In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • from Vai:River in a Cloudless Sky
  • Rai a Mai (bio)
    Translated by Kareva Mateata-Allain (bio)


Sitting on the woven mat, Havai looks out at the sea. Her eyes follow the waves that roll and shudder under the wind. Twilight has come, and close behind, the black shore of night is approaching, but Havai doesn't light the lamps.

The fading twilight feels good to her. It feels good with them all around her. They are all present, murmuring, whispering, and smiling at her. Outside, Ahurai, goddess of the wind, caresses the beaches with her breath. A fleeting taste of autumn is in the air. Golden 'autera'a leaves have tumbled onto the grass.

As twilight darkens, a light dew arrives, nighttime aromas filter through the air, ride the breeze into the wide-open house: pītate, moto'ī, and miri. Beautiful, joyous perfumes; scents that are red and warm; aromas that grow exultant, more and more intoxicating as the night settles in.

Meanwhile, they are all there. They murmur and whisper.

Standing by the window is her grandfather, Tehapai. Her mother, Tuarua, is sitting in the rocking chair. Her husband, Tahiti, is beside her.

Havai loves the coolness of tropical winter, but tonight the cold seems more extreme. Shivering, she tightens the colorful tīfaifai around her.

It is time to go.

A cricket is singing in some corner of the house. His chirp is strong in the coming night.

The cat is purring, coiled up on the pillow beside her. Havai reaches out and caresses the softness. The dog is on the terrace behind the house. He gazes up at the mountain, at the first glittering stars of evening. His ears move in the wind. He sniffs the air. Suddenly, he jumps up and barks. His cry rips the night. But it is no more than a rat slinking through a gap in the brush.

Havai watches the night approach, slowly covering the world and dimming the gold of twilight until it finally reaches where she sits. She watches as the night enters her body: her bare feet, her thin legs, her hands swollen with veins, her white hair, her face, her eyes that feel the breath of night. Soon she is no longer a person, no longer anything at all. A shadow among shadows.


The road curves, becomes a dirt lane, and at the end is a blue, colonial-style house. In this house, only the first floor is inhabited; the upper floor is haunted. Grand-père [End Page 98] and Grand-mère live with their granddaughter on this patch of wild property that extends to the mountain crest.

Grand-mère is the granddaughter of the last great chiefess Tefana i Ahurai, who was married to the first Protestant minister of the district. But not even she still lives on ancestral lands, which are very beautiful but infested with piafau tupa, land crabs from the suburbs.

And so we live here, with Grand-père, whom we call Django because he once played with Django Reinhardt in France. At sunrise, Django wakes me up with his guitar music. After bread with butter and coffee, we leave on horseback. We frolic through the dust of the mountain roads, say hello to Sen-Ya-Ut, the little moonbeam who gives me chouchoutes chinois, and then we cross the river seven times before arriving at the summit, from where we can see the island Eimeo.

Later we go back home, our bags filled with corossols, Chinese tamarinds, African apples, and caramboles that will fill Grand-mère's 'ūmete. Grand-mère cooks on the huge wood stove. While she is busy, I go into forbidden places. The red carrot tree. I only want to taste them—only taste one. Suddenly, fire is in my mouth. Water! Sugar! Bread! Anything to stop the burning! The red carrots tasted like fire.

Another forbidden place I prefer is the cattail tree, which gives me asthma. To help me breathe normally again, hot poultices are placed on my chest.

Then Maman comes from Pape'ete on a bike to see us. She brings wax crayons that melt in...