Local Politics

It’s Sunday, and we’re on a fruit raid. For the second time we’re taking the dirt track that leaves town to climb uphill through banana plantations, rows of fruit trees of all kinds before it climbs towards the steep crater walls that define Taiohae Bay. The first time we were innocent. It was just a leisurely Sunday stroll through a part of town we hadn’t yet explored. The asphalt road bent to the left to continue winding between houses and flower-laden frontages. To the right under a giant tree there was a stone slab lying horizontally on two boulders, the kind that still nowadays evokes visions of human sacrifice in European brains. A unpaved path lead along it uphill. Opposite on the inside of the curve three young boys sat on a trunk with their chins resting on a knee and talked story while chewing on some twig. We asked them where the path goes. They giggled that they don’t know, that there’s cows up there and that we might get lost in the mountain. That all sounded pretty exciting to us on a lonesome Sunday afternoon under a quite strict catholic regime of on the seventh day thou shallst rest. So we headed up the track and soon were thankful we had brought our backpacks along. Before we knew it they were stuffed with papaya, soursap, banana, lemon and grapefruit, enough to keep our vitamin levels pumped up for two weeks. So today it’s a planned operation, a premeditated attack. Having been brought up not only in morally impeccable Switzerland, but to make things worse as the well coiffed son of a rural school teacher, there’s a very strong sense in me of what’s right and what’s wrong and whenever I find myself doing something that’s borderline or past it, the feeling is that any fellow human soul in the vicinity of at least a one mile radius can see, and what’s worse, smell what I’m up to.

We’re just about to peel our packs from our backs at the first collection spot, when just such a fellow human soul appears. Dressed in a bright red jersey, very fashionably accessorized with a pitch black sports pack and sustained by a tight black jump suit and cream colored running shoes, this gentleman appears like he’s coming from a photo shoot for the latest REI catalogue. His face though has clearly Marquesan traits and so do his manners. Marquesans are friendly people and they love to chat. We go right into it. After a brief how are you we acknowledge the splendid beauty of the landscape, the pleasure of a workout amongst such serenity, which he adds is even more suited after having royally eaten on Saturday night, and then delve into the who, where, how and what we are. After revealing that he grew up here, the guy tells us that in 1983 he left the Marquesas for France to join the army, which at that time was compulsory. Making his way up the ranks and then taking advantage of the career opportunities open to such disciplined members of the society, his life evolved in metropolitan France until four years ago, where for not totally clear reasons he decides to move back here. His position on the present state of affairs on the islands is therefore quite straightforward. The development is necessary, “because we can’t go back to how it was before. Even though we go out into the countryside every now and then to hunt, where we pretend to do like the ancients did, we are used to the commodities of modern life.” Soon the conversation slides into a pattern, which I have been hearing quite a bit here. The Marquesans like the French. In spite of the wide economic gap between locals and the administrative personnel brought in from le metropole, and the preference usually given to them when it comes to filling important posts, they like the French. Well, they like the subsidies that allows them to buy cars and things and, here’s the interesting point: They prefer the French to Tahiti and it’s centralizing bureaucracy. So much so that there’s talk about separating from Tahiti and becoming associating directly with the motherland. “Sarcozy agrees”, the sportsman adds, as if he just had the French president over for dinner last night, “the Tahitians want to control everything. Our copra has to go to Papeete for processing, our kids have to go there for higher education and so on, but when it comes to services, they don’t give us anything. The big cruise ships pass us by, the new internet cable goes right past the Marquesas, but we can’t tap into it. And on top of it, the politicians down there pocket all the money coming from France. Only very little of it comes our way.”

There can be no doubt that island life is hard. Our friend wanted to start and ambulance business once settled back home. Having all the credentials and the necessary experience from his training with the armed forces, he started to look into the practical side of it, consulting with local experts and developing the business plan. It became clear very quickly that it was impossible. With the two thousand five hundred souls living here it’s no business tending to the sick. The economy of scale doesn’t kick in. There’s just no way, even with the subsidies from the French. So the urge for protection and access to the market of Europe is easy to understand. What hurts is the total lack of self-esteem, the drive to develop something on their own. Here where nature is so generous a little cell of resistance to the global culture of soft drinks and petrol powered motion would be such a nice thing so see. But we have to part now, “before the muscles cool down too much”, states the retired soldier and trots on downhill. Once he’s out of sight I wonder about the ease of wishing to replace one master with another. The mightier one of course will provide you with a bigger shelter, but will also tighten your range of roaming free. But soon my own struggle of conscience washes away the criticism of our hosts. You really can’t blame them if they have foreigners come and plunder their gardens on a holly Sunday afternoon. Arguing internally that the economy of scale might excuse the rascal behavior, our mission comes to a successful end, our backpacks loaded with tropical sweetness that will allow us to hang in there on the bottom of the globalized economy for yet another week or two. This little battle is clearly won. I’m not sure I can say the same thing about the war!

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2 Responses to “Local Politics”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Wow! What we sail for is; to drink and carouse, to surf and play and then the engage the political. Meanwhile back in el norte the work slave gives through paypal

    • alunaboat Says:

      Thanks for your contribution, Tom! It is well appreciated and you seem to be one of the very few who understand how nice and healthy it is to be able to eat a little longer by communicating honestly and without marketing spins. Although you feel caught in the mill of the empire the fact that you are sharing the wealth instead of pocketing it all makes you stand out. Gracias, amigo!

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