Tautua, Fist Impressions

Talking about a microcosm! This little village at the East side of the vast circular atoll of Tongareva sports some 30 to 40 inhabitants. And those are the diehards. There are probably just as many houses if not more. Concrete brick walled structures with tin roofs. But most of them are empty; their inhabitants have taken a bet on a new life in the communities of economic exiles in New Zealand and Australia. Last year’s cyclone, which happened precisely around this time of the year, put a hefty spike in the number of people choosing the exodus. Tongareva sits outside of the official cyclone area and has not had to face such a disaster for at least forty years, but last March more than half of the built structures on the island had suffered extensive damage during a class 11 depression, which ravaged the island with hurricane strength winds for almost a week. The Cook Island’s close association with New Zealand makes all Tongarevans automatically citizens of that state and gives them access to social services if they choose to go and live down there (or is that maybe up now?) in the cold.

The few that have stayed behind make up a very tight knit community that submits itself to a plethora of strict rules of dos and don’ts, embedded in their church going and god fearing ways. Sunday there are three services, an early morning one at 6, the main congregation at 10 and then one more at 3 in the afternoon. That last one, if you’re tired you’re allowed to skip. There are two more services during the week. On Sunday rest is mandatory. Even we cruising folks have to respect the no activities mandate on that day. We’re only allowed on shore for going to church. No swimming or fishing! The Tautuans however submit themselves to much more than that. They can’t ride their scooters, can’t have open fires, music from radios must be soft and peaceful, children are not supposed to run around in the open, and I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface here. In spite of all this rigorous moral framework however, and they themselves of course insist that it is precisely because of it, these are the most caring, open hearted and generous people you can imagine. The ancient Polynesian tradition of welcoming visitors with utmost exuberance and flawless attention has been refined into a warm generosity, a veritable competition of generosity in fact between the different families of the village, each one vying to surpass the other in a symphony of giving and offering with no end in sight.

This is yet another example of how travelling can help you do the very necessary work of changing yourself. Not so long ago I would have shred those people in my mind’s eye, branding them as religious fanatics, traumatized control freaks, human ostriches with their heads buried in the coral sand so as not to have to face modern the modern times, which preaches the freedom of the individual. Luckily I have learned quite some time ago that judging people by the ways they think and speak is not the best way for understanding their realities. You will learn too that most of what we think of others is based on unfounded assumptions we throw their way with all our mental might, desperately hoping that by doing so we can avoid seeing our own miserable selves in the mirror of their eyes; those curious eyes they seem to be able to take off us only for the short time when we take a quick glance back at them.

Most of the few remaining inhabitants of Tautua have been “away” some time or another, meaning mostly extended stays in New Zealand or Australia, where they have lived the modern live of strict divisions, felt the heed of a hopeless future, read the remains of an always mediated mentality, swallowed their omnipotent pride and put on their stunned bodies the shabby coats of economic and racial inferiority long enough to have their skin etched by the intrinsic tightness of their tailoring. By returning home to their roots they have chosen to be here, selecting willingly the simplicity of subsistence living tempered with subtle infusions of the foods of a globalized economy that sends flour from the US Midwest, butter from New Zealand, rice from India, chicken from California and Corned Beef from Mexico all across the worldwide trading routes, extinguishing culinary differences and ever deepening the gap between the haves and have-nots. So that elaborate moral framework of many dos and don’ts is of their own making and choice, in fact they alter it at will, whenever they feel the need for that arises. It must provide them with a solid sense of purpose in their ever-shrinking society: to please that giant father figure up there in the heavens by following the rules, channeling their actions smoothly in worn out groves and turning their eyes away from the brutal fact that their social fabric is being torn to shreds by the plows of contemporary economics, designed to drain the wealth away from little unimportant places like this lonesome atoll literally in the middle of a giant nowhere!

Standing naively but very firmly on their divine doctrine, the Tautuans turn out to be yet another exquisitely generous tribe along the winding watery ways of Aluna’s travel into the world of the human heart. They demonstrate an acute awareness of our needs and fill it when they can with the abundance that nature’s generosity has bestowed on them in turn, rewarding them simply for having insisted for generations in edging a precarious existence from this fringe of coral rubble, a precarious accumulation of sculpted limestone, bleached white under the sun once emerged from the raging waters.


One Response to “Tautua, Fist Impressions”

  1. Fabiola Says:

    Hello Beatriz and Beat, I am thinking about you, there was a tsunami in Japan and I know that you are far away from it, but you are navigating and I hope you are safe. hugs Fabi.

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