In the spirit of Thor and Liv Heyerdahl’s ‘Back to Nature’ adventure almost a hundred years earlier, I embraced my time in Marquesas as a chance to live a little closer to the Source. The relatively low populations and highly fertile soil make for lots of nature’s edibles to be foraged with permission from the local people. So Raiarii and I spent much of our time in the hills and valleys and sea gathering food, cooking over a fire, and combing the terrain for nature’s treasures. We learned from Mami Faatiarau and other friends that with some knowledge of the local plants, we could also make bark rope, palm frond baskets, natural remedies, seats, shelter, hats, you name it… We witnessed that those who were motivated and educated in the flora and fauna, could live heartily and almost wholly off Mother Nature’s provisions.
A few things struck me. Regional plant and animal knowledge must have taken generations upon generations of learning to accumulate. Modern ways make it so easy to let go, homogenize, and forget what our ancestors spent lifetimes figuring out! It can go extinct as easily as a species without a habitat, like it has in so many places where native peoples were killed, disrespected, and paved over. Where I grew up, we don’t even know that we almost all of human history would laugh at us for not knowing our plants!? That itself is a measure of our alienation from nature and our ‘bioregions’…
Al photos Liz Clark collection
There were multiple varieties of mangos, loads of starfruit, lichee, papayas, bananas of all sorts, avocados, local oranges and grapefruit, limes, and breadfruit just to start! Edible roots included taro, tarua, manioc, and sweet potatoes. And even delicious leafy greens that grew in the streams and slowly flowing tributaries!
“We like to think of progress as modern man’s struggle to secure better food for more people, warmer clothing and finer dwellings for the poor, more medicine and hospitals for the sick, increased security against war, less corruption and crime, a happier life for young and old. But, as it has turned out, progress involves much more. It is progress when weapons are improved to kill more people at a longer range. It is progress when a little man becomes a giant because he can push a button and blow up the world. It is progress when the man in the street can stop thinking and creating because all his problems are solved by others who show him what happens if he turns on a switch. It is progress when people become so specialized that they know almost everything about almost nothing. It is also progress when reality gets so damned dull that we all survive by sitting staring at entertainment radiating from a box, or when one pill is invented to cure the harm done by another, or when hospitals grow up like mushrooms because our heads are overworked and our bodies underdeveloped, because our hearts are empty and our intestines filled with anything cleverly advertised. It is progress when a farmer leaves his hoe and a fisherman his net to step onto an assembly line the day the cornfield is leased to industry, which needs the salmon river as its sewer. It is progress when cities grow bigger and fields and forests smaller, until ever more men spend ever more time in subways and bumper-to-bumper car queues, until neon lights are needed in daytime because buildings grope for the sky and dwarf men and women in canyons where they roll along with klaxons screaming and blow exhaust all over their babies. When children get a sidewalk in exchange for a meadow, when the fragrance of flowers and the view of hills and forests are replaced by air conditioning and a view across the street. It is progress when a centuries-old oak is cut down to give space for a road sign.” –Thor Heyerdahl, Fatu Hiva