An Inspiring Cruise Reveals The Arts And Culture Of The Pacific Islands
Appreciating the beauty of the sea (Image by Lionel Gouverneur, Flickr)
One of my fondness memories while growing up in the '70s was watching the Aldeguer Sisters and their dancers performing the Tahitian to the drumbeat called "Bora Bora," "Papeete," and "Moorea." The sound of those wooden drums and the Tahitian chants resonated with me culturally, because I’ve been carrying those memories with me ever since. Little did I know, however, that 40 years later, I would be sailing to these enchanted islands with my partner of 20 years
Last year, we embarked on a 24-day cruise from Los Angeles via the islands of French Polynesia to Auckland, New Zealand. The best thing about cruising is you only need to unpack once. Your hotel, restaurant, and everything else besides, sails with you from port to port. We are particularly loyal to a particular cruise line because their ships are smaller with a maximum of 400 passengers who are generally laidback and friendly with nothing to prove.
The ship has three well-appointed dining areas to choose from. The main restaurant is strictly formal in the evening, while another is semi-casual, and used for buffet breakfast, lunch, and themed-dinners at night. For passengers preferring to eat al fresco, the poolside restaurant is open all day.
Cruising through the French Polynesia (Image by Roderick Eime Flickr)
Upon boarding at the port of LA, we were enchanted to be met by a Polynesian couple, who presented us with garlands of beautiful purple orchids.
The first six days of the voyage were spent entirely at sea, but thanks to the amount of interesting activities organized each day, we never had an excuse to be bored. The programs were well-curated and in many cases, composed of activities related to the upcoming destination. On the first day, I signed up for the visual arts workshop, which was conducted each day by a qualified artist. Included were lectures on the proper use of watercolors and acrylic paints with insights into French artists such as Paul Gauguin, who painted some of his most successful works in Tahiti.
We were also introduced to the flora and fauna of the islands as well as landscapes and seascapes. What also struck me were the cultural traditions such as tattoo art, the costumes, and the rhythmic dances. The rich inspiration, combined with the anticipation of a visit to the next island, enabled me to produce a portfolio of watercolor works which I am now sharing with you, in this article. These are works on canvas featuring stylized tattoo designs from the Marquesas and Polynesian Islands along with some Maori motifs.
Art workshop aboard the cruise
The amateur participants became prolific because the classes were conducted in a relaxed atmosphere with no pressure to produce serious works art, and because of this, a spirit of camaraderie and friendliness soon became evident both inside and outside the classroom. Before the end of the cruise, we held an exhibit in one of the public areas, the proceeds of which we donated to the Crew Welfare Fund.
Tahitian entertainment crew
Traditional arts and culture
As an alternative to the art classes, there were lectures presented by various experts in the fields of anthropology, cultural studies and history. One Australian speaker lectured on Captain Cook’s voyage through the Pacific, while another spoke about the pre-colonial history of the Polynesian and Maori people. There was even a portrait artist for the British Royal Family who regaled us with stories of long sittings with Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Thatcher, and Nelson Mandela.
Another unforgettable part of our voyage was meeting the Tahitian entertainment crew composed of a champion Tahitian dancer, a French Polynesian beauty queen, and a hula dancer based in Hawaii. A multi-talented lady, from Papeete who is an officer of the Tahitian tourism authority, headed the group. Our first meeting was a one-day Polynesian language course, where we learned basic Tahitian phrases. It wasn’t a serious language class, but rather a way to meet fellow passengers with the same predilection and aptitude. This group also conducted ukulele classes, which culminated in a public performance for all those on board.
For me, the highlight of every cruise is a morning shopping with the ship’s chef, and on this occasion, we went to the market in Papeete on the island of Tahiti. There I found vanilla, noni fruit, and ingredients similar to those found here in the Philippines like seafood, coconut, bananas, mangoes, fish sauce, and pork crackling. The chef himself was shopping for a Polynesian feast to be held poolside that evening as we sailed to Bora Bora.
All in all, the islands that we visited are essentially the jewels in the crown and it would take another essay to describe them individually. I gained on this trip an internal appreciation of Polynesian culture, and rather than spending time cocooned in a five-star resort, I spent my time in the ports visiting local museums, eateries, and browsing through Polynesian cookbooks in bookshops. I tend to be more of a traveler than a tourist, learning how the indigenous people live, and that for me is far more important than ordering an exotic cocktail in a plush hotel.