After having traversed the western coast of this lovely atoll a few times, setting the anchor close in shore atop hard to find shoals, we concluded our KWAI Store commerce and moved back to the north end for the annual Independence Day celebrations. On a hunch, Capt. Brad sent Ben to investigate the reef for a hole in which to attach a mooring line in lieu of setting the hook again. Quicker than you can say the Kiribati alphabet ol’ Ben gave a thumbs up so we passed him our line and the ship was made fast. We had a lovely calm night there full of stars smiling down on us. And now to the crime scene.

The festivities took place in an open plaza bordered on opposite sides by a large covered patio area lined with food tables and an open shed containing two recently refurbished fresh water tanks. The dignitaries seated in front of these tanks even included the Cook Islands Prime Minister. Adjacent to the shed and patio were large canopy tents on three sides, open all around, for visitors, the host village and the village guests from Tau. In the center, the performance area included several chairs for the singers and musicians and a hundred square meter dance arena.

Hearing the drummers commence their complex rhythmic patterns on hardwood hollow logs with such precision really enlivened the occasion. Before long the first dance troupe entered, girls from one side and boys from the other, to present their competition piece. They faced the dignitaries along the front throughout. In turn, each village’s dancers and musicians took over the turf for one song before the winners of the recent competition in Rarotonga were announced. The young dancers donned ornate costumes of organic and modern materials, brightly colored and embellished with native black oyster shells. Their routines were evidently well rehearsed as the boys and girls all moved in unison to the cadence of the drums. But steady yourselves, dear readers, for the majesty and formality of this event was soon to wane with the falling tide.

The first sign of the madness to come was a comedic interlude rendered by four women dancers in print dresses and floral crowns who were joined by two more clad in coveralls and cowboy hats posing as lazy government contract builders. A tale unfolded of how things actually came to pass during the last project to rebuild the tanks. Apparently, those workers now parodied did little except lie around and be waited on by the women.  And now is where the fun truly began.

Next, local islanders canvassed the crowd for conscripts and led these innocents to the edge of the dance arena. All the off islanders and resident foreigners were taken captive. This roundup was supervised by one burly island lady whose stern looks and sharp commands were void of ambiguity. She was large and in charge. As the conscripts were being gathered a young girl approached me, smiled, and continued on. I was not chosen. Not being picked for the ritual abuse that followed when all the other outsiders were was bittersweet, a bit of a relief but I also felt left out.

The drummers began their Tahitian tattoo again and one by one each of the chosen were led out to the center for a dance duet. The contrast between locals and yokels couldn’t be wider and a good time was had by all. Capt. Brad was tagged early on, then the rest of KWAI’s crew was interspersed among the rest. Tetaake was given extended time when a second dance partner barged in during his set. He graciously treated both women with equal attention. Seeing all my shipmates display an extreme lack of dancing prowess proved too difficult to pass up so I moved closer with my camera in hand to record their antics for later ridicule. But my efforts were soon curtailed by Madame Maneater, the monstrous mistress of ceremonies who plucked me from the crowd to do with me whatever she wished.

Upon arrival at the center of the performance space she initiated what I thought would be a sort of western style face-to-face easy embrace followed perhaps by some graceful waltzing steps. Not so friends, for the embrace soon became a crush as she bear hugged the breath right out of me! Also, placing my hands lightly upon her shoulders proved unsatisfactory so she forced them lower while smacking my backside in sync with a drum crash. The crowd was pleased for sure but their crescendo of laughter rose even higher when this beauteous beast began thrusting and grinding upon my person. Well, dash. Now I felt like a minnow being toyed with by a barracuda. The drummers gave it their all and I tried to earn some measure of mercy by performing my best Polynesian prance but to little avail. It seemed all was lost.

Hold on to your hats dear readers, for suddenly I was rescued by our Kiribati crew who rushed in to save me as if I were about to be pummeled in a barroom brawl. Swift as wolves they surrounded her and ring fenced her escape as she fled for safety. I managed to keep up my dance efforts while crabbing sidelong like an NFL linebacker, holding her squarely in front of me. I’ll never forget seeing the flash of our fine fellows suddenly upon this scene, these dancing defenders of decency!

Later on, I thanked her for choosing me and she said nothing. It wasn’t until evening came, once safely on board the gently rocking KWAI that the crying game was to be revealed and it was Capt Brad who gave me the news…

This manly, man-sized man eating Manihikan…….WAS A MAN!!!!