Paranormal pearl farming
Posted: Oct 01 2016
As a child, growing up on Ahe, the stories of paranormal activity were common. It never occurred to me to doubt the existence of the spirit world but, having never had any brush with it, I had no reason to believe in it either. However from age of 21 to 30 I lived on the atoll full time and in that span, was witness to several encounters. I was once woken up by a bed that pulsed like a human heart and on another occasion was jolted awake by the explosion of a jerry can full of water being flung across the room in the dark of night. The story below involves Celeste, and I chose it because the setting and circumstances help to tie the story to pearl farming in the early years, something we (and especially Celeste) will be writing much of in the future.
It had been a long day of pearl grafting. This time I wasn’t at Kamoka and instead found myself cleaning my tools and organizing my equipment at Rose’s house. Rose’s house was 4km due south around the atoll from our farm. I was there doing some seeding for her farm during a rare moment of down time at Kamoka.
Rose is extended family who we have known since our arrival in Ahe by sailboat in the early seventies. Her grandmother Mama Fana, raised Rose. Mama Fana lead the effort of the villagers there to extend a warm welcome to innumerable visitors on sailboats. Ahe is on the way from the Marquesas to Tahiti so that makes it a natural stopping point in addition to its ideal anchorage and friendly locals. From Mama Fana, Rose learned how to effortlessly make people feel like they belonged.
Rose’s grace and easy smile reveals her generous nature and service to others. Her husband and two young girls lived with her on one of the most stunning motus, or islets of the entire atoll. They had cleared the understory of brush so the white sand under the grove of coconut trees melted perfectly into the white of the beach and lagoon. The color of the water transitions from light blue to turquoise to deep blue. The deep blue is fringed by colorful corals that come almost to the surface and form a broad protective arm that waves from the predominant east wind break on. The unlikely natural marina has resulted in a sublime, flat water bathing pool, our favorite of the entire atoll.
The next day was Sunday so work was done until Monday. The day came to an end and we enjoyed a meal of chicken and pea stew over rice accompanied by Rose’s legendary coconut bread.
Atolls are at sea level so horizons are vast and days start early. Everyone had been up since before dawn as is customary in many pearl farms. Because of this, internal rhythms keep evenings short and Celeste and I were soon asleep in the bed we had been given. I have a talent for falling asleep instantly and not moving for the majority of the night and this night was no exception.
Early the next morning we awoke to a glassy calm without a breath of wind. Unlike high islands, the weather and temperature on atolls are regulated by the ocean, not land mass. Much the same as it is on a sailboat, weather systems blow over atolls without stalling since there is almost no land mass to hold them. Because of this, temps remain incredibly constant night and day and throughout the year. It never gets hot because of the constant wind. Or almost constant wind. This particularly morning the sun, despite being so low on the horizon, was already scorching. Before having breakfast we walked straight to the beach for a swim in the relatively cool 80° water.
Celeste let herself down in the water and instantly jumped up, crying out in pain. She had long, red scratches on both sides of her body on her inner thighs and her chest. The saltwater stung the superficial cuts that were disturbingly on erogenous zones on her body. I thought that she must have done it to herself so I inspected every one of her nails for irregularities that could account for this. I was hardly surprised to find nothing at all. She had been there for several months already and long hours working with pearl oysters had reduced her nails to nearly nothing. In addition to that, she has a lifelong habit of keeping her nail edges perfect. She had never scratched herself in her sleep before (or since for that matter). Despite the tropical swelter, we both found ourselves chilled and uneasy.
We walked back to the house and told Rose about it. She frowned and explained that her uncle, affectionately known as Papa’u (grandfather) had died in the house some months earlier and that a number of events had taken place that in Western terms could only be described as supernatural. Papa’u had a penchant for mischief when he was in this world and it was a natural assumption that his spirit would share the same proclivities.
We were told that if we were ever confronted with his ghost or disturbed by it’s apparent presence, that we should curse and yell at it, the more vile the better. The spirit world needs to be put in it’s place and through words you can do that, we were told.
This was one of several encounters we had with the supernatural. These kind of stories seem outlandish from a Western perspective. As I write this from my computer, I can only imagine how people must process it. One’s perspective changes however with cultural context. The culture on Ahe is the original one, in some ways identical to the one that was brought there by the first Polynesians who arrived in sailing canoes from Eastern Asia several hundred years earlier. Some say that the spirit world is stronger where there is less civilization. From our experience, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Photo by Lisa Zick-Mariterangi