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own element and worsting him, fearlessly enduring the thrust of the
fatal spear when an accident of battle left him defenseless, the
Marquesan warrior, as much as the youngest child, had an unutterable
horror of their own dead and of burial-places, as of the demons who
hovered about them.

Christianity has made no change in this, for it, too, is encumbered
with such fears. Who of us but dreads to pass a graveyard at night,
though even to ourselves we deny the fear? Banshees, werwolves and
devils, the blessed candles lit to keep away the Evil One, or even
to guard against wandering souls on certain feasts of the dead, were
all part of my childhood. So to the Marquesan are the goblins that
cause him to refuse to go into silent places alone at night, and
often make him cower in fear on his own mats, a _pareu_ over his head,
in terror of the unknown.

But death when it comes to him now is nothing, or it is a going to
sleep at the end of a sad day. Aumia, eating her burial meats and
looking with pleasure at her coffin, carefully and beautifully built
by her husband's hands, smiled at me as serenely as a child. But the
melancholy sound of her coughing followed me up the trail to the
House of the Golden Bed.

It was barely daylight next morning when I awoke, a soft, delicious
air stirring the breadfruit leaves. I plunged into the river, and
returning to my house was about to dress - that is, to put on my
_pareu_ - when a shriek arose from the forest. It was sudden, sharp,
and agonizing.

"_Aumia mate i havaii_" said Exploding Eggs, approaching to build
the fire. Literally he said, "Aumia is dead and gone below," for the
Marquesans locate the spirit world below the earth's surface, as
they do the soul below the belt.

The wailing was accompanied shortly by a sound of hammering on boards.

"The corpse goes into the coffin," said Exploding Eggs. The first
nail had been driven but a moment after Aumia's last breath.

All day the neighborhood was melancholy with the cries from the house.
All the lamentations were in a certain tone, as if struck from the
same instrument by the hand of sorrow. Each visitor to the house
shrieked in the same manner, and all present accompanied her, so
that for ten minutes after each new mourner arrived a chorus of loud
wails and moans assailed my ears. I had never known such a
heart-rending exhibition of grief.

But the sorrow of these friends of Aumia was not genuine. It could
not be; it was too dramatic. When they left the house the mourners
laughed and lit cigarettes and pipes. If no new visitor came they
fell to chatting and smoking, but the sight of a fresh and unharrowed
person started them off again in their mechanical, though
nerve-racking, cry.

I had known Aumia well, and at noon, desiring to observe the
proprieties, I stepped upon the _paepae_ of her home.

"She loved the _Menike!_" shouted the old women in chorus, and they
threw themselves upon me and smelt me and made as if I had been one
of the dead's husbands. The followed me up the trail to my cabin and
sat on my _paepae_ wailing and shrieking. It was some time before I
realized that their poignant sorrow should force consolation from me.
There was not a moan as the rum went round.

I had puzzled at the exact repetition of their plaint. Harrowing as
it was, the sounds were almost like a recitation of the alphabet. A
woman who had adopted me as her nephew said they called it the
"_Ue haaneinei_" That, literally, is "to make a weeping on the side."
The etiquette of it was intricate and precise. Each vowel was
memorized with exactness. It ran, as my adopted aunt repeated it
over her shell of consolation, thus:

"Ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke!
A a a a a a a a a a a a a a!
E e e e e e e e e e e e e e e!
I i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i!
O o o o o o o o o o o o o o o!
U u u u u u u u u u u u u u u!"

To omit a vowel, to say too many, or to mix their order, would be
disrespect to the spirit of the dead, and a reflection on the mourner.
Nine times the "ke," fourteen "a's," fifteen "e's," eighteen
"i's" and fifteen "o's" and "u's."

Aumia was carried to Calvary in the afternoon and put in the grave
for which the pig had been paid. So strongly did the old feeling
still prevail that only three or four of her friends could be
persuaded by the nuns to accompany the coffin up the trail.

Exploding Egg's consignment of Aumia to Havaii, the underworld,
spoke strongly of the clinging of his people to their old beliefs in
the destiny of the spirit after death. They share with the Ainos of
Japan - a people to which they have many likenesses, being of the
same division of man - a faith in a subterranean future.

Does not Socrates, in the dialogues of Plato, often speak of
"going to the world below," where he hopes to find real wisdom?

Havaii or Havaiki is, of course, the fabled place whence came the
Polynesians, as it is also the name of that underworld to which
their spirits return after death. One might read into this fact a
dim groping of the Marquesan mind toward "From dust he came, to dust
returneth," or, more likely, a longing of the exiled people for the
old home they had abandoned. Ethnologists believe that the name
refers to Java, the tarrying-point of the great migration of
Caucasians from South Asia toward Polynesia and New Zealand, or to
Savaii, a Samoan island whence the emigrants later dispersed.

Whatever the origin of the word, to-day it conveys to the Marquesan
mind only that vague region where the dead go. In it there is no
suffering, either for good or bad souls. It is simply the place
where the dead go. It is ruled by Po, the Darkness.

There is, however, a paradise in an island in the clouds, where
beautiful girls and great bowls of _kava_, with pigs roasted to a
turn, await the good and brave. The old priests claimed to be able
to help one from Po to this happy abode, but the living relatives of
the departed spirit had to pay a heavy price for their services. The
Christianized Marquesan fancies that he finds these old beliefs
revived when Père David tells him of purgatory, from which prayers
and certain good acts help one's friends, or may be laid up in
advance against the day when one must himself descend to that middle
state of souls.

All Marquesans live in the shadow of that day. They see it without
fear, but with a melancholy so tragic and deep that the sorrow of it
is indescribable.

"I have seen many go as Aumia has gone," said Father David to me.
"All these lovable races are dying. All Polynesia is passing. Some
day the whites here will be left alone amid the ruins of plantations
and houses, unless they bring in an alien race to take the places of
the dead."

A hundred years ago there were a hundred and sixty thousand
Marquesans in these islands. Twenty years ago there were four
thousand. To-day I am convinced that there remain not twenty-one

A century ago an American naval captain reckoned nineteen thousand
fighting men on the island of Nuka-hiva alone. In a valley where
three thousand warriors opposed him, there are to-day four adults. I
visited Hanamate, an hour from Atuona, where fifty years ago
hundreds of natives lived. Not one survived to greet me.

Consumption came first to Hanavave, on the island of Fatu-hiva. One
of the tribe of merciless American whaling captains having sent
ashore a sailor dying of tuberculosis, the tattooed cannibals
received him in a Christ-like manner, soothed his last hours, and
breathed the germs that have carried off more than four-fifths of
their race, and to-day are killing the remnant.

The white man brought the Chinese, and with them leprosy. The
Chinese were imported to aid the white in stealing the native land
of the Marquesan, and to keep the Chinese contented, opium was
brought with him. Finding it eagerly craved by the ignorant native,
the foolish white fastened this vice also upon his other desired
slave. The French Government, for forty thousand francs, licensed an
opium farmer to sell the drug still faster, and not until alarmed by
the results and shamed by the outcry in Europe, did it forbid the
devastating narcotic. Too late!

Smallpox came with a Peruvian slave-ship that stole thousands of the
islanders and carried them off to work out their lives for the white
in his own country. This ship left another more dread disease, which
raged in the islands as a virulent epidemic, instead of running the
slow chronic course it does nowadays when all the world has been
poisoned by it.

The healthy Marquesans had no anti-toxins in their pure blood to
overcome the diseases which with us, hardened Europeans and
descendants of Europeans, are not deadly. Here they raged and
destroyed hundreds in a few days or weeks.

The survivors of these pestilences, seeing their homes and villages
desolated, their friends dying, their people perishing, supposed
that these curses were inflicted upon them by the God of the
foreigners and by the missionaries, who said that they were his
servant. In their misery, they not only refused to listen to the
gospels, but accused the missionaries in prayer before their own god,
begging to be saved from them. Often when the missionaries appeared
to speak to the people, the deformed and dying were brought out and
laid in rows before them, as evidences of the evilness and cruelty of
their white god.

But after one has advanced all tangible reasons and causes for the
depopulation of the Marquesas, there remains another, mysterious,
intangible, but it may be, more potent than the others. The coming
of the white has been deadly to all copper-colored races everywhere
in the world. The black, the yellow, the Malay, the Asiatic and the
negro flourish beside the white; the Polynesian and the red races of
America perished or are going fast. The numbers of those dead from
war and epidemics leave still lacking the full explanation of the
fearful facts. Seek as far as you will, pile up figures and causes
and prove them correct; there still remains to take into account the
shadow of the white on the red.

Prescott says:

The American Indian has something peculiarly sensitive in
his nature. He shrinks instinctively from the rude touch of a
foreign hand. Even when this foreign influence comes in the
form of civilization, he seems to sink and pine under it. It has
been so with the Mexicans. Under the Spanish domination
their numbers have silently melted away. Their energies are
broken. They live under a better system of laws, a more
assured tranquillity, a purer faith. But all does not avail.
Their civilization was of the hardy character that belongs to
the wilderness. Their hardy virtues were all their own. They
refused to submit to European culture - to be engrafted on a
foreign stock.

Free! Understand that well, it is the deep commandment,
dimmer or clearer, of our whole being, to be free. Freedom is
the one purpose, wisely aimed at or unwisely, of all man's
struggles, toilings, and sufferings, in this earth.

I am persuaded that the Polynesians, from Hawaii to Tahiti, are
dying because of the suppression of the play-instinct, an instinct
that had its expression in most of their customs and occupations.
Their dancing, their tattooing, their chanting, their religious rites,
and even their warfare, had very visible elements of humor and
joyousness. They were essentially a happy people, full of dramatic
feeling, emotional, and with a keen sense of the ridiculous. The
rule of the trader crushed all these native feelings.

To this restraint was added the burden of the effort to live. With
the entire Marquesan economic and social system disrupted, food was
not so easily procurable, and they were driven to work by commands,
taxes, fines, and the novel and killing incentives of rum and opium.
The whites taught the men to sell their lives, and the women to sell
their charms.

Happiness and health were destroyed because the white man came here
only to gratify his cupidity. The priests could bring no inspiration
sufficient to overcome the degradation caused by the traders. The
Marquesan saw that Jesus had small influence over their rulers.
Civilization lost its opportunity because it gave precept, but no

Even to-day, one white man in a valley sets the standard of sobriety,
of kindness, and honor. Jensen, the frank and handsome Dane who
works for the Germans at Taka-Uka who was in the breadline in New
York and swears he will never return to civilization, told me that
when he kept a store in Hanamenu, near Atuona, to serve the bare
handful of unexterminated tribesmen there, the people imitated him
in everything, his clothes, his gestures, his least-studied actions.

"I was the only white. I planted a fern in a box. Every one came to
my store and, feigning other reasons, asked for boxes. Soon every
_paepae_ had its box of ferns. I asked a man to snare four or five
goats for me in the hills. They were the first goats tethered or
enclosed in the valley. Within a week the mountains were harried for
goats, and the village was noisy with their bleating. I ate my goats;
they ate theirs. Not one was left. When I forsook Hanamenu, the
whole population moved with me. Sure, I was decent to them, that was

"I never want to see the white man's country again. I have starved
in the big cities, and worked like a dog for the banana trust in the
West Indies. I have begged a cup of coffee in San Francisco, and
been fanned by a cop's club. Here I make almost nothing, I have many
friends and no superiors, and I am happy."

Had these lovable savages had a few fine souls to lead them, to
shield them from the dregs of civilization heaped on them for a
century, they might have developed into a wonder race to set a pace
in beauty, courage, and natural power that would have surprised and
helped Europe.

They needed no physical regeneration. They were better born into
health and purity - bloody as were some of their customs - than most
of us. Their bodies had not become a burden on the soul, but, light
and strong and unrestrained, were a part of it. They did not know
that they had bodies; they only leaped, danced, flung themselves in
and out of the sea, part of a large, happy, and harmonious universe.

If to that superb, almost perfect, physical base that nature had
given these Marquesans, to that sweetness simplicity, generosity,
and trust acknowledged by all who know them, there could have been
added a knowledge of the things we have learned; if by example and
kindness they could have been given rounded and informed intelligence,
what living there would have been in these islands!

All they needed was a brother who walked in the sunlight and showed
the way.


A savage dance, a drama of the sea, of danger and feasting; the rape
of the lettuce.

Drums were beating all the morning, thrilling the valley and
mountain-sides with their barbaric _boom-boom_. The savage beat of
them quickened the blood, stirring memories older than mankind,
waking wild and primitive instincts. Toho's eyes gleamed, and her
toes curled and uncurled like those of a cat, while she told me that
the afternoon would see an old dance, a drama of the sea, of war,
and feasting such as the islands had known before the whites came.

The air thrummed with the resonance of the drums. All morning I sat
alone on my _paepae_, hearing them beat. The sound carried one back
to the days when men first tied the skins of animals about hollow
tree-trunks and thumped them to call the naked tribes together under
the oaks of England. Those great drums beaten by the hands of
Haabunai and Song of the Nightingale made one want to be a savage,
to throw a spear, to dance in the moonlight.

Erase thirty years, and hear it in Atuona when the "long pig that
speaks" was being carried through the jungle to the dark High Place!
Then it was the thunder of the heavens, the voice of the old gods
hungry for the flesh of their enemies.

We who have become refined and diverse in our musical expression,
using a dozen or scores of instruments to interpret our subtle
emotions, cannot know the primitive and savage exaltation that
surges through the veins when the war-drum beats. To the Marquesans
it has ever been a summons to action, an inspiration to daring and
bloody deeds, the call of the war-gods, the frenzy of the dance.
Born of the thunder, speaking with the voice of the storm and the
cataract, it rouses in man the beast with quivering nostrils and
lashing tail who was part of the forest and the night.

Music is ever an expression of the moods and morals of its time. The
bugle and the fife share with the drum the rousing of martial spirit
in our armies to-day, but to our savage ancestors the drum was
supreme. Primitive man expressed his harmony with nature by imitating
its sounds. He struck his own body or a hollow log covered with skin.
Uncivilized peoples crack their fingers, snap their thighs, or
strike the ground with their feet to furnish music for impromptu
dancing. In Tonga they crack their fingers; in Tahiti they pound the
earth with the soles of their feet; here in Atuona they clap hands.
The Marquesans have, too, bamboo drums, long sections of the hollow
reed, slit, and beaten with sticks. For calling boats and for
signaling they use the conch-shell, the same that sounded when
"the Tritons blew their wreathed horn." They also have the jew's-harp,
an instrument common to all Polynesia; sometimes a strip of bark
held between the teeth, sometimes a bow of wood strung with gut.

[Illustration: The _haka_, the Marquesan national dance]

[Illustration: Hot Tears (on the left) with Vai Etienne]

Civilization is a process of making life more complex and subtle. We
have the piano, the violin, the orchestra. Yet we also have rag-time,
which is a reaction from the nervous tension of American commercial
life, a swinging back to the old days when man, though a brute, was
free. There is release and exhilaration in the barbaric, syncopated
songs and in the animal-like motions of the jazz dances with their
wild and passionate attitudes, their unrestrained rhythms, and their
direct appeal to sex. These rag-time melodies, coming straight from
the jungles of Africa through the negro, call to impulses in man that
are stifled in big cities, in factory and slum and the nerve-wearing
struggle of business.

So in the dance my Marquesan neighbors returned to the old ways and
expressed emotions dying under the rule of an alien people. With the
making light of their reverenced _tapus_, the proving that their
gods were powerless, and the ending of their tribal life, the dance
degraded. They did not care to dance now that their joy in life was
gone. But the new and jolly governor, craving amusement, sought to
revive it for his pleasure. So the drums were beating on the palace
lawn, and afternoon found the trails gay with _pareus_ and brilliant
shawls as the natives came down from their _paepaes_ to the seat of

Chief Kekela Avaua, adopted son of the old Kekela, and head man of
the Paamau district, called for me. He was a dignified and important
man of forty-five years, with handsome patterns in tattooing on his
legs, and Dundreary whiskers. He was quite modishly dressed in brown
linen, beneath which showed his bare, prehensile-toed feet.

Kirio Patuhamane, a marvelous specimen of scrolled ink-marks from
head to foot, who sported Burnside whiskers, an English cricket cap,
and a scarlet loin-cloth, accompanied us down the road.

A hundred natives were squatting in the garden of the palace, and
rum and wine were being handed out when we arrived. Haabunai and
Song of the Nightingale, the man under sentence for making palm
brandy, were once more the distributors, and took a glass often. The
people had thawed since the dance at the governor's inauguration. As
Kirio Patuhamane explained, they had waited to observe the
disposition of their new ruler, the last having been severe,
dispensing no rum save for his own selfish gain, and having a wife
who despised them.

My tawny feminine friends resented keenly white women's airs of
superiority, and many were the cold glances cast by Malicious Gossip,
Apporo, and Flower at the stiffly gowned Madame Bapp, who sat on the
veranda drinking absinthe. They scorned her, because she beat her
husband if he but looked at one of them, though he owned a store and
desired their custom. Poor Madame Bapp! She thought her little man
very attractive, and she lived in misery because of the
openly-displayed charms of his customers. She loved him, and when
jealous she sought the absinthe bottle and soon was busy with whip
and broom on the miserable Bapp, who sought to flee. It was useless;
she had looked to doors and windows, and he must take a painful
punishment, the while the crockery smashed and all Atuona Valley
listened on its _paepaes_, laughing and well knowing that the little
man had given no cause for jealousy.

She greeted me with cold politeness when I mounted to the veranda,
and the governor dispensed glasses of "Dr. Funk," a drink known to
all the South Seas. Its secret is merely the mixing of a stiff drink
of absinthe with lemonade or limeade. The learned man who added this
death-dealing potion to the pleasures of the thirsty was Stevenson's
friend, and attended him in his last illness. I do not know whether
Dr. Funk ever mixed his favorite drink for R.L.S., but his own fame
has spread, not as a healer, but as a dram-decocter, from Samoa to
Tahiti. "Dr. Funk!" one hears in every club and bar. Its particular
merits are claimed by experts to be a stiffening of the spine when
one is all in; an imparting of courage to live to men worn out by
doing nothing.

The governor in gala attire was again the urban host, assisted by
André Bauda, now his close friend and confidant. Bauda himself had
been in the island only a few months, and knew no more Marquesan
speech than the governor. Both these officials were truly hospitable,
embarrassingly so, considering my inability to keep up with them in
their toasts.

Soon the demijohn of rum had been emptied into the glasses passing
from hand to hand in the garden; Haabunai and Song of the
Nightingale again evoked the thrumming beat of the great drums, and
the dance began. This was a tragedy of the sea, a pantomine of
danger and conflict and celebration. For centuries past the
ancestors of these dancers had played it on the Forbidden Height.
Even the language in which they chanted was archaic to this
generation, its words and their meanings forgotten.

The women sat upon the grass in a row, and first, in dumb show, they
lifted and carried from its house to the beach a long canoe. The
straining muscles of their arms, the sway of their bodies, imitated
the raising of the great boat, and the walking with its weight, the
launching, the waiting for the breakers and the undertow that would
enable them to pass the surf line, and then the paddling in rough

Meantime at a distance the men chanted in chorus, giving rhythmic
time to the motions of the dancers and telling in the long-disused
words the story of the drama. And the drums beat till their rolling
thunder resounded far up the valley.

After the canoe was moving swiftly through the water the women rested.
It seemed to me that the low continued chant of the men expressed a
longing for freedom, for a return to nature, and a melancholy comment
on the days of power and liberty gone forever. Though no person
present understood the ancient language of the song, there was no
need of words to interpret the exact meaning of the dance. Though no
word had been uttered, the motions of the women would have clearly
told the tale.

When they began again, the sea grew more agitated. Now the wail of
the men reproduced the sound of waves beating on the canoe, and the
whistling of the wind. The canoe was tossed high by the pounding sea;
it slid dizzily down into the troughs of waves and rocked as the
oarsmen fought to hold it steady. The squall had grown into a gale,
roaring upon them while they tried to hold it steady. The canoe
began to fill with water, it sank deeper and deeper, and in another
moment the boatsmen were flung into the ocean. There they struggled
with the great seas; they swam; they regained the canoe; they
righted it, climbed into it. The storm subsided, the seas went down.

Again the women rested, their arms and bodies shining with
perspiration. All this time they had remained immobile from the
waist downward; their naked legs folded under them like those of

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 11 of 29)