Utopia in the Tuamotu Islands

| 7/29/2011 5:36:08 PM

Tuamotu Islands

“Land! An island! We devoured it greedily with our eyes and woke the others, who tumbled out drowsily and stared in all directions as if they thought our bow was about to run on to a beach. Screaming sea birds formed a bridge across the sky in the direction of the distant island, which stood out sharper against the horizon as the red background widened and turned gold with the approach of the sun and full daylight.”—Kon-Tiki 

It was July 30, 1947, when the Kon-Tiki expedition first sighted Polynesia’s Tuamotu Islands. The handmade raft had been drifting across the Pacific Ocean for nearly 100 days and 4,300 miles, captained by Norwegian experimental archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl.

Sixty-four years later, a different kind of adventurer—backpacking travel blogger Ben Groundwater—visited Heyerdahl’s Tuamotu Islands and found a small organic-worshipping New Testament Church cult that harvests its own sea salt and ferments its own fish sauce along with raising vegetables, chickens, and pigs in a tropical paradise. “As places in which to save yourself go, you could do worse,” points out Groundwater, author of the travel memoir Five Ways to Carry a Goat: A Blogger’s World Tour. “You putter up in a little boat, moor in the clear, green waters of the lagoon, walk up the wooden pier and enter the Garden of Eden, which, whether by chance or design, seems to have a distinct lack of apple trees.”

Headed by Taiwanese prophet Elijah Hong, the cult comprises just four women and five men, along with their children. Groundwater had a chance to tour the island encampment:

[W]e come across the island’s kitchen facilities, with a few wok burners fired by dried coconut husks. I figure in a God-given utopia such as this, it would be a one-in, all-in sort of situation when it comes to chores.

“So, who does the cooking?” I ask Jacob. “Do you share it around?” Jacob smiles and shakes his head.

“No, the women do the cooking.” Oh. Well, hardly utopia for them then, is it?

Ah, well. In any case, it’s a great excuse to excavate your bookshelf for your schoolchild copy of Kon-Tiki and head outside to reread one of the world’s greatest real-life adventures.

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