Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Lapita People

What wind there has been since we returned to Tonga from our first aborted attempt to sail south to New Zealand has come from the north.  Almost no breeze at all, but what there is comes from the north.  And what a change of temperature!!!  With southerly winds or southeast winds the temperature is nice and cool, sometimes too cool.  As soon as the wind switches to the north the temperature becomes noticeably hotter.  Daytime interior temperature of our boat has risen from 76F to 86F.  With no breeze it is not comfortable to sit in the cockpit and read, so I decided to sit at the computer under a fan to cool off. 

On Friday there was a gathering at Big Mama’s Yacht Club – volleyball, coconut throwing competition and water balloon fights, followed by a delicious buffet dinner.  Our only participation in the volleyball games was as observers, but Bill did participate in the coconut throwing competition.  I gave his team the name “Who Flung Poo” – the same name we used in the trivia contest at the bar in Vava’U last month.  And Who Flung Poo won hands down.  The game consisted of first throwing out a hard piece of some kind of light colored fruit about the size of your fist.  Wherever it landed was the goal for throwing the coconut.  The team whose coconuts came to rest closest to the fruit were the winners.  This is not as easy as it sounds because a coconut is not round.  When it lands on the ground it rolls in crazy unpredictable directions.  This is our kind of game because it requires no physical skill or exertion in any manner.  Just toss the coconut up in the air with both hands (they were in full husk and heavy), then stand back in the shade of a palm tree and sip beer or wine or Diet Coke and wait for your next turn to throw.   Let those who are in better physical condition (and younger) hop around in the sun and wham on volleyballs.  The slow “sport” of tossing coconuts is more to our liking.

Each member of each winning team for each of the competitions was awarded a prize.  The prizes were freshly woven day baskets, each containing freshly picked local fruit.  These prizes cost Big Mama nothing and were a big hit with the cruisers.  Bill’s prize basket contained 2 husked coconuts and a small watermelon.  Others received mangos or papayas along with husked coconuts.  The Dept of Tourism also handed out gifts to the cruisers.   Each boat received 4 small bottles of drinking water and 2 bags of locally produced taro chips.  These are like potato chips and have no taste whatsoever.  Hey, make do with what you have available.  Really do not know how all the islanders throughout the Pacific ever developed a taste for taro since it has no discernable flavor to our western palettes.   BTW, I just learned last week during our island tour that those elephant ear plants that grew outside my mother’s kitchen door in Beaumont, Texas, when I was a little kid were really taro plants.  Yep, they eat elephant ears throughout the South Pacific and Hawaii.  And they eat every part of that plant – leaves, stalks and corm.  The purplish stalks are used in Hawaii to make poi which is a truly detestable gelatinous sweet substance.  Anyway, Bill and I will not be eating any more elephant ears in the foreseeable future.

Saturday night was the weekly get-together at Big Mama’s.  She does it right.  Each party brings their own meat or fish and she provides either 3 salads or 2 salads and a baked potato, garlic bread, plates and cutlery for 10 pa’anga.  You stand by the person manning the grill and tell him when to turn your steak or fish or whatever, so the quality of cooking is your responsibility.  You can either buy drinks from Big Mama’s or bring your own wine and pay 7 pa’anga corkage fee.  This is so reasonably priced and the salads are great.  Good company and good food in a great atmosphere at a good price.  Wish more places that cater to cruisers would operate in this manner.  Each Saturday there is a theme for these “pot luck” dinners.  This week the theme was Pirate Night and Big Mama requested that we all dress up like pirates.   About a dozen of us made an attempt to put together a costume for the evening.  One couple had elaborate pirate costumes; don’t want to know why they carry such clothes onboard.  Last week the theme was Funniest Story.  Bill told the story about the sea lion trying to climb into our bedroom hatch in the Galapagos Islands.   The funniest story was about a goat attacking a couple on an island in Vava’U last month.

The weather guru Bob McDavitt now predicts that tomorrow Thursday, October 30, should be our departure date for the passage to New Zealand.   He should email us the waypoints and time schedule for our passage sometime today and we should weigh anchor mid-morning tomorrow.  When we first arrived in Nuku’Alofa there were only 6 boats in the anchorage.  Today there are 29 boats anchored here – all preparing for the dreaded passage south to New Zealand.  Don’t know which, if any, of the boats will be leaving when we leave tomorrow morning, but hope to establish an SSB net with other boats underway.  It is nice to check-in twice daily with others and see how we are all progressing and what the weather is like in different spots.  

We have been waiting for the current LOW to move up through Tonga before leaving, and the LOW moved slower than was originally predicted.  Hope the 4 boats who left the day after we returned did not encounter severe weather while they are anchored in North Minerva Reef.  Still glad we did not get herd mentality and take off with them.  Best to wait for good weather forecast rather than knowingly sail off to a reef in the middle of the ocean to anchor and wait out a LOW front that you know is headed to exactly where you will be anchored.  After all, we don’t need to be in Auckland until first of December so we are not in a hurry at this point.  Weather is far more important than a calendar schedule.  By leaving Thursday we should also be able to avoid the next LOW that will be moving west to east across north of NZ on November 2-3-4.  That LOW is predicted to move easterly rather than northereasterly, so we should avoid it altogether.  We will arrive at Opua which is located on the northeast tip of the North Island of New Zealand.  BTW, had we continued the passage last week instead of returning to Tonga we would have experienced bad weather exactly where Bob McDavitt predicted.  Another boat did not turn around and they reported that they experienced 35 knot winds and 8 meter seas at latitude 30 south on Saturday.   If we had continued the passage then that is exactly where we would have been on Saturday.  Glad we turned around and waited for better weather.

Our food supplies from the major provisioning in Panama are dwindling right on schedule.  I have pre-cooked everything and have portions frozen so there will be no real cooking required underway, basically just heat things in the microwave.  I baked brownies to use up the last of the pecans, then discovered another small bag; so I roasted them and made spiced pecans to snack on underway.  NZ Quarantine does not allow raw nuts.  I also made burritos and froze them.  That sounds like such a simple thing but is more involved here because none of the ingredients are available.  First I had to cook the pinto beans (using the last onion and garlic and last chunks of salt pork and ham), then make frijoles.  Then make flour tortillas.  Used up the last of the boxed cheddar cheese in the burritos.  We have one small can of cheddar cheese for snacks or sandwiches during the passage.  Believe it or not, these cans of cheddar cheese are just like normal cheddar from the refrigerated section of the supermarkets back home.  We are down to our final 2 rolls of Bounty paper towels and have one 12-pack of Northern toilet tissue unopened.  You have no idea how prized American paper products are out here.  Other countries simply do not produce quality paper products.  The dishwashing liquid will probably be empty the day we arrive in Opua.  All frozen meats will be consumed, as well as the few canned meats in our pantry.  I’m sure that NZ Quarantine will remove some food items when we clear in but all-in-all I think we provisioned right on target.  Right now it appears that the only item that I overbought is deodorant, and that is not subject to quarantine restrictions and will definitely be used eventually.

Yesterday I dug out all the colder weather clothes on the boat; not many since we avoid cold places like the plague.  I’m sure we will be bundled up under blankets in the cockpit at night during this passage south.  We will go into Big Mama’s for lunch today and spend our final Tongan money.  We only have 24 pa’anga and that probably is not enough for 2 lunches but will be enough for us to split a lunch and each have a cold drink.  All that is left to do after lunch is bring the dinghy up on deck and we will be ready to depart. 

Now for a few words about the Lapita People.

It was about 50,000 years ago that people first reached the Pacific islands, arriving in New Guinea from Southeast Asia via Indonesia.  (Look at a globe if you aren’t up to snuff on geography.)  These people were known as Papuans and share ancestry with Australia’s first Aboriginals.  The Papuans moved slowly east and halted in the northern Solomon Islands about 25,000 years ago.  It is assumed that the Papuans lacked the skills and technology required to cross the increasingly wide stretches of open ocean from the Solomon Islands.  Subsequent peoples, collectively known as Austronesians, moved into the area from the west and mingled with the Papuans, eventually becoming the highly diverse group of people we conveniently group together as Melanesians.  All of these people – Papuans, Austronesians and Melanesians – had very dark or black skin.  All relating back to their original homeland of Africa (hey, we are all Africans I do hope everyone realizes by now).  The wider seas from the Solomons to Vanuatu were finally crossed in about 1500 B.C.  These people were known as the Lapita and can be traced to the Bismark Archipelago in far-north Papua New Guinea.  (BTW, Papua New Guinea was also known as New Britain and old charts reflect this name.  The large island is now known as Papua New Guinea on the eastern side and Irian Java on the western side.  Against local wishes Indonesia is relocating huge numbers of its population to Irian Java.  Stay tuned for future fighting, I’m sure.)

The Lapita developed the technology and skills required to cross open seas and quickly expanded through New Caledonia (Kanak), Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.  The culture now known as Polynesian was developed by the Lapita in Tonga and Samoa.  The Lapita are also called the Pin-hole Pottery People.  The Lapitas’ descendants (the Polynesians) paused in Samoa and Tonga for about a thousand years and then crossed the longer ocean stretches to the east all the way to the Marquesas around 200 B.C.  Remember, they were going against the prevailing trade winds the entire time as they migrated from west to east across the vast Pacific Ocean.

The first Lapita ceramic fragments were discovered on Watom Island in Papua New Guinea by a missionary in 1909.  The name Lapita comes from an archaeological dig at Lapita in New Caledonia in 1952.  Shards of Lapita pottery have been found throughout Melanesia, in parts of Micronesia and in western Polynesia (Tonga, Samoa and Wallis and Fortuna).  Lapita pottery was tempered with sand and fired in open fires, and decorated with rows of curvilinear patterns stamped into the unfired clay.  Polynesian tattoo-ists took up these distinctive motifs, using chisels to scrape or puncture the skin.  Tapa (bark cloth) decoration followed in the same decorative manner.  The Lapita-like patterns are found throughout the Pacific.  In some areas the Lapita-style pottery is still produced; but we have not seen any because we aren’t shoppers.

The Lapita were highly skilled sailors and navigators and were able to cross hundreds of miles of open sea.  Trade and settlement were important to their culture.  They traded obsidian (volcanic glass used in tool production) from Papua New Guinea all the way to Tonga and Samoa.  The Lapita were also agriculturists and practiced husbandry of dogs, pigs and poultry.  The Lapita are regarded as the first cultural complex in the Pacific.   The settlement of the Pacific Ocean was a remarkable feat of ocean sailing.  All but the furthest-flung islands of the Pacific were colonized by 200 B.C., or 1200 years before the Vikings crossed the Atlantic.  The presence of kumara (sweet potato) in the Pacific Islands confirms that journeys were made as far east as South America, probably from the Marquesas.  Traditional stories also indicate exploratory journeys into Antarctic waters but there is nothing to confirm these stories.

To sum up the migration of human settlement in the Pacific:
50,000 BC       Papua New Guinea from SE Asia  (approx 2000 NM island hopping)
25,000 BC       PNG to Solomon Islands (approx 650 NM island hopping)
1500 BC          Solomon Islands to Vanuatu (approx 650 NM)
and soon thereafter to New Caledonia (approx 750 NM)     
1500 BC          Vanuatu to Fiji  (approx 650 NM)
1500 BC          Vanuatu to Tonga (approx 1050 NM)
1500 BC          Vanuatu to Samoa (approx 1160 NM)
200 BC            Tonga to Marquesas (approx 2200 miles) and Tuamotu Archipelago (approx 1800 NM)
200 BC            Tonga to Society Islands (approx 1400 miles) and Cook Islands (approx 1200 NM)
1 AD                Fiji to Tuvalu (600 NM), Gilbert Islands (900 NM) and Marshall Islands (approx 1700 NM)
300 AD            Marquesas to Easter Island (Rapa Nui) (approx 2100 NM)
400 AD            Marquesas to Line Islands (approx 1200 NM)
400 AD            Society Islands (Bora Bora via Marquesas) to Hawai’ian Islands (approx 2800 NM)
900 AD            Society Islands (Bora Bora and/or Haiviki) to New Zealand (Aoetearoa) (approx 2300 NM)

Quite a feat for a culture who did not even have a written language.  Imagine sailing those distances in outrigger canoes using celestial navigation. 

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