Hatiheu, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands

Aug 22, 2018 - National Geographic Orion


Our first day in the Marquesas Islands…and what a gorgeous arrival in Nuku Hiva. The morning sun illuminated the spectacular mountain peaks of Aakapa. One bay further to the east, the sunrays hit a bright white spot on a towering spire. It is the statue of a Madonna, overlooking and protecting the inhabitants of Hatiheu village. The statue was built in 1872 by missionary Frère Michel Blanc. He climbed Mount Heu many times, first carrying up a large log of a breadfruit tree and then limestone to fashion the statue. Finally, he brought up pieces of coral to decorate the pedestal and fashion a crown for the Madonna.

After breakfast the birding group started their tour in four-wheel-drives up the recently cemented road to the Teavaitapuhiva saddle. One of the endemic birds of the island, the Nuku Hiva pigeon, was feeding on delicious guava fruit not far in the bushes. The hikers started their adventure down in the village. Passing the church and the lovingly planted waterfront, they walked up to Kamuihei, the first of the archaeological sites to be visited. One of the largest banian tree of the island dominates the me’ae, a sacred site, where only priests had access in ancient times. Next to it stands an extensive tohua, a festivity area where celebrations and dances took place to entertain the population. The whole site was restored in 1999 for the Marquesas Art Festival that is held every four years. Intriguing petroglyphs such as turtles, fish, and anthropomorphic figures decorated the surrounding boulders.

A cultural performance took place on Tohua Hikokua. The local dance group showed traditional inspired dances, as the wild pig dance, where young men imitate the snoring sound of these animals. The women chose the local pigeon as their favored animal and performed gracious arm/wing movements. Drums, hand clapping, and human voices were the only “instruments” heard.

Mayor Yvonne Katupa prepared delicious fruit. Mangos, starfruits, and banana fritters accompanied by freshly pressed lime juice awaited the guests of National Geographic Orion. What a delightful treat after having spent a few hours in the lush vegetation of Hatiheu Valley.

A hike up to the view point overlooking stunning Anaho Bay was one of the highlights this afternoon. A Zodiac cruise along the northern coastline of Nuku Hiva was the other, where the dances continued, this time performed by seabirds and manta rays.

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About the Author

Heidy Baumgartner-Lesage

Cultural Specialist

Originally from Lucerne, Switzerland, archaeological restorer and conservator Heidy has lived in Tahiti since 1986, working with the local Department of Archaeology in excavations throughout French Polynesia and as a freelance tour guide and lecturer. 

About the Videographer

Sarah Culler

Video Chronicler

Sarah was raised on a multi-generational family dairy farm, established circa 1815 in Lucas, Ohio. Consequently, her first paying job was milking cows! Rewarding as it was to get paid for the first time, she found her passion behind the lens of a camera. Growing up on the farm gave her not only a strong work ethic but also the love of nature and being outdoors. 

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