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toau ~ cultural experiences

Posted by on October 31, 2013

July 9 – 15, 2013

Anse Amyot’s false pass in Toau is a place that became dear to our hearts. In addition to some great snorkeling, the people of this quaint little place are very special.

Valentine and Gaston, along with their families, have lived on the northwest corner of Toau for many years. There are about 10 permanent residents, and each year they receive many visiting cruising boats, as well as other family and friends from nearby islands. Valentine and Gaston open their home and hearts to their visitors, and they enjoy sharing their culture with anyone who is interested.

When we first arrived in Toau, we weren’t sure how long we would be able to stay. Many of our basic provisions were running low, and we needed to get to Tahiti. So that we could stay longer, Valentine and some of our fellow cruisers immediately remedied our situation. The twice-a-month supply ship would be coming, so she had flour and vegetable oil that we could buy from her. Another cruiser had fresh baguettes to hand out. And, our closest buddy boats went through their compartments and brought over plenty of UHT and powdered milk, peanut butter, popcorn, and an assortment of canned veggies. Again, our hearts were warmed by all of the generosity that surrounded us.

Valentine offered to show all of us how she makes coconut bread. We only needed to bring ourselves and a jar of jam. She would show us how to make it, and then we could all enjoy some warm coconut bread with jam. However, on the morning scheduled for bread making, Valentine’s doctor sailed into “town”, and she needed to have her appointment with her doctor.

Valentine’s doctor is a French woman who sails throughout French Polynesia with her husband and their dog. They had been former cruisers, but have remained in French Polynesiato aid people throughout these remote islands. (They are the ones who brought baguettes for everyone!) Valentine has medical issues that need careful monitoring, so the doctor comes to see her on a regular basis. What a way to make house calls!

Once the doctor was ashore, and before her appointment, Valentine wanted to show us their church. We followed her back through the property and came to a tiny one room building about the size of a backyard shed. When she opened the door for us to enter, we could immediately see its inner beauty. The altar was decorated with fresh flowers, and there were 10 plastic patio chairs lined up along the walls. We sat with Valentine while she shared her religion with us. She started by talking about how the world was going to end, and if our names weren’t in the Book of Life, then we would not go to heaven. The looks on our faces stopped her in mid-sentence, and she was surprised to find out that we didn’t know that the world was going to end soon. She had me read a passage from an English Bible, and then she read the same passage from a French Bible. Then, it was time for her appointment with her doctor.

We were very fortunate to be in Toau for the birthday of Valentine and Gaston’s nephew, Jean-Paul. A Polynesian birthday is an occasion to slaughter a pig and have a day-long (and night-long) celebration. Therefore, a feast was planned, and all the cruisers were invited to attend. Not only were we invited to attend, but we were also asked to participate in the preparations. Early in the day, Wil and David (s/v Sueño) went ashore to assist with preparing the slaughtered pig.

In order to kill the pig, the legs were bound, and while one person held the pig’s snout closed, another person slit the pig’s throat. Once the blood was collected and the animal was dead, boiling water was poured over the pig, and its skin was scraped. The pig was then sliced and diced, and all of the meat went into pots to be cooked over a fire. The head and feet were placed on a cooker, and the rest of the pig parts (like the heart, liver, etc) went into a blood sauce to be served with the meal. Who’s ready for dinner!

The rest of us showed up right before the celebration was to begin, and Valentine put us to work collecting flowers for decoration and preparing the tables. We all brought a pot of something to contribute to the meal, and Kim (s/v Flour Girl) baked one of three birthday cakes for the birthday boy. We gave Jean-Paul a gift bag containing a ball cap and a couple of miniature bottles of spirits.

Soon the celebration began and the food was served. There was so much food that I was stuffed before ever trying any of the sauces. Wil ended up with a pig ear on his plate (which he ate), and the kids both tried the blood sauce. They weren’t crazy about it, but I was highly impressed. As people continued to eat throughout the evening, some of the locals began singing along with their guitars and ukeleles. One woman did a Polynesian dance performance. Birthday cake after birthday cake was presented to Jean-Paul. All were having a blast, and spirits were passed freely among the those who were interested. Eventually, we had to bid everyone at the party a good night and get our kids to bed. However, Jean-Paul, along with his family and friends, continued with the birthday celebration until the morning.

Valentine kept her word that she would show us how she makes coconut bread. On the day we were getting ready to depart for Tahiti, she had everyone come ashore who wanted to help. She put the women to work removing old wood, lava stones and ashes from the 55-gallon metal drum that would be used to cook the bread in. (I can’t even describe the amount of roaches and ants we had to stick our hands into while removing the stones and debris!) In order to collect kindling for the fire, and to clean up the yard, she put the kids to work with a couple of rakes and a wheelbarrow collecting dried leaves and sticks. The men were put to work helping Gaston move a large, single-piston generator over to the shed. Once the generator was moved, Gaston and David (s/v Sueño) opened and scraped 5 coconuts (with a machine shredder) for Valentine’s bread. Water from one coconut was added to the meat of the 5 shredded coconuts. Then, they squeezed the coconut milk from the freshly shredded coconut meat using a cheese cloth of sorts. (The remaining coconut scraps are used to feed the pigs.) Using salt water straight from anchorage, the freshly squeezed coconut milk, yeast, and flour, Valentine created the bread dough. The women sat and chatted with Valentine while she worked.

Since we were getting ready to depart for Tahiti by mid to late afternoon, I had to excuse myself early from the breadmaking session. We had lots to do on the boat, and the afternoon was quickly getting away from us. However, Nathalie (s/v Sueño) stayed to watch the remainder of the process. The bread is baked in the metal drum atop coconut husks and lava rocks. Once the coconut bread was baked, Nathalie brought a couple of loaves to us. They were absolutely delicious!

anchored in Anse Amyot, Toau ~ yes, those are kids hanging out on the spreaders of Sueño!

a mast is a good substitute for a tree












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