Te Ana Vava
Te Ana Vava is an alias of Medhananda.
“Te Ana Vava is what you might call a ghost – a musical ghost. He lived on our estate in Moorea, in a cave that was open to all the winds, high up on a rocky peak. The Tahitians were very afraid of him and no one would have dared to go into the area where he lived – which was in any case quite isolated.
It is true that one could sometimes hear a flute there – especially on full moon nights, a nasal flute with a solemn, soft sound, the vivo, which is not as shrill as a mouth-flute. Apart from a few old men on Tonga nobody knows how to play one today.
This instrument is made of bamboo, about 30 centimetres long; the knot at one end is pierced with a small hole, into which one blows through one nostril. The flute has five holes on the top and one underneath for the thumb. The ritual vivo would have motifs engraved on it with a hot iron, and was decorated with plaited cords. It was played only on special occasions, for example as on accompaniment for a certain dance performed by high-ranking ladies, in which the queen would usually take part. The vivo was considered to be a way the dead could communicate with the living. And certainly Te Ana Vava used it with great mastery.
He produced a melancholy music, like lamentations in a dream, astonishing in the length and power of the breathing that produced the notes. At first I wondered whether the strong trade winds produced these sounds as they rushed through the pierced cavern. I never saw Te Ana Vava. No one ever saw him. But it was as if I had seen him, and we knew each other well. He was very strong and his vast chest was a sign of the great diver he had been. To play the vivo as he did, one would need lungs like an organ. He could play very loud, and sometimes one could hear it from very far away.
He no longer had a corporeal body, but was all breath. During his lifetime he had gradually built up, with the help of breathing exercises that are a real pranayama of the Polynesian divers, a pranayama body. That had not dispersed, and had kept a fairly precise memory of the physical body. He felt too solid to get free. That was his problem, he could neither disincarnate nor reincarnate. He approached me several times. I recognised him by his perfume, which always preceded his presence. He had a perfume of ferns. And although the area was full of ferns, his perfume was always clearly distinguishable. When you think what remains of a man! It is all vibration, and expresses itself in perfume and music to communicate with us. One evening we met more intimately. I was sitting quietly somewhere to meditate, and suddenly he mingled with my meditation. He said (not in words): “Ah! I would love to go where you are.” He was behind me – he did not want to be seen. There came to me that Siamese image of a gong – when you strike it, a little goddess comes out, the sound. I got the idea that he should leave like that, identifying with the sound. I explained to him, “If you want to go to the Garden of Hina (the moon), you must learn to ride on the notes of your flute, you must become all vibration, all music.” He understood immediately. That evening the moon was bathing the island and the lagoon with silver light. There came the sound of the vivo, a powerful “Hoo!”, like the sound that the Pharaoh would make every morning as the sun appeared on the horizon – and Te Ana Vava was free: off he went with the Hoo, as if riding a turquoise moonbeam. Since then the song of the vivo has not been heard in that valley – not only because Te Ana Vava has left, but also because there are no longer any queens with their companions, crowned with three rows of flowers set amongst ferns, to dance to the sound of the vivo: because an age has ended.”