In early October, the charred remains of a German adventurer were discovered at a campfire site on a South Pacific island. The tabloid media were quick to portray the slaying as a possible case of cannabalism on Nuku Hiva, an island historically known for human sacrifice. But locals are offended and experts say such killings are a thing of the very distant past.
All of the pieces seem to fit together so well. There is the paradise in the South Pacific; the islander with the tattoo on his chest; the likeable young German adventurer; and, finally, the gruesome of discovery of charred human flesh.
Did the local kill the German tourist, who was sailing around the world?
Déborah Kimitete shakes her head in disgust, unable to comprehend the turmoil that has descended upon her community in recent days. "We feel very angry and hurt," says the deputy mayor of the Pacific island of Nuku Hiva, the largest of the French Polynesian Marquesas Islands. "What they did with this story is racism; it's an insult to all Marquesans."
Kimitete is wearing a white cotton blouse and has her hair pulled back tightly in a ponytail. Carved wooden sculptures decorate her office in the municipal building of Taiohae, the island's capital. The small settlement is surrounded by steep slopes rising up to jagged peaks covered with lush green vegetation. It takes more than two hours to trek from there to the spot in the Hakaui Valley where 40-year-old Stefan Ramin died.
Charred Remains in a Campfire
Ramin, a sailor from Haselau, a town near Hamburg, reportedly went goat hunting on Oct. 9 with local resident Henri Haiti, 31. According to Ramin's companion, Heike D., 37, Haiti returned without Ramin and then lured her into the forest and tried to rape her, but then he fled. Charred bones, bits of flesh and teeth were later found in the remains of a campfire. They were Ramin's teeth.
Since then, everything has changed on Nuku Hiva. A 17-member special French police unit (the Marquesas Islands are a French territory) is searching for Haiti, who has been hiding in the wilderness since the crime. Meanwhile, the island community has faced accusations of being a group of cold-blooded cannibals. "People are afraid," says Kimitete. "Something like that normally doesn't happen on this island."
Only about 2,900 people live on Nuku Hiva. There is one flight a day to the island from Papeete on Tahiti. The main settlement, Taiohae, has one hotel, two churches, a school and a few small shops.
In mid-September, the German couple -- she is a yoga instructor, and he was a management consultant -- dropped anchor near the island. They had been sailing the world's oceans since 2008. He was bitten by the sailing bug early in life, and when Stefan was 16, his father gave him his first boat.
The 14-meter (46-foot) aluminum catamaran that the two Germans had called their "little house on the water" for the last three-and-a-half years is named the "Baju." The sailors wrote on their website that their boat was equipped to discover the "most remote paradises on earth." Now it is bobbing in the gentle Pacific swells near a local boardwalk.
Preparing for a Local Festival What really happened on that day, when Ramin asked the islander to accompany him on a goat hunt, as tourists often do on the island? Was there an accident in the mountains? Did the two men have an argument? There are no eyewitnesses, and the presumed killer did not pick up Heike D. until later.