Polynesian work ethic, and a big hike to Hanatekua

I was under the impression that Polynesians are supposed to be, well… relaxed about work. Even lazy. “The tropical sun and family culture makes them unproductive,” is the assumption. 

Copra workers in Hanatekua

In Central America, the joke is that locals will get things done “mañana”… I’ll do that tomorrow!  Here in Polynesia there’s a similar expression: “Fui”. As in, “I’ve worked enough for the day… fui!” It’s like a sigh of tired relief, converted into a word.  

Hiking through the banyan trees on the way to Hanatekua

  In Central America, the joke is that locals will get things done “mañana”… I’ll do that tomorrow!  Here in Polynesia there’s a similar expression: “Fui”. As in, “I’ve worked enough for the day… fui!” It’s like a sigh of tired relief, converted into a word.  

Having pasta salad in the beach hut in Hanatekua

Just like “mañana”, however, the idea of “fui” has become a frustrated joke that foreigners like to tell. Yet I’ve seen Polynesians work as hard as anyone else. How to reconcile this misunderstanding?

Case in point: we hiked almost 2.5 hours to the lovely cove of Hanatekua, which has no road access, and found three Marquesans there working copra. As usual, they weren’t dilly-dallying.


Chris on an rock outcropping along the hike

Even as we talked, they were opening dry coconuts, removing meat, and taking a moment to go fetch us a few huge green coconuts to drink. This isn’t unusual, and frankly I’m always impressed by their keen productivity. If I were shelling coconuts every single day for a year, the hammock would surely be my constant companion, and I’d find every reason possible to procrastinate.

  

Our sailor legs were incredibly tired from the walk, and we meandered in dazed exhaustion between the wooden hut, the ocean, and the river that flows through the valley. The cove of Hanatekua, like the rest of the island of Hiva Oa, has brownish water, and the beach has occasional swarms of no-nos. It is not a beach destination. Yet the land here is gorgeous. A pleasant river winds its way through wild orchards of fruit trees where the copra guys have temporary homes (they work here all week long, and return home for the weekend) to the coconut trees by the seashore. 

the view of the beach in Hanatekua

The hike itself was spectacular, criss-crossing ravines that revealed views from rocky outcrops one moment, to druid-like nooks of old trees the next moment. Goats scampered on the hillside and the easterly breeze kept us fresh in the shade. 


One of the older copra workers returned by horse along the trail to Hanaipa. He nodded to a younger guy who was slamming down repetitively on coconuts with a huge axe, chopping them in half, sending fermented coconut water flying into the air. The axe-wielder showed no signs that he would be stopping anytime soon, evident from the giant mound of coconuts he was tackling. 

Picking coconuts

Instead of sitting idle the other young guy was cleaning the vegetation around their garden. It’s worth noting that the gardens in people’s homes are impressively manicured, especially when one considers how fast things grow in the tropics, and how much fruit is falling on the ground. 

Talk about hard working! There is no doubt the people we’ve met so far – in eastern Polynesia at least – have a solid work ethic. 


 

panorama of the beach in Hanatekua

 

Yet if you ask them to work on the weekend, or after hours, forget it. They are going pig hunting, or relaxing with their family. Personal time is sacred, keeping a smile and good attitude is paramount. So when it comes to getting things done, their priority is not punctuality. People are relaxed about the concept of time. Like the passengers on Air Tahiti flights that get turned around by bad weather, it’s how it goes. 

That relaxed approach is at the heart of “fui” and  “mañana”. People are stress-free, and aren’t about to be rushed by anyone’s demands. This takes some getting adjusted to, and can be very frustrating when you’re on a time crunch. But it’s something we can all learn from, if we want to be as happy and stress-free as many Polynesians are.

One thought on “Polynesian work ethic, and a big hike to Hanatekua

  1. We should all learn a lot from these people’s lifestyle. “Happy and stress-free” ….what a concept. Enjoy it while you can and hopefully integrate this into you life ahead. Remain you with a touch of “fui”.

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