Bastille Day is the biggest holiday in France and it’s celebrated in all the French overseas territories, too. In Polynesia it’s the kickoff for weeks of traditional music, dance and athletic competitions called Heiva. Our cruiser friends kept telling us the dancing in Tahiti was not to be missed, but on our new Go Slow schedule we find ourselves in Fakarava instead of Tahiti for Heiva and we have no idea what to expect on an atoll with a population of about 850.
Fakarava invited delegations from two neighboring atolls to their Heiva and Bastille Day began with the two visiting groups parading to the event venue where much of the town was gathered for the opening ceremonies.
We sang the Marseillaise and with that, any connection to the French Revolution was dispensed with and it was all Polynesia from then on. The boys from Niau atoll did an enthusiastic haka, and the girls from Kauehi atoll performed a welcome hula. There were speeches and songs and the ribbon cutting on the Marvels of the Lagoon tent where women display and sell their pearl and shell work.
Bordering the soccer field temporary booths were erected for food vendors and at lunchtime spontaneous drumming and dancing broke out. Jack and I are reminded again how much we enjoy small-town life wherever we go. Everyone’s happy and friendly and delighted to have us visitors.
In the afternoon we watched pirogue races from Escape Velocity, and dinghied back to the venue after dinner for the big event, the contests for Miss Fakarava, Mister Fakarava and Miss Mama. That turned out to be great fun, our favorite event being the foliage dresses of the Miss Fakarava contest. The Mama contestants competed in the Mother Hubbard dresses early missionaries foisted on the Pacific Islanders to hide their beautiful naked bodies but I can tell you that when these women start to hula — which they do at the drop of a hat — no amount of gingham can hide the intent in those hips.