After a night at sea, we arrived in Raiatea by morning. The skies looked threatening, but held off for an early morning excursion along the perimeter of the island with a few stops along the way.
The first stop, and perhaps the most interesting, was to a local pearl farm where we attended a short lecture on the entire process of cultivation– fascinating.
Local Pearl Farm
The process starts with the sacrifice of an oyster, where the Grafter (knowledgeable of oyster anatomy and skilled with a scalpel) cuts out a piece of the mantle (gasket) and sections it off into several small squares that measure about 3 mm each. These in turn act as the catalyst for the nucleus.
The Grafter then uses a specialty tool to pry open a live oyster, without damaging the abductor muscle, then delicately slices open the gonad (pearl sack), and slips in a seed nucleus (small round piece of mother-of-pearl made from shells found in the Mississippi, manufactured by the Japanese) and adds one of the mantle squares, which joins with the nucleus and begins to coat it, the oyster doing the rest. The process takes approximately 18 months (anything less is considered cheap). The color of the pearl is based upon the color of the inside of the oyster (white, green, eggplant, black are the main colors).
Oysters are protandrous alternating hermaphrodites, meaning they start off male to produce sperm then morph into females later in life. I am pretty sure I once dated someone like that once.
A Bento box of tool for the Grafter
You can see in the image below that the pearl matches the the oyster’s dominant color.
Another memorable stop along our excursion was to a charming couple’s home where we were invited to sample bread fruits and coconut, done a million ways– How it gets from here to a Mars Bar is astounding!
After our excursion and lunch we returned to shore and with perfect timing attended a cultural dance by the locals of Raiatea. The music was beautiful, the dancing carried through us, reaching into our souls.
Marjorie Barnett, if you are reading this, once again I must have held that eager look, because I was the first to be singled out to join in, of which I was more than eager.
My legs are going to be hurting in the morning
After some shopping in downtown, we finally made it back onboard and headed up to the Palm Cove for afternoon tea. What a treat this is, listening to a virtuoso on violin while dining on tea sandwiches and saying goodby to Raiatea (for now).
Of all the Society Islands, Raiatea was the most sustainable, most natural and uncommercial of the islands. There was a natural vibe here unlike the others.
Onward to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.