Ship on horizon bodes good will

MARQUESAS, French Polynesia -- For the Marquesas, population 8,000, the Aranui is a lifeline to the outside world. Every two weeks, the ship delivers much-needed supplies, from cement and pickup trucks to sugar and toilet tissue.

After unloading its cargo, the ship takes on giant burlap bags filled with copra, the dried coconut husks that are the Marquesas' main export.

But a look at Marquesas history shows there was a time when ships sailed into port bearing nothing more than illness and ill will.

The population of the Marquesas at one time had surpassed 100,000 as the islanders prospered and developed a rich artistic and cultural heritage based on ancestor worship.

The arrival of European whalers and traders upset the Marquesan way of life as the Europeans fought for control of the islands while missionaries banned long-held customs.

In the process, the Marquesans were decimated by diseases introduced by the Westerners, and in just 30 years the population plummeted to less than 2,000. -- J.S.

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For more details on this article, see Freighter with amenities visits South Pacific ports.

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