- Maker of Dreams
In 1976 Bobby Holcomb settled in the village of Maeva, which was the seat of ancient Mā'ohi royalty when Huahine was still called Mata'irea. For the first time in his life, he really settled down, at last finding himself in a world he'd always dreamed of, or the world of his dreams. Here, as in the legends, people take the time to live, to talk, to sing, to drink, to dance; and they love, above all, large public gatherings, particularly those of a religious nature. Bobby's religious feelings brought him close to these people. Enchanted by Polynesian culture, he was not afraid of the ancient idols of the Māori religion but rather found them noble and dignified. Like the work of Gauguin and others, his paintings were haunted by the shadows of the night, but he chose to cast them in the light of day.
A great lover of mythology, he found his own place in local history and legends, beside the ancient Mā'ohi of Tahiti, Huahine, and Ra'iātea who had immigrated, in bygone days, to Hawai'i, located far to the north of Maeva and at the summit of the Polynesian triangle. The ancestors of the people of this country were his ancestors, he was one of them, and he acquired their language and returned to them his knowledge.
Bobby read avidly, not just for pleasure or from habit, but to discover and pass on the techniques of lost crafts, the use of certain materials, and the ancient pastimes. The theme of traditional mā'ohi games—archery, kite flying, floating rafts of wood and leaves—enriches his paintings, as do the motifs of dance costumes and musical instruments. Theory and practice being inseparable, he joined and soon became teacher of the folkloric dance group of Maeva. In the village of Fare, he taught high-school students to make 'aumoa similar to noughts-and-crosses and other games from the past. In the schools of Tahiti and elsewhere, he produced plays adapted from legends, his favorite being Pipirima. In 1978, he collaborated with the poet Henri Hiro on an adaptation of a legend from Huahine: Ari'ipaea Vahine. The actors, drawn from the Mā'ohi cultural renaissance movement, joined together to form a pupu 'arioi, reviving the pleasures and experiences of this society of players and servants of the god 'Oro.
His new friends were touched by his extreme generosity. He gave his paintings away and freely offered his services to assist movements or associations formed to protect nature. Always willing to lend his time and talents, happy to learn by creating, he also loved to teach. A number of his songs were written for children and carry messages in the form of mnemotechnic phrases (simple repetitive catch [End Page 107] phrases), making it easy for children to remember them. It came as no surprise when he was honored by the country as its Man of the Year in 1988. Indeed, children loved him, the younger generation admired him, and Polynesian society recognized him as a leader.
Yes, Bobby was loved in Tahiti, always smiling, simply dressed, crowned with flowers, intelligent in speech, manipulating the French language with elegance and Tahitian with goodwill. So much did he resemble the people of this country that he was looked upon as a cousin or parent who had been overseas for a long time, but had come home to take his place in the great Polynesian family.
Though Bobby earned his living more by his art than by singing, he was better known to the public for his voice, warm and resonant, spreading across the airwaves of both radio and television. His work as a painter, on the other hand, was recognized by relatively few.
If his eclecticism was demonstrated by his choice of musical compositions and variety of interpretations, his paintings showed more unity. His works followed and resembled one another but without repeating themselves. It is difficult to find one that is aesthetically displeasing, though many of them benefit from being explained so that their depth may be fully appreciated.
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