The more things change

It is difficult to believe that it has been almost two months since we returned from Australia, and three months since we disembarked from the Aranui. How time flies. Friends from England arrived a couple of days ago and I was looking at photographs from the Marquesas. I have a number of images from Tohua Mauia on the island of Ua Pou. This is an archaeological site with ceremonial dance and gathering grounds that were used for major social and religious ceremonies.

Gifted craftsmen carved the stones used for the platforms and buildings where warriors stood guard while priests performed the sacred acts, and royalty sat on high thrones looking out over the massed populace. Musicians played the stories of myth and legend, and the people sang and danced. Afterwards, there was a great feast.

In one corner was the sacrificial stone, where captured enemies and fallen kings were sacrificed. In another, the stone on which members of the Arioi society displayed “their eroticism, their devotion to dance, pleasure and their god, ’Oro” (Barrow, 1979, p. 23).

Royalty, priests, warriors … social and religious ceremonies … songs of myth and legend … great crowds of people … I was reminded of all these elements of Marquesan culture during the recent coronation of King Charles III

The big difference, I suppose, is that our places of sex and sacrifice are removed from the public sphere, but not too far removed. The infamously indiscreet region of Soho is only twenty minutes walk away from the Abbey, and in the 16th and 17th centuries, several places around the Palace of Westminster were used for public executions. In the early 1600s, over 150 years before Cook reported similar examples in Polynesia, body parts of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators and of Sir Walter Raleigh were placed on display there.

Another thing I learned in the Marquesas was that specific groups such as the Arioi had distinctive tattoos which showed their standing in the group – different designs were added as people rose to higher positions in the society (Gotz, 2012, p. 11). As I looked over the massed ranks of uniforms and fascinators, differentiation in rank was equally apparent.

As Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is reputed to have said in 1849, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” To which one might add: “quel que soit le lieu socioculturel des événement.”

That’s basically what I was thinking as I watched the Archbishop of Canterbury usher the newly crowned King and Queen into the Golden Carriage for the drive away from the Abbey, guarded by warriors as they received the adulation of the crowd. The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing, no matter the socio-cultural location of the event. 

I remembered a welcome at one of the villages, where we visitors were entertained with traditional songs. The lead singer didn’t know the words, so he checked them on his iPhone. At another community, we were serenaded by a tattooed man blowing a large horn, a contemporary conch shell. He was wearing surfer shorts and designer sunglasses.

At which point I decided that it was time for me to join the 21st century, or at least a little part of it, and start a Facebook page to celebrate my garden. You can find Grandview Gardens here.

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