After days of strong winds and rain, Faafaite has arrived in Hienghene, New Caledonia, bringing with her the warmth of the sun. She set anchor early this morning, under a full moon and a sky full of stars. Moonlight illuminated the striking landscape of Hienghene, marked by two large rock formations that guard the entrance to the bay, one in the shape of a sphinx , and the other resembling a hen sitting on her eggs. There are ancient stories surrounding these rocks, but when I try to inquire, some say they are stories too sacred to be spoken.
After clearing customs, local customary chiefs organized a traditional welcoming ceremony on the beach. All generations, from toddlers to elders were represented. School children paddled out in kayaks to greet the canoe.
Tables were adorned with fresh fruit and flowers, while gifts were carried carefully down to the beach. Kanak, the indigenous people of New Caledonia were also present in their traditional dress, skin rubbed with the reddish tinge of a fruit on one half of their bodies, and burnt coconut to create black on the other.
People gathered on the rolling slopes above the beach in anticipation, while local media readied their cameras. Some Faafaite crew members flew into Noumea to make the journey to Aotearoa and it was moving to see them greet their fellow crew members arriving from sea with warm and embracing hugs.
As the Faafaite crew walked slowly down the beach, approaching the crowd that had gathered, there were cheers of joy and welcome and children began rolling oranges towards the crew like bowling balls. Local officials gave heart warming speeches, noting that they welcomed the voyagers as heroes and ambassadors of the sea. Their presence rekindled pride in a sea faring heritage and hope for the future. One Kanak man rose to speak and noted that we are all voyagers in life, on our journeys.
The Faafaite crew, men on one side and women on the other, performed a dance of gentle movements and soft song for their hosts.The Kanak reciprocated with a lively show of dance and movement as though they were in battle with one another. They then invited the crew to dance with them and the crowd erupted in applause.
Gifts were exchanged and both Faafaite and the people of Hienghene shared their appreciation for each others’ presence, both for the choice to stop here and for the warm reception received.
As a closure to the ceremony, a monument to the future was made and seven trees were planted, in honor of the seven canoes of Te Mana o Te Moana. It is amazing to think of a seedling planted today for a particular moment in time, almost immortalizing the presence of Faafaite here in Hienghene. Years from now children might ask, why are all these trees planted here side by side? And the reply might be something like, “Once there were seven canoes, sailing by celestial navigation and ancestral values to protect the future, your future…….”
Karen Holman, Pacific Voyagers