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Resolution Bay

June 8, 2011

Without that brilliant but pesky ship’s naturalist, Sir Joseph Banks, to suggest that ENDEAVOR enter bays and sounds with interesting flora but decidedly contrary winds, winds from which no beamy square rigged ship could escape, Cook could land where pleased. And when he made the southern islands of the Marquesas in 1774 (?) on his second circumnavigation, he chose Vaitahu, the only large bay on Tahuata with strong, down-canyon winds. If a cable parted, RESOLUTION would be blown out to sea, and the bight was almost wide enough to wear ship without making the captain nervous. It helped that the island’s largest village was there at the beach and that Tahuata was the only island in the group with one chief, but all that was convenience–mostly it was about the ship. She rode safely and comfortably for the first time in a long while, and so he named the bay RESOLUTION.

This may seem a dull name for such an exotic place, but explorers are a dull lot when it comes to naming. The Spaniards were the first to arrive in 1595, and they applied the types of names they always do: Tahuata became Santa Christina; Mohotani, San Pedro, and Hiva Oa, Dominica. In 1791 an American expedition lead by Joseph Ingram on the HOPE landed in the northern islands, and suddenly the island of Ua Huka became Washington; Ua Pou, Adams; and lucky Nuku Hiva, Federal. A month later the sails of a French expedition under Etienne Marchand graced the horizon, and soon thereafter Nuku Hiva was Beaux, Ua Huka, LE SOLIDAD (Marchand’s ship), and Ua Pou, Isle Marchand.

Not done.

Captain Richard Hergest, a Brit, landed a year later and, waving his sword, proclaimed Nuku Hiva to be the island of Sir Henry Martin; Ua Huka became Riou, and Ua Pou, Trevennen. Another American expedition under Roberts gave Ua Huka the name Massachusetts (presumable due to similarities in the weather) and later Commodore David Porter changed Taiohae to Madisonville after the president.*

None of these names made the cut. Even Resolution Bay is a mere parenthetical reference on my US chart.

The beach is just as rocky as when Cook landed, the surf as serious, and my shore-boat is smaller than his, so from MURRE I watched the wave patterns at the quay and a small sandy patch, the creek’s mouth, for a long time. The quay’s landing and steps were routinely submerged, and sometimes waves flowed up onto the road, which explained why the line of pirogues was set back fifty feet from shore. But there were calm periods of nearly a minute in between. Near the creek I could see children playing volleyball on grounds just above the boat ramp and below the church. At one point their ball got loose, bounced down the ramp and into the water. A girl descended the ramp to the surf line and called for the ball’s return, swinging both arms in the air broadly, but without the desired result. She waited, waded in, dove and went under. A wave hit the ramp and sent water streaming up into the near parking lot. Then I saw her head. She retrieved the ball and swam ashore. It all seemed very easy.

I chose to land at the quay, but when I got there, the calm periods seemed less calm and the drop more severe. The quay’s cement works were like jagged teeth chewing at the water. I was still pondering when a young Marquesan motioned me forward. “Francaise? Inglis?” he yelled. I replied, and then without speaking he made motions toward a moored pirogue. He wanted a lift.

I’d noticed that locals used one of two methods for getting to their boats on moorings. Either a member of the party swam out or a small pirogue from shore was launched and left on the mooring while the larger boat (usually of the size and general design of an American water ski tow boat and always made of brightly painted plywood) went about its business.

During the row over I asked the young man if he spoke English. He made the now usual Marquesan reply. He raised a hand and put thumb and forefinger together in a pinch while saying “Veery Leetl” with a smile. Very little was still pretty good. He asked where I was from and when delivered to his destination asked if I’d like fruits in exchange.

I returned to the quay to ponder, but nothing had changed. The surf was too heavy. Just as I was putting back to MURRE for a stern anchor, the Marquesan, who had by this time landed his pirogue near the creek, whistled and began waving us in. “Hurry, Hurry,” he yelled as I got closer. We ran Coot up the beach and onto a ramp I had not seen just as a large set made its first approach.

On the grass above the break water and under the shade of a large tree sat a line of larger pirogues and a number of Marquesans. I was introduced to two of the nearer men, one of whom had enough English to explain that the plywood for the boats came from Pepeete, but the framing timbers and pontoons were made from Marquesan wood. “Good for you … and for your wife,” he said patting a pirogue on its flank. Everyone laughed. I didn’t laugh, didn’t get it was a joke until too late, so he repeated it. Then we all laughed, though I still didn’t get the joke.

He asked if Murre had any extra rope (not a chance); he said the swell would moderate in three days; the village was 500 residents, and he pointed out the first magazin (market) right up the road where I could buy bread, and with that I took off.

A small bridge crossed the stream at the first magazin and lead to the village center, a church, a remarkable church, Eglise Sainte Marie de L’Enfant Jesus, whose walls and buttresses were made of even, river-rounded rock neatly mortared. The arching entranceway doors were ornate blond wood and louvered stained glass windows, squares of red, brown, yellow, orange opened and revealed a quite sanctuary as cool as the river and forest from which it was built. A tree stump, sensuously carved and glowing with varnish became the pulpit, and above it, a large stained glass window, the primary shrine, shown brightly.

At the center of this window, the virgin Mary sat cross legged in an oval of aqua-marine and holding a naked baby Jesus whose right hand was held up, first two fingers extended, in the typical pose. But that was all that was typical. The two were surrounded by breadfruit hanging from large-leafed limbs and were, themselves, distinctly Polynesian–dark haired, dark skinned, and the virgin wore a gown oddly similar to those worn by Gauguin’s women. In the west we attempt most futilely to make our Christian icons historically authentic. But I’ve noticed, first in the Catholic church in Atuona and now here on Tahuata that Polynesians make no such attempt. The reef fish in the Marquesas may not have radiated much, but the Virgin and Jesus have and with a vengeance.

I explored the tiny museum of archeology (closed) next to the school and there was accosted by children on recess who wanted to show me the game they were playing, which involved making beads on a small mettle ring circle and circle and vibrate in the process. The girls were the ones who approached me and were playing the game. The boys only gawked. None of the several parents in the yard took any notice of me at all. No one offered to open the museum.

On a walk up into the hills I met a shirtless man with gold fillings who asked if I’d like some fruit. I did, and he immediately began unloading a nearby grapefruit tree of its produce, then the lime next to it. “Wait,” he said in English, and he went into the house and came out with bananas. All the while, an older woman sitting on the ground under a tree spoke to him loudly, disapprovingly. The man made motions I should ignore her. I tried to give him money. “No money,” he said. He wanted something else. He sat in the shade to explain, but I couldn’t make it out. Actually he wanted two things, the first had to do with soup. I made motions that to me this request made no sense. His second request had to do with fishing. I got the words “lobster” and “you bateau”. He wanted to go with me on my boat? It was a guess. I found myself agreeing, but to what I was unsure.

Back at the magazin I placed a few cans of French pate (the local SPAM equivalent but quite tasty) and two six-packs of beer on the counter. The woman running the store asked me if I spoke French, two which I answered “non”. But then she pointed at my pockets. She was asking if I had money. “Why?” I asked. She pointed to the beer and punched a number into the adding machine that come to $30 US. I returned the beer to the cooler.

Back at the beach the Marquesans had all wondered off, and I was left to launch Coot on my own, only narrowly avoiding a disaster that in any event soaked me and my bags of fruit and groceries. And I immediately began preparing Murre to get underway for Hanamenu on the north east end of Hiva Oa. This had been the plan all along–Resolution Bay isn’t much fun for a small boat–but was made the more urgent by thoughts of having to play host to a poorly defined fishing expedition. We sailed off anchor as Resolution would have, if maybe not as neatly, and just as I was raising the mizzen a scooter came tearing down to the quay. A man jumped off the bike, ran to the edge of the ramp and pointed out into the water. Was he pointing at us?

*History of naming from EXPLORING THE MARQUESAS, Joe Russell, 1999.

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