Sunday, February 13
Tahuata is the smallest of the inhabited Marquesas Islands with a population of less than 700. It lies about three kilometres to the south of Hiva Oa.
It was the first of the Marquesas to be visited by Europeans. Mendana sailed into Vaitahu bay in 1595 (he called it Madre de Dios) and Captain Cook visited in 1774 and called it Resolution bay. In 1838 the French navy arrived, bringing Catholic missionary priests who built the first church and began the conversion of Marquesans to Christianity.
The Aranui 3 spends a couple of hours there unloading cargo, just enough time for passengers to go ashore and visit a craft market and the remarkable Eglise Sainte Mere de Dieu (Holy Mother of God church).
The craft market is set up near the post office and a small museum (which was closed while we were there – somebody had broken a window and there was glass all over the floor). Tahuata has the best bone carvers and tattooists in the group. Well, the bone carvers are still there and we all snapped up plenty of souvenirs, but many of the tattooists are now living in Tahiti or Borabora where there are more tourists looking for a permanent reminder of their visit. Marquesan tattoos are very impressive – geometric patterns that have traditional meanings.
The church is an amazing place. It was built in 1988 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first Catholic priest’s arrival in the Marquesas.
The walls are made from large beach stones, native wood carvings are used inside the church and there’s a beautiful stained glass window above the altar. It was largely financed by the Vatican and the architect designed it so that it looks like a lighthouse when illuminated at night.
We were only able to spend two hours ashore before heading back to Atuona on Hiva Oa – Gauguin territory!