Thursday, October 8, 2015


koika hanau (Happy birthday to you in Marquesan)! We hope you are having a great one and wish we could celebrate with you in person. It’s too bad you couldn’t have come to French Polynesia for your birthday, you would love it here, it has sooo much music, singing and dancing!

A colorful high school choir on Ua Pou

Technical note – There were a bunch of music videos to go with this post, but it turns out that the internet here is not good enough to load them without taking days and days of buying internet cards and rowing back out to the boat to keep recharging the computer. In the meantime, we have inserted some photos and will try again to post the videos when we have better internet.

Our first introduction to the musical culture of French Polynesia was a benefit evening for a family with cancer that we went to in Atuona on Hiva Oa, our first stop in the islands. Musicians, including lots of drummers, singers and dancers ranging in age from about 8 to 65 came from 3 different islands – Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva. We were definitely spoiled as the performances set the bar pretty high and we couldn’t help comparing what we saw on later islands to that night in Hiva Oa. We were so inspired we spent a day in the cockpit inventing songs on Uncle Darren’s ukulele!

A detail of one of the drums at the is everywhere in the Marquesas.

One Sunday we did as all of the cruising guides recommend and got up early so we could hitchhike into town to hear a local church service. The service was in Marquesan with some French but the reason everybody recommends it is to hear the congregation sing. And boy, can they sing! There wasn’t a hymnal or organ anywhere but the harmonies and power were enough to bring tears to your eyes. I don’t know if it is genetic or they just learn to sing from the gut to compete with the drums and ukuleles in their traditional songs, but the power in their singing is phenomenal. Unfortunately, Uncle Darrens nice sound recorder died just before we arrived in the Marquesas so all we had to record them was the video mode on our camera, which doesn’t do justice to the sound and has a hard time focusing, but will give you a small taste of the beauty.

Can you imagine the acoustics in this gorgeous Tahuata church?
On Hiva Oa we also took a tour and were lucky enough to get Pifa as our guide. He was a fabulous guide and when we were at the I’ipona me’ae (a pre-European religious sanctuary) site in Pau Mau he taught all of the guys in the group a little bit of a Marquesan haka (a dance by men that tells a story).

In addition to being a top notch tour guide, pompier (fireman and rescue), like many Polynesians, Pifa is a great musician and we were fortunate to have him invite us to join him with his family and friends for their weekly Saturday night jam session at the roulette (food truck) on the quay. We had lots of fun joining them for the next couple of weeks we were in Hiva Oa. Uncle Darren sat in with his ukulele and I videoed so we could replay the songs and practice on the boat. Here is one that doesn’t show any faces since we didn’t think to ask if we could share the videos with you on the blog. There are lots more, but you’ll have to wait to hear them when we see you next!

An evening with the O’Conners is great fun and a truly multicultural event, as in a single evening we heard (and began to learn) songs in Marquesan, Tahitian, French, English, Portuguese, Philippino and Hawaiian. You would have loved it!

Another day in Atuona we were walking along and stumbled on a rehearsal for the local Heiva. Afterwards, we chatted for a bit with Hina, one of the instructors, and asked if she would teach us a little. You can see the video of Aunt Jodi learning a few moves when we see you next. We would have loved to stay in Hiva Oa longer and learn more of the southern Marquesan music culture, but our visa was ticking away so we moved on.

We were in Ua Pou when the Aranui 3 cruise/supply ship came in to Hakahau. We had already toured the ship when it was in Atuona so we were free to enjoy all of the performances that the town put on for the tourists, from a casual group of guys singing and playing uke to a group of dancers, drummers, musicians and singers that performed a series of traditional stories on an old marae.

A Polynesian 8 string ukulele
We chatted with some of the guys playing ukulele after the Aranui tourists left and asked where we could find a songbook of the Marquesan songs to help us learn. They said there isn’t one, the songs are all passed down orally and you just have to hang out for a month or two and learn them from someone who knows them! Yet another reason we should have gotten long-stay visas.

Polynesian ukes have the sound hole in the back

We were also in Ua Pou for the annual parents’ day at the local college (high school) and we had fun participating in the fund raisers while we waited for the musical presentation to begin.

What did we win?

In Papeete, Tahiti, we got to see a night of one of the big Heiva performances. We were lucky to get tickets to one of the final nights with some of the top winning groups and individuals of the competition. However, they don’t allow photos or video of the performances so all we have is our memories and a picture of one of the dancers that we took outside the stadium.

The local marche (market with produce, fish, art, flowers, etc.) in Papeete had a stage set up for Heiva with free performances by groups from all over Polynesia. The rain made it hard to get good photos or video but we did get a couple of shots of this group of ladies from Hawai’i, dressed in velvet (!) during a break in the showers.


In Maupiti, we were fortunate to anchor near enough to town that on a calm day we could hear the singing of one of the churches from our cockpit. We also lucked out and were there when they were scheduled to have a cruise ship from France visit – a new experiment they were doing to bring more tourist dollars into the small island - and got to see some of the rehearsals of song and dance for that event. As usual, they didn’t have songbooks or sheet music, but there were well-used pages with the words taped to a wall.

Unfortunately for the island, the ship turned around at the last minute after being spooked by the pass (the break in the reef surrounding the lagoon that you go through to get in – it’s small and tricky in Maupiti), so the 260 tourists they had set up tents and a special day of arts and music for never arrived. We were glad we had gone to the rehearsal and not waited for the actual performance.

You would have loved the adorable toddler at the last rehearsal. She kept herself busy trying on everyone's shoes and adding her own flair to the dance portion of the rehearsal, which didn’t bother anyone. It was a great opportunity to see the Polynesian sense of family at work as there were so many people loving her up as she made her rounds, it took a while to  figure out which one was her mother.

Hmmm, is Uncle Darren adding the flute to his musical repertoire?

Nope, he is just attacking some sugar cane from Tahuata!

Should you crave some activity beyond music, there are some great places to play and even land sports often have a view of the gorgeous water as at this basketball court in Maupiti…

Or beautiful decoration, as in this stadium that was hosting a soccer tournament one day when we were exploring Hakehau on Ua Pou…

We hope you are having a very Happy Birthday and have enjoyed this musical tour of French Polynesia! We love and miss you lots.

Love and hugs,
Aunt Jodi and Uncle Darren

PS. – I love the scarf you helped me pick out, I wear it all the time, like in Raiatea to keep the sun off my shoulders without melting while I enjoyed a crepe with Nutella and chantilly (isn’t that a pretty way to say whipped cream?)!  Love you! Aunt J.

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