By Bob Krauss
MARQUESAS ISLANDS It's ironic. I set out to explore the remote Marquesas, the South Sea islands that seem the most inaccessible from Our Honolulu, and found ties to Hawai'i closer than anywhere else in the Pacific.
It's not just that the Polynesians who discovered Hawai'i most likely came from these spectacularly beautiful islands. Our expedition sailed from Pape'ete in a plodding passenger-cargo vessel called Aranui like an interisland steamer in Hawai'i 100 years ago.
The sturdy vessel unloaded drums of fuel oil and passengers in a shore boat and barge at Marquesan villages where there are no docks. We loaded a horse, goats, copra, noni and a brand-new four-wheel-drive SUV by whale boat.
Links to Hawai'i abound in the Marquesas. The artist Paul Gauguin died on Hiva Oa owing a Hawaiian missionary's son money. On the island of Ua Pou, we met Ehu Toti, who's great-great-grandfather, Uho, was shanghaied on board a whaleboat. He became a harpooner and landed in Honolulu.
Uho married Makakoa from O'ahu. They had a daughter in 1879, Nahu or Tutu Mahina. She was 12 when the family moved back to Ua Pou. Ehu Toti wants to find his relatives in Hawai'i.
We discovered a mysterious connection with Pele, the fire goddess. In 1853, Hawaiian missionary Lota Kuaihelani wrote in his journal that a new god had come to Fatuiva: "Pele came here because Hawai'i is filled up with the new god and also with haoles. The people here say she is a very powerful god."
Taua Tetuanui, Fatuiva historian and drum maker, told us that Pele's home here is the Pae Pae o Pele (Temple of Pele) where, he said, the first Hawaiian ti was introduced in the Marquesas. Mareko Mose, whose family owns the land, took us to the pae pae, in deep forest 200 feet above the road.
He went up the mountain like a goat. I had to be boosted. The pae pae is an ancient complex; a kitchen-sized stone platform, and a stone terrace eight feet long above and to one side of the platform. A male and a female figure are carved into a stone. The site is surrounded by Hawaiian ti.
We talked to Mareko's mother, who said Pele appears on Fatuiva as a crab, a white dog or beautiful woman. Smoke appears when she travels from a sea cave on shore to the pae pae on the mountain. Old people are afraid of the pae pae.
"Till today, the family is not allowed to go to the pae pae. It is dead. If they go there, they will be cursed." An old woman said she cut copra too near the pae pae and got a bleeding sickness. However, at age 38, Mareka didn't seem to be afraid.
The strongest Hawai'i-Marquesas connections come through Hawaiian missionaries who went there 150 years ago. We found many connections because the retired president of a construction company in Honolulu has pioneered the study of the missionary letters in Hawaiian.