The largest tikis in all of French Polynesia live in the lonely valley of Puamau, in the far eastern corner of Hiva Oa island.
Mu drove us expertly on the dirt track like a rally racer. “It’s much more fun in a rented car!” he hollered, downshifting around a sharp hairpin corner that led into yet another fantasy bay. The Toyota Hilux moaned happily as it accelerated into the next steep climb.
After an hour and a half of wild driving, the scenic valleys turned increasingly grandiose, until we crested the hill overlooking Puamau. It is a huge open valley surrounded by sharp toothy peaks. A village lays at the valley floor. Waves crash on the beach, exposed to the easterly tradewind.
The famous “big tikis” of Puamau have put the village back on the map; even the Aranui passenger/cargo ship now pays an occasional visit. The downside of this fame is that its raw, powerful feeling has been tamed into a tourist site – thanks to silly pandanus huts that now shelter each Tiki.
As if the Tikis need shelter! The good news is that the stone Tikis will be here long after the huts fall apart.
Mu told us fascinating stories about the Tikis. One Tiki only had legs sticking up in the air; he was buried upside down by a king who wanted to punish him. Another had his head removed by a priest who wanted to prove the Catholic “Mana” was stronger. The biggest Tikis stood an imposing three meters tall. A fertility Tiki lay in prone position to give birth, which women from different islands touch to aid their pregnancies.
The Big Tikis feel temporarily depleted of their natural Mana. In their manicured huts and mowed grass lawns, like german shepherds being paraded with cute ribbons, they look like they are just “for show”. But their nature is not so easily revoked.
The frivolity of humans change over time, but the valley of Puamau still pulses with power. We can sit and imagine ourselves back in a time when huge stone statues were carved, and civilizations came and went.