Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Where On Earth Is: Tikopia?

Map picture

Where On Earth Is: Tikopia?

I have come to the conclusion that if I had started to travel sooner and only spent my time visiting Islands, that in a lifetime, it would not be possible to visit every inhabited Island on this planet, let alone the uninhabited ones. Our visit today to Tikopia is a good example.

This tiny island is but one of three islands which collectively are known as the Santa Cruz Islands. They are the southern border of the Solomon’s and are considered as part of the Solomon Chain, although much of the local culture is ruled by local Chiefs. The closest small island neighbor is 20 miles away. Tikopia itself is only 2 sq. miles in size, yet it is home to 1,200 people. Surprisingly, the population of this tiny island has remained fairly constant since the 1600’s because the island has strict reproductive policies to prevent a further increase since the Chief’s realize that is the maximum number of people which the island is capable of supporting. Even though the island is small, it is home to 20 villages mostly along the coast, and it is ruled by four chiefs who still hold courts in their huts. Unlike the Westernizing of societies which is taking place all around them, Tikopia society is little changed from ancient times. Unlike the islands we have recently visited, these people are Polynesian and not Melanesian.

Our first challenge today was to get ashore where the natives were lined up all along the beach to greet us. Unlike many Pacific islands where they are surrounded by calm lagoons with a volcanic core, Tikopia is an old volcanic island which has been uplifted, reef and all out of the ocean. So, in order to reach the beach, we had to cross a very long distance over the shallow reef. This is one reason that this island has remained so remote, because it is difficult to reach. When we arrived, the tide had gone out so even our shallow zodiacs were not able to approach the beach. We had to go out a very long way from shore, and walk over uneven coral beds with unseen holes. The islanders, male and female, had walked all the way to where we had come, and as I exited the zodiac an unknown islander took hold of my hand, and with his very strong hand, he literally walked me ashore. Once on shore, we were surrounded by welcoming faces. From our landing site, we had a long walk along the edge of the very neat village to their school where seats had been arranged for us. As we walked, every single one of us had at least one if not two children holding our hands along the way.

Arriving at the school and once things calmed down, a man came forward and spoke to the crowd. He started off by explaining that today was a very sad occasion for the islanders. The prior day, all of the Chiefs on the island, along with a number of islanders had departed the island. We never actually got an explanation as to whether or not this was permanent or temporary, but our host was apologizing for our not being given a proper greeting to the island. He seemed very embarrassed that we were being treated this way, but he wanted us to know how pleased the islanders were that we had come and they wanted to share some hospitality with us. With the Chief having departed, all services on the island had come to a stop, including their schools. However, in a departing gesture, the local chief had agreed to the use of the school today so that we might be entertained.

What followed was a very well done performance by the school children singing and from the older boys, a local dance. Again, our host came forward and bowed in apology for such a poor offering, but he wanted us to know how welcome we were and that we were free to roam the island at will including a walk to the center of the island where there was a large lake which had formed from an earlier volcano which had shrunk. About half of our group set off for the 4km roundtrip hike, while Lisa and I set about returning to the ship. Once again, I had a companion, and young boy of 11 whose name was Daniel.

Reaching our departure point, we could look across the brilliant white sand and blue skies, and truly think we had indeed found paradise. I might also add that in the 2 hours we had been on the island the tide had come in and they were able to get a zodiac up to the beach. If we kept it lightly loaded, then it would be possible to drive all the way out of the coral floor to reach the large breakers awaiting us when we reached the ocean. We carefully threaded our way across the reef until reaching the ocean where we encountered some large waves. By the time we reached our ship, everyone and everything on the little zodiac was completely soaked. But, hey this is an adventure after all.


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