Hello again from the Big Blue!
This week’s Best Scooter award, (I think I will call it the “Scootie”), goes to the two ladies doubling down the street towing…I love this…a lawnmower. Well done, girls! Coming in a close second is the family of three: baby up front, dad driving while holding baby with one hand, mom on the back, riding side-saddle, holding her hat on her head, and all on their way to church dressed in their Sunday finest.
We are, somewhat officially, half way through cyclone season. School holidays are nearly over for Cook Islander kids, and more Off-Island locals are going rather than coming nowadays. Few Cook Islanders stay on the islands. Most immigrate to New Zealand…the land of milk and honey and sheep. Can’t say I blame them, these little islands are not exactly booming with opportunity.
It’s a strange time, an in-between time, for people on small, out of the way, islands like the Cooks. I can imagine an era when life was fairly simple here. Lots of fish in the water, enough fruit and vegetables to get by, warm days and nights, the odd cyclone destroying all the vegetation and killing a handful of people. Simple. When things got dull, the island men would hop into their outrigger vakas and paddle a few hundred miles across the open Pacific to kill and eat the inhabitants of Aitu. I’m not sure why Aitu became the “lunch” island but I suppose it would be bad manners to eat people on your own island.
Wars between tribes were short and relatively painless. Groups of opposing, young, male, warriors would stand in a two lines taunting one another. Examples of taunts might be, “Hey, your village only has ten pigs, you’re a bunch of losers! Yeah, I’m talking to you ten-pig boy! Oink Oink!! Look at me, I’ve only got ten pigs, I’m a girly man, I’m going to go home and cry!” At some point, the taunts would get serious enough that someone would have to take action. A couple of spears would go flying, someone would get skewered, the tribe with the skewered guy would shrug their shoulders and walk away the losers. The winning tribe would collect the fallen warrior, take him back to their village, and eat him, naturally.
I can’t help thinking that if I were a young, male warrior, I would spend a lot of time practicing turning sideways and keeping myself slim to make a smaller target. You can imagine how excited they must have been the day someone invented the shield!
These days, Cook Island males are far more likely to die of heart disease or diabetes than by skewering. Per capita, the Cooks have the highest rate of obesity in the world. Yes, even higher than you, America. Their dietary staples include: Coke, chips, meat, taro, meat, tinned corn beef, meat pies, hamburgers, meat, fried stuff, meat, chocolate bars, and meat. I had a guest email me and ask how well she would fare as a vegetarian on the island and when I finished rolling on the floor in peels of laughter, I answered, “Be prepared to eat in a lot”.
The biggest influence on the Cooks, post Captain James, was the Missionaries. They ended cannibalism, which is good, and taught the locals about sin, which is…hmmm. So, after the missionaries, you didn’t have to worry about being someone’s dinner, but you couldn’t walk around half-naked either. Believe me, in this climate, naked is the only comfortable state.
I find it ironic that we foreigners are considered risqué if we wear short shorts or beach attire away from the resorts on an island where the locals used to frolic around, happily unclothed, all the ding dong day.
There are pluses and minuses to everything, and while I’m sure the good people of Mc Aitu were thrilled to be taken off the Value Menu, how well, really, are the islanders faring in these modern times?
For a start, most of them have left. More Cook Islanders live in New Zealand than on the islands, as they are considered New Zealand citizens and can freely live and work there. (The same, by the by, does not hold true for New Zealanders, many of whom, I’m sure, would love to live here). The ones left behind exist in a kind of semi-stagnant limbo. Processed food is easy and, relatively, cheap, scooters replace walking, corrupt government officials make sure citizens get just enough of the millions in foreign aid to keep them happy while making sure their own pockets are well-lined, gill nets make for easy fishing though the nets get bigger every year as the fish disappear.
But, hey, Survivor was filmed here!
Oh, don’t even get me started. Too late. Talk about your bad influences. Part of the deal, when Survivor was allowed to film here, was that they said they would “give something back” to the youth of the island. And what did they give back? A flat of Coke and a ball cap for every child. Wow, the gift that keeps on giving. Not only that, but because, during the filming, Survivor and its 280 crew used up every hotel room and form of transportation on the island, the islanders started seeing stars…or, I should say, dollar signs. Prices skyrocketed. Why not? The film company would pay, no matter what the price. Then Survivor packed up its multicoloured bandanas and left. No worries, now that Aitutaki was famous, tourists would come flooding in!
I said: tourists would come flooding in.
Um, where’s the flood?
No flood. But prices stayed in the stratosphere. I mean, once you’ve made $300 per night for your hotel room, why would you go back to $100 per night? You can’t stay empty forever. Can you? Surprise, you can.
I like Cook Islanders. Sure they probably say horrid things behind my back about how skinny and pale I am, and what a lousy appetizer I’d be, but, overall, they’re friendly. They are a people out of time. They do not possess the land or natural resources to progress but neither can they move backwards. I’d like to see them prosper but at the same time I worry that prosperity will only further weaken their ties to this beautiful island.
This Coconut Chronicle kind of got away from me – that happens sometimes. I was going to tell you all about our big fishing adventure and somehow got sidetracked into a convoluted history lesson.
So there we were. The seas were dark and angry. Well, not entirely true. It was dark, though. You have to be on the fishing grounds at first light to catch the elusive yellow fin tuna. I’m used to getting up early to fish, (I didn’t say I enjoyed it, merely that I was used to it), but I must say, heading out of the narrow channel in the pitch black, with only a tiny flashlight beam to guide us, was a bit unnerving.
On this adventure, we brought along a couple of honeymooning Kiwi’s, Aimee & Tim, who were eager to fish. Our ride out the channel was bumpy and once we made it through the rain began in earnest. Not a drop of wind blew but the swells were at least ten or fifteen feet high. Aimee and I huddled under a tarp, Tim was clad in rain gear, and Prez, well, he just toughed it out. What a guy!
Our target was the FAD, (Fish Attracting Device), off shore near Maina Island. Between the dark, the rain, and the swells, it was hard to tell if we were on course most of the trip. But, at last, we spotted a few other boats and the orange buoy of the FAD. Prez, as usual, has cozied up to the local fishing genius – this one’s name is Junior – and procured all the necessary technical data needed, such as lures, times, depth, etc. No sooner was the first line in the water than ZING, fish on! We let Tim play the first one, and he got a good half hour work out muscling the beast to the boat.
The FAD Fishing at dark o’clock
After that, as so often happens, the bite died. We trolled back and forth, up and down, here and there. Nothing. We were just about to call it a day when another ZING happened. This time, we gave Aimee the honours. Soon our cooler had more tail than the L.A. Lakers. It was time to get home and put these monsters to bed.
When we arrived at the entrance to the channel we saw, with no small degree of dismay, the tide was ebbing in a big way. The fifteen foot high rollers were clashing with a river of outgoing water, and the whole thing looked like a giant washing machine at work. Yikes. I looked at Prez. This is how I determine the danger of a situation:
Prez smiling, laughing, chatting, looking around at the scenery = Danger Level Low
Prez smiling slightly but focusing and thinking = Danger Level Medium
Prez frowning and deep in thought = Danger Level High
Prez screaming and running around waving his arms = Run for your life!!!
From the look on his face, and the way he snapped, “Stop looking at me!”, I guessed we were at Danger Level Medium. He had to time our entrance just right or we would all be going for a very nasty swim. He circled the boat, waited for his opening, then hit the throttle. We made it! (Obviously, unless I am writing this while I drift to Fiji).
So, with those two beauties and the two Prez brought in last night, our freezer is jammed with yellow fin tuna I can’t eat. Sigh. It could be worse. Remember that old Aitu saying, “Better to miss dinner than be dinner.”
QUESTION: Can someone in Nelson stop at the Bite truck and mail me a David Suzuki Veggie Burger and a side of organic french fries with rosemary veggie gravy?
Until next week, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life!
p.s. Congrats to Patty-Cakes Roney who has finally ditched his Ebenezer Scrooge of a boss and starts a new job in February!!!! Hooray!!