Monday, January 18, 2010
South Pacific Secrets: So What if Grandpa was a Rockefeller?
Yesterday my dear friend Katupu, granddaughter of Tepuku, the Paumotu woman who welcomed my husband's family to Ahe Atoll in the Tuamotus in 1973, came by for lunch. One of the things I love most about talking with friends from the outer islands is how many amazing stories they have. People in cities have nothing on folks who live out in the middle of nowhere when it comes to crazy tales, believe me. So here is one of my favorites from yesterday:
The subject of Tepuku came up and soon we were laughing about the old story of her two-month fling with a Mr Rockefeller (yes, of that particular family we've all heard of) when he came through on a boat back in the 50s or 60s; consequently she had his child. Soon after the baby was born, and once Rockefeller was long gone, Tepuku married a local man, Raumati and everyone pretty much forgot about the American who had sailed through. Tepuku never contacted the Rockefellers and as far as I know, the man was never aware that he fathered a daughter. This daughter was Katupu's mother, Taio. Taio is beautiful and obviously half Caucasian with fair skin and an elegant, very non-Polynesian, slightly hooked nose. Katupu, her daughter, has the same slim, aristocratic nose.
Katupu was raised mostly by her grandparents on Ahe and nowadays her main occupation is taking care of aging Tepuku. When asked about her family history, Katupu laughs ,"Who cares who he was? What did that guy ever do for us and why would we bother to contact him? Raumati was my grandfather, he was the one who raised us."
While most people would be groveling at the Rockefeller door, Katupu and her family couldn't imagine wanting to change anything about their life, and besides Raumati was a local legend who any Polynesian would be proud to call family. Soon she was telling us stories about her grandfather's skills, how he could sense the weather coming hours before it arrived and how he predicted the massively destructive 1983 cyclone that flattened Ahe, several hours before the storm started - this is in the days before there was any warning system in the Tuamotus. Instead of getting nervous and anxious, Raumati slowly and steadily began to prepare for the big wind and by the time it came everyone was safely closed up in the town hall. No one died even though it was the biggest cyclone to hit in anyone's memory. Raumati with his sixth sense essentially saved his atoll.
My husband who knew Raumati calls him "the God of fishing," stating that there was nothing the man didn't know about fish - and this is compared with all the other Paumotu people who came from generations of living with the sea. Raumati could hit a fish with a spear from so far away that you couldn't even remotely see the fish. Perhaps he could just tell where the fish were from surface agitation. How cool is that?
So I agree with Katupu: what good is some foreign guy no matter who he was compared to a man who could catch fish using the force? To me, listening to these stories from my island friends who are invariably straight-forward, very sharp, yet refreshingly uncomplicated, makes me feel grounded. I think we all share these same, pure values somewhere - perhaps some people keeping them deeper than others - and we just need to scrape off society's garbage to remember what is important to our everyday existence. At least in the Tuamotus, fish and intuition are much more important than being rich and famous.