Day 20 “Home” by Lily Baron

The concept of home has been a common discussion topic throughout the duration of this trip, especially towards its concluding hours. In the past when I have travelled I always seem to feel ready to go home by the time the trip ends. In Costa Rica it was because I was under the weather, in Italy because I had never been away for so long, and in Ethiopia because, well, a clean shower was very much needed. Leaving the Fa’a’ā airport, however, I realized something. As I hugged Beaux So one last time and walked towards security, I looked down at the intricate woven bracelet he snuck me the night before, and realized although I was going home, I was leaving one too.

Each and every one of us had a myriad of shell necklaces around our necks that seem to have endlessly proliferated over the past few days during our long goodbyes, signifying the love we have all experienced these few weeks in paradise, and the memories that will never become evanescent in our young minds.

From New York, to Los Angeles, to Tahiti, to Mo’orea, to Tahiti, to Teti’aroa, to Mo’orea, to Tahiti, to Los Angeles, and soon to New York, we have come together as a group of individuals and accomplished so much, whether sitting through twelve hours of Bio Cube work, communicating with local kids through the language barrier, being innovative and creating towel racks out of palm trees in Teti’aroa (and later the giant collapsed Bio Cube at Gump), dancing in grass skirts and having the nerve to perform in coconut bras (yes, this will be televised), we have come out of this experience with memories that will last a lifetime, and tans that will last a while too.

Day 19 Last Day in Mo’orea by various contributors

We began at 6:30 AM with a trek up a local mountain. A number of us had wanted to hike, so Paul organized the climb. Hike we did. The pitch was steep, but the view, remarkable. Our way down was a bit scary. We hadn’t found the path and started creating our own. Our faces were smack against the mountain, and we were hanging on to roots and rocks, anything that could stabilize us. Things began to slide. After a short while, it was clear we had to get back up and find the worn trail. After some effort, we were on our way, but had missed the chance to swim with the manta rays.
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Caroline was anxious for us to have the experience of swimming with manta rays and sharks, so off we went in two boats to see more of Mo’orea than we had in the past 2 weeks. As we slid into the water, Caroline grabbed some fish and showed us how to attract and feed them. The first time each of us was stroked, there were squeals and plenty of laughter. In fact, the loudest and most hilarious cackles came after our brave haka warriors from yesterday’s dances huddled together and screamed every time they were touched, especially by the manta rays’ tails. Others grew more comfortable feeding and swimming with these acrobatic creatures. Their smooth “wings” fluttered against us as we studied their eyes and mouths. Tangaroa showed us how to gently push against their noses to play with them. Those of us with masks and snorkels saw the many black tipped sharks circling beneath us. The laughter didn’t subside until we were nearly ashore.
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After an afternoon of touring the island and finally doing some shopping, we settled in for our long desired pizza dinner only to be surprised by our Attitia hosts who came to perform a traditional goodbye dance, sing songs, thank us for our respect for their culture, and grace each of our necks with goodbye shell necklaces. Kisses and hugs all around and one final performance of the haka, a quick swim off the dock and a night of packing. We have come to call Gump “home.” Many of us would stay if we could. At 4 AM as we board the bus, it will be a sad goodbye.

Day 18 The BIG DAY: Feast, Performance, and Mrs. Ross’s Birthday by Ali and Rebecca

We woke to the tropical rain beating gently on the rooftop. As we emerged from our dorms, we smelled the sweet fragrance of flowers. Today was a special day. We were anxiously anticipating the excitement of our upcoming performance. We had been practicing for the last three weeks, rehearsing spectacular dances for Mrs. Ross’s birthday celebration and as a tribute to our Polynesian hosts and teachers. The staff from the Attitia Center worked tirelessly over the past five days to fashion our costumes. They were breathtaking. Our grass skirts are a labor of love. It took a number of hibiscus plants to create them, and our headdresses are loaded with shells and flowers.

We gathered at 7:30 AM to rehearse one last time. We could hear the grunts of the boys in the distance gyrating and thrusting into the humid air as they practiced their Haka dance. We then began preparing our fabulous feast with the help of students from the local school. Tents were going up, poles were being palm braided and laden with flowers, and Oscar the pig was roasting over the deep, coal fire pit. Pools of sweat ran down our faces while our crisp white Ross polos slowly turned to brown, but we brushed it off, for we had a long day ahead of us. We worked for hours making leis, drinks, hairpieces, and other accessories to greet our guests. Mrs. Ross surprised each of us with a generous gift of a beautiful Tahitian pearl and handpicked pareos (sarongs). We proudly wore them to the feast.

The feast was delectable. We hungrily served ourselves Tahitian delights of chicken, pork, fish, moist and juicy fruit breads, pumpkin custard, banana pudding and shredded coconut. Now it was time for the costumes. Many of the girls had trepidations about wearing the revealing coconut bras, but after taking a long look in the mirror, and seeing our confident selves, we knew there was no backing out. We glided through the screaming throngs of local fans snapping away. We danced. And danced. And danced some more. The boys were cheered on by all the local girls. The Attitia staff was in tears; Papa Mape said that as soon as we started dancing the entire audience smiled, a sign we had succeeded, which made us feel happy and relieved. Frank said tourists usually snap photos of the locals, but this day, they were snapping us. Mrs. Ross seemed genuinely ecstatic over our passionate performance. It was an unforgettable experience.

After distributing gifts to the Attitia staff, singing Happy Birthday in Tahitian, and cutting Mrs. Ross’s cake, the day continued with Alexis shooting portraits of us on the seamless. This offered us a chance to show off our beautiful new Tahitian costumewear. The day was still not over as our Attitia hosts dropped by for dinner with us. The dining hall was full song and dance long into the night, a fitting end to a joyous day.

Day 16 Navigation Day and Getting Ready For the Dance by Shan Shan and Sunny

It is the start of a brand-new week; everyone realizes that this is the last week here, the culmination of our hard work. After breakfast we took workshops in wayfinding, the art and science of Polynesian navigation. The first thing we learned was how to make a Titiraina, a little sailboat made of coconut leaves and wood sticks. Between the ages of 5-10, children play with these to learn the behavior of wind, water and wood. Only after this experience are they permitted to begin learning the art of navigation on canoes. The Titiraina represent various body parts—the front is the eyes, the center stick is the trunk, and the long cut leaf that acts as a rudder is considered the spine that unites the left (feminine) and right (masculine) sides of the canoe. Only by naming one’s Titiraina does it come to life, ready to be sailed. Titiraina are not only used for play in childhood, but also as messengers when navigators enter “foreign” waters. They announce their desire to enter a port by sending a Titiraina to shore. If it is not returned, they cannot pass. If it is returned, they are granted permission. The navigators then wait for the beat of the pahu (drum) that represents the “heart” of the land, indicating the direction to port.

By the time we finished constructing the Titiraina, our “warships” were ready to perform on the water. Unfortunately, most of them failed as little warriors. It may take many practices to build a stable Titiraina that can sail successfully. Other workshops included using a hand lathe to carve rudders for a Ross model outrigger, rope weaving, learning about the southern night sky and the lunar calendar for planting and navigating. We also finally went out on the vaka and smaller canoes. The canoe is as an important part of Polynesian daily life, not only for transportation, but as representative of Polynesian myth, folklore, and culture.

After lunch, we worked on the coconut fiber weaving with Bozzo at Attitia Cultural Center. Doing coconut fiber weaving is a process that not only needs skill, but also requires patience. While we were concentrating on the weaving, Bozzo told us some his life story. He had been a French teacher and also used to work for a newspaper. Feeling tired about his work, Bozzo resigned his job and started his own business of coconut fiber weaving. At the beginning, everyone thought he was crazy. Because of his creativity and perseverance, Bozzo became more and more famous. One thing he does is work with local unemployed youth, teaching them this craft, which they then use to create income. Many people from all over the world learn about weaving with Bozzo.

Meanwhile, students went to get measured for their headdresses and grass skirts for the performance and feast planned for Mrs. Ross’s birthday Wednesday. Once we saw the beautiful grass skirts (made of local hibiscus, flowing so naturally) and the handsome headdresses with shells in the formation of the Ross logo (an “inside” symbolic gesture from our costume crew ladies) we became even more excited. Our rehearsals are literally heating up, weather wise and in intensity. We danced for over 2 hours today perfecting our technique. Boys learned three traditional hakas (men’s dances), while the girls learned the women’s Ti’are. Mrs. Ross paid a surprise visit to our rehearsal today. We sang the Tahitian welcome song, Maeva, to her, and performed the dances. Clearly, the claps and cheers of her staff and that of Attitia Center were a great motivation to everyone. We laughed and danced in the evening breeze until sunset.

After dinner, the costume crew—Mary, Mariela, Marie, and others—brought the grass skirts to Gump for a final fitting and cutting. Girls’ skirts are to the ankle and boys’ just under the knees. We gave a big maururu (thanks) to them for their great effort (they’ve been sewing and designing since last Friday). We really appreciate their work in helping to make our dance be as true to Polynesian intent and style as possible. Now, we cannot wait to see the final version of the costumes, as we hope our performance will be a tribute to them and their culture.

 

 

Day 17 A day of Vakas and Hakas by Julian and Olivia

We were greeted with a warm early sun as the 7:00 breakfast welcomed tired faces, and bodies hunched over bowls of cereal and egg sandwiches. Seven groups of three set out to begin the morning rotating through several activities. These ranged from weaving string out of coconut fibers with Bozzo, sailing on a racing canoe in the Opunohu bay, and learning the basics of working on a Vaka canoe. Students from the local high school joined us as well, and together we went through the stations.
In preparation for our big performance tomorrow, the Ross crew gathered for one final rehearsal of our dances, with the recently added famous Haka (men’s dance), and the lilting, undulating Ti’are (women’s dance) to its roster. Julian was appointed “Chief”, and continued to ruin his voice with the harsh and aggressive commands of the Haka. The rest of the boys marched forward with blaring screams and petrifying facial expressions. With sore legs, sweaty brows, and grumbling stomachs, we found moments of laughter and fun with the introduction of the girls’s coconut bras. Tomorrow is the night; Ms. Ross’s birthday, the big feast, and our fated performance.

One Big Blue Canoe
One Action affects us all
Only One Future

DAY 14 March 8, 2014 Happy International Woman’s Day! by Walker, Dillon, Shan Shan

IWD-(Debra sure is excited.)

Wow, what a day of travel! Our last morning on Teti’aroa was spent packing up our gear and hoping that the wind wouldn’t prevent us from going back to Mo’orea. There was an uncertain fate for the Ross School travelers when we found that a storm was rolling in and might keep us on Tetiaroa for another two days. This was not the case when we awoke today and found a light breeze and plenty of sun. As thrilled as we are to get back to our normal routine, we will definitely miss this beautiful atoll. We learned so much on the island of Teti’aroa that we will take home with us —appreciation for raw natural beauty, respectful and mindful interaction with an environment’s native people, its flora and fauna, as well as observations of the workers and the mission of the Teti’aroa Society.

We learned our lesson when some got burnt to crisps on our journey to Teti’aroa, so today on our journey back, everyone wore long sleeves and plenty of sun block. Our boat ride back to Mo’orea was a very bumpy and rough experience. It gave us more of an appreciation for the Polynesian people many years ago when they voyaged in double-hulled canoes and navigated these rough seas to find other islands. It further amazed us that Frank and Hinano told us early in the trip that it was doubtful that many of these canoes were lost at sea. It was a great skill that we see now was very necessary for the Polynesian people.

Day 13 Nature explorations by Mael and Joe

Our second day on the island of Teti’aroa we divided into three groups. We had the choice to go to Bird Island to do an ornithological expedition, to attend an ethnobotanical workshop of the island’s flora with Hinano (see next blog entry), or to place and retrieve another BioCube in the reef—an activity that was to last the entire day. The Bird Island trip was amazing. As Frank guided us around the island, we were able to identify species specific to the area. We saw frigate birds, brown-footed boobies, terns, and assorted sea birds. Our boat captain, Teihotu, was the son of Marlon Brando (who actually owned the island of Teti’aroa for a time); he is an expert local navigator.
It started pouring rain with high winds a few minutes after leaving the island. We were caught by a fierce tropical storm that we later learned had not occurred on the island for over two years. Predictions are that we may not be able to leave as scheduled. Upon arrival, we had to run to make sure that our camera equipment would not get wet. It rained the entire day. All outdoor activities were canceled, but the BioCube group, led by our fearless Zach (whose beautiful music accompanied our work), worked diligently, morphosorting and photographing into the night. By the end, there were only 21 of hundreds of specimens remaining to be documented tomorrow AM.

Teti’aroa

The atoll (volcanically constructed island surrounded by a coral reef enclosing a lagoon) of Teti’aroa, comprises approximately 13 islets or motus (coral islands topped with rocks and soil). Teti’aroa was for many years the home of the Pomare, the Tahitian royal family. It was a sacred island and a place of refuge for them, a retreat where the royal women increased their caloric intake to be more attractive (yes, having a few more pounds was appealing) and where royal treasures were secured. After the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789, Captain Bligh searched Teti’aroa for escaped mutineers.

The royal family bequeathed the island to a British dentist, Dr. Johnston Williams, in 1904. In turn, Williams developed a copra plantation. Copra is the production of coconut oil from the nut’s meat. A descendent of Williams sold the islets to Marlon Brando in 1966. Brando had been mesmerized by their beauty while scouting locations for the film Mutiny on the Bounty. After constructing a small village sensitive to the landscape, he and his family spent time there and opened a rather informal hotel. In 2004, the estate was sold to the development company, Pacific Beachcomber SC. Plans are for a state of the art eco-friendly hotel, The Brando, to open in the summer of 2014. Comprising approximately 35 exclusive villas, construction is well underway. In conjunction with the development, the Teti’aroa Society “was established to create a scientific and educational window into the biodiversity of Tetiaroa, with the possibility of developing controlled eco-tourism and raising public awareness regarding the fragility of [its] biodiversity.”

Day 12 Teti’aroa Nature workshop with Sea, Ethnobotany with Hinano, and an impending storm-we’re marooned! by Kendall and Liam

The morning greeted us with the sound of seabirds. At the dining hall, we picked up our daily rations of donuts and juice. We could see dark clouds beginning to loom ominously out over the water.

“A storm will be coming tomorrow,” Frank told us.

All of a sudden, we felt just how remote we were. Our isolation made us a little more nervous for the upcoming bad weather, but there was plenty to do in order to keep our minds off it. These frequent storms and gusty winds meant no travel on or off the island, and for Seabird, this meant he was stranded. Unfortunately for us, Seabird had other scientific endeavors to attend to in other parts of the world. Although it is sad he must fly from his nest, it is an even greater tragedy that Seabird is in danger of missing his next adventure. While he was still here, Seabird was able to lead us in some mental exercises. A group of us left with him to find something on the island that we wanted to learn or connect with more. Each of us created something to share with the rest of the group. Being able to stop and observe something not only helped us clear and sort our busy brains, but this exercise allowed us to get closer to the spiritual core of Teti’aroa. As we shared our revelations of what we found most interesting, we began to see all the different ways a person can connect with land and sea.

While one group was sharing thoughts with Seabird, another went to explore flora of the island with Hinano in an ethnobotany workshop. She showed us plants whose roots, leaves, wood, and blossoms are used for medicinal purposes: white pearl looking berries that clear irritated eyes of seawater, plants that can be toxic in some stages of growth, but healing in others. Hinano’s ancient Polynesian knowledge and understanding of the flora was not just a botany lesson; she had a very personal relationship with these species and had used many of these plants throughout her life (her mother was also the only midwife on Mo’orea for many years and had a strong working knowledge of the medicinal function of plants). She spoke of the various stages of a coconut and how the water, meat, and milk of coconuts in their periods of freshness and decay can be used for a variety of medicinal cures. Babies, for example, are given the most fresh coconut water and meat—when it is sweetest and most tender. Mothers begin using the oil of the coconut early in pregnancy to help them recover from bodily changes. It was astonishing how many uses the coconut, and the many varieties of flora, have and that Mother Nature readily provides so many natural remedies for common human ills. No sooner had the last group returned from our nature expeditions when an arm of the storm hit us earlier than expected. The storms don’t usually go on all day, instead they are quick but violent. The rain made our day come to a halt, and the teachers called a meeting to brief us on the upcoming BioCube that was to be deployed here on Teti’aroa. At dinner, Stefan, the chef, outdid himself once again with swordfish and tomato sauce and more delicious donuts for dessert. There seems to be a near endless supply of donuts here (lucky for us). We went to bed to take on our new adventures set for tomorrow, wondering what species we would find in our next BioCube.

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