Moana and Vaekehu

Moana and Vaekehu

In the Taiohae valley of Nuku Hiva in the first half of the 1800’s there was a chief named Moana. His wife’s name was Vaekehu. When the French navy came and ‘civilized’ the valley of Taiohae they tried to get Moana and Vaekehu to adopt European ways. They built them a house of wood planks and they put European furniture in it. The French naval officers were able to get Moana to dress up in a French admiral’s uniform with gold epaulets and a hat with a tassel on it. They gave a long purple silk gown to Vaekehu. Those French officers were real proud of themselves on how they had been able to civilize Moana and his wife.

One day an American whaling ship came into the valley of Taiohae. The French naval officers thought that it would be really nice if they could get Moana and Vaekehu to do an ‘official review’ of the sailors on this whaling ship. It would look official and it would be a way that they could show the Americans how they had been able to ‘civilize the savages’ of the Taiohae valley.

The French naval officers made an appointment with the captain of the sailing vessel who instructed his sailors to dress up in their finest clothes and to clean the ship up so that it was clean. The appointed hour arrived and the French naval officers rowed out to the ship in a rowboat with Moana dressed in his uniform and Vaekehu in her silk gown.

The sailors on the whaling ship lined up in a row and stood at attention and the captain of the ship, the French naval officers and ‘King Moana’ and ‘Queen Vaekehu’ went down the line inspecting each sailor and trying their best to look important and official. The French naval officers were so proud of how they had been able to ‘civilize’ Moana and Vaekehu. Everything went fine until Vaekehu came to a sailor with a tattoo of a whaling ship and a whale on his chest. Like any Marquesan of her time she admired a good tattoo and this tattoo was really interesting. So she reached out and opened his shirt wider to get a better view of the picture.

Then she started inspecting his arms for more tattoos.

Of course, the French officers were horrified and embarrassed. The sailors were all smiling at what she was doing and just as the French officers started to wonder what could be worse than Vaekehu poking around the chest and arms of a sailor she decided to show off some of her own tattoos. She picked up the hem of her gown and pulled it up to her shoulders and showed the sailors the tattoos all up and down her legs! That was the end of that official review.

The French officers quickly retreated to their rowboat and the Americans had to return Moana and Vaekehu to shore.

‘Typee’ by Herman Melville.

Revised: June 13, 1996

Copyright © 1996 Daniel (Taniera) Longstaff