Watching people in a local bus on the way to the airport motel in Papeete, I cannot help but wonder why people look so sad. Both men and women are dressed in bright colorful clothes with flower- and leaf patterns. Many women and girls have real or artificial flower decorations in their hair. Everybody seems to have plastic flip-flops “made in China”. Some are staring at their smartphones much like it’s done all over the world. Nobody speaks.
People on the bus are friendly enough, compared with what I experienced in a couple of shops selling textiles in downtown. There the behavior of employees had made me feel as if I was a nuisance since I wanted to look at some textiles that were in big piles and not easily accessible.
I had unsuccessfully tried to stop a bus earlier: the driver had ignored me. The driver of the present bus also looked like he would pass me, but he stopped the bus abruptly when I almost had given up hope. When I entered the bus, I could not see any empty seats. People were looking at me and looking around in the bus and started pointing to the next to last seat where a big mama was sitting alone. She waved to me and moved as close to the window as she could. I pressed myself to her side and smiled gratefully. She gave me a brief smile and turned to stare out of the window.
My initial idea of this remote island in the huge Pacific Ocean was strongly based on tourist brochures and travel writers’ praise of Tahiti. According to them Tahiti is the paradise on earth with happy, friendly people and an unspoiled nature. It may have been true before the first white man arrived many hundreds of years ago (or even before mass tourism found Tahiti about 40 years ago). But I dare to doubt it. What I had read was that there were fights among different tribes, and cannibalism was practiced on the Polynesian islands in the good old days.
The approximately 50 persons on that local bus reinforced my first impressions of people in Tahiti and partly on all the other Polynesian islands I have seen. There appear to be at least two big problems: obesity and poverty. Most likely they are closely linked, because fast food is cheaper than traditional Polynesian diet with fresh fish, vegetables and fruit. The tropical hot climate is not conducive to any physical activities outdoors either. As in so many societies, the quick change from hard manual labor to computer-based sedentary work results in health and social problems.
A fellow tourist on the ship had informed me that rotund women represent the beauty ideal in Tahiti. They appeal to local men. If there is any truth to it, I think it is a horrible, oppressive beauty ideal in line with the ancient practice of binding women’s feet in China or mutilating women’s genitals, a practice still performed in some African and Middle-East countries. These traditions threaten women’s health and complicate their free movement, thus forcing them to stay more time at home.
I spent four days on Tahiti and saw only part of it. However, my conclusion is that it is no more a paradise than so many other islands in the world. Should one anyway venture to travel to French Polynesia, the islands of Nuku Hiva, Fakarava and Moorea should be visited. They are much smaller with a smaller population and possibly are more in line with my illusions of an earthly paradise.