A church I enjoyed attending in Vaitape, Bora Bora. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Bora Bora

Bora Bora is an intriguing name that sounds like a far-off place in paradise—and it is. What a great experience to sail in through the only pass, Te Ava Nui, in the wide barrier reef that surrounds all of Bora Bora. I could almost picture Captain James Cook sighting the island in 1769 and marking it in his log book. Above in the distance is the highest peak, Mount Ote Manu, the remains of the extinct volcano that made this island.

A mama sells her wares in Vaitape, Bora Bora. Note the map behind her, which shows the reefs that surround the island. Photo by Madelyn Given.

A mama sells her wares in Vaitape, Bora Bora. Note the map behind her (click on this photo to enlarge it). Photo by Madelyn Given.

My adventure here was to take a pirogue, a traditional outrigger canoe, around part of the island and lagoon. The weather and the warm clear water make the South Pacific so inviting for outdoor water activities. It is an eco-friendly island and pristine in appearance. The locals have small homes in and around the villages. Most of the island is undeveloped. Resorts are well camouflaged into the green tropical setting.

I spent one day walking on a steep trail through the tropical forest with several lookout points. I was surprised to see on one of these lookouts canons still standing from WWII. The American army built a road, airstrip, base here in 1942.  From another lookout I could see across the beautiful lagoon to the distant islands of Taha’a, Raiatea, and Huahine.

Sea life is abundant around the coral reefs, and the water is so clear it is easy to see the different fish, sea turtles, and stingrays. I saw a black-tipped shark and dolphins in the sea beyond the reef. Bora Bora is part of the vast Indo-Pacific zone, which has the richest submarine depths on the planet. The local people fish in the lagoons, but the fish there are less tasty than deep sea fish.

I spent most of one day in Vaitape and tried breadfruit mixed with coconut milk, taro, and tropical fruit. I bought a pareo and learned different ways of tying this simple dress. I learned a little about the Polynesians of the past: their art, realistic and rarely painted, was for religious or decorative design, with images of fish or turtles, and human forms were common. The early clothing was made from tapa, beaten bark, or woven leaves. The men wore a maro, a belt wrapped around the hips like underpants. Women wore the pareu that was longer and went from the hips almost to the ankles. In cooler weather they added a poncho called the tiputa. The ancient Polynesians had great canoes and primitive weapons for tribal wars.

It was on Bora Bora that I was invited to attend a church service one morning. It was so peaceful and inviting. The men and women participating were in casual white dress and wore heis on their heads and leis around their necks. The congregation sang joyfully and children casually walked out the open doors when they became restless: they went and played on the lawn, then returned when they were ready to sit and listen again. During the ceremony , a man blew the pu, a conch shell made out of a large murex. It was very awe-inspiring to hear it resonate in the edifice. After the closing ceremony, the parishioners were not in a rush to leave. They took time to visit and wish everyone a good day. It was a moving experience and a happy memory of Bora Bora.

Families gather often to sing and dance in their yards and enjoy bountiful food. Usually someone has a musical instrument like a pahu, a drum which varies in size and shape. Sometimes a ukulele or a flute adds to the musical group. Old and young are relaxed and happy. They can sing and swing their hips, something passed down from generations of Polynesian culture.  Laughter comes easy. They are friendly and kind. They are so far removed from the great turmoil in major countries of the world. It seems a blessing.

(posted March 29, 2016)