A cruise to hidden Polynesia
Painter Paul Gaugin and Belgium singer Jacques Brel were so impressed with their initial visit to Hiva Oa, the largest island in the archipelago, that they both lived and died there. In 1902, Gaugin wrote a letter to a friend, "I congratulate myself every day for the decision of coming here."
Gaugin’s grave is located at the top of an unnamed hill on Hiva Oa, paying tribute to the artist who gave the world paintings such as Tehamana Has Many Ancestors, which he painted on the island. Located just a short walk from the cemetery, the island’s Gaugin Museum offers a comprehensive history of the painter and is well worth a visit, even if all the paintings are replicas.
On the island of Tahuata – the site of the first French settlement in the Marquesas in 1842 – it was the people who were the highlight. As soon as we anchored, local children greeted us with garlands of plumeria and pikakke flowers. They sang songs and the locals hosted a seaside barbeque lunch, where they performed traditional Polynesian dances accompanied by Marquesan drums and ukuleles.
Tahuata is also home to Felip, a local tattooist who, at the age of 48, has been inking for 30 years. While some historians believe the art of inking started in the Bronze Age, or in Egypt around 2,000 BC, the word “tattoo” originates from the Tahitian word “tattau”, which means “to mark”, and was first mentioned in explorer James Cook’s records when he explored the South Pacific in 1769. As a unique souvenir, four eager passengers became part of a very small number of Westerners who can say they got a tattoo in the place where the name of the art began.
Our final destination was back to Nuku Hiva, where we docked for two hours to swim, hike or amass hand-carved trinkets to bring home. As we pulled away from the beautiful land, I realised how much I would dearly remember not only the Marquesan islands, but also the freighter that made the seemingly unthinkable trip a reality.