind. this avoid movement in a pose. Each of your figures should be static.
'Study the silhouette of each object...
'Do not finish a work too much, an impression isn't sufficiently prolonged to allow one to search for infinite detail...'
In place of the instantaneous, snap-shot view of the impressionists. Gauguin avoids the momentary, the fleeting, the form in movement, and creates a world in which figures are charged with a slothful dignity. They look at us enigmatically, their eyes heavy with some secret thought. In his reaction against Impressionism, Gauguin went for inspiration partly to Delacroix and Puvis de Chavannes (see, for example, plates 39 and 35). But he also - and this is part of his great historical importance as a pioneer of modern art - went to primitive and archaic sources. We have seen how he came to admire Romanesque sculpture and Japanese prints. While staying with Schuffenecker in Paris early in 1888, he started to make ceramics based on the primitive pottery in the Musee Guimet. Then, the following year, he introduced a Peruvian idol into his portrait La Belle Angila (plate 15). In 1889 he brought back with him from the Javanese pavilion at the World's Fair a fragment of a frieze representing a dancer, and was inspired by it to carve a statuette. When he went to Tahiti he took with him at least two photographs of the frieze of the Javanese Temple of Barabudur and at least one of an Egyptian wall painting. From this Javanese bas-relief he took not only the pose of individual figures as in la Orana Maria, but the frieze-like conception of Fax Iheihe (plate 43) of 1898 and related works. The inspiration of Egyptian wall paintings is obvious in Ta Matete (plate 27) of 1892. Fascinated by Polynesian art, he carved idol-like figures in a similar convention. thus Gauguin sought inspiration in primitive and archaic art in much the same way that the Mannerist artists of the sixteenth century turned to their Gothic forbears. In this respect he was of very gr4eat influence on the art of the twentieth century; for the discovery of the artistic merits of African woodcarving, so vital for the development of Cubism, was made by the Fauves and the German Expressionists under his direct influence.
Also important, though to a lesser degree, was his part in the revival of the woodcut, which in the middle of the nineteenth century had degenerated into a means for the mass-reproduction of pen drawings (such as those by Gustave Dore). Gauguin was one of the first to see large areas of block and to allow the tool marks to play their part in the design. In 1901 he moved to the Marquesas Islands in order to live more cheaply and to find new subjects for his paintings. He had hoped to find a truly savage society there, but discovered instead that the European influences were once again causing a complete disruption of the traditional way of life. Within a few months of his arrival, he started to take the side of the natives against the white officials, inciting them not to send their children to the mission schools and protesting against the excessively heavy taxes and fines imposed upon them. A complaint about the corrupt behaviour of a policeman led to his being charged with libel and sentenced on 31 March 1903 to three months' imprisonment and a fine of 500 francs. At the time of his death on 8 May - a death which was almost certainly accelerated by the strain of these events - he was preparing to go to Tahiti to appeal against this sentence.
He had become a legend even in his lifetime. 'You are now,' so Monfreid wrote to him in December 1902, 'that unheard-of legendary artist, who from the furthest South Seas sends his disturbing, inimitable works, the definitive works of a great man who has as it were disappeared from the world.'
Recognition followed swiftly after his death. The memorial exhibition of his work at the Salon d'Automne of 1906, including no less than two hundred and twenty-seven paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints from his abundant production, silenced his detractors and provided a triumphant vindication of his long years of struggle.
The Windward Shore of the Island of Love
One day in 1768 a bare-breasted Tahitian girl climbed from her canoe to a French ship under the hot-eyed gaze of 400 French sailors who had not seen any woman at all for over six months. she stepped to the quarterdeck where, pausing at a hatchway, she slipped the flimsy cloth pareu from her hips, and stood utterly naked and smiling at the men. Down went the anchor, and in that moment the myth of romantic Tahiti was conceived, a paradise of fruit trees, brown tits and kiddie porn. Like Venus rising from the waves - that was how the naked girl was described by the captain of the ship, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, the first Frenchman in Tahiti, who believed he had discovered heaven on earth ("I thought I was transported into the garden of Eden"), the abode of Venus, the Island of Love.
Now I had a similar experience in Tahiti, involving stark nakedness, the lagoon, the hot-eyuedgaze, and an outrigger canoe, but in its suddenness and coloration this incident was more up to date and more representative of Tahiti today. And I was the one in the outrigger canoe. After a day or so rattling around the streets of Papeete, Tahiti's capital, I rented an outrigger from a Frenchman (he called it his "petite pirague") and paddled for a day to Tahiti-Iki - "Little Tahiti," the volcanic bulge that is attached to the eastern shore of the island. The ancient name of the island of Tahiti is Tahiti-nui-i-te-vai-uri-rau, "Great Tahiti of the Many-Coloured Waters."
The name is apt. The lagoon beneath Tahiti's dead green volcanoes is a luminous varying blue, not sea-water colored, but with glittering opalescent depths, and elsewhere shallow coral shelves, white and knobbed like bones, rippling with fish. Overall the water is limped and unexpectedly bright, like those candy-coloured liqueurs made from berries, cordials that are so pretty in the squat glass bottled in a bar that just looking at them cools you and takes away your thirst. The surface of Tahiti's lagoon was spangled with stars of sunlight. A mile or so offshore was the reef, being pounded by surf that was so heavy it had the muffled boom of distant cannon fire, and it ringed the entire island with a white flash of foam.
Tahiti has its drawbacks - it is expensive, traffic-choked, noisy, corrupt and Frenchified - but it is impossible to belittle its natural physical beauty, and in site of the car exhausts there is nearly always in the air the fragrant aroma - the noanoa - of flowers, the tiare especially, a tiny white gardenia that is Tahiti's national blossom. Visitors are full of complaints, though. Just that morning, on the public vehicle they call le truck (a cross between a mammy-wagon and a school bus, and "Tahiti's only bargain) I had fallen into conversation with a man from Maryland. His name was Don Kattwinkel - he wore a get-acquainted badge - and he was obviously a sucker for carvings, from the look of his war club and his letter-opener. He was on the three-day tour, just arrived at Faa'a a few days ago - today Tahiti, tomorrow New Zealand. And he tried to sum up Tahiti for me.
"No one smiles here," he said. "And you can't drink the water."
I broke it to him gently that both were half-truths. The locals smiled at each other, even if they didn't smile at us, and they boiled their water before drinking it. Don made no comment on that. He said, "You sound like you're from Australia."
I wanted to tell him that people have been killed for uttering an uncalled-for libel like that. "You're sure not from Mass," he went on. "I know that dialect." I was thinking about this irritating fart while I was paddling my canoe - nothing like meeting a man like that to preoccupy yourself. there was a current campaign put on by the Polynesian Tourist Board called Put On A Smile! - encouraging Polynesians to smile at tourists, mostly Japanese, none of whom smiled themselves. Is there a Japanese smile that does not seem like an expression of pain?
By mid-afternoon I had paddled halfway around this part of the island, and was nearing the village of Atimaono. It was not much of a place, but it was the setting of one of Jack London's masterpieces, his story "The Chinago." In the story some Chinese laborers - "Chinagos" - are accused of murder, and though all are innocent of the crime they are found guilty by the French magistrate and one, Ah Chow, is sentenced to hang. Another, Ah Cho, is given twenty years in a prison colony, but one morning he is taken to this village. Atimaono, and told that he is to be beheaded. He protests to the various gendarmes - it is a case of mistaken identity, because the names are so similar - and at last, pleading for his life and proving he is not the condemned man, he is believed. but the French officials confer. They have come a long way from Papeete. The guillotine is ready. Five hundred other laborers have been assembled to watch. A postponement to find the right man would mean being bawled out by the French bureaucrats for inefficiency and time-wasting. Also it is a very hot day and they are impatient.
All this time Ah Cho listens and watches. At last, but kn owing they have the wrong man, one French policeman says, "Then let's go on with it. They can't blame us. Who can tell one Chinago from another? We can say that we merely carried out instructions with the Chinago that was turned over to us ..."
And, still making excuses, the French strap down the innocent Chinese man and strike off his head. "The French, with no instinct for colonization," London writes at one point, and that is the subject of the grim story.
An hour past Atimaono was the harbour of Port Phaeton. In a lovely garden by the sea was the Gauguin Museum, but in spite of its name it contained no paintings by Gauguin, only a haunted grimacing tiki. Farther on, the village of Papearl was said to be the first settlement of the seagoing people who originally landed on Tahiti and it lay next to the piece of land, like a pinched waist, where Little Tahiti was attached to Big Tahiti. but it was all so suburban. One of the curious facts of Tahitian life was that strictly speaking there were few usable beaches on the island - the public ones were dismal and littered, the others were the property of proprietorial Tahitian villages. Looking toward the island from the lagoon, I could see that the coast was an unbroken stretch of bungalows and villas, one enormous attenuated suburb that encircled the whole of Tahiti. Undermined by French aid programs, and besieged by French construction companies, the Polynesians have abandoned their traditional house=-building. The houses were extremely unattractive and they were packed cheek by jowl along the coast, surrounded by chain link fences and walls which needed no translation, and the French houses had security cameras and signs saying Attention Chien Mechant! (Beware of the Fierce Dog!).
Earlier in the day, paddling ear Punaauia, I had passed a pair of fares, or traditional huts, but there were not many others like them in the whole of French Polynesia. I was so interested in them that I went ashore there and was told that these two at the edge of the beach at Punaauia were owned by the Swede Bengt Danielsson, who had run aground in Polynesia forty-odd years ago on the raft Kon-Tiki. In his book recounting the adventure, Thor Heyerdahl wrote, "Bengt was right, this was heaven," and Bengt stayed in Polynesia.
"Monsieur Danielsson is on holiday in Sweden," a Tahitian woman on the lawn told me. I was sorry to miss him, because Danielsson and his French-born wife Marie-Therese have courageously fought a vocal battle against French nuclear testing in the Pacific, and in this small and politicallyh incestuous French colony Danielsson has been threatened, obstructed and shunned. Yet he perseveres in publishing to the world the fact that the French have been continually detonating nuclear devices - 160 so far - in one of the world's most fragile ecosystems, a coral atoll, nuking it to pieces killing fish and causing cancer. Perhaps it was just as well that I did not engage Danielsson on this subject of French colonialism, because just a short trip to any French territory in he Pacific is enough to convince even the most casual observer that the French are among the most self-serving, manipulative, trivial-minded, obnoxious, cynical and corrupting nations on the face of the earth.
It is true that America has overwhelmed its own territory in Samoa and made it a welfare state, but Samoans have emigrated wholesale to the mainland United States, where they flourish or fail, according to their abilities. There is no profit in Samoa for us. But Polynesia is all profit for the French - they need the land and the distance to capitalize on world air routes for French airlines, and they need Polynesia as a military garrison, and - most profitable of all - they need nuclear testing facilities for their arms industry. As an old-fashioned colony it is a racket. The French effort is devoid of idealism. Only a minuscule number of Polynesians ever make it to metropolitan France to qualify as doctors or administrators - the French run the entire show. but the patronizing racism inherent in French colonial policy has not had the demoralizing effect that was intended. They planted themselves in the islands and consistently discriminated against Polynesians and refused to learn their language - there was a law passed to French Polynesia in the 1960s forcing Polynesians and Chinese to take French names so they could be more easily pronounced. In the way, the French turned most of these friendly people into sullen adversaries and some into lapdogs. but though they have lost most of their traditional skills of weaving and house-building and fishing and sailing, the Polynesians have retained their oral culture - and that is a good thing, because no one needs their culture more than colonized people. What else do they have?
The Polynesians paid lip-service to the French and so the French truly believed they had subverted the islanders. but in fact they only made a greater burden for themselves. by encouraging the islanders to be "colorful" they distanced themselves. The French are at their most obvious, their most bourgeois and sentimental when they are dealing with people they regard as savages, but it seem to be a fact that sentimentality is a trait one always finds in bullies and brutes. The honest thing, in dealing with Tahiti, would be to discuss French Polynesia as a depressing political problem, because it has been a French colony for 150 years. Everything else ought to be irrelevant - that is, whether the beaches are pleasant and the food is tasty, and the hotels are comfortable, and what's the music like? The very fact of politics mattering in the Pacific seems strange - few people in other islands care about politics - yet it is the only place in the Pacific where there is a political situation. It is a characteristic of colonies that unless political life is manipulated or made ineffectual the place won't work.
But it is all so boring. I liked Pacific islanders generally for the way they guffawed at politicians - I admired their sense of family, their practicality, their usual indifference to world events. They were out of the mainstream, on the other side of the world - the brighter, happy side. For those with televisions, "Operation Desert Storm" had been to them not much more than a nightly entertainment video. That attitude seemed informed by a healthy combination of wisdom and vulgarity, and a taste for sensationalism - but most of the world's couch potatoes are much the same. There was always a mixture of motives among Polynesians: they made you feel at home and then they stole from you. If you complained, they would say that it was nothing personal - and if you couldn't afford it, what were you doing here, so far from home, in the first place? Colonial politics was just another complication. Yes, the French built court-houses and schools, but the French colonialists needed such institutions far more than Tahitians did. I just kept wishing that the French were a bit nicer and more generous, and weren't so keen on nuking everything in sight. They said they had to - for world peace, but that was merde. The French arms industry, third largest in the world, and exporter of nuclear technology, now more than ever depended on extensive nuclear testing.
I paddled past Bengt Danielsson's two thatched-roof fares. Buffeted by the trade winds - the wind never ceases to blow in Polynesia - I kept within the reef, glorifying in the sight of the lovely island of Moorea, in mountains looming dark and spiky - local myths claimed they were the dorsal fins of giant fish, but the island looked to me like a seagoing dragon, crossing the channel known as the Sea of the Moon. It was then, squinting into the intense glare of a cloudless oceanic afternoon - the sun slanted into my eyes - that I saw a small raft drifting perilously near the reef. There were some inert specks on it - humans probably - but it was the oddest possible place for a raft to be. If it went on drifting it would be smashed to pieces by surf. It had no mast or sail, nor was anyone paddling it. I had the idea that it had broken free of a ship and that somehow it had floated through a break in the reef. What was beyond question was that it was hardly visible from shore. The only reason I could see the raft was because I was in a seaworthy outrigger canoe and paddling along the margin of the reef.
You sometimes heard stories of the ordeal of the people on such rafts, how their expensive yacht had been sunk by a killer whale, and how the quarreling castaways had clung to the wreckage for days or weeks, praying for deliverance, until, one sunny morning, the batt3red thing hove into view on a tropical shore, where holiday-minded families frolicked with beach balls, the raft looking as though it had floated straight out of Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and it was immediately, grotesquely clear that the survivors had made it through by using each other with the utmost barbarity - human bones, scraps of flesh and the evidence of cannibalism. "Daddy, what's wrong with those people?" - one of those rafts. That made me paddle faster, and I could see that there were only two figures on board and that I was gaining on the raft. It excited me to thing that I might be the first person to witness the arrival of the desperate craft in Tahiti, and I alone would hear their ordeal - what a piece of luck for someone like me, who intended to write about these islands where in the normal way nothing much happened. Now I could see that the two figures on the raft were lying flat, as though protrate from the sun, and there was something melancholy about the solitariness of their situation - within the reef and yet still so far from shore. You could drown, or starve, or die of thirst, or suffocate with heat exhaustion, even in the bewitchingly lovely place.
I had a water bottle and the remains of my lunch in my boat - enough to revive them, I was sure. They were upwind, so they did not hear the thrashing of my canoe, but I was soon close enough to recognize the strangeness of this simple raft. It was not drifting; it was tethered to a ;mooring. Apart from the two people, there was nothing else on it, not an object of any kind - no flag, no scraps, no bones, no bucket, nothing - nor any clothes. There were two skinny women on the raft and they were asked. As I drew near - I was only thirty feet away - some warning vibration of my maleness must have charged the air - suddenly each woman sat up straight. Or had they heard my paddling? They were young, in their twenties, rather pretty and, from their demeanor, French. They were browner than any Tahitian I had seen - the gleaming darkness of the most lizard-like sunbather. It was the sort of tanning that made you think of leather. Seeing me, they arranged their bodies compactly, as modestly as they could, folded themselves with ingenious economy, their knees drawn up under their chins, and their feet jammed together, and they hugged themselves, like monkeys squatting in the rain. To preserve their modesty, I did not go much closer, and yet I was close enough to be able to marvel at their nakedness, at the exoticism of this sight - a pair of nymphs on a bobbing raft in the Tahitian lagoon.
"Hello," I said, trying to be jaunty, so as not to alarm them. But it had a hollow sound - and I realized it was just the sort of thing a rapist or voyeur might say to give false reassurance to his victim. They narrowed their eyes, their gaze did not meet mine, and their tense posture, with this grim indifference (which I took to be fear and apprehension), was meant to shame me. They wanted me to go away, of course. And now I saw a Tahitian fisherman, trolling from a small motor-boat. He looked up and leered at the crouching sunbathers. they shrank from him, too, and wished him away. It irritated me that they felt we had no right to go bobbing past them - that, simply because they had taken all their clothes off, they regarded themselves as inviolate, and treated this part of the lagoon (which belonged to everyone) as their private property. For that reason I lingered and then I left, paddling onward towards Papeete. There I was told that this was a fairly common practice - a French thing, women sunbathing nude in order to eliminate bathing-suit silhouettes on their skin. A speed-boat dropped them on the raft and returned two or three hours later to take them back to their hotel.
It was dangerously silly to lie naked under this blistering Oceanic sun, and there was not a single Polynesian who would dare it. Apart from being bad for the skin, and a cause of premature wrinkling, if not cancer, it was blatant immodesty. Once upon a time the Tahitian had reveled in nakedness and seduced European sailors and tempted them from their stern duties on shipboard. ("... for when we were sent away, 'Huzza for Otaheite!' was frequently heard among the mutineers," Captain Bligh wrote bitterly, after seeing his ship the Bounty headed back to Papeete and the local women.) But these days only the tourists went naked, and the bare tits you saw were always those of visiting sunbathers. The Tahitians were all covered up and decent; history's wheel had taken a complete turn, the fantasies were reversed, and now it was the Christian Tahitians who leered, and the pagan French who were naked.
As soon as the nameless Tahitian girl on Bougainville's ship dropped her flimsy cloth in full view of the impressionable sailors, Tahiti's fate was sealed, and the South Sea Island myth was born. Ogling a woman's private parts is the Frenchman's version of a glimpse of paradise in any case, but to these horny and fanciful sailors this was even better - the woman was a dusky maiden, just the sort of uncorrupted savage living in her natural state that Rousseau had described only fifteen years earlier. Captain Bougainville was ecstatic. He paid Tahitian women his highest compliment: "for agreeable features (they) are not inferior to most European women, and who on the point of beauty of the body might, with much reason, vie with them all." He wrote that the naked girl on board "appeared to the eyes of all beholders, such as Venus showed herself to the Phrygian shepherd, having indeed, the celestial form of the goddess."
From that moment - and Bougainville encourage the view - Tahiti was known as the New Cytherea, the abode of Venus. When Venus Aphrodite rose from the sea foam she stepped ashore (according to he poet Hesiod) at Cythera, in Ionia. This naked Tahitian girl was Venus made flesh, a goddess of love and beauty, the physical embodiment of the life force. But there was more. Every detail of Tahiti excited Bougainville, and when he settled down to write about his voyage he described how like the world before the Fall this island seemed, and he used Rousseau's precise expression "the golden age" for this uncorrupted place: Polynesia was one of "those countries where the golden age is still in use." Even the creatures associated with the mythology of Venus could be found in Tahiti. The dolphin, the tortoise and the gentlest birds were sacred to Venus - and there the captain had found them in the very spot where this dusky Venus smiled upon him. More than that, more rousing than the unashamed nakedness, were the sexual practices - and they were of the most unfamiliar kind. This seemed to be an island of exhibitionists. Officers and sailors invited into the islanders' houses were given food and afterwards the Tahitians "offered them young girls." Neighbours crowded into the house, music was played, the floor was spread with leaves and flowers, and the Europeans were encouraged to strip naked and make love to the girls, there and then, under the approving eyes of the islanders. "Here Venus is the goddess of hospitality, her worship does not permit of any mysteries, and every tribute paid to her is a feast for the whole nation." In short, public copulation, group sex, fruit trees and freedom.
The islands were bountiful and lovely, and what distinguished them from all other happy islands on earth was their dedication to free and joyous and unsentimental sexuality. Captain Cook was shocked by what he saw in Tahiti, and he wrote, "There is a scale of dissolute sensuality which these people have ascended, wholly unknown to every other nation whose manners have been recorded from the beginning of the world to the present hour, and which no imagination could possibly conceive." One one occasion in Tahiti, in a presentation that was organized by the islanders for the amusement of the foreigners, Cook and some of his men watched a naked six-foot Tahitian man copulate with a fourteen-year-old girl, and he noted that neither was embarrassed - indeed, the young girl was skilled in the arts of love. Bougainville's extremely well-written Voyage Around the World (1771) made Tahiti a byword for everything beautiful. The book was quickly translated into English, and it delighted and inspired - and stimulated - its readers. Just a few years after the book appeared, James Boswell got a hankering to go to Tahiti, and he mentioned this to Dr Johnson, who told him not to bother, because "one set of Savages is like another."
"I do not think the people of Otaheite can be reckoned Savages," Boswell said.
"Don't cant in defense of Savages," Johnson replied.
"They have the art of navigation," Boswell said.
"A dog or a cat can swim," Johnson said.
Boswell persisted: "They carve very ingeniously."
"A cat can scratch, and a child with a nail can scratch," Johnson said.
But Boswell was right, and he went on yarning to go to Tahiti, in order to "be satisfied what pure nature can do for man."
The Tahitians were anything but primitive. They were among the greatest navigators the world has ever known. They had been brilliant stone-carvers and masons. At Papara they had raised a large eleven-step pyramid, the Mahaiatea Marae, and there were more temples and altars at Paea and on the island of Moorea. The people whom Wallis, Bougainville and Captain Cook met (these captains visited Tahiti within three years of each other) were skilled in the arts of wars, of boat-building, and navigation. And far from depending on the fruit trees of the island for their food, they practiced complex and organized cultivation - growing yams, sweet potatoes, gourds and sugar cane they raised pigs and chickens, and dogs - they preferred dog meat to pork. Speaking of the first Europeans in Polynesia, Fernand Braudel wrote (in The Structures of Everyday Life): "But were the savages they described really primitive people? Far from it." Yet to nearly everyone, the sophistication of the Tahitians was the least interesting thing about them.
Because of its reputation for innocent sex, for pretty people in a pretty place, Tahiti has been one of the most inspirational pieces of geography in the world. Even writers who never saw it praised it - Lord Byron, who wrote a poem about it ("The Island"), and the philosopher Diderot (cribbing from Bougainville) set a novel there. Melville made his reputation by writing about it in Typee and Omoo, and Robert Louis Stevenson vastly preferred it to Samoa. Most of the people who subsequently wrote about it described it in much the same terms as Bougainville. Pierre Loti went one better and in the purplest prose imaginable described his marriage to a Tahitian; after reading this book, Paul Gauguin was encouraged to set sail. They were all male writers, of course; it would have been interesting if someone like Edith Wharton or Simone de Beauvoir had gushed in quite this way about Tahiti.
Even the sexually ambiguous Somerset Maugham regarded Papeete as pleasant - but he had reason to feel lucky for having gone there. He had sailed to Tahiti after Samoa (which he hadn't liked much) in order to collect material about Gauguin for his novel The Moon and Sixpence. This was in 1917, only thirteen years after Gauguin's death, and so memories were still fresh. Indeed, one old woman remembered that the obnoxious Frenchman had painted the glass panels of a door in a decrepit village house. Maugham went immediately to the house, where the door was still hinged and swinging, and bought it from the innocent owner for 900 francs (he later sold it for $37,400). Years later, Gauguin's son Emil, an overweight buffoon, was a colorful local character. Emil hung around the bars of Papeete, and visitors bought him drinks and badgered him for information about his father (whom he had never known), and for ten francs he let you take his picture. For literary reasons, Maugham regarded Tahiti as a seductive place (Gauguin certainly didn't, which was why he abandoned it for the Marquesas). It is questionable whether all Tahitians were ever as sexy as Bougainville described - he was only on the island a matter of days, his ship anchored off Hitiaa - but proof of the power of this book is the fact that Tahiti in particular and Polynesian islands in general are still regarded as Cytherean. Yet, manifestly, they are not. Pleasant and feckless, yes, paradise, no.
Bougainville's descriptions stimulated two quite different sorts of people, polar opposites actually - adventurers eager to taste the Cytheran delights of willing women, and missionaries determined to clothe and convert the islanders to Christianity. Over two hundred years later, these people are still contending for the souls of Polynesians. but for every Melville or Gauguin, or Don Kattwinkel on the six-day Polynesian package-tour ("Features include welcome flower leis"), or anyone else searching out a seductress, there are many more zealots with fire in their eyes who have made it their life's work to convince these people that they are imbued with Original Sin. No adventurer's book is complete without an attack on missionaries - Melville despised and ridiculed them for their subversion and hypocrisy, no missionary's memoir omits to mention the sinfulness and opportunism of beach-combers and remittance men. Each saw the other was a corrupter.
It is almost axiomatic that as soon as a place gets a reputation for being paradise it goes to hell. Tahiti seemed to me dramatically beautiful, but is population lived entirely on the fringes of its steep and inaccessible slopes; and so it seemed small and crowded. It was full of French soldiers and expatriate bureaucrats cashing in on the fact that overseas salaries were double what they were in France and here there was no income tax. The businessmen were a perpetual scowl of disappointment, because business was so poor. the hotel-owners and tour-operators complained that tourism was off twenty to thirty percent. Even in its great days Tahiti prospered because of French aid rather than from the receipts of tourism, but if it was ever to become independent it needed to make a show of self-sufficiency. by the 1980s it had become noticeably poorer and more careworn. The bureaucrats were overpaid, but the place itself was undercapitalized, and the locals were penetrated by the aimlessness and vague resentment that characterizes most colonial people. Treat people like children and they become infantile and cranky. The clearest evidence of this was the government's official Put On A Smile! campaign.
Another campaign - the Tourist board was unimaginative but desperate to please - was a contest to find "the most hospitable Tahitian" who would qualify for a Mauruuru (Thank You Very Much) Award. Visitors to French Polynesia were encouraged to write letters to the Tahiti Sun Press recommending a person who had impressed them. I found the letters laughable but engaging, as they described a particularly helpful bellhop or swimming pool attendant or taxi-driver. One day, I read laudatory letter from some visiting Americans (Mr and Mrs Albert Crisp, from Los Angeles) who had spent a week in Moorea: Since our stay at the Hotel Bali Hai in Moorea we have enjoyed meeting and getting to know Helene ("Mimi") Theroux, a sweet girl who tends bar. Mimi Theroux is extremely friendly and helpful, and we would like to show our gratitude by nominating her for a Maururu Award. She works very hard and this is to show our appreciation.
Seeing your own strange, hard-to-spell name correctly printed on the pages of a Tahitian newspaper can give you a powerful sense of belonging to the islands. And it is a belief in my family that every person with that surname is a relation - a descendant of Peter Therous (1839-1915) of Yamaska, Quebec, who had nine prolific sons, Henri, Louis, Ovide, Leon, Dorel, Joseph, Peter, Alexandre, and my grandfather, Eugene. I immediately called the Hotel Bali Hai and asked to speak to my cousin.
"Mimi Theroux doesn't work here anymore," the manager told me. He thought I might find her somewhere in Moorea, but he wasn't sure. he promised to find her address for me. I planned to paddle around Moorea sometime soon, and I vowed that I would seek out Mademoisell - or was it Madame? - Theroux, when I got to that island. Two things kept me in Tahiti for the moment - the arrangements I was making to go to the distant Marquesas on a freighter, and the prospect of watching the Bastille Day parade. I also wondered whether I ought to get a tattoo in this the homeland of tattoos - even the word was Polynesian (tatu means "puncture"). The idea of a tattoo on my ankle seemed an inoffensive way of satisfying my curiosity, but the sight of the only tattooist in Papeete, an excitable Belgian in a bloodstained room, made me change my mind.
Papeete is rather an ugly, plundered-looking town. Its buildings are scruffy, and flimsy and ill-assorted, and they clutter the lower slopes of the extinct volcanoes. Aorai and Orohena, that rise six or seven thousand feet behind it. Tahiti's road - there is only one narrow one, inevitably a speedway, that encircles the island - is quite famously bad and dangerous. To complete this unromantic picture, Tahiti I found to be one the most expensive places I have ever visited - a pack of cigarettes is $5, a liter of petrol $4, the simplest cotton shirt $90, and a meal in a good restaurant almost prohibitive, but as there are few good restaurants this is academic; and yet if you decide to have a pizza instead you will be paying about twice what you would at the Pizza Hut in Boston. there is no income tax in French Polynesia, yet indirect taxation can be just as brutal. You may congratulate yourself that you don't smoke or drink alcohol, yet even the most frugal vegetarian is in for a shock when he sees the Tahitian cabbages (grown in California) priced at $8 in Papeete's central market.
But for the Tahitians themselves the price of cabbage was academic. The islanders, who were always tidy and clean - impressively so, in a place where fresh water was scarce - managed to survive, and even to flourish, by cultivating small vegetable gardens and applying for welfare and using the extended family. They were a chunky breed, and I felt that there was perhaps something assertive in their obesity. They seemed to revel in being a different size and shape from their colonial masters or mistresses - apart from enthusiastic teenagers, who were imitative, there was almost no emulation among Tahitians of French physical types or styles - no joggers, no fashion casualties, no snobs or socialites. Few of them were even smokers. The Tahitian's most obvious indulgence was a kind of relentless snacking - they were forever munching and manipulating Planter's Cocktail Nuts, potato sticks, Porky Snaks (Porc Frites), Rashuns (friles au bacon), Kellogg's Corn Pops, Figolu Fig Newtons, Champagne Crispy Sponge fingers, Cadbury's Crunchies, Pinkys, Moros and Double Fudge Chocolate Biscuits, Toscas, Millefeuilles and Tiki crousti-legers, and Cheez Balls at five bucks a five-ounce can. to pay for this they spent their welfare checks or else got jobs cat3ring to the dwindling number of tourists, few of whom were big spenders. but even the poorest, scrounging Tahitian did not solicit tips and regarded tipping as one of the more insulting of foreign habits.
Tahiti was typical of Oceania generally in the frugality of its long-term expatriates - it seemed through a kind of caution, not to say fear, that these people saved their money. Because people were so vulnerable, they made a point of not appearing to be well-off - it was altogether too easy for anyone to be burgled. There were retirees here, but they had gone to ground - they hid in bungalows deep in the valleys of Tahiti and Moorea. There were always yachties in Papeete harbor, but yacht people the world over are notoriously careful with their money - circumstances forces them to be self-sufficient. Elsewhere on the island, the villages were fenced off and seemed contented, and the most conspicuous people in Papeete - apart from Japanese tourists and French soldiers - were the two sorts of folk who had been there since Bougainville described it as paradise: the adventurers and and the missionaries; the drunks and the God-botherers. At any time of day in downtown Papeete it was possible to see a sanctimonious clergyman passing a bar where a wrecked-looking Frenchman was sitting glumly over a bottle of Hinano beer. It was still possible to go to pieces here, any number of Frenchmen had married teenaged Tahitians, given them six kids, and turned them into twenty-year-old bags, thus keeping alive the South Sea Island myth.
I had longed to be in Tahiti for Bastille Day and I made a point of lingering on the island to witness the parade. Rather disingenuously the French authorities on the island had converted Bastille Day into a gala they called Heiva Tahiti, the Tahiti Festival - they hadn't the guts to come clean and celebrate their independence day in full view of people who had yet to gain their freedom. I expected it to be a wonderful example of colonial comedy and hypocrisy and it was, "Sponsored by Toyota." To make matters even more puzzling, the posters announced in French The 109th Tahiti Annual July Festival, and to work this out you had to go to a history book and establish that it was in 1880 that Ariane (PomareV), the son of the intransigent Queen Pomare (IV), was pressured by the French into abdicating and handed his entire administration over to France, who proclaimed the island a French colony. with an astounding insensitivity the French had conflated the dates, and the Tahitians were being persuaded to celebrate the anniversary of their subjection on the very day the 'French celebrated their own freedom.
At eight o'clock in Bastille Day morning I joined the crowd of impassive Tahitians and frisky French people on the Boulevard Pomare, wondering what I would see, and fifteen minutes later I heard the first distant syncopation of the parade, a French army band playing the First World War song Aupres de ma blonde (il fait beau blah-blah...) - strange in almost any circumstances, but especially bizarre on an island of dusky dark-haired people. There followed a regiment of Marine Fusiliers carrying a French flag lettered Honneur et Patrie and about fifty men from the Special Forces holding hi-tech weapons. The "Regiment du Tonkin" band seemed harmless enough, but the oncoming ranks grew increasingly menacing - three units of legionnaires with fixed bayonets, and one with a French flag down the muzzle of his rifle, a black-beret regiment with fierce dogs in personnel carriers and more infantrymen, followed by men from the Foreign Legion, all of them bearded and wearing white leather aprons and white gauntlets, and each man shouldering - because this was the symbol of this unit of sappers - a wicked axe. The word Camarone was inscribed on the flag of these marching men, commemorating a battle in Mexico in 1863 in which a detachment of sixty-five legionnaires with their backs to the wall faced an army of 2,000 Mexicans and, refusing to surrender, were wiped out by the admiring yet remorseless enemy. This was the battle in which the famous Captain Danjou lost not only his life but his wooden hand (it was later retrieved and became a sort of Foreign Legion relic and talisman). "Life" - not courage - abandoned these French soldiers," was the official summing-up, and the event ent4ered the language in the form of a colloquialism - "faire Camarone" means to fight to the end.
I had the feeling that these parading regiments had been chosen for their ferocity. Anyone watching them pass by would think twice about mounting a revolt or starting an uprising, and so the Bastille Day parade, the so-called Festival of Tahiti - this part of it, at least - was unambiguously intimidating to the Polynesians, who watched in complete silence, even when the wives and children of the French soldiers were applauding. The French Foreign Legionnaires are very thick on the ground in Polynesia. Their toughness and intransigence are needed in such a sensitive place, and the romantic pose suits their swashbuckling image. I was told that they often take Tahitian mistresses. Owing to an indifferent diet and their love of snacks and sweet drinks, Tahitians frequently have bad teeth. The legionnaires' first - or perhaps second - demonstration of their love is to buy their Tahitian girlfriend a set of false teeth. You can often spot these spoken-for girls on the public trucks, sitting and smiling a lovely white smile. When the legionnaire goes back to France (and it might well be to revisit the wife and children he left behind) he takes his girlfriend's teeth with him, so as to leave her less attractive to men.
"Sometimes the girl does not want to give her teeth back," a legionnaire told me in Papeete. "Then we turn her upside down and shake them out of her."
The second part of the parade was much friendlier and less deadly-looking. It began with fire trucks and local school bands, and continued with majorettes and kids in cowboy hats, and Miss Tahiti, who was carried in an outrigger canoe by six muscular men. "Smile, woman," the islander in front of me called out in French to Miss Tahiti. Twenty-eight women in white muumuus, twelve in purple, a gang of drummers, dancers wearing feather head-dresses and coconut-shell brassieres, trick cyclists, the fat and wicked-looking men on motorcycles flying a skull-and-crossbones flag reading "Le Club Harley-Davidson du Tahiti," and local kids doing handstands on skateboards - and now the Tahitian cheered, yelling from balconies and clinging to tree branches beside the boulevard, and I kept imagining a painting - full of Oceanic colour and tropical light, and packed with chubby islanders and children and large laughing families, and severe and authoritarian-looking French soldiers, called "Bastille Day in Papeete," illustrating the paradoxes of French colonialism.
This happy back half of the parade put me in a better mood and I followed a sniggering group of Tahitians through the side-streets and into the fenced-in garden of the French High commission, where a garden party was in progress under a huge Polynesian tree. Half of us had clearly crashed the party, and the rest - the VIPs, the beefy-faced faranis and colons in tight suits and the threadbare old soldiers wearing heroic clusters of medals and battle ribbons, and one conspicuously decorated with the Legion of Honor - were too drunk to notice us. "This France Libre was given to me by General de Gaulle," one elderly man told me, and other old soldiers - some were African and some Vietnamese - had seen action in Indo-China in the 1950s. The Tahitians especially were having a grand time: they ignored the waitresses with drinks and made a beeline for the hors-d'oevres, which they managed with wonderful dexterity, scooping up three or four at a time, squeezing them between two fingers, and cramming them into their mouths.
A French army band set up their music stands in the shade of the tree and perspired and played rousing songs, Sang et Or, and Tenth Festival, and Adios Amigos, and the stirring Marche des Mousquetaires Noirs, while the bandleader conducted them without a baton, using only his hands, the slapping gestures of a man making a sandcastle. For the people watching the parade or in this festival garden, Bastille Day in Tahiti was an excuse for a party, to play games at the funfair in the park, and buy balloons and amuse the kids. But walking back to the wharf along the rue du General de Gaule I saw a wall urgently spraying-painted with the word
The next day I went to Moorea, in search of Mimi Theroux. The ferry left from a wharf on Papeete Harbour - and as it entered the Sea of the Moon I looked back and saw the great greeny-black crags of Tahiti's volcanoes. They weren't rounded and plumb and undulant, but like a starved sierra, like the corpses of mountains, with bony protruding ridges and hard sharp hips and shoulders, narrow valleys with hollow sides, knobs and angles on the escarpments and an intense steepness all over them, as though in their ancient years of vulcanism they had hurled out their life and left themselves exhausted. The peaks and slopes of Tahiti - and of volcanic islands all over Oceania - are so steep and dark and so thoroughly wicked-looking that the coasts by contrast are gentle, and their pale pretty lagoons seem unutterably sweet. There is always a scrap of mist around the peaks, and sometimes a great torn pillow of black closed hovering. The vertical roughness is visible on these islands, but so is the mildness of their fringes. "Seen from the sea, the prospect is magnificent," Melville wrote of this same view of Tahiti. His words are still true. "Such enchantment, too, breathes over the whole, that it seems a fairy world, all fresh and blooming from the hand of the Creator."
It cost seven dollars each way for the one-hour trip, and no charge for my collapsible boat. Most of the passengers were Polynesian, either full-blooded or else part-French, the people known locally as demi or afa, have attached themselves to the islands. The Polynesians were of two distinct physical types - either slender and nimble (the children and teenagers), or else (the over-twenties) fat and rather shapeless. Girls and boys were equally winsome, and men and women were precisely the same shape and almost indistinguishable. It ought to have been possible to paddle my own boat from Papeete to Moorea, but the wind discouraged me, a strong current ran between the islands, and apart from the ferry landing at Vaiare there was only one break in the reef. Avarapa Pass, on the northeast side of the island. The reefs of these islands were a great disincentive to any sort of casual boating, and as I intended to sail for the Marquesas within a week I could not mount the sort of expedition that had gotten me safely around the archipelago of Vava'u in Tonga. I planned to make camp on Moorea, to paddle within the reef, and to seek out Mimi Theroux.
There is no town near the ferry landing, there is hardly a village, and after the trucks had taken the ferry passengers away Vaiare seemed deserted.
"I'm looking for a place on the shore to camp." I said to a Moorean at the roadside.
"Not possible," he said - and he was sympathetic.
It was a Polynesian problem, all the land was spoken for. I did not argue. I rented a motorcycle and went in search of a hotel with a beach, but this was an easy matter. Moorea had many hotels, and business was so terrible I could take my pick. When I had settl3ed this, I went back to the rental place for my boat. But I kept my motorcycle. I rode to the Hotel Bali Hai and found the manager, who seemed to be American. Yes, he said, Mimi Theroux had worked here not long ago, but she had left.
"She lives with her mother at Paopao."
that was Cook's Bay, not far off.
"Is she married?"
"I never saw any husband," the man said, and he described her house so that I could find it.
It was a white building, but it was not a house. Large and square, two storeys, with verandas above and a restaurant below, and with a flat roof, it had the geometric look of a commercial structure. but it was in good condition, freshly painted, gleaming in the sunshine, and facing directly onto the bay. I parked my motorcycle and walked around. A Tahitian was tinkering behind the building, but as it was high noon and very hot there were few other people in sight.
"Mimi Theroux?" I asked the Tahitian.
He pointed upstairs, to the porch where laundry was hung. I looked on the door at the foot of the stairway, but there was no response. I knocked again, and excited a dog in the next yard. I called out, and a young woman appeared at the top of the stairs.
This was Mimi. She was Chinese. I told her my name and she invited me up the stiars where, at the top, a small dark child was playing with an older girl.
"This is Moea," Mimi said, hoisting the smaller child.
"Soon she will be." She spoke English with a slight American accent.
We were walking through the cool interior of the upper floor where, at the far end on the front of the building, I could see the blaze of the sea and the glarey sky of Cook's Bay - one of the most beautiful spots in the whole of Oceania, lovely, secluded, dramatic and rather empty. But this was French Polynesia. Because it was secluded it was neglected; the beach was no good, the shore was littered, and if you didn't have a motorcycle how would you get there?
It seemed to me that Mimi had a tincture of Polynesian blood. She said that this might have been so - she vaguely remembered seeing an elderly Tahitian relative, but she was not sure whether this was a blood relation. I rather liked here for not being sure and for not caring much about it. "I'm sorry to drop in on you like this," I said.
"It's okay. Jim has spoken about you."
She explained that she was married to James Theroux, who was a distant cousin of mine and, as he had spent years sailing back and forth across the Pacific, from Samoa to Fiji and Tonga, to Port Vila and Australia, Jim was well known in Oceania. He was an expert surfer and experienced sailor and navigator. His name had been mentioned to me and sometimes, introducing myself to a yacht-owner, I was mistaken for him. People knew his boat in the way they knew my books: just names that had become familiar.
"He is in Australia, at the moment, in the Whitsundays, taking charters," Mimi said. "I saw him seven months ago. Maybe I will see him again in a few months. He is like you, always travelling."
"Does he look like me?" I asked.
"No. He is more handsome," Mimi said, and went to chase Moea, who was throwing toys at the wall.
Mimi was relaxed, she seemed capable, she was slender and barefoot, wearing a pareu on her hips; a loyal and energetic Chinese who did not make a fuss about a seven-month separation. She was small, quick and attractive. After she told me a few details of her life I figured her age to be thirty-four. She had met Jim when she was twenty-one, at the girls' college in Punaauia, on Tahiti. Her maiden name was Tshan-lo.
"Jim said, 'Come with me,' so I went. yes, it was romantic," Mimi said. "He had a boat. I had never been on a boat like that before. First we went to Pago, and I was sick, from the sea. Then we went to Fiji, Vava'u, Vila, Australia. We were in Vila for a couple of years, but when independence came there was trouble." - the Jimmy Stevens uprising - "and we left. In Vava'u the Tongans stole our laundry from the lines. but we liked it. Jim fished with the local people in the night."
"Do you still get seasick?"
"No. Now I am a good sailor. I have done it for more than ten years," Mimi said.
Each phase of her life had been difficult, and she was one of those people who seemed to have been strengthened and made confident by the sudden changes. It seemed to me Chinese tenacity, but in this Polynesian setting - in the beauty of Paopao - it had no edge to it. She had travelled from Moorea to Tahiti, she had gone off and married this impulsive American; and they had sailed the seas together. In Australia Jim sold his boat and then, hearing that Alan bond's twelve-meter yacht Southern Cross was for sale, they flew to Perth and bought it. It was a wonderful boat but it was empty. They rigged it and sailed it across the top of Australia, through the Torres Strait and past Cape York to Cairns. that took a year, because they had spent all their money buying and refitting the boat.
"We stopped in many places - to work and make money. But they were interesting places," Mimi said. "In Darwin we stopped for months. I worked as a waitress and Jim, was a gardener. We didn't mind. It was an adventure." Moea was still running around the oom wither her little friend. The room was large and breezy, with a few pictures - Jim's yacht was one - and some calendars and plain furniture. It was clean and more pleasant for being mostly bare.
"Moea is very pretty," I said.
"Soon she will be a Theroux," Mimi said.
Seeing the impish face of this little islander and hearing my own name made me glad.
"Her mother is a Marquesan," Mimi said. "My sister knew her mother when she was pregnant, and she knew that I could not have a child myself and that I wanted to adopt one. The woman already had two children and no husband. You know how it is here. Anyway, as soon as she had the baby she gave it tome. She told me the father is French, but look at her - that baby is Marquesan - very black hair and dark eyes and skin."
Mimi turned to the child with admiration. Moea was a very sweet, very strong and upright two-year-old, and happy, her laughter ringing in the room, as she played.
"The father went afterwards to the woman and asked, 'Where is the baby'" Mimi went on. "But the woman said, 'ou didn't come the whole time I was pregnant. I gave the baby away.'"
"Where had the man been?"
"The man just left her and ran after a young girl when the baby was in the stomach," Mimi said. "That was two years ago. I have been happy. but now I am getting worried. In the past weeks the mother has been calling me. I know that if she was Moea she will take her. She signed the document for adoption but it does not become final until two months more. I have to hide. The woman does not know where I am, but somehow she knows my telephone number. I would never give Moea away. She was such a lot of work when she was small, but she is so intelligent and she understands everything I say."
We were seated at a table, looking past Paopao to the bay.
"It is so lovely here," I said.
"It is a picture postcard views," Mimi said. "You should have seen the sunset last night. The sky was all pink - no sun, just clouds and sky. I sat here and watched it with Moea."
I was touched by the thought that after seeing twelve and a half thousand sunsets in the Pacific she still marvelled at one. Suddenly she said, "How did you find me?"
"I asked at the Bali Hai. You know you were nominated for a Mauruuru Award?"
"No," she said without much interest. And then she called out to her mother. Was she conveying this news?
Her elderly mother, Madame Madeline Tshan-lo, was seated silently on the porch, looking off to sea. Mimi did not know the sold woman's age - she said it was impolite to ask. Madame Tshan-lo had had nine children, of whom Mimi was the youngest ("I am the runt"). All the rest were married - to French, American, Tahitian, Chinese - and they lived all over, in many countries. The old woman smiled at me and spoke in Cantonese to her daughter. "Give that man some food," she said. Mimi went to th4ekitchen and brought me a plate of vegetable stew - carrots from New Zealand, potatoes from France, rice from China. You needed a garden in order to live, Mimi said. There was no work, she said, but man y people got by on breadfruit and taro and mangoes. Talking about food, Mimi remarked on the high cost of living.
"We have the most expensive electricity in the world," she said. "Every month I can't believe the bill. It costs me fifteen thousand francs a month, for just a TRV, a freezer, a fridge and lights."
That was $160.
"They want to give us income tax, but everything is taxed! That is why it costs so much to live here."
The reason there was no income tax was because people were taxed on the things they bought. Tax had been reduced on alcohol in order to encourage tourism, but that had not done the trick.
"Three weeks ago there was a roadblock in Tahiti, because they raised the petrol ten cents and the diesel twenty cents."
This was a few days before I had arrived but people were still talking about it and marvelling at the disruption it had caused. The roadblock of bulldozers and trucks had been put up just outside of Papeete, between the town and the airport, so that in order to get to the airport it was necessary to take a ninety-mile (117 kilometer) detour around the island. No one was arrested. There were negotiations, and at last the government reduced the price. What was clear in most people's mind was that if it happened again, if the government passed an unpopular measure, roadblocks were the answer - though in the past (as recently as 1987) the government had used riot police against protesters.
"What about the French?" I asked. "Do you think they'll hang on here?"
"Good question," Mimi said. "Eventually we will be independent, I suppose."
I left Mimi, admiring her strength and her filial piety, and I mounted my motorcycle and went the rest of the way around the island. It was a stormy month - three or four times I was caught in a downpour, either in my boat or on the motorcycle - and so I was not sorry to be denied the chance to live in my tent. The raindrops pelted so hard they stung my skin. And after the rain there was always a lovely aroma of tiare and oleander, and enormous complete rainbows, every color in a whole archway.
One day I paddled to Maarea, Melville had lived for a while here in 1842, and he mentions it a number of times in Omoo ("Fair dawned, over the hills of Martair, the jocund morning"). It had been a long trip for me, because I had stoipped at a little island called Motu Ahi. And when I was caught in the rain on the way back I headed for the shelter of a little beach, where - sheltering with me under a tree - was a cyclist, Dominic Taemu, who was in his twenties and pedalling around the island.
We talked about Bastille Day and the Heiva Tahiti. He laughed.
"Bastille Day. That is a French festival. That is historical. It is not our day."
"Do you want Polynesia to be independent?"
"How can we be independent? We have no resources," he said. "The Japanese have taken all our big fish - they come in their big ships and use drift nets. We had lots of fish before, but now they are small and few. The coconuts and the copra re nothing. We have nothing."
"What about other work?"
"There is no work, because there are too few tourists," he said. And he thought awhile. "We know other places are cheaper. For us this is a big problem. We don't know what to do."
It was the fear of destitution, the fear of losing French prosecution and aid. But it was perhaps like a woman anxious about divorcing, fearing to be alone, without support - even though the husband is in opportunist and an exploiter.
"Independence - yes, certain people want it. It might come. But what will we do then?" And it dramatized the paradox of French Polynesia that Taemu, a native of what has been called the most beautiful place on earth, then said, "We have no means to live."