Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fort Sherman, Panama

This video was supposed to be a full episode, with a lot more skills being shown, but we moved through the Canal before it could be finished. I've put an intro on it, with a few decent clips from Panama. Not a bad little video, would have liked to demonstrate more though.

Tuamotu Atoll Survival: Segments 2 & 3

We're finally settled into Australia, and that means a strong and stable internet connection. So I have uploaded the remaining segments of the Tuamotu Atoll Survival series.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tuamotu Atoll Survival Part 1

Part 1 of my segment on Pacific Island Survival in the Tuamotu Archipelago

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Marquesas Islands

The soaring heights of Nuku Hiva

After a 3,000 mile voyage across the worlds largest ocean, we arrived in The Marquesas. Called Henua Enata, or Land of Men, these islands are a bastion of Polynesia culture. They were never subjected to blackbirding (a practice of abducting indigenous people, then taking them to Australia or South America), and some of the most spectacular stone sculptures and sites can be seen in these islands. Tattooing is also alive and well, and is considered to be one of the most intact and refined of all the Polynesian islands.

There are several types of stone construction in the islands. The names often have the type of place included in the name, which makes it easier to identify what the sites use was. Tohua are large rectangular spaces used for dances and ceremonies. Me'ae are temples, and can range from expansive complexes, to platforms that are hard to distinguish from houses. Paepae are house platforms, and are easily the most prolific. They can be found in towns or up in the hills.
These constructions and sculptures are not considered ancient, but are old. They were made somewhere between 1600s-1700s. The larger sites really do stand as a testiment to the ingenuity and skill of the indigenous inhabitants, as well as a healthy population prior to contact.

Cultural Artforms:

Authentic Tiki at Pa'eke Me'ae
One of the most easily identied aspects of Polynesia culture is the iconic Tiki. Old tiki are often found on or around me'ae, but more modern renditions seem to be far more prevelent. Old Tiki are considered tapu, or sacred, and are generally treated with respect.

Modern tiki at Taiohae

These modern renditions of tiki in the Marquesas are prolific, sometimes even being places on historic sites. Tourists often take these to be authentic, as there is no plaques or signs stating otherwise. Most however were made for the Marquesas Festival in the late 1980's, actually borrowing inspiration from tattoo, wood sculptures, and existing artifacts, to produce a modern idea of a tiki.

With an abundance of available surfaces to inscribe symbols and figures, the Marqueseans left petroglyphs all over the archipelago. On our visit we did not visit many of the more prominent petroglyph sites, but we did find this one curious figure near a river in Fatu Hiva.
There have been studies done on the correlation of petroglyphs to tattoos, which share many designs.

Tattoo ("Patau'i Te Tiki")-
Derived from the Tahitian word "tatau", tattooing is currenty undergoing a renaissance. The people of the Marquesas are actively reviving this art form, which is considered to be the most refined and intact out of all of French Polynesia.
It was not uncommon for Marquesean men to be entirely tattooed, and over 400 different styles of design have been identified in the Marquesas. Traditional materials and tools for producing tattoos were the use of candle nut soot for ink, and sharp combs that were struck with a finely decorated mallet to puncture the skin. The small combs used have extremely fine needle-like points, and are often only an inch or so in size.
Men are most often seen tattooed, with their legs and arms heavily decorated with traditional designs.

Notes on tattooing in French Polynesia(courtesy of Tahiti Tourisme):
Society Islands: "...men and women wore tattoos on their shoulders, arms and legs but never on the face. Their buttocks uniformly blue, were enhAnced from the lower back to the hips by several rows of designs....More stylized designs based on human, vegetal, or animal shapes were also used."

Austral Islands:
"...marked their differenece by the use of hand-width tattooed bands below the armpits. In Tuamotu, tattooing was widespread in the west, and much less practiced in the east. The men of Rangiroa could be tattooed from head to toe with irregular designs such as curved lines, concentric circles, or with checkerboard designs."

Gambier Archipelago:
"...tattoo was compulsory. The archipelago's special mark was circle tattooed under the armpits of teenagers."

Basalt adzes-
The primary source for lithics in these volcanic islands is basalt, and the Marqueseans were masters at knapping and grinding the stone into finely made adze blades. Though useful as a woodworking tool, perhaps to build the impressive oceangoing catamarans for example, they may have also used them as a weapon like the natives of Mangaia, another Polynesian island west of the Marquesas.
These deeply grooved stones, a common sight around the islands, were used as building material for the church in Taiohae, but their original purpose was to shape and sharpen the adze blades. They are often associated with the deep, pecked holes also found on large stones or around stone platforms.

Pecked holes

The Sites:
Arguably the most impressive of Marquesean sites are the Me'ae and Tohua. During our time in the islands, we found the most unique and impressive in the Island of Nuku Hiva, considered to be the first island to be settled in the archipelago.

Pa'eke Me'ae, Taipivai
The valley of Taipivai's claim to fame is that in the 1840's, the would-be writer of the famed book "Moby Dick", jumped ship with a shipmate Toby Green, and was subsequently taken in by the Taipi tribe of the valley. He eventually went on to write a now out of print book called "Typee", which chronicals his time there.
Though the Marqueseans, indeed if not all of Polynesia, had a healthy reputation of cannibalism, the Taipi were said to have been particularly cannibalistic. Of course, Melville never was eaten by his hosts, and neither was his shipmate, so it's hard to say if their intent in helping him was out of friendliness or if they had a different fate in mind, one possibly including the impressive me'ae site of Pa'eke.
Boasting 11 tiki, this site is perched atop a bluff that is accessed by an unmarked path that actually starts in someones front yard! On the way up, you will notice the ever present paepae, house platforms.
During it's heyday, the site must have been even more impressive. One unusual aspect of it is the seemingly haphazard placement of tiki around the platforms.

Anahao Bay, Nuku Hiva

After our stay in Taipivai, it was time to move to the secluded and well sheltered bay of Anaho. From here we hiked over the pass and into Hatiheu valley, where two more sites waited.
In much of the Marquesas, each valley is home to an individual tribe, and the valley of Hatiheu belonged to the Api Papua people. These people build an impressive tohua in the highland, dedicated to the goddess Tevanaua'e. Here they would have primarilly held dances and ceremonies.

Hikoku'a Tohua:
If it weren't for the sign, this site could have easily been missed.
It's about as big as Pa'eke, but it is edged with low platforms for many people to sit and observe the ceremonies. There is only a couple tiki associated with this site, one of the goddess herself, which is unique because the tiki also forms part of the wall.

Modern Tiki

A number of modern tiki, noticably more detailed than their historic counterparts, were added in 1989 for the Marquesas Islands Festival.

Uniface tool made of basalt

Archeological material is very common in these islands. Some stores even have large collections of locally found tools on display, and the museums (when they're open), have impressive collections of bone, stone, shell, and wood artifacts.

Te I'ipoka Me'ae

The final, and most stunning, site of the day, is the expansive Te I'ipoka Me'ae. The size and reputation of this site is hard to convey in mere words and pictures. It has many me'ae and paepae platorms, a large petroglyph gallerey nearby, and a tohua that dwarfs the Hikokua site.
However, size is not the main draw to this site. Te I'ipoka is a documented sacrificial site. Not only were many people sacrificed and eaten here, but it also played host to one of the last human sacrifices of the 19th century. It is said that a member of the Ha'apa'a tribe was lured to the site, under false pretenses, where he met his fate.

The pit is roughly 7-8 feet deep

As a physical testiment to the cannibalistic rituals practiced here, two massive pits, one situated directly under a sacred Banyan tree, were built into a huge platorms, for the purpose of holding the victims before being brought out for sacrifice.

The Great Banyan of Te I'ipoka Me'ae

Pits are not uncommon at me'ae or tohua, but the Te I'ipoka Me'ae pit is by far the largest we have seen in the islands.

Efforts have been made to restore and preserve this site, and a traditional structure has been rebuilt atop one of the platforms.

A note on cannibalism in the Marquesas, through talking to locals, I was informed that it was not a widely practiced act amoungst the general populations of the islands. The Marquesean societies operated under a caste system, with only the upper echeleon of the community (priests, priestesses, chiefs, prominent warriors, etc) permitted to eat sacrificial victims, and even then it was only the thighs. Cannibalism was practiced or ritualistic reasons, as opposed to a means of sustenance.

Not all Marquesean sites are dedcated to gods, goddesses, and eating your tribal enemies, however. An interesting site we came across in the island of Ua Pou (pronounced oo-ah poe), was the agricultural settlement of Tetahana. This area was used up until the 1980's to cultivate taro and breadfruit. They used an ingenious system of terraced fields along the two converging streams, and were able to dam the streams and divert the flow into these terraces to irrigate their crops.

Sources and recommended reading:
Exploring The Marquesas by Joe Russel-Cruising guide to the Marquesas
Moon Handbook: South Pacific- very useful travel guide to the South Pacifc
Te Patu Tiki: Le Tatouage aux Iles Marquises- a superb French book on Marquesean tattoo
Typee by Herman Melville

Thanks to Tahiti Tourisme for their informative pamphlets!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Taboga Island, Panama

There are few places in the world where the history of a place is so apparent. Taboga is one of these places. It's the oldest continualy inhabited cities in the Americas, and has the oldest church in this hemisphere. The beaches of Taboga are packed with glass from Spanish occupation, wrecks are common, cannonballs have been found, and if you have dive equipment you can fine many intact bottles from all periods of Tabogas history.
The city of Taboga was well positioned as a base for Francisco Pizarro, from which he plundered both Las Perlas and Peru. Later, the city served as an ideal place for pirates to raid the rich Spanish treasure ships.
For me, the real treasure of Taboga is before Pizarros arrival, when Taboga was called "Haboga", and where the city now stands, there stood a well established native settlement.
Even before leaving the outskirts of the city, you will note that the soil is absolutely packed with all kinds of shell. A closer look will reveal that mixed in with the shells, are fragments of pottery. We were able to find middens of shell, pottery, and stone tools. From the fragments found, it appears that they decorated their pottery simply with red pigment aroud the rim and simple etching. One piece was found that had markings made with a shell in a simple repeating pattern. All the pieces are tempered with sand or crushed quartz, and some are up to an inch thick.
The stone tools are basic, with no sign of pressure flaking. Most appear to be flakes struck from a core, used, then discarded. Interestingly, they are all of types of stone that I have not seen anywhere on the island, and range from a deep black/blue to almost bright yellow.
I found no glass or earthenware mixed with the shells and pottery.

Taboga is an excelent place to hike. We spent some time exploring some of it's then dry creeks as well and found a species of animal we had not seen before.

These green and black frogs are Dart-Poison Frogs, and we were told they are a type that is endemic to Taboga, though we are not certain. They live in colonies so if you see one there are usually many more around.
Of course every paradise has it's hidden dangers, and Taboga plays host to tarantulas, scorpions, and snakes.

Return to the Pearl Islands

After our ordeal at sea, and with Bristol Rose repaired and fully functioning, we took a week to return to the Las Perlas Achipelago to relax and enjoy the last of Panama before we attempted the passage to the Galapagos for the second time.
After returning to Panama City, I happened upon a book written by Robert Vergnes that details several interesting sites of historic significance in the islands, relating to both native and Spanish occupation.

We visited serveral islands we had not stopped at the first time though, and one of them was the well known island of Contadora. This is a very well built up island, and according to Vergnes, pottery fragments were found during the constructions of the buildings you will find there. On the northern end of the island you can also find a face etched into the cliffs, made by the native people before the Spanish arrive. We weren't able to visit this pre-columbian site however.

The island of Chapera to the south of Contadora was said to have an old colonial Spanish well, so we made a point to anchor off it's southern shore and use the dinghy to locate the well using the directions given by Vergnes.
This is Vergnes' first landmark, which is more noticable at low tide. It stands near a beach, which we landed at and located a dry creek bed that would lead us to a path. This path snaked it's way through some of the most beuatiful terrain in the Perlas, until it opened to a clearing with many Royal Palms.
In the middle, with beams of sunlight shining through the canopy, stood this well. It is 17 feet deep, and 12 feet wide at the top. There was signs around it that someone had made attempts to rebuild it, and it had a partial outer wall that is not present in pictures taken by Vergnes in 1980.

On Isla Saboga, on the western shore, is a very large fish trap made from good sized stones. We found it at high tide, but you can see part of an inner wall in this photo. The outer wall is much larger, and can easily be seen on Google Earth.

During our explorations of these islands, we also found some very old shell midden piles, as well as pre-columbian pottery fragments in some places.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gerber Mini Fast Draw Pocketknife

I first became aquinted with this knife when a student brought one to a camp I was working at, and was imediately impressed with its quality and easy of handling. It's not a large or intricite knife, and I suppose that's what appeals to me. It's compact, well made, opens quickly and easily with one hand, and stays shut when you want it to. For young campers, it's size makes it easy to handle as well.
I recently found one for sale in an outdoors store in Panama City, and decided that the $35 price tag was worth it (I'm aware I could have bought one cheaper from other places, but it was an impulse purchase at the time).

Only 3 inches when closed, it's an excelent every day pocket knife. It weighs 1.9 Ounces, so it won't weigh down in your pocket or on your belt. The clip holds very well and I've never been concerned about it working loose and being lost. The blade is 2.1 Inches, and I've found it perfectly suited for fine carving of Tagua nuts, opening boxes, carving knotches in fireboards, and I'd venture to say it wouldn't do too bad at butchering. The quality of the steal is of course very good, as Gerber is well known for their use of superior materials and fine workmanship, and this knife is no exception. I found it easy to sharpen, and it holds an edge very well.
The lock system works very well, which did surprise me. I've traditonaly been a fixed blade user, so I approached the small plastic lock button with a skeptical eye. I'm pleased to say it works as well as the day I bought it.
I live in a very caustic environment on the boat, and many of our knives on board will eventually exhibit signs of rust of corrosion. This knife is holding up very well however, most likely oweing to the quality of the steel. I've also made sure to oil the action with T-9 oil to make sure it's kept in perfect working order.
Another aspect of this knife that appeals to me, is its overall appearance. It's simple and elegant. It serves a function, and looks professional doing it. It conveys it's purpose as a serious tool, while remaining subtle.

Overall, I'm very pleased with this knife. You can find this knife for sale in a number of places online, or outdoors stores. The Gerber product number is 22-01526. This style also comes as a partialy serated blade.

Photographs credited to Trish Budd