Saturday, 29 March 2014

Birdman 1

               “A myth is far truer than a history, for a history only gives a story of the
                 shadows, whereas a myth gives a story of the substances that cast the
                                                                                                   Annie Besant

Wet Horses. When the aft door swung open, a mustang moisture rode into the cabin, instead of that mix of tropical rot and jet fuel that usually pries you half awake, on any twilight torpid flight through the Southern Sea. This air was all wild wet horses.
Robyn and I had flown out of one legend into another, from the story of the New Cytherea, to a saga of societal collapse. We landed on the eastern tip of the Polynesian triangle, on a triangle-shaped island of multiple mythologies. There were myths of origin, of ancestry, of the Birdman Cult, and of death and rebirth. The Dutch captain that made the made European sighting on April 5, 1722, had no idea how appropriate was the name he had chosen. Paasch-Eyland. Easter Island. Jacob Roggeveen had been in trouble in Holland, for publishing a religious pamphlet called ‘De Val van's Werelds Afgod.’ The Fall of the World's Idol. In the ocean of mythical metaphor, Jake was on a roll.
We had all arrived on the most remote inhabited island on Earth, over two thousand kilometers from the nearest human thought, and that was on Pitcairn. Unlike the year it had taken Roggeveen to get here, Robyn and I had arrived on a LAN Chile Boeing 767 in only a few hours. The original 7th century Polynesians that had spawned the Myth of Origin had taken four months in two doubled-hulled canoes, each ninety feet long. They didn’t pass through Customs, they brought them, along with warriors, tradesmen, farmers, fecundity, and ariki nobles. And ‘fowl, cat, turtle, dog, banana plant, paper mulberry, hibiscus, ti, sandalwood, gourd, and yam.’  Hotu Matu'a had led the first expedition, from the legendary land of Hiva, either the Marquesas or Mangareva in the Gambiers. When one of his wives gave birth to a son after the long voyage, the severed umbilical cord gave birth to the name of their new home. Pito-o-te-henua. Navel of the Land. Or maybe Land’s End. It was the sanctification of the greatest ocean journey of human colonization in history.
Our arrival was a little less auspicious. There was the same salt wind and pounding surf and mud and marsh, but the crowing roosters and barking dogs had been here awhile. The ariki noble that met us outside the terminal was named Bill.
“G’day.” He said, removing a little of the shine off our discovery. But William Howe was a bit of a local legend as well, and no small hero of his own myth. An Australian film set construction manager, he had arrived on Easter Island in 1993 to coordinate the production of Ken Costner’s Rapa Nui, the one with the great scenery, far too condensed history, and Puerto Rican and mixed Chinese actors speaking New Zealand-accented English, emoting to a background beat of African booga-booga music. None of these results had much to do with Bill, of course, who related the nightmare of producing a complex film in the most remote location on the planet, and a hybrid world of Latin American and Polynesian efficiency.
“It was just like the theme of the movie.” He said. “A continuous war against the landscape.” Until Bill met Edith Pakarati, and his own world collapsed in a burning hunk of love. Edith was Rapa Nui wild horse woman, whose father, one of one of Thor Heyerdahl’s informants, had told her when she was 12, that her husband wouldn’t come from Chile, but from west of Tahiti. She met Bill in the disco, and he eventually met her 22 brothers and sisters, all of whom were descended from the only 36 ancestors out of the 111 Rapanui inhabitants still alive on the island in 1877.
Edith greeted us at their Taura'a Hotel, with soft words in English and Polynesian, and hard edges to some others in Chilean Spanish. Bill said goodbye, and set off to work on their ‘new house in the country.’  I wondered to myself what country he thought he was working in.
Robyn hung up our Tahitian laundry in the bathroom, I grabbed the umbrella from its shadow against the ochre wall, and we walked into the alternating rain and sunshine of an early Sunday morning in the middle of nowhere.

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