Espiritu Santos across to Honiara
Kia Orana Tatou Katoatoa,
Part I – the voyage here and our arrival…
It has taken us a few extra days to get here and it’s been a mixed bag of weather that has been thrown at us on this leg too. Squally conditions to begin with for the first few days, that gradually melted into patchy, overcast calms where wind was scarce and we began to worry a little about making it to Honiara on time! However there was enough wind about most of the time to keep us moving, although our speed would sometimes drop to near zero, so occasionally we’d have to make up the difference with a little mechanized assistance… using clean solar-powered pod engines of course! It took us 4 days of squally sailing to sight the first island in the Solomons group, San Cristobal, and then pretty much on queue with the sighting, the weather began to play up on us…giving us periods of dead wind and also switching direction on us seemingly at random…probably an effect of the wind swirling around the islands. This temperamental weather kept us on our toes changing sails up and down, sheeting in, easing out, changing tack, and everything else that we could do to catch every bit of wind that happened to blow by…it worked in the end though as we made it to Honiara bay early this Sunday morning.
We had a few special moments on this leg that made it unique for all of us. Firstly we had one of our young female crew members have a birthday on board!….and not just any birthday but a 21st! Yes, Ms. Terii Vaetua Pittman has reached the magic age. Although we don’t have much on board that we could give in the way of gifts, everybody did their best to make her day a special one. For instance the other girls stayed up late on Friday night to prepare a cake mix and then Uirangi who was on watch from 3am to 6am popped it in the oven on her shift so that it was ready by breakfast at 6.30am. Our watch (including Terii) was supposed to start at 5.45am but we let her sleep in a little bit so that the girls could put the finishing touches on the cake. When breakfast and the cake were ready we woke everyone up including Terii…Uirangi had made a birthday hat and hung it on Terii’s bunk so that she would notice it when she got out of bed, and she popped out of her hatch wearing the hat on her head and a huge smile on her face. Numa had drawn a cool birthday poster for her which was hung on the mizzen boom above where breakfast was served. When everyone was gathered, our Captain started the morning with a meeting about our tasks for the day, then the prayer for the meal and the upcoming day was said…then at a signal from Captain, the girls brought the surprise cake out from the oven and we all started to sing ‘happy birthday’! You should have seen Terii’s face, she had the hugest grin of delight on her dial which only got bigger and bigger, especially when Uirangi lit her vaka-made ‘kikau candles’ and she had to blow them out really quickly before the wind did it for her! Ngariki, who is also on our shift then gave Terii an hour long massage as a birthday gift. While the professional massage was going on, Tauarii and myself covered all the oe time for that shift and our later evening one, so that Terii could have the day off and chill with the girls…our little contribution from her watch to try to make her special day that extra bit better. Everyone chipped in though, doing little things here and there to make her load easier and her day smoother…even God seemed to be in on the fiesta, because the sun came out that day for the first time in 4 days and we had a nice fresh breeze that kept us gliding along nicely at 5knots! The high spirits on board even continued long into the night as God gifted us with beautiful moonlight and a brisk breeze…we practised dances and songs late into the evening, and everyone stayed on deck long after dinner was done and cleared up, just chatting and joking the night away…Needless to say, Saturday on Marumaru Atua for Terii’s 21st birthday, was a great day for all of us!
During the calm periods of weather it gave us some great opportunities to practice our environmental item in preparation for showcasing in the Solomons…but also it gave us a chance to practice other cultural numbers for the arts festival. Almost 2 weeks ago, just before departing Suva, we were informed that the Cook Islands was no longer sending a contingent to this festival….so basically it is left up to us to represent our nation at this arts festival. We already had a lot on our plate with our official vaka programmes and we knew this would add a lot more to our schedules…but nevertheless we immediately started learning a few new songs that Uirangi picked out for us and then started putting together some actions to go with them. We had been practising on the legs leading up to now but these last few days on our way to Honiara gave us the perfect chance to polish up on these items…nothing too complicated, a solo for Uirangi to begin, followed by an action song by all the girls, and finally an action song by the boys…it is all that we could manage to put together in this short time, but at least we have something up our sleeve if we are put on the spot to perform for our country in some small capacity…something for us to have ready, just in case…
For the last 2 days of this voyage we had two of the camera crew join us on board, Mike and Tim. This was a cool change for us as new people always mean fresh stories to share and new perspectives to discuss…so we had a fun couple of days chatting with them as they worked around the vaka, positioning themselves, filming different things, and taking interviews. It was also a really scenic last 2 days of sailing in between many different islands and motus of the Solomon Islands group which we think added to our good mood over this last stretch as we approached Honiara Bay.
Finally after 5 days at sea we made our final approach towards Honiara early on Sunday morning. We arrived just outside the bay at about 8am and tacked back and forth for awhile as we waited for the other vakas to regroup with us so we could all go in together. We entered the harbour area at about 10am and rafted up between Te Matau a Maui and Hine Moana right in front of the local Point Cruz Yacht Club who are hosting us with their facilities while we are here. Being a sunday, there was not much happening, as our official welcome ceremony was scheduled for the next morning in the next bay over…however there were a few people gathered at the yacht club including a cultural group from Rapa Nui who performed on the beach to welcome the crew of Faafaite and especially their one crew member from Rapa Nui, Francisco..a proud day for him and his people with many tears all around.
There was also a small Solomons group to do a brief welcome for the rest of us voyagers and it was a cool first taste for us of the local culture. The captains were all presented with beautiful bead necklaces, the kind that was used as currency in the olden days of bartering and trading here in the Solomons, and Captain Peia promptly hung it up in the cabin of Marumaru to show ours off.
After the welcome we all came back to the vaka to do a thorough clean up of the holds and our personal quarters..making our vaka extra beautiful for the festival! This completed, we just prepared dinner and settled in for the night for our early start the next morning at 3.00am to sail over to the other bay for our official welcome…..
Part II – the welcoming and opening ceremonies…
We awoke at 3.15am and slipped lines to head over to the bay where the welcome would be. It was a cold morning but everyone was up and quickly shook off our drowsiness as we all could feel the excitement & buzz building amongst the crews. After exiting the passage we hoisted sails and slipped quietly into the early morning darkness towards our goal, a beach about 4 miles up the coast which is near the Festival Village and therefore closer for the delegations to all come down and meet us.
We came in sight of our goal at about 6:30am and we could see thousands of people on the beach already bustling around expectantly, but we hung out in open water a good distance away until we got the call to approach the beach. The plan was to manouver so that we ended up with all the vakas side by side with about 5-10 metres space in between us. We were to approach the beach with bows forward until close enough to shore to do our combined Te Mana o te Moana haka all together while still standing on board, then we were to beach the vaka to greet our countries’ delegations. As we listened to this plan being read out to us, all aboard Marumaru Atua had the same thoughts running through our heads…We knew that there was no delegation from the Cook Islands here at the festival, so we knew there wouldn’t be any Cook Islands flag flying on the beach, we knew there wouldn’t be our unique Cook Islands drums pulsing on the sand, we knew there wouldn’t be any Turou (welcome) called out to us in our Maori tongue, we knew there would be no-one there….but we still had a glimmer of hope…What if?? Maybe there will be some Cook Islanders living here that will greet us? Maybe there would be a delegation of the local people assigned to welcome us? Maybe, just maybe, what we heard earlier about the Cookies not coming anymore was incorrect!…maybe, just maybe, our people really are on the beach waiting for us? Surely there would be SOMEONE here for us…? To share the joy ofour accomplishments, of sailing from the South Pacific all the way up to the North, then back again all this way over here to the West Pacific….of navigating traditionally over 25 thousand miles of open seas…of beating all the challenges, trials, and tribulations that have been thrown at us on our journey, to get here to our final destination…to finally make it to our target, to this celebration of the myriad of diverse and beautiful cultures that exist within our vast Pacific Ocean…surely, someone, right…?
We got closer to the shore, and like all the crews, we moved to the bow of the vaka to face the crowd properly. We were all wearing our uniforms proudly, green Turtles Marumaru Atua shirts with green and white Tavs shorts. We could now make out faces in the huge crowd on the beach, and we could see many different nations’ flags waving proudly in the hands of their bearers on the beach…Now we could start to make out different cultural delegations as they began to cluster together in specific spots on the beach, began to group together as they had now recognised their country’s vaka and were moving in front of it on the beach to welcome them to shore! We could see the Samoans on our immediate right, easily recognisable with pareus, loud shrieks, and their tatau pe’a showing proudly…we had the New Zealanders on our immediate left, their welcome karakia already loudly piercing the air…further over on our right was Vanuatu, Rapa Nui, Solomons & Tahiti grouping in front of Hine Moana & Faafaite respectively and making a happy raucous racket…to our far left was Fiji, their melodic singing carrying through the air to us…as these groups moved towards their countrymen aboard their vakas, there began to appear something very painful to behold in front of us…slowly, then faster and more clearly it materialised in front of us on the beach…until finally we could see it so clearly that it hurt, so much that we had to clench our teeth to bite back tears of sadness, and shame….because before us was what we already knew would be waiting for us, what we dreaded would be there, what we had hoped against hope would not appear as we approached this bay…before us was an empty beach.
As we stood there, our eyes grimly absorbing the joyful displays of greetings and pride taking place on the other canoes, trying our best to focus on all the other vakas’ welcomes so that we didn’t have to stare at the void in front of us…just when we could stand it no longer and were about to leave the bay on our own to go back to our anchorage, there strolled a woman and her partner across the sand in front of us, clearly from the Aotearoa delegation, running a little late and still making their way to greet their 2 Vakas. She looked our way and hesitated in her stride, she looked around confused for a few seconds, and then stopped and changed direction towards us and stepped into the water up to her ankles, she raised her hands and in a clear voice began to call out a turou for us in perfect Cook Islands Maori. Her lone voice was hard to hear amongst the din going on around us so we all had to strain to hear her…we absorbed every word and faced her firmly until her last word was spoken, and she stepped back from the water. We performed our ‘Tutu te Vinivini’ amu straight away, all eyes on her, to honour her for her courage, for her compassion for us, for her solitary voice that welcomed us to that beach. Tua met her later that evening and found out that her name was Karen, a part Cookie lady residing in New Zealand with her family roots in Matavera. She told him that she felt so sorry for us as she walked across the empty beach in front of our vaka and was shocked to realise that there was nobody there for us, so she was compelled to do a turou for us. Tua thanked her personally, but we would also like to second that appreciation here, from all the crew of Marumaru Atua, we sincerly say Meitaki Maata Karen, for making us feel at least a little welcome that morning on our lonely section of beach.
We anchored up again and got stuck into some more cleaning on the vaka. In the afternoon we dressed up once again in our vaka colours and were all transported to the national stadium for the march-in and opening ceremony at 3pm. Every nation was there in full cultural dress, packing the grounds, and we were surrounded by thousands of spectators, standing room only!!
The Pacific Voyagers were recognised as a group and we were slotted in and all marched together between the Australian and Fijian delegations. We of Marumaru brought a large Cook Islands flag with us which we hoisted high on a stick and old Koronui waved it proudly as we walked past the main terraces area where the MC and VIP’s were seated. The MC recognised our flag and gave us a short moment of pride by announcing loudly that we had a Cook Islands contingent present at the festival after all! It was a small consolation after our crushing morning but it put a smile back on our faces again at least…
The rest of the ceremony was amazing with every contingent coming to the main terraces and taking their turn to present a gift to the President of the Solomon Islands and performing an item as well. It was just our luck that we had been seated right in front of this area so we had absolute front row seats to all these amazing performances. We were entranced by every number…the diversity, the vibrant colours, the costumes, the differences, the similarities, the beauty, the passion, the gifts, the pride…truly amazing! This celebration is not a competition but given that we had the pleasure of being there but the misfortune of having no cultural delegation to represent us, we could not help but compare some of the performances…couldn’t help but imagine how our delegation would have presented our gift and performed our number had we been there…and I know we are biased, but in our minds’ eyes as we let our imaginations flow, we could all picture that ours would have been the cream of the crop!
We watched all the performances, which ran for many hours and late into the night when the full moon rose over the stadium. After all the gift presentations every delegation, including us as the Voyagers, were given another march around the stadium…this was amazing! After all the performances of the evening the crowd was in full voice and easily excitable! We had a fantastic time dancing and waving at the crowd which would draw forth thunderous cheers and roars each time! Once we were all in position ringing the stadium grounds the huge stage at the Western end of the stadium came alive for the actual opening ceremony show! There were amazing lights, lazers and pyrotechnics to accompany the equally amazing live show, and apart from a slight power outage issue for a short while everything went smoothly! The show was a beautiful production encompassing the theme of this years festival, about how we as Pacific peoples used to all ‘live in harmony with nature’ on our islands, but the development and rise of the Western lifestyle and mindset has come at a great cost to our pristine pacific paradise, and our World as a whole….With our wildlife, flora & fauna, and marine resources all taking huge damage.
The show went on to describe how we need to rediscover our old teachings and lifestyles and begin to live in harmony with our natural environments once again! Which also fits in perfectly with our message of Te Mana o te Moana! The time for change is Now, and we All need to get in on the act as we are only destroying our own futures and the futures of our children if we continue to ignore nature’s warning signs and obvious pleas for help! It was a fantastic show that showcased some of the best drama and singing talents of the Solomons and made use of the wonderful energy of hundreds of local schoolkids!
Very well done Solomon Islands! As a finale to the show and the opening ceremony there was a magnificent fireworks display that burst from almost every corner of the stadium at ground level first, before exploding from the hilltop above the southern side of the stadium! It was so high that we lay down on the ground to gaze upwards to watch the explosions! The base of the light and smoke shone eerily through a belt of broad toa (ironwood) trees and created some really cool effects….and the dazzling, roaring fireworks displays lit up the night sky above us until the smoke turned the full moon blood red in the sky! So finally at about 10pm, we experienced a glorious and spectacular end to the night on our first official day at the Pacific Festival of Arts here in Honiara! Well done Solomon Islands!! We look forward to the beautiful themes, shows and displays of the rest of this amazing festival! Thank you for having us here!
Alexander Teariki Olah
Pacific Festival of Arts
Honiara, Solomon Islands.