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Getting to know Koueva

A sacred site that holds both personal and political histories

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Photo by Eric Guth

Smoke from burning leaves lifted into the morning sky. Two custodians had arrived before us, though it was still early, to continue the endless work of carving this site out from the surrounding forest.

Debora Kimitete explained that the name of this site, Koueva, refers to dancing that begins in the evening and goes right through until morning. This place was first described in Western literature in 1842, and when Debora, her husband Lucien, and other community members organized a dance here in 1999, it was the first one in 150 years.

 

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Photo by Eric Guth

Debora guided us through the site and revealed that much of her own story is tied to this place. It is dedicated to her husband, whose French name was Lucien and whose Marquesan name was Ro’o. He was a founder of the first Marquesan political party and a mayor of Taioha’e before his disappearance in 2002.

 

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Photo by Eric Guth

The site is marked my many sculptures of different ages and from different locations.

 

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Photo by Eric Guth

The one above might look familiar to anyone who has seen the statues of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and for good reason: it was gifted by a delegation from that place during a visit to the Marquesas.

 

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Photo by Eric Guth

Debora walked us through all of the structures and introduced us to the Marquesan vocabulary that described them: me’ae, pai pai, pai hava, tahu’a, and so on. She helped me envision where and when the Haka iki, or chief, would stand.

She also picked up the smallest stones to remind us that history can be found in the details.

 

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Photo by Eric Guth

Ancient pathways have almost been taken over by the forest, but not quite. These are still used today.

 

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Photo by Eric Guth

Some of the everyday structures, like a pit in front of a house for certain kinds of waste, are original, and other elements have been rebuilt in the last 20 years. All of this tells us something about the past and also the regular care that these sites need to become centres for community once again.

 

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Photo by Eric Guth

Every time Debora comes here, she enters this rebuilt house to visit a statue of Lucien, her husband. By the time we met Debora, it had been 16 years since his small plane took off in the Tuamotu Islands and was never seen again. Everyone on board disappeared and all were later presumed dead.

This site combines cultural and personal history in a way that helped me understand different forms of resilience.

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