National Geographic : 1962 Apr
roa from several of the 77 other islands in the Tuamotu group, that enchanting string of atolls whose name the natives translate as "cloud of islands." An old South Seas hand in Papeete had once described the Tuamotus to me. "They stretch roughly 1,100 miles, and some people say they are all alike," he said. "Just the same, there's an intangible some thing about them that seems to make each island different from the others." Isles of Trade Winds and Typhoons He was right. But at first sight it hardly looked that way, and in describing Takaroa I am, at least in a physical sense, also describ ing Takapoto, Fakahina, Fakarava, Hikueru, Pukarua, Manihi, and Niau - islands with names as exotic as the trade winds that ruffle the tops of their coconut palms. They rise no more than 30 feet out of the sea, and their coral reefs encircle lagoons of varied shapes and sizes-some measuring 60 miles across, some barely six. Most of the is lands have passes through the coral reefs into KODACHROMES© NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY the lagoons, but not many channels are deep enough for large boats. Schooners sometimes anchor off the reef, sending supplies ashore in surf boats. Irregular-shaped Takaroa is made up of 16 islands, or motus, separated from one an other by a few hundred yards of submerged coral. The reef encircles a 12-mile-long la goon. Many a captain has misjudged his po sition here and sailed his vessel to its doom on the jagged coral. When typhoons sweep through the islands, great waves roll over the low atolls. One of the worst storms of record hit in 1906; thousands of people perished in the Society Islands alone. Islanders climbed trees to escape 40- to 50 foot seas, but 120-mile winds tore many from their perches. This storm blew a British four-masted ship of 2,090 tons, the County of Roxburgh, onto Takaroa's lee shore. Ten of her crew drowned. Her hull still rusts on the reef, and flowers grow beneath it; gaping holes amid ships let beams of sunlight through in the ear ly afternoon. As we approached the island, still unseen below the horizon, I began to think of my previous stay there. Life on Takaroa, as I re membered it, was serene and slow moving. A year earlier, I had arrived alone aboard a trading schooner, with my duffel bag, a ten dollar guitar, and a few songs learned in Ta hiti. A husky Takaroan named Ramana had spoken to me at the dock. "We have little here," he said. "The water comes from what rains we are lucky enough to have. Sometimes we run out of flour before the schooner arrives and must eat coconut and fish. Our beds are hard and the mosqui toes are many. We have no popaa entertain ment [entertainment for foreigners]. Why do you come here?" "I am interested in your people," I said. "I would like to live among them." Raven-tressed girl in bathing trunks hauls water in a paint can from a Takaroa well. Some of the roofs catch rain for drinking. Coral-sand strip serves Takaroa both as street and playground; the island has no au tomobiles. Villagers often sweep the road with palm fronds. No housing code inhibits home builders, who use wood, masonry, gal vanized iron, or thatch. Tricolors anticipate a visit by French Polynesia's governor.