Monday, May 9, 2011

Get Me to the Church On Time

This week we made it.  Last Sunday we weren’t as lucky.  I’m not sure who got the details wrong, but we now know that Sunday Church services at the Catedral de Notre Dame d’Iles Marquises begin at 8 a.m. and not at 10. Last week’s failed attempt at experiencing the not-to-be-missed singing landed us on an entertaining, fabulous but sweat-filled hike (in our Sunday Best, no less) involving some getting lost, an archeological site, a generous but toothless local named Roo on horseback feeding us fruit directly off the trees, and the crew of some 5 boats bonding along the way. Not so bad. 
This week, as a group of only seven (again, the four of us and the crew of Ceilydh),  we were lucky enough to immerse ourselves in the spine-tingling choral music highly recommended by all our guide books.  Our foray was still sweat-filled (it was a like a sauna in there), but the harmonies more than made up for the discomfort.  
Polynesian church attire
My kids had never been to a church service before, so it was fun doing the comparisons.  Lots of sitting then standing.  Lots of singing.  We especially enjoyed Hallelujah to the tune of ‘Michael Row Your Boat Ashore’.    Both services involve washing hands, drinking from a wine goblet, and eating bread (challah vs. a wafer), although at a synagogue it all happens after the service is over and the food is usually far more abundant.  The church service was a mere hour plus, while Saturday morning synagogue services are closer to 2.5 hours.  Foreign languages for both, my kids said – although the congregants here speak the language of the service on a daily basis. In fact, the service was conducted in both French and Marquesan, a language much closer to Hawaiian than to Tahitian, apparently. 

IMG_0639The church itself, with its open air half-walls, is simpler but no less beautiful than its colonial European cousins. This particular church was built with stones from each of the six inhabited Marquesan islands as well as with magnificent dark woods endemic to this area.  It is remarkable how the Catholic and ancient Polynesian traditions are intertwined, with both Christian and traditional symbols adorning the church, most often in the form of beautiful wood carvings, an art form still practiced here.  What most struck me was how everyone knew the entire service and readily belted out the melodies in stunning harmonies.  The guidebooks were right.  This was a truly moving experience.

Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia 


  1. The beautiful choral music and brief service hardly lends time for boredom. Easy to become a believer in Nukku Hiva...

  2. You guys didn't want to get up and sing Adon Olam for them?