Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Photo of the Week: Ua Huka, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
Dried coconut meat, also called copra, makes the world go round on nearly all of French Polynesia's outer islands. Coconuts are harvested off the ground in their ripest pre-germed stage, are cleaved in two with a machete then left out to dry in the sun. Next, the meat is extracted with a curved knife, called a pana in Tahitian, and the meat is dried again. This is the stage you see in this photo. Lastly, the coconut bits are stuffed in a sac, sold by weight to the local supply ships (known as "copra boats") and shipped to Papeete where the oil is extracted.
Ua Huka is one of the least visited islands in the Marquesas but it's my favorite. Lush valleys are concentrated with fruit trees (including over 20 species of mango) but the hills and coastal areas are open, grassy and decidedly wind-swept. I love that the locals let their copra dry out on the bare ground like this. On most islands people use elevated drying huts but everyone knows each other on Ua Huka and there's so much open space, why bother? There's a greater concentration of expert wood carvers on the island than anywhere else in the country, you can roam the hills on horse back looking for ancient pertoglyphs, fetch knotty tern eggs with the locals or search for the Marquesas-exclusive Ultramarine lorikeet, an electric blue beauty that's one of the world's rarest birds.