The bay of Hiva-Oa or, getting away with a black eye

Pearls farm on the Gambiers

With an aluminum boat and a 50 hp outboard motor, we glide through the turquoise blue water between the many buoys. To get ashore and to the many pearl farms, a small pass was dredged years ago. The coral canes come almost to the surface and very close to the boat. By email I had made a request the day before to be able to visit such a pearl farm. Since we did not expect an answer so quickly, we wanted to try again the next morning. When we come ashore, Mohea is already waiting for us and asks if we have booked the Perl Farm Tour. We did, and so we dive into the adventure of the Polynesian black pearls.

Pearl Farm Adventure

First we go by car to the north side of Mangareva. This is where most of the Gambians' pearl farms are located. The small houses stand on stilts in the middle of the lagoon, surrounded by clean, clear water that shines in all shades of blue. Mohea tells us that not far from here the reef is open and big sharks come here every now and then. A few months ago, a worker seems to have lost a leg. But accidents of this kind are rather the exception. At the Perl Farm we meet about ten people who are preparing the mussels for the different steps of the process. First, the mussels have to be pulled up. For this purpose, a black polyester line is unraveled at the end to form a foxtail. The lines then enter the water for a year, before Rikitea, and only before Rikitea. This does not seem to work in other places. Small mussels then settle into the foxtail and grow there. Earlier, one found in such a strand, hundreds of mussels, for a good three years, it is between none and 30 mussels. 

Shell innards

That this is dramatic for the pearl farms, I think one does not have to mention extra. After one year the foxtail comes out of the water and the available mussels are divided into three categories. The small ones, go into a cage and are nursed in the water, continuing for eight months. The medium ones, come in net bags and they are given another four months. Only the big ones are vaccinated with a foreign mussel meat. A Chinese woman, who is probably the best at this, introduces the spherical mussel meat into the mussel through a channel. 


Then the mussel is closed again and hung in the water for another year. Depending on the color of the shell, the beautiful colors of the pearls then emerge. From black to different shades of blue and gray, to white. If the pearls develop well, in the shell, it is used a second, possibly a third time. If the quality is poor, it is not used again. We try the individual steps ourselves and find that it is not so easy to set the plastic wedge that prepares the shell for implementation and holds it open with a kind of pliers. Also during the implementation itself, you have to be skillful and concentrated. In the end, it wrings a lot of respect from us how work is done here. The shells, which are no longer used, are separated with a knife cut. With the fingers one removes the mussel innards until one reaches the muscle, which sticks to the shell. This meat can be eaten and tastes very good. We are shown how to do it and we try it immediately. Tastes very tasty! So after two years at the earliest you can find a pearl, if you are lucky. There are also mussels that have none. Size, shape can be influenced only a little. If one has then a pearl in the class A, thus top quality, one pays here on the Gambiers, around the 200€ upward rather no borders. In Tahiti the same pearl already costs 500€ and outside Polynesia these round balls are very, very, precious. For souvenirs do it of course also the less precious ones, but they are not available here, on a pearl farm. You can get such pearls in the souvenir stores. Mohea is the mother of three children and runs this pearl farm together with her husband, Heiarii. She explains us, with an enthusiasm, her farm, that we will like to think back to the day.

Pearl Farm, Gambier Islands

Oh yes, there is still our old Swede, who was also there by the way. We start up his water maker. I dictate to him the steps to start the watermaker and he writes them down neatly. He then carries out each step. Except for a leaky filter, which we quickly get under control, the watermaker runs right away. I look into enthusiastic eyes and see that for him, I have ascended to a supernatural being. Secretly, he didn't think I could do it and is now all the more amazed that the watermaker is running. A better praise cannot express a man, and that also still without words, at all. After two hours, there are almost 200 liters in the tank and our old Swede is looking forward to a warm shower. Gone are the days when he had to look after fresh water. In the evening we thought first of a strange animal, which gives any sounds of itself, until we could guess the screams of joy in the shower on the neighboring boat. After the motto, every week a good deed, we wish you always fair winds and keep a stiff upper lip.