The island of Rapa is ruggedly beautiful with jagged green peaks surrounding a large bay. Atop the ridges are the remains of twelve ancient forts built by the old tribes of Rapa, who according to legend, were fierce warriors who waged constant war against one other. George Vancouver, the first European to “discover” the island in 1791 (small world), estimated that there were about 2,000 inhabitants at the time. After the missionaries arrived in the mid nineteenth century with their western diseases, the population plummeted to a few hundred. Today, there are 500 residents who pretty much live off the bounty of the land.
The island is lush and temperate and they grow a wide variety of fruit, coffee, taro and other vegetables. There is also plenty of fish and other seafood – apparently lobster is so common they use it as bait! We were fortunate to arrive just a few days before the President of Polynesia came for a visit. The islanders decorated the island and prepared a fete in his honour. It was amazing to experience a bit of traditional Polynesia – enjoying the songs, dances and foods of their culture.
The people of Rapa are extraordinarily friendly and generous. The island is so remote (few sailboats come to call and the supply boat from Tahiti only comes every two months) that the famed hospitality of Polynesia is still evident. Everywhere we go, people stop to say hello, give us fruit or invite us for coffee or meals. The other day when we were walking back from having breakfast with a local family, a woman waved us over to her house so that she could give us some chocolate cake to take with us! We’re very happy that we went out of our way to visit here. It’s truly a taste of paradise.