The First Days
The cross-Pacific trip, intense day at the Panoho's batch, and extended wait to get to the hotel had gotten the best of me. So, on the first day I smoothed out, ate at the hotel and walked the bay from one end to the other. The people in Noumea are beautiful; a nice combination of the Kanaks (indigenous people also known as Ti-Va-Ouere, the Brothers of the Earth) and the French colonists. New Caledonia is under French rule and Noumea is known as the Paris of the Pacific. I met many people, other Maori, folks from the states, delegates from other Pacific nations, and some old friends that I had known from the previous trip, including John Torres from the Guam Arts Council. The people and their visitors enjoy many diversions, sailing, fishing, swimming, cycling, tanning, para-sailing....hundreds of people come out onto the streets and the beach engaging in activities, not the least of which is people watching.
I found a nice place on the beach to lay back and engage in the latter. There were several defined areas on the beach where the people played a game they called "ball." It is a coed activity that is reminiscent of bocci and croquet, but the balls are smaller and appear to be made of metal. I couldn't tell if they were in teams, the number of players allowed, or how they identified their ball, as they all looked the same. A small target ball was thrown out onto the field of play. Then, others tried to get close to it with their larger balls and they would try and knock opponent's balls away. Everyone had a different way of doing it, some would stand, others would squat, some threw their ball, while the "gentle" types would roll it. Most fascinating was that they never bent over to pick up their ball. They carried strings that had a magnet at the end and were tied to the middle finger of one hand. They would simply pull the ball back up into their hand. I found the whole exercise quite civilized.
The second day in Noumea started with a 3 1/2 mile walk through town to pick up supplies and get a lay of the land. The panoramic views were breathtaking and the people I met on the street wonderful. The food, supplies, and bottles of wine proved more than one could carry, so I found a box and a bus stop and worked my way back to the hotel.
Still tired from the initial trip I took advantage of New Caledonia's siesta tradition, only to be awakened by Steffan announcing, "there's a party, Mate!" I broke bread, clams, musssels, cheese, wine, and vodka with my traveling companions as we watched snippets of Maori films. Then we jammed, singing old American and some Maori songs. I played guitar and harmonica. Then came time for the private party where we ate a wonderful raw fish dish made with coconut milk, lemon, spring onions, and a bit of tomatoe. The dish was made by Hone, Ella's (the chief activist in the group) partner. Instructions were clear...grab it with your fingers, don't forget the onion and tomatoe and dip your bread in the sauce....it was like heaven. The meal was topped off by "spondulic" of the vernacular variety.
The evening was somewhat disrupted by a young Maori woman who had recently returned from a two-week Maori Culture emersion course. At that moment all that was Maori was sacred to her (a babe in culture, as it were) and she kept correcting my colleagues' "cultural behaviors." Clearly she had not been taught how to party like the balance of my Maori mates and before the night was up Ella, Hone, and I escorted her to my room where we put her to bed and positioned the proverbial "plastic bucket" by her side. A sign of her youth, she was resilient. When I woke her in the morning with an aspirin she was bouncy and cheery, grateful for my care of her, and more than ready for the 45 minute hike to her hotel. In retrospect I believe that she was more intoxicated by the cultural emersion than she was by the alchohol.
Earlier in the evening Hone introduced me to the Minister of the Maori. It was beautiful to watch them greet one another in Maori fashion, by shaking hands and pressing their foreheads and noses together. Of course my first attempts at the Maori greeting were less than graceful and I'm sure painful for my victims. The greeting is a metaphor for "sharing the breath of life." To touch twice means that you will share it in "life and death."
This is probably a good tangent to introduce the balance of my companions. While several of them illuded the lens of my camera, they certainly did not fail to capture a piece of my heart. Their names were Ella, Hone, Edna, Libby, Wheta, Karen, Melissa, Moana, Kepa, Helen, Jean Pierre (JP) and Steffan. Helen and JP were locals that were soon to move to Rarotonga to avoid the "urban sprawl" of Noumea. Those of my mates that I could capture are seen here at at party at the home of Helen and JP.
Edna, Helen's oldest, Steffan's Hawaiian heart throb, him and I.
Me, Helen's youngest, Helen, and Hone make a toast.
As customary in Maori toasts, I sing a song as Moana, Kepa and the others listen.
While waiting for the airplane to return to New Zealand Edna and Wheta entertain.
Though the party at Helen and JP's was a few days later....having introduced it I will continue briefly. Kepa did his "Haka" (war dance) for us. The Haka was done prior to battle to insight the warriors, unite them, and to intimidate the enemy. You've likely seen a picture or two of a Maori warrior face tattooed, eyes ablaze, chanting, growling, and wiggling his tongue wildly. Kepa is a member of Te Mataarae I Orehu, the traditional Maori performing group that represented New Zealand at the Festival. The meal was made by Hone and was spectacular. And, in true South Pacific fashion, our feast was "abundant."
Mine was the only guitar available and we passed it from person to person as each sang a song to accompany their toast. Hone played some spectacular Maori songs. He had a kind of pluck, strum and slap style that my Baby Taylor was not quite built to withstand. The face of the guitar began to split, though it stayed in tune and we kept on playing. By the end of the evening, we were dancing in the kitchen. It was a beautiful gathering. Helen and JP had three wonderful children which I made Honorary Texans by pinning a TCA lapel pin on them. Upon returning to the hotel, a couple of us had a late night visit to the beach,a swim, and then I went on to the Tiki Nui ( a local bar) to dance until dawn.