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Fighting to stay on his blue lagoon

Thursday 19 November 2015 | Published in Regional

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An appeals court in French Polynesia is to decide the future of a man who has been living in a boat outside a large resort near Tahiti. Teiki Pambrun and his family lives in the lagoon of Tetiaroa atoll, which was purchased by the American actor Marlon Brando in 1967, who developed a small village and airstrip.

Since Brando’s death in 2004, the village has developed into a large, exclusive eco-resort with private beaches and 35 bungalows that go for 2000 euros a night.

But the resort has found itself in a bitter feud with Pambrun, who has set up his double-hulled canoe with a hut on top just off the beach outside the resort, claiming it’s a public space.

The resort’s owners took Pambrun to court, which ruled that he was trespassing and forbade him from going within 10 kilometres of the resort.

Pambrun is appealing that ruling, arguing that the lagoon was never part of the sale.

The following is a recent feature article – translated from French – from the French Polynesian newspaper La Dépêche de Tahiti after a reporter spent two days with the Pambrum’s on Tetiaroa.

TETIaROA ATOLL – Teiki Pambrun, navigator and naturalist, has lived with his partner Tea, and his daughter Temanu in a canoe in the lagoon of the motu Tetiaroa for nearly three years.

To survive, the family Pambrun go fishing, pick coconuts and make round trips to Papeete from time to time to replenish fresh water, fruit, meat and food.

Currently the target of several lawsuits by Frangipani and Beachcomber companies,they agreed to welcome the editorial team aboard his live-aboard canoe to share with us for 24 hours, his unusual lifestyle.

Teiki zigzags between the coral heads that loom beneath the lagoon. Standing on his speedboat, he is happy to go home, after his stay in Papeete where he appeared before the Criminal Court.

Long grey hair tied in a ponytail, skin tanned by sea air and sun, Teiki lives a semi-self sufficient life on a houseboat in Tetiaroa lagoon, with his wife daughter and their dog.

The boat is a traditional craft. It is built and decorated as a war canoe. It includes three bedrooms, a loft, a bathroom and a kitchen. The family is illuminated by the sun. Two large solar panels overhang the roof.

Their dog, ‘Lady’, a beautiful Dalmatian, welcomes us wagging his tail. She arrived to swim, before clambering on the small outboard that brings us to the lagoon that evening.

For dinner, it will be corn and rice with the day’s catch, a simple meal accompanied by a small glass of white wine.

That night, it’s a party, the trial in Papeete went well and Teiki is back at home. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. There life follows a simple pattern.

“It takes two hours to take care of the food, two hours to clean and look after the canoe. The rest of the time is for fun. We make music, we go swimming and walking,” Teiki said.

“This is the good life here. It is heaven on earth,” says Tea, his wife, a former flight attendant for Air Tahiti Nui.

When she was first offered this hermit life, she admits to having “hesitated a long time.”

“I thought, ‘at any time I can back off’. I can live here because I have travelled, I discovered many countries. Now I’ve seen it all, I know there’s nothing other than what I have here,” she admits candidly.

Laughing, she presents Honu’ea and Aie, two huge jack fish which they have adopted. “They protect the canoe from sharks and ensure that they are not too close. When they are too close to their liking, they charge at them.”

Their daughter Temanu is growing up according to their values. In addition to her schooling with online correspondence courses, they help her discover and cherish the fish, flora and fauna that surround them, and also the culture and the traditional Tahitian stories.

“We try to instil a green lifestyle in compliance with nature,” Tea said.

“Our lifestyle is unique, but we do not want her too isolated from the world

Tea added: “Next year she will return to college because she will pass her first big exam and it will provide a transition year before entering college.

Tea appreciates living on a canoe with her parents and apprehends the coming year and any changes ahead.

The Robinson Crusoe life they lead does not prevent Temanu from keeping abreast of teenage trends. A girl of her time, she taps on her vini (cellphone), surfing on social networks and eats peanut butter for breakfast.

She welcomes us in small denim shorts, a golden feather temporarily tattooed in the hollow of the shoulder and matching nail varnish in perfectly lacquered gold.

What differentiates her from other teenagers is that she knows fishing, crab hunting and, especially, she has learned to live self sufficiently.

Her dog ‘Lady’ follows her everywhere – Temanu rarely can be seen without her.

Around 7.00am, Tea and Temanu accompany us to go around the motu. We walk along the beach to the lighthouse quietly.

“I like to walk on the beach with Temanu,” admits Tea. “The landscapes are splendid. Sometimes when it takes us, we make crowns vines that are embellished with small white flowers.

“When it gets too hot, we stop to take a dip in the water and cool off before leaving.”

Their daily activities are governed by the tide and the and wind – activities include a canoe, a little kitesurfing, bodyboarding or diving.

During our visit, a speed boat calls on us. They are the guardians of the hotel, The Brando, coming to ensure we do not enter the motu, which is private property.

“They often come watch us,” says Tea. That day we will see two surveillance vessels.

We enjoy a a frugal breakfast of cheese, pâté and bread. It’s time for a break. Tea plays her ukulele and sings Tahitian songs, while Lady and Temanu play. Teiki goes to prepare the inflatable for our departure.

The day unfolds slowly, quietly, to the rhythm of waves lapping at the 17th parallel south.

The life of Crusoe has its drawbacks. When food supplies are lacking, there is fishing and coconut, but fresh water is their most valuable asset.

When they receive visitors, they always come loaded down with water, fruit and vegetables.

This peaceful life in harmony with nature is up to a court decision, the question is whether the court will request the seizure of the boat or if Teiki Pambrun wins this battle with The Brando. - La Dépêche de Tahiti