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In the great bure of Raiyawa there was a story-telling.
The lying-places filled three sides of the house — mats
spread upon grass four feet wide, — and between each
lying-place was a narrow strip of bare earth sprinkled
with wood-ashes, on which three logs, nose to nose,
were smouldering. A thin curl of blue smoke wreathed
upwards from each to the conical roof, where they met
and filtered through the blackened thatch ; so that from
outside the bure looked like a disembowelled haystack
smouldering, ready to burst into flame. On the fourth
side was a low doorway, stopped with a thick fringe of
dried rushes, through which ever and anon a grey-headed
elder burst head-foremost, after coughing and spitting
outside to announce his arrival. Beside the doorway


was a solitary couch, the seat of honour, to which the
foreigner, footsore and weary with his tramp across
the mountains, was directed, having in his turn dived
trustingly through the rushes like the rest. The
couches were filling, and the elders were settling down
in twos to rest, slinging their legs over the fender-bar
that lay conveniently on its forked supports, and turn-
ing to the grateful glow that part of his anatomy that
man delights to roast — for the night was falling, and a
chilly mist was rising from the river. Then one of
them rose and made with his hand a tiny aperture
in the rush - screen, through which the dull twilight
showed white. " Beat ! " he cried ; and the rest beat
the reed walls with their open palms, and the house
was filled with the angry hum of a myriad mosquitoes,
that flew into the smoke and out towards the king-
post, and then, seeing the twilight and the fresh air,
sailed in a compact string through the opening, so that
in three minutes there was not one of them left. There-
after one might sleep in peace without slapping the
back and the bare thighs, for the rushes brushed them
from the body of each incomer, and their furious hum
outside was impotent to hurt.

At length every place was filled, and from the dark-


ness Bongi began and told of the mountain-paths — how
the foreigner would rest before the hill was climbed,
gasping like a fish, and asked many foolish questions
of the old time and the present ; and of the courts, how
Bitukau had had his hair cropped, having been taken
in sin and judged ; and of how the foreigner had given
him strange meats to eat that were enclosed in iron,
having first broken the iron and cooked the meats on
a fire.

" Yes," said Bosoka, " such were the meats that a
foreigner gave to the men of Kualendraya, bidding
them heat the meats on a fire and eat ; but when they
did so, the meats blew up like a gun, and scalded them
grievously. Foreigners must be strong indeed to eat
such meats."

" And the foreigner told me tales," continued Bongi
— " wonderful tales, hard to believe : of stone houses
larger than this whole village ; of strings going under
the sea to other lands by which men talk, sending no
ship to bear the tale ; of steamers that go on land
faster than a horse can run."

"Foreigners are great liars," said old Xatuyalewa,
sententiously. " But the land steamers may be true,
for at jSTansori it is said the sugar-cane is carried


by steamers on the land. Tomase, who worked there,
told me of this ; and it may be true that they talk
with strings, for a man may make many signs by
jerking a sinnet cord which another holds, pulling
harder at times and then softly. But the stone house
— such tales as these they tell to increase their honour
in our eyes, but they are lies, for there is no land
so great as Great Viti."

Now the foreigner feigned sleep and listened.

" Well," cried Ngutu from the corner, " the teacher
says that our fathers lied about Eokola's canoe — that
the mast fell at Malake and dented the mountains
of Kauvandra. He says that a canoe cannot sail so
far in a day, even with the wind on the outrigger."

"The teachers are the foreigners' mouths, and bark
at all our ancient customs, seeking to dishonour them,"
growled Natuyalewa. " I am growing old, and the
land is changed. "When I was young we listened to
the words of our elders, but now the young men "

" Iii ! Tell us tales of the old time," interrupted
Bongi : " we will each bring nambw : mine shall be
the scvic of my yams."

The elders grunted approval from the darkness.

"My nawibib shall be fish." "A bunch of white


plantains." " Mine shall be prawns from the stream,"
cried several.

" I want no nambu," replied Natuyalewa, with
dignity ; " the nambu should be given to those who
tell tales for gain, seeking to entertain the chiefs,
that mats, and fine masi, and other property, may
be given to them. These will tell of gods and giants,
and canoes greater than these mountains, and of
women fairer than the women of these days, and
of doings so strange that the jaws of the listener
fall apart. Such a one gains great honour, and the
chiefs will promise him nambu before they even
hear his tale, remembering the wonders of the last.
And he, being known for a teller of strange tales,
must ever lie more and more, lest, if he turn back
to the truth, the chiefs hearing him may say, ' This
fellow's tales were once like running water, but now
they are like the village pool : why give him nambu ? '
But I will ask no nambu, for I can only tell of that
I have seen with my own eyes or heard with my
ears ; and though I tell you tales of the old time or
of distant lands, yet can I tell only of the doings
of men and women like to yourselves, who did deeds
such as you yourselves do; and when all is told,


you will call the tale emptier than the shell of the
Wa-Timo fruit."

Then Natuyalewa began to tell of Kusa, the fisher-
man of Malomalo, and the foreigner, himself a story-
teller in Natuyalewa's line of business, thought ruefully
of the wonder -mongers of his own land, and the
nambu they won, and so pondering, fell asleep.






















"while the men were digging the oven and lining

it," . . . . . . Frontispiece

"on the night of each return from the capital," . 38

" and then raluve came in, shyly followed by two

attendants of discreet age and mature charms," 76

"the canoe was afloat, and laden with such of the
low-borns' household gods as their aristocratic
visitors thought worth taking away," . . 84

makereta, . . . . . . .126

friar Laurence's house, . . . . .134

" nothing now remains of korolamalama but the name

and a few mounds," . . . . .178

" when the wood was all out there remained a con-
ical pile of glowing stones," . . . 202

LEVUKA, ....... 24S





A BEIGHT sky vying with the sea for blueness, a
sun whose rays are not too hot to be cooled by
the sea-breeze, the distant roar of the great Pacific
rollers as they break in foam on the coral-reef, the
whisper of the feathery palms as they wave their giant
leaves above yonder cluster of brown native huts, — all
these form a picture whose poetry is not easily recon-
ciled with the stern prose of an English court of law.
It is perhaps as well that the legal forms we are
accustomed to have been modified to meet the wants
of this remote province of the Queen's dominions, for
the spot we are describing is accounted remote even in
remote Fiji, and the people are proportionately primi-



tive. The natives of Fiji are amenable to a criminal
code known as the Xative Regulations. These are
administered by two courts — the District Court, which
sits monthly and is presided over by a native magis-
trate ; and the Provincial Court, which assembles every
three months before the English and native magistrates
sitting together. From the latter there is no appeal
except by petition to the governor, and it has now
become the resort of all Fijians who are in trouble or
consider themselves aggrieved.

For several days witnesses and accused have been
coming in from the neighbouring islands, and last night
the village-crier proclaimed the share of the feast which
each family was called upon to provide. The women
have been busy since daylight bringing in yams, plan-
tains, and taro from the plantations, while the men
were digging the oven and lining it with the stones
that, when heated, will cook the pigs to a turn.

But already the height of the sun shows it to be past
ten, and the District Court has to inquire into several
charges before the Provincial Court can sit. The order
is given to the native police sergeant to beat the lali,
and straightway two huge wooden drums boom out
their summons to whomsoever it may concern. As the


drum-beats become more agitated and pressing, a lon<r
file of aged natives, clad in shirt and sulu of more or
less irreproachable white, is seen emerging from the
grove of cocoa-nut palms which conceal the village.
"We have but just time to shake hands with our dusky
colleague, a shrewd-looking old man with grizzled hair
and beard carefully trimmed for the occasion, when the
crowd begins to pour into the court-house.

The gala dresses are not a little startling. Here is a
dignified old gentleman arrayed in a second-hand tunic
of a marine, in much the same plight as to buttons as
its owner as to teeth ; near him stands a fine young-
village policeman, whose official gravity is not enhanced
by the swallow-tailed coat of a nigger minstrel ; while
the background is taken up by a bevy of village maidens
clad in gorgeous velvet pinafores, who are giggling after
the manner of their white sisters until they are fixed
by the stern grey eye of the chief policeman, which turns
their expression into one of that preternatural solemnity
they wear in church. The court-house, a native build-
ing carpeted with mats, is now packed with natives,
sitting cross-legged, only a small place being reserved
in front of the table for the accused and witnesses. The
magistrate takes his seat, and his scribe, sitting on the


floor at his side, prepares his writing materials to record
the sentences. The dignity with which the old gentle-
man adjusts his shirt-collar and clears his throat is a
little marred when he produces from his bosom what
should have been a pair of pince-nez, seeing that it was
secured by a string round his neck, but is in fact a
Jew's-harp. With the soft notes of this instrument
the man of law is wont to beguile the tedium of a dull
case. But although the spectacle of Lord Coleridge
gravely performing on the Jew's-harp in court would
at least excite surprise in England, it provokes no smile
here. The first case is called on. Reiterated calls for
Samuela and Timothe produce two meek-faced youths
of eighteen and nineteen, who, sitting tailor-fashion
before the table, are charged with fowl-stealing. They
plead " Not guilty," and the owner of the fowls being-
sworn, deposes that, having been awakened at night
by the voice of a favourite hen in angry remonstrance,
he ran out of his house, and after a hot chase cap-
tured the accused red-handed in two senses, for they
were plucking his hen while still alive. Quite unmoved
by this tragic tale, Yatureba seems to listen only to the
melancholy notes of his Jew's-harp ; but the witness
is a chief and a man of influence withal, and a period


of awed silence follows his accusation, broken only by
a subdued twanging from the bench. But Vatureba's
eyes are bright and piercing, and they have been fixed
for some minutes on the wretched prisoners. He has
not yet opened his lips during the case, and as the
Jew's-harp is not capable of much expression, it is with
some interest we await the sentence. Suddenly the
music ceases, the instrument is withdrawn from the
mouth, the oracle is about to speak. Alas ! he utters
but two words, " Vula tola " (three months), and there
peals out a malignantly triumphant strain from the
Jew's-harp. But the prosecutor starts up with a pro-
test. One of the accused is his nephew, he explains,
and he only wished a light sentence to be imposed.
Three months for one fowl is so severe ; besides, if he
has three months, he must go to the central jail and
not work out his sentence in his own district. Again
there is silence, and the Jew's-harp has changed from
triumph into thoughtful melancholy. At length it is
withdrawn, and the oracle speaks again, " Bogi tola "
(three days).

The prisoners are pounced upon and dragged out by
the hungry police, and after a few more cases the Dis-
trict Court is adjourned to make way for the Provincial.


The rural police — a fine body of men dressed in uni-
form — take up positions at the court-house doors, and
we take our seats beside our sable colleague at the
table. A number of men of lighter colour and different
appearance are brought in and placed in a row before
the table. These are the leading men of the island of
Nathula, who are charged with slandering their Buli
(chief of district). They have, in fact, been ruined by
a defective knowledge of arithmetic, as we learn from
the story of the poor old Buli, whose pathetic and
careworn face shows that he at least has not seen
the humorous side of the situation. It appears that
a sum of £70, due to the natives as a refund on over-
paid taxes, was given to the Buli for distribution among
the various heads of families. For this purpose he
summoned a meeting, and the amount in small silver
was turned out on the floor to be counted. Now as
not a few Fijians are hazy as to how many shillings go
to the pound, it is not surprising that the fourteen or
fifteen people who counted the money made totals
varying from £50 to £100. They at once jumped to
the conclusion that the Buli, who was by this time so
bored with the whole thing that he was quite willing
to forego his own share, had embezzled the money ; but


to make suspicion certainty they started off in a canoe
to the mainland to consult a wizard. This oracle, being
presented with a whale's tooth, intimated that if he
heard the name of the defaulter who had embezzled
the money, his little finger, and perhaps other portions
of his anatomy, would tingle (Jcida). They accordingly
went through the names of all their fellow-villagers,
naming the Buli last. On hearing this name the
oracle, whose little finder had hitherto remained
normal, " regardless of grammar, cried out, ' That's
him ! ' "

On their return to Nathula, they triumphantly quoted
the oracle as their authority for accusing their Buli of
embezzlement. The poor old gentleman, wounded in
his tenderest feelings, had but one resort. He knew
he hadn't stolen the money, because the money hadn't
been stolen at all, but then who would believe his
word against that of a wizard ? and was not arithmetic
itself a supernatural science ? There was but one way
to re-establish his shattered reputation, and this he
took. His canoe was made ready, and he repaired to
the mainland to consult a rival oracle named Net ivi
(the ivi-tree). The little finger of this seer was posi-
tive of the Buli's innocence, so that, fortified by the


support of so weighty an authority, he no longer feared
to meet his enemies face to face, and even to prosecute
them for slander. As the Buli was undoubtedly inno-
cent, and had certainly been slandered, the delinquents
are reminded that ever since the days of Delphi seers
and oracles have met with a very limited success, and
are sentenced to three months' imprisonment. And
now follows a real tragedy. The consideration enjoyed
by the young Fijian is in proportion to the length and
cut of his hair. Now these are evidently dandies to
the verge of foppishness. Two of them have hair
frizzed out so as to make a halo four inches deep
round the face, and bleached by lime until it is
gradated from deep auburn to a golden yellow at
the points. Pounced, on and dragged out of court by
ruthless policemen, they are handed over to the tender
mercies of a pitiless barber, and in a few moments they
are as crestfallen and ridiculous as that cockatoo who
was plucked by the monkey. The self-assurance of a
Fijian is as dependent on the length of his hair as was
the strength of Samson.

But now there is a shrill call for Natombe, and a
middle-aged man of rather remarkable appearance is
brought before the table. He is a mountaineer, and is


dressed in a rather dirty sulu of blue calico, secured
round the waist by a few turns of native bark-cloth.
He is naked from the waist upward. The charge is
practising witchcraft (draic ni kail), a crime which is
punishable' with twelve months' imprisonment and
forty lashes ; for the Fijians are so persuaded that a
bewitched person will die, that it is only necessary to
tell a person he is bewitched to ensure his death within
a few days from pure fright. The son of the late Buli
of Bemana comes forward to prosecute. The substance
of his evidence is as follows : Buli Bemana, who was
quite well on a certain Saturday, was taken ill on the
Sunday, and expired in great agony on the Monday
morning. The portion of his people to whom the
accused belongs had complained more than once of
the Buli's .oppression, and desired his removal. It is
the custom for a wizard who has compassed the deatli
of a man to appear at the funeral with blackened face
as a sign to his employers that he has earned his
reward and expects it. The accused attended Buli
Bemana' s funeral with blackened face. Moreover, an
old woman of Bemana had dreamed that she had seen
ISTatombe bewitching the Buli, and the little fingers
of several Bemanas had itched unaccountably. These


last the witness considered were convincing proofs.
The accused, in reply, stated that he was excessively
grieved at the Buli's death, and that his face at the
funeral was no blacker than usual. Several witnesses
followed, who deposed that the accused is celebrated
throughout the district for his skill in witchcraft, and
that he had boasted openly in days gone by that he
had caused the death of a man who died suddenly.

Now, as stated above, the belief in witchcraft among
Fijians is so thorough, and the effects of a spell upon
the imagination of a bewitched person so fatal, that
the English Government has found it necessary to
recognise the existence of the practice by law. It
is, however, none the less wise for the Government
officials, without pooh-poohing the existence of witch-
craft, to attempt to discourage the belief in its efficacy.
Accordingly we call "for evidence as to the particular
manner in which the alleged spell was cast. There
was no caldron nor blasted heath in this case ; indeed
the whole ceremony was a decidedly tame affair. It
was only necessary to procure some of the Buli's
hair, or the portions of his food left untasted, and
bury them with certain herbs enclosed in a bamboo,
and death would ensue in a few days. To our question


whether the Buli himself thought he was bewitched
we receive a decided negative; indeed, we happen to
know that the poor old man died of acute dysentery,
brought on by cold, and that in this case, if witchcraft
had been really practised, the death was a most un-
fortunate coincidence. As no evidence more incrimi-
nating than dreams and the finger -tingling is forth-
coming, the accused is acquitted, to be condemned by
the other tribunal of public opinion, which evidently
runs high. When he has left the court we address
the chiefs of Bemana upon the subject of witchcraft
generally, as if seeking information. Upon this a
number of white - haired old gentlemen, whose bore-
dom has been for some time exchanged for somnolence,
wake up and hold forth upon the relative value of
hair and nail-parings as instruments for casting spells.
While the discussion becomes animated and the con-
sensus of opinion appears to be gathering in favour
of toe-nails, we electrify the assembly by suggesting
an experiment. They arc to select two of their wisest
wizards, we are to supply the necessary means, and
they are to forthwith cast their most potent spell
over us. On the result is to rest their future belief
in witchcraft. If we have not succumbed in a month's


time there is no truth in the practice. If we do die,
they may not only believe in it, but they will, of
course, be held guiltless of our death. A dead silence
ensues. Then, after much whispered conversation, an
old man addresses the court, pointing out that white
men eat different food from Fijians, for do they not
live upon flour, tinned meat, rice, and other abomina-
tions ? And do they not despise the succulent yam,
and turn up their noses at pork, dried lizard, and
tender snake ? Therefore is it not obvious that the
powers of witchcraft will be lost upon such beings ?
Now we have with us a Tongan servant, by name
Lijiate (being the nearest Tongans can get to Richard).
This man, being half-educated, and above all a Tongan,
is full of contempt for Fijians and their barbarous
customs. He has long talked contemptuously of
witchcraft, which he considers fit only for the credence
of heathens, not of good Christians like himself. Here
is a chance for Richard to distinguish himself and us.
We make the oiler. Richard is to be bewitched on
the same terms as ourselves. He at least does eat
yams and pork, and though he has not yet taken
kindly to snake, the difference is trifling. Tint we
have counted without our host. " Falcamolcmolc "


(pardon), says Kichard, " I almost believe in it myself.
I pray you have me excused." This spikes our gun,
for though, doubtless, some of our Fijian servants
would consent to be experimented on, they would
probably pine away and die from pure fright, and
re-establish the belief in witchcraft for ever.

Our discomfiture is best covered by attention to
business. Two more cases of larceny are heard and
disposed of, and now two ancient dames, clad in
borrowed plumes, consisting of calico petticoat and
pinafore, are led before the table. Grey-headed and
toothless, dim as to sight and shapeless as to features,
they look singularly out of place in a court of law.
Time was (and not so very long ago) when women
so decrepit as these would have had to make way
for a more vigorous generation by the simple and ex-
peditious means of being buried alive, but now they
no longer fear the consequences of their eccentricities.
One of these old women is the prosecutrix, and the
charge is assault. We ask which is the prosecutrix,
and immediately one holds out and brandishes a "hand
from which one of the fingers has been almost severed
by a bite. She has altogether the most lugubrious
expression that features such as hers can assume, but


with the bitten finger now permanently hung out like
a signboard, words of complaint are superfluous. The
other has a truculent and forbidding expression. She
snaps out her answers as if she had bitten off the ends
like the prosecutrix' finger, and shuts her mouth like a
steel trap. The quarrel which led to their appearance
in court might have taken place in Seven Dials. De-
fendant said something disparaging about prosecutrix'
daughter. Prosecutrix retaliated by damaging refer-
ences to defendant's son, and left the house hurriedly
to enjoy the luxury of having had last word. De-
fendant followed and searched the village for her, with
the avowed intention of skinning her alive. They met
at last, and having each called the other "a-roasted-
corpse-fit-for-the-oven," they fell to with the result to
the prosecutrix' finger already described. The moun-
tain dialect used in evidence is almost unintelligible to

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Online LibraryBasil ThomsonSouth Sea yarns → online text (page 1 of 17)