Monday, July 15, 2013

Heiva – July Festivities in French Polynesia

Since Mark and I arrived in the Gambier Islands, the end of May, the two competing dance groups (troupes) of Mangareva, the main island, have been practicing for their big local festival in July. Every evening we were anchored in Rikitea, we could hear the drumming echoing over the bay, from two directions. We had dinner on Irie with live Polynesian background music, I did the dishes on the rhythm of the drums and we fell asleep imagining the band and the dancers, the now familiar beats fresh in our minds. A few nights, while being on shore in the evening, we checked out the rehearsals and they were impressive.

The Heiva festivities took place from July 5th through July 14th (Bastille Day in France and the day the Polynesians were allowed to start practicing their dances again after years of them being banned by the missionaries), right behind our boat. The first weekend, the weather was awful. Mark and I managed to make it to shore for the first evening, when the dance groups were being introduced. The event happened in a big hangar, where the impressive sounds were reflected on the walls for an even more imposing effect. The costumes were a bit weak, but the dancing was great. The following afternoon, the sun peeked out for a little while. Most cruisers went ashore for a private performance. One of the groups passed by all the houses and by a location for the boating crowd, to collect some money. The festival usually starts with this tradition, called “tapena”, but the weather was too crappy that first day.

Too much wind and too much rain made us miss out on the Miss and Mister Mangareva elections. We were all stuck on our boats until the following Thursday, when the dance competition started in earnest. That evening, both troupes performed the “Pe’I” dance, a typical Mangarevan dance where stomping on the ground with the feet is prominent. The dances are long and depict a story. The stage is decorated with replica huts and other props for the scenes, bamboo rafts and weapons are carried and the costumes are very exotic. It was an entertaining evening.

On Friday night, the Polynesian dances “Ote’a” and “Aparima” took place. The weather allowed both groups to dance and drum outside again. The costumes were amazing, the drumming fantastic and the performances incredible. It was a cultural experience pleasing all our senses. Taking pictures was hard again because of the low light, but we all enjoyed the performances a lot.

Saturday night, many people stayed home again, because of the cold and windy weather. In the hangar, the best female dancer, best male dancer and best couple dancers competed before the jury, as well as both bands. The effect indoors is very different from outdoors. The participants received a lot of applause, but the results would not become known until the following day. It was a short night, so Mark and I still managed to watch a movie warmly tucked in bed, while Irie bounced around at anchor. At least the wind produced enough electricity for our needs.

On Sunday, the 14th of July (14 juillet), the closing ceremony started at 11 am. Together with most villagers, all dressed up, and cruisers, the sun was present for a few hours. Mark and I rowed ashore to give ourselves more flexibility in the shallows and heading back out later. Our sometimes unreliable dinghy engine could get us in trouble with the strong onshore wind. The female mayor gave a speech and both troupes showed more dancing and drumming. The award ceremony and prize giving went satisfactory according to our preferences and tastes; we mostly agreed with the jury. The event was concluded with free drinks and snacks, while a group of performers and locals spontaneously started playing music, singing and dancing. This is the only day in the year that alcohol is not frowned upon, but a real party never emerged. By 9pm, the Heiva festival was finished. Forget about fireworks. We have never been anchored so close to shore with festivities going on, while they were barely noticeable and we could sleep at night!

Being here for the Polynesian festival was great (although the one in Tahiti would have been more impressive and lively) and not to be missed, but the weather could have been better. The cost for this cultural experience – other than some cash to support the groups – was two pairs of flipflops, which were stolen from our beached dinghy last night. From now on Rikitea will be different, without the daily sounds of the drumming… and without shoes!

On the night of the opening ceremony - the presentation of the groups - many spectators received baskets of fruit as a gift

Friday night, both troupes competed with Polynesian dances

Posing with Deny, the very talended and creative leader and choreographer of our favorite group

Pictures of the Sunday closing ceremony:

The important people of the Gambier Islands

From L to R: flags of Mangareva, France and French Polynesia

The mayor (in white) gives a speech

Mark with the cutest puppy in town!

Winning band

One of the two troupes - they won  most individual prizes and best male costume

The dancers inviting some locals to join in the dancing

The second (and best) of the two groups

The Polynesian men in action!

Amazing costumes!

Male dancer

Female dancer

Pictures of the spontaneous dancing, drumming and singing of the Mangarevans, after the ceremony:

No comments: