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.