Friday, November 27, 2015

Day 127 - Exploring Aitutaki’s Island and Culture

Our garden lodge in the middle

This morning we were picked up by Ngaa Kitei, an Aitutaki native and hobby archaeologist. He wore a straw wreath and spread so much island lifestyle. My dad sat next to him in the front of the car, and I had the back part which was completely open (almost like a pickup car) for my own. Our first task was to pick fresh Hibiscus leaves at the roadside.

We first drove to a place near the airport to pick up a filming team from Japan which filled up the entire space in the back. The cool thing: I sat opposite the “Miss Cook Islands”! A really beautiful young woman, half Cook Islander (Aitutaki) and half American, who had to speak Japanese for the TV travel show which probably will sound quite funny for the Japanese audience...

At Nakitei’s site, a traditional meeting house, the “kitchen” and the plantation of important traditional plants have been recreated. Among other plants, we saw Banana trees and passion fruit trees, and something that was later explained to us to be a “tattoo ink tree”. The stones in the umu (earth oven) had already been heated up to 200°C with the help of fire. We then watched how to make our lunch in the umu: put banana tree trunk pieces on the hot stones (to not burn the food and to give a good taste), then spread the chicken pieces, the pumpkin pieces and the cooking bananas barely, the fish coated by banana tree leaves onto the trunk pieces. Cover the entire oven with banana tree branches and hibiscus leaf plates (for the better taste), and a number of coconut leaf sheets and other sheets. The hibiscus plates we had to wattle from the picked leaves.

While the others went kite surfing (to make their TV show more exciting) we were instructed to make plates out of coconut palm leaves.

Later we drove to a sacred site. Aitutaki once was home to 4000 people (today 1000) that belonged to 12 tribes – and every tribe had a sacred site. What remains today (after the Christian missionaries burnt these sites) is an odd array of black lava stones including an altar and a stone “chair” for the masculine circumcision. Ngaa Kitei had organized the first excavations at that side, uncovered some small artifacts and even remainders of a human scull in their umu. We obviously are on a (once) cannibal island.

After visiting the sacred site at the south tip of the island, we wanted to pick up those kite surfing lads, but they weren’t ready after ten minutes of waiting. So we went back alone to the umu and started to eat. It was SO delicious! You didn’t even need spices, there was so much taste in the food itself. I really became a big fan of cooking bananas, which were pink by the way, and we could eat the pumpkin together with its skin. The chicken and the fish of course - unbeatable.

Doesn't this look awesome?!
When we were brought back by Ngaa Kitei, we relaxed a little from this meal, and soon headed on to the Piraki lookout which was a real thrill ride on a scooter. While the main street around the island was sealed after 2002, all other “streets” are dirt or grass paths. On the steep parts, we were sliding on the sand all the time. A nightmare, if you think about how you would look after an accident with only flip-flops, shorts and a light top on... But we made it to the top (if only by walking the last part, on which I hurt myself a little when going down because I slid). Just beautiful! You could see the entire atoll around you.

Before we went back home, we decided to have a short splash in the lagoon. So we just parked our scooter and jumped into the turquoise water, with our shoes on, because you never know what’s on the ground. How warm and calm the water was! Back home the first thing to do was: re-packing (again...) for the Robinson island ;-)

All the graves are built on the ground.
They say it's a Christian manner, because
they used to dry their corpses in the sun.

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