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in the Paumotas to observe these great creatures, light-brown or
reddish in color, more than two feet in length, stalking about with
their bodies a foot from the ground, supported by two pairs of
central legs. They can exist at least twenty-four hours without
visiting the water, of which they carry a supply in reservoirs on
both sides of the cephalothorax, keeping their gills moist.

[Illustration: A Marquesan home on a _paepae_]

[Illustration: Isle of Barking Dogs]

They live in large deep burrows in the cocoanut-groves, which they
fill with husks, so that the natives often rob them to procure a
quick supply of fuel. These dens are contrived for speedy entry when
pursued. Terrifying as they appear when surprised on land, they
scuttle for safety either to a hole or to the sea, with an agility
astounding in a creature so awkward in appearance. Though they may
be seen about at all hours of the day, they make forays upon the
cocoanuts only at night.

Darwin first saw these creatures in the Indian Ocean, and said that
they seek the sea every night to moisten their branchiae. The young
are hatched and live for some time on the sea-coast, venturing far
from water only as they grow older. Darwin said that their feat in
entering the cocoanut "is as curious a case of instinct as was ever
heard of, and likewise of adaptation in structure between two
objects apparently so remote from each other in the scheme of nature,
as a crab and a cocoanut-tree."

When darkness descends and all is quiet, the robber crab ascends the
tree by gripping the bark with his claws. The rays of my electric
flash-light have often caught him high over my head against the gray
palm. Height does not daunt him. He will go up till he reaches the
nuts, if it be a hundred feet. With his powerful nippers he severs
the stem, choosing always a nut that is big and ripe. Descending the
palm, he tears off the fibrous husk, which, at first thought, it
would seem impossible for him to do. He tears it fiber by fiber, and
always from that end under which the three eye-holes are situated.
With these exposed, he begins hammering on one of them until he has
enlarged the opening so that he can insert one of the sharp points
of his claw into it. By turning his claw backward and forward he
scoops out the meat and regales himself luxuriously.

This is his simplest method, along the line of least resistance, but
let the nut be refractory, and he seizes it by the point of a claw
and beats it against a rock until he smashes it. This plan failing,
he will carry the stubborn nut to the top of the tree again and hurl
it to the earth to crack it. And if at first he does not succeed, he
will make other trips aloft with the husked nut, dropping it again
and again until at last it is shattered and lies open to his claws.

It is said that if a drop of oil be placed on the long and delicate
antennae of these crabs they die almost instantly. We have a
somewhat similar rumor with respect to salt and a bird's tail.
Seldom does a robber crab linger to be oiled, and so other means of
destroying him, or, at least, of guarding against his depredations,
are sought. With the rat, who bites the flower and gnaws the young
nuts, this crab is the principal enemy of the planter. The tree
owner who can afford it, nails sheets of tin or zinc around the tree
a dozen feet from the earth. Neither rat nor crab can pass this
slippery band, which gives no claw-hold. Thousands of trees are thus
protected, but usually these are in possession of white men, for tin
is costly and the native is poor.

The ingenious native, however, employs another means of saving the
fruit of his groves. He climbs the palm-trunk in the daytime, and
forty feet above the ground encircles it with dirt and leaves. On
his mat for the night's slumber, he smiles to think of the revenge
he shall have. For the crab ascends and passes the puny barrier to
select and fell his nuts, but when in his backward way he descends,
he forgets the curious bunker he went over and, striking it again,
thinks he has reached the ground. He lets go, and smashes on the
rocks his crafty foe has piled below.


Visit of Le Moine; the story of Paul Gauguin; his house, and a
search for his grave beneath the white cross of Calvary.

I rose one morning from my Golden Bed to find a stranger quietly
smoking a cigarette on my _paepae_. Against the jungle background he
was a strangely incongruous figure; a Frenchman, small, thin,
meticulously neat in garments of faded blue denim and shining high
boots. His blue eyes twinkled above a carefully trimmed beard, and
as he rose to meet me, I observed that the fingers on the cigarette
were long, slender, and nervous.

This was Monsieur Charles le Moine, the painter from Vait-hua, whose
studio I had invaded in his absence from that delightful isle. We
sat long over breakfast coffee and cigarettes, I, charmed by his
conversation, he, eager to hear news of the world he had forsaken.
He had studied in Paris, been governor of the Gambier Islands, and
at last had made his final home among the palms and orchids of these
forgotten isles. His life had narrowed to his canvases, on which he
sought to interpret Marquesan atmosphere and character, its beauty
and savage lure.

I said to him that it was a pity many great painters did not come
here to put on canvas the fading glamor and charm of the Marquesas.

"Our craft is too poor," he replied with a sigh. "A society built on
money does not give its artists and singers the freedom they had in
the old days in these islands, my friend. We are bound to a wheel
that turns relentlessly. Who can come from France and live here
without money? Me, I must work as gendarme and school-teacher to be
able to paint even here. One great painter did live in this valley,
and died here - Paul Gauguin. He was a master, my friend!"

"Paul Gauguin lived here?" I exclaimed. I had known, of course, that
the great modernist had died in the Marquesas, but I had never heard
in which valley, and no one in Atuona had spoken of him. In Florence
I had met an artist who possessed two glass doors taken from Madame
Charbonnier's house and said to have been painted by Gauguin in
payment for rent. I had been in Paris when all artistic France was
shuddering or going into ecstacies over Gauguin's blazing tropic work,
when his massive, crude figures done in violent tones, filled with
sinister power, had been the conversation of galleries and saloons.

Strindberg wrote of Gauguin's first exhibition and expressed dislike
for the artist's prepossession with form, and for the savage models
he chose. Gauguin's reply was:

"Your civilization is your disease; my barbarism is my restoration
to health. I am a savage. Every human work is a revelation of the
individual. All I have learned from others has been an impediment to
me. I know little, but what I do know is my own."

Now I learned from the lips of Le Moine that this man had lived and
died in my own valley of Atuona, had perhaps sat on this _paepae_
where we were breakfasting. Imagination kindled at the thought.
"I will take you to his house," said Le Moine.

We walked down the road past the governor's palace until opposite
Baufré's depressing abode, where, several hundred yards back from a
stone wall, sunk in the mire of the swamp, had for ten years been
Gauguin's home and studio. Nothing remained of it but a few faint
traces rapidly disappearing beneath the jungle growth.

While we stood in the shade of a cocoanut-palm, gazing at these, we
were joined by Baufré, the shaggy and drink-ruined Frenchman, in his
torn and dirty overalls.

"This weather is devilish," said Baufré, with a curse. "It is not as
it used to be. The world goes to the devil. There were seven hundred
people in Atuona when I came here. They are all dead but two hundred,
and there is nobody to help me in my plantation. If I pay three
francs a day, they will not work. If I pay five francs, they will
not work. Suppose I give them rum? They will work hard for that, for
it means forgetting, but when they drink rum they cannot work at all."

"But you are a philosopher, and absinthe or rum will cure you," said
Le Moine.

"_Mon dieu!_ I am not a philosopher!" retorted Baufré. "Of what good
is that? Gauguin was a philosopher, and he is dead and buried on
Calvary. You know how he suffered? His feet and legs were very bad.
Every day he had to tie them up. He could not wear shoes, but he
painted, and drank absinthe, and injected the morphine into his belly,
and painted.

"_Sapristi!_ He was a brave one! Am I not here over thirty years,
and have I met a man like Gauguin? He never worried. He painted. The
dealer in Paris sent him five hundred francs a month, and he gave
away everything. He cared only for paint. And now he is gone.
_Regardez_, here is where his house stood."

We walked through the matted grass that sketched upon the fertile
soil the shape of that house where Gauguin had painted.

It had been raised from the marsh six feet on trunks of trees, and
was about forty-five feet long and twenty wide. The floor was of
planks, and one climbed a stairway to reach the veranda. The frame
of the house was of wood, but the sides all of split bamboo, with a
row of windows of glass and a roof of cocoanut thatch. The light
entered from the north, and except for a small chamber for sleeping
and a closet for provisions, the entire house was a studio, a lofty,
breeze-swept hall, the windows high up admitting light, but not the
hot sunshine, and the expanse of bamboo filtering the winds in their
eternal drift from south to north and north to south.

Below the floor, on the ground, was a room for work in sculpture, in
which medium Gauguin took much interest, using clay and wood, the
latter both for bas-relief and full relief, Gauguin being hampered,
Baufré said, by lack of plasticity in the native clay. Next to this
workroom was a shelter for the horse and cart, for Gauguin had the
only wheeled vehicle in the Marquesas.

Baufré exhausted all his rhetoric and used four sheets of foolscap
in his endeavor to make me see these surroundings of the artist,
whom he evidently considered a great man.

"Five hundred francs a month, _mon ami_, whether he painted or not!
But he was a worker. Drunk or sober, he would paint. _Oui_, I have
seen him with a bottle of absinthe in him, and still he would paint.
Early in the morning he was at work at his easel in the studio or
under the trees, and every day he painted till the light was gone.
His only use for the cart was to carry him and his easel and chair
to scenes he would paint. He would shoot that accursed morphine into
his belly when the pain was too bad, and he would drink wine and
talk and paint.

"He had no wife or woman, but he took one in the way of the white
man here now and then. He lived alone, save for a half-Chinese boy
who cooked and cleaned for him. He never said he was sick. There was
no doctor on this island, for the government was then at Nuka-hiva,
and he had no time to go there. He suffered terribly, but he never
complained. 'Life is short,' he would say, 'and there is not long to

"He would not talk politics, but after the light was gone he would
sit at the organ in his studio and make one cry with his music. When
at home he wore only a _pareu_, but he would put on trousers when he
went out. He worked and drank and injected his morphine, and one
morning when the boy came he found him dead, and he was smiling.

"The government hated him because he cursed it for not letting the
natives keep their customs. The church hated him because he
ridiculed it. Still, they buried him in the Catholic cemetery. I
went with the body, and four Marquesans carried it up the trail.

"The government sold his house to Gedge, and Gedge sold it to a
native, who tore it down for the materials. It was of no use to any
one, for it was built for an artist.

"_Vous savez; mon garçon_, I am not acquainted with pictures, and
have never seen any but his, but I felt that they were good. They
made one feel the sun. There was in them the soul of these islands.
And you know that Polonaise, with the one eye-glass, that lives in
Papeite, that Krajewsky? _Eh bien!_ he was here to buy these stone
images of gods, and he said that in Paris they were paying tens of
thousands of francs for those things of Gauguin's he would have
given me for the asking. Ah well! he had the head and he was a
philosopher, but he lies up there in Calvary."

"Perhaps," said Le Moine.

"_Mon ami_," said the shaggy man, "I go to church, and you and I and
Gauguin are the same kind of Catholic. We don't do what we pray for.
That man was smarter than you or me, and the good God will forgive
him whatever he did. He paid everybody, and Chassognal of Papeite
found seven hundred francs in a book where he had carelessly laid it.
If he drank, he shared it, and he paid his women."

"He was an atheist," persisted Le Moine.

"Atheist!" echoed Baufré. "He believed in making beautiful pictures,
and he was not afraid of God or of the mission. How do you know what
God likes? Mathieu Scallamera built the church here and the mission
houses, and he is dead, and all his family are lepers. Did God do
that? _Non! Non!_ You and I know nothing about that. You like to
drink. Your woman is tattooed, and we are both men and bad. Come and
have a drink?"

We left him beside the road and walked slowly beneath the arch of
trees toward the mountain whose summit was crowned by the white
cross of Calvary graveyard.

"He drank too much, he took morphine, he was mortally ill, and yet
he painted. Those chaps who have to have leisure and sandal-wood
censors might learn from that man," said Le Moine. "He was a pagan
and he saw nature with the eyes of a pagan god, and he painted it as
he saw it."

I reminded him of James Huneker's words about Gauguin: "He is yet
for the majority, though he may be the Paint God of the Twentieth
century. Paint was his passion. With all his realism, he was a
symbolist, a master of decoration."

Past the governor's mansion, we turned sharply up the hill. Apart
from all other dwellings, on a knoll, stood a Marquesan house. As we
followed the steep trail past it, I called, "_Kaoha!_"

"_I hea?_" said a woman, "_Karavario?_ Where do you go? To Calvary?"

There was a sad astonishment in her tone, that we should make the
arduous climb to the cemetery where no dead of ours lay interred.

A fairly broad trail wound about the hill, the trail over which the
dead and the mourners go, and the way was through a vast
cocoanut-orchard, the trees planted with absolute regularity lifting
their waving fronds seventy or eighty feet above the earth. There
was no underbrush between the tall gray columns of the palms, only a
twisted vegetation covered the ground, and the red volcanic soil of
the trail, cutting through the green, was like a smear of blood.

The road was long and hot. Halting near the summit, we looked upward,
and I was struck with emotion as when in the courtyard I saw the
group of the crucifixion. A cross forty feet high, with a Christ
nailed upon it, all snow-white, stood up against the deep blue sky.
It was like a note of organ music in the great gray cathedral of the

Another forty minutes climbing brought us to the foot of the white
symbol. A half-acre within white-washed palings, like any country
graveyard, lay on the summit of the mountain.

To find Gauguin's grave we began at the entrance and searched row by
row. The graves were those of natives, mounds marked by small stones
along the sides, with crosses of rusted iron filigree showing skulls
and other symbols of death, and a name painted in white, mildewing
away. Farther on were tombs of stone and cement, primitive and
massive, defying the elements. Upon one was graven, "_Ci Git Daniel
Vaimai, Kata-Kita_, 1867-1907. R.I.P." The grave of a catechist, a
native assistant to the priests. Beneath another lay "August Jorss,"
he who had ordered the Golden Bed in which I slept. Most conspicuous
of all was a mausoleum surrounded by a high, black, iron railing
brought from France. On this I climbed to read while perched on the

"_Ici repose Mg. Illustrissime et Reverendissime_ Rog. Jh. Martin,"
and much more in Latin and French. It was the imposing grave of the
Bishop of Uranopolis, vicar-apostolic to the Marquesas, predecessor
to Bishop le Cadre, who had no pride and whom all called plain
Father David.

Suddenly rain poured down upon us, and looking about to find a
shelter we saw a straw penthouse over a new and empty grave lined
with stones. We huddled beneath it, our faces toward the sea, and
while the heavy rain splashed above our heads and water rushed down
the slope, we gazed in silence at the magnificent panorama below.

We were directly above the Bay of Traitors, that arm of the sea
which curved into the little bays of Taka-Uka and Atuona. At one side,
a mere pinnacle through the vapor about his throat, rose the rugged
head of Temetiu, and ranged below him the black fastnesses of the
valleys he commands. In the foreground the cocoas, from the rocky
headlands to the gate of Calvary, stood like an army bearing palms
of victory. In rows and circles, plats and masses, the gray trunks
followed one another from sea to mountain, yielding themselves to
the storm, swaying gently, and by some trick of wind and rain
seeming to march toward the cross-crowned summit.

The flimsy thatch under which we crouched, put up only to keep the
sun from the grave-digger, bent to north and south, and threatened
to wing away. But suddenly the shower ran away in a minute, as if it
had an engagement elsewhere, and the sun shone more brightly in the
rain-washed air.

We continued our search, but uselessly. Hohine and Mupui had
advertisement of their last mortal residence, but not Gauguin. We
found an earring on one little tomb where a mother had laid her child,
and on several those _couronnes des perles_, stiff, ugly wreaths
brought from France, with "Sincere Regrets" in raised beads,
speaking pityfully of the longing of the simple islanders to do
honor to the memory of their loved ones. But the grave of Gauguin,
the great painter, was unmarked. If a board had been placed at its
head when he was buried, it had rotted away, and nothing was left to
indicate where he was lying.

The hibiscus was blood-red on the sunken graves, and cocoanuts
sprouted in the tangled grass. Palms shut out from the half-acre had
dropped their nuts within it, and the soil, rich in the ashes of man,
was endeavoring to bring forth fairer fruit than headstones and iron
crosses. The _pahue_, a lovely, long, creeping vine that wanders on
the beaches to the edge of the tides, had crawled over many graves,
and its flowers, like morning-glories, hung their purple bells on
the humbler spots that no hand sought to clear.

Perhaps under these is the dust of the painter who, more than any
other man, made the Marquesas known to the world of Europe.


Death of Aumia; funeral chant and burial customs; causes for the
death of a race.

On the _paepae_ of a poor cabin near my own lived two women, Aumia
and Taipi, in the last stages of consumption. Aumia had been, only a
few months earlier, the beauty of the island.

"She was one of the gayest," said Haabunai, "but the _pokoko_ has
taken her."

She was pitifully thin when I first saw her, lying all day on a heap
of mats, with Taipi beside her, both coughing, coughing. An epidemic
of colds had seized Atuona, brought, most probably, by the schooner
_Papeite_, for no other had arrived since the _Morning Star_.
Aumia coughed at night, her neighbor took it up, and then, like
laughter in a school, it became impossible to resist, and down to
the beach and up to the heights the valley echoed with the
distressing sounds. So, a breadfruit season ago, had Aumia coughed
for the first time, and the way she was going would be followed by
many of my neighbors.

I stopped every day to chat a moment with Aumia, and to bring her
the jam or marmalade she liked, and was too poor to buy from the
trader's store. She asked me this day if I had seen her grave. She
had heard I had visited the cemetery, and I must describe it to her.
It was the grave over which Le Moine and I had crouched from the

Aumia's husband and Haabunai, with Great Fern, had dug it and paved
it a couple of days ago, and her husband had given the others a pig
for their work, slaughtering it on the tomb of the Bishop of
Uranopolis. No thought of profanation had entered their minds; it
was convenient to lay the pig over the imposing monument, with a man
on either side holding the beast and the butcher free-handed. The
carcass had been denuded of hair in a pail of hot water and buried
underground with fire below and above him. When the meat was well
done, I had a portion of it, and Sister Serapoline, who had come in
her black nun's habit to console Aumia with the promises of the
church, ate with us, and accepted a haunch for the nun's house.

"Aumia is able to eat pig, and yet they have made her grave," I said.

"Oh, _c'est ça!_" replied the nun, holding the haunch carefully.
"That is the custom. Always they used to dig them near the house, so
that the sick person might see the grave, and in its digging the
sick had much to say, and enjoyed it. Now, _grâce à dieu!_ if
Catholics, they are buried in consecrated ground where the body may
rest serene until the trumpet sounds the final judgment. Death is
terrible, but these Marquesans make no more of it than of a journey
to another island, and much less than of a voyage to Tahiti. They
die as peacefully as a good Catholic who is sure of his crown in
Heaven. And as they are children, only children, the wisest or the
worst of them, the Good God will know how to count their sins. It is
those who scandalize them who shall pay dear, those wicked whites
who have forsaken God, or who worship him in false temples."

The coffin of Aumia was then beside the house, turned over so that
rain might not make it unpresentable. She had asked for it weeks
before. To the Marquesan his coffin is as important as, to us, the
house the newly-married pair are to live in. These people know that
almost every foot of their land holds the bones or dust of a corpse,
and this remnant of a race, overwhelmed by tragedy, can look on
death only as a relief from the oppression of alien and
unsympathetic white men. They go to the land of the _tupapaus_ as
calmly as to sleep.

"I have never seen a Marquesan afraid to die," said Sister Serapoline.
"I have been at the side of many in their last moments. It is a
terrible thing to die, but they have no fear at all."

The husband of Aumia, a jolly fellow of thirty, was practising on a
drum for the entertainment of his wife. He said that the corpse of
his grandfather, a chief, had been oiled and kept about the house
until it became mummified. This, he said, had been quite the custom.
The body was washed very thoroughly, and rubbed with cocoanut-oil.
It was laid in the sun, and members of the family appointed to turn
it many times a day, so that all parts might be subjected to an even
heat. The anointing with oil was repeated several times daily. Weeks
or months of this process reduced the corpse to a mummified condition,
and if it were the body of a chief it was then put in his canoe and
kept for years in a ceremonial way. But no mark was ever placed to
show where the dead were buried, and there were no funeral ceremonies.
Better that none knew where the body was laid and that the chosen
friends who carried it to the sepulchre forgot the spot.

In the very old days the Marquesans interred the dead secretly in
the night at the foot of great trees. Or they carried the bodies to
the mountains and in a rocky hole shaded by trees covered them over
and made the grave as much as possible like the surrounding soil.
The secret of the burial-place was kept inviolate. Aumia's husband
related an instance of a man who in the darkest night climbed a
supposedly inaccessible precipice carrying the body of his young
wife lashed to his back, to place it carefully on a lofty shelf and
descend safely.

These precautions came probably from a fear of profanation of the
dead, perhaps of their being eaten by a victorious enemy. To
devastate the cemeteries and temples of the foe was an aim of every
invading tribe. It was considered that mutilating a corpse injured
the soul that had fled from it.

Afraid of no living enemy nor of the sea, meeting the shark in his

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 10 of 29)