Friday, June 15, 2018

The triangular dancers

The slab of beachrock, with its dancing, triangular figures, had been lying for centuries under the sand. It might have been an ancient tablet buried in a Sumerian or an Egyptian desert, covered in a script that had become archaic, that was recognised only by scholars and madmen. Then, at the end of 2008, a storm lurched through the Ha'apai archipelago, and wiped the beach clean. Suddenly the dancers of Foa island performed for a new audience: astonished local fishermen, uncomprehending palangi holidaymakers.
David Burley hurried to Foa. He knew the seas were rising, that the low islands of Ha'apai sinking. Another storm might submerge the dancers, or veil them again in sand.
Burley remembered how, on the neighbouring island of Ha'ano, fourteen years earlier, locals had dug up & destroyed a centuries-old temple he had only just rediscovered, surveyed, described in an academic article. The Christians of Ha'ano did not want to be reminded of their pagan ancestors. Ancient Tonga is fragile.
Burley called his study of the stone dancers 'Triangular Men on One Very Long Voyage'. The rock on Foa's coast had been carved, he decided, by Hawai'ian visitors. It remembered an epic ancient voyage, between West & East Polynesia.
For Tongan scholar 'Okusi Mahina, the petroglyph was no surprise. It was written proof for the oral histories he had collected, collated. It showed that his ancestors' homeland had been a liquid continent, an ancient superpower, not an isolated archipelago. 
Last year Visesio Siasau heard a story from his home island of Ha'ano, a place where the sea gnaws old canoe landings & where stone tombs and songs remember chiefs and fish conjurers. Another storm had taken more of the beach, the story said. A strange stone tablet had been exposed. 
Next month I'll be visiting Ha'apai with Visesio Siasau. Sio wants to land at Ha'ano again, to see the newly exposed stone for himself. Is it another fragment of ancient Pacific history? And can it avoid the fate of the temple David Burley rediscovered?

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3:57 pm  

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