Frederick O'Brien.

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As the passion for cannibalistic feasts grew, - and it became a
passion akin to the opium habit in some, - the supply of other meat
had little to do with its continuance. In New Britain human bodies
were sold in the shops; in the Solomon Islands victims were fattened
like cattle, and on the upper Congo an organized traffic is carried
on in these empty tenements of the human soul.

Although cannibalism originated in a bodily need, man soon gave it
an emotional and spiritual meaning, as he has given them to all
customs that have their root in his physical being. Two forms of
cannibalism seem to have existed among the first historic peoples.
One was concerned with the eating of relatives and intimates, for
friendship's sake or to gain some good quality they possessed. Thus
when babies died, the Chavante mothers, on the Uruguay, ate them to
regain their souls. Russians ate their fathers, and the Irish, if
Strabo is to be credited, thought it good to eat both deceased
parents. The Lhopa of Sikkim, in Tibet, eat the bride's mother at
the wedding feast.

But Maori cannibalism, with its best exposition in the Marquesas,
was due to a desire for revenge, cooking and eating being the
greatest of insults. It was an expression of jingoism, a hatred for
all outside the tribe or valley, and it made the feud between
valleys almost incessant.

It was in no way immoral, for morals are the best traditions and
ways of each race, and here the eating of enemies was authorized by
every teaching of priest and leader, by time-honored custom and the
strongest dictates of nature.

White men and Chinese, in fact, all foreigners, were seldom eaten
here. There were exceptions when vengeance impelled, such at that of
Honi or Jones, whom Haabunai's grandfather ate, but as a rule they
were spared and indeed cherished, as strange visitors who might
teach the people useful things. Only their own depravity brought
them to the oven.

At such times, the feast was even a disagreeable rite. It is a fact
that the Marquesan disliked the flesh of a white man. They said he
was too salty. Hundreds of years ago the Aztecs, according to Bernal
Diaz, who was there, complained that "the flesh of the Spaniards
failed to afford even nourishment, since it was intolerably bitter."
This, though the Indians were dying of starvation by hundreds of
thousands in the merciless siege of Mexico City.

Standards of barbarity vary. Horrible and revolting as the very
mention of cannibalism is to us, it should be remembered that it
rested upon an attitude toward the foreigner and the slave that in
some degree still persists everywhere in the world. Outside the tribe,
the savage recognized no kindred humanity. Members of every clan
save his own were regarded as strange and contemptible beings,
outlandish and barbarous in manners and customs, not to be regarded
as sharers of a common birthright. This attitude toward the stranger
did not at all prevent the cannibal from being, within his own tribe,
a gentle, merry, and kindly individual.

Even toward the stranger the Marquesan was never guilty of torture
of any kind. Though they slew and ate, they had none of the
refinements of cruelty of the Romans, not even scalping enemies as
did the Scythians, Visigoths, Franks, and Anglo-Saxons. In their most
bloody wars they often paused in battle to give the enemy time to
eat and to rest, and there is no record of their ever ringing a
valley about with armed warriors and starving to death the women and
children within. Victims for the gods were struck down without
warning, so that they might not suffer even the pangs of anticipation.
The thumb-screw and rack of Christendom struck with horror those of
my cannibal friends to whom I mentioned them.


The memorable game for the matches in the cocoanut-grove of Lam Kai

Parables are commonly found in books. In a few words on a printed
page one sees a universal problem made small and clear, freed from
those large uncertainties and whimsies of chance that make life in
the whole so confusing to the vision. It was my fortune to see, in
the valley of Atuona on Hiva-oa, a series of incidents which were
at the time a whirl of unbelievable merriment, yet which slowly
clarified themselves into a parable, while I sat later considering
them on the leaf-shaded _paepae_ of the House of the Golden Bed.

They began one afternoon when I dropped down to the palace to have a
smoke with M. L'Hermier des Plantes, the governor. As I mounted the
steps I beheld on the veranda the governor, stern, though perspiring,
in his white ducks, confronting a yellowish stranger on crutches who
pleaded in every tone of anguish for some boon denied him.

"_Non!_ No! _Ned!_" said the governor, poly-linguistically emphatic.
"It cannot be done!" He dropped into a chair and poured himself an
inch of Pernod, as the defeated suitor turned to me in despair.

He was short and of a jaundiced hue, his soft brown eyes set
slightly aslant. Although lame, he had an alertness and poise
unusual in the sea's spawn of these beaches. In Tahitian, Marquesan,
and French, with now and then an English word, he explained that he,
a Tahitian marooned on Hiva-oa from a schooner because of a broken
leg, wished to pass the tedium of his exile in an innocent game of

"I desire a mere permission to buy two packs of cards at the
Chinaman's," he begged. "I would teach my neighbors here the _jeu de_
pokaree. I have learned it on a voyage to San Francisco. It is
Americaine. It is like life, not altogether luck. One must think
well to play it. I doubt not that you know that game."

Now gambling is forbidden in these isles. It is told that throughout
the southern oceans such a madness possessed the people to play the
white men's games of chance that in order to prevent constant
bloodshed in quarrels a strict interdiction was made by the
conquerors. Of course whites here are always excepted from such
sin-stopping rules, and merchants keep a small stock of cards for
their indulgence.

"But why two packs?" I asked the agitated Tahitian.

"_Mais, Monsieur_, that is the way I was taught. We played with ten
or fourteen in the circle, and as it is merely _pour passer le temps_,
more of my poor brother Kanakas can enjoy it with two packs."

He was positively abased, for no Tahitian says "_Kanaka_" of himself.
It is a term of contempt. He might call his fellow so, but only as
an American negro says "nigger."

I looked at him closely. Some gesture, the suggested slant of his
brows, the thin lips, reminded me of a certain "son of Ah Cum" who
guided me into disaster in Canton, saying, "Mis'r Rud Kippeling he
go one time befo'."

"Your name?" I asked in hope of confirmation.

"O Lalala," he replied, while the smile that started in his eyes was
killed by his tightening lips. "I am French, for my grandfather was
of Annam under the tri-color, and my mother of Tahiti-iti."

Now fourteen-handed poker, with O Lalala as instructor to those
ignorant of the game, the code of which was written by a United
States diplomat, appealed to me as more than a passing of the time.
It would be an episode in the valley. My patriotism was stimulated.
I called the governor aside.

"This poker," I said, "is not like écarté or baccarat. It is a study
of character, a matching of minds, a thing we call bluff, we
Americans. These poor Marquesans must have some fun. Let him do it!
No harm can come of it. It is far to Paris, where the laws are made."

The governor turned to O Lalala.

"No stakes!" he said.

"_Mais, non!_ Not a _sou_!" the lame man promised. "We will use only
matches for counters. _Merci, merci, Monsieur l'Administrateur!_ You
are very good. Please, will you give me now the note to Ah You?"

As he limped away with it, the governor poured me an inch of absinthe.

"_Sapristi!_" he exclaimed. "O Lalala! O, la, la, la!" He burst into
laughter. "He will play ze bloff?"

I spent that evening with Kriech, the German trader of Taka-Uka.
Over our Hellaby beef and Munich beer we talked of copra and the
beautiful girls of Buda-Pesth, of the contemplated effort of the
French government to monopolize the island trade by subsidizing a
corporation, and of the incident of the afternoon.

"The _Herr Doktor_ is new," said Kriech, with a wag of his head.
"That O Lalala! I have heard that that poker iss very dansherous.
That Prince Hanoi of Papeite lose his tam headt to a Chinaman.
Something comes of this foolishnesses!"

At midnight I had again gained the House of the Golden Bed and had
lain down to sleep when on the breeze from up the valley there came
a strangely familiar sound to my upper ear. I sat up, listening. In
the dark silence, with no wind to rustle the breadfruit and
cocoanut-trees, and only the brook faintly murmuring below, I heard
a low babble of voices. No word was distinguishable, not even the
language, yet curiously the sound had a rhythm that I knew.

I have heard from a distance preaching in many languages. Though
only the cadences, the pauses, and rhythm reached me, I had no
difficulty in knowing their origin and meaning. Thought casts the
mold of all speech. Now my drowsy mind harked back to American days,
to scenes in homes and clubs.

I rose, and wrapping the loin-cloth about me, set out with a lantern
in search of that sound. It led me down the trail, across the brook,
and up the slope into the dense green growth of the mountain-side.
Beyond I saw lights in the cocoanut-grove of Lam Kai Oo.

My bare feet made no noise, and through the undergrowth I peered
upon as odd a sight as ever pleased a lover of the bizarre. A blaze
of torches lighted a cleared space among the tall palm columns, and
in the flickering red glow a score of naked, tattooed figures
crouched about a shining mat of sugar-cane. About them great piles
of yellow-boxed Swedish matches caught the light, and on the cane
mat shone the red and white and black of the cards.

O Lalala sat facing me, absorbed in the game. At his back the yellow
boxes were piled high, his crutch propped against them, and
continually he speeded the play by calling out, "Passy, calley or
makum bigger!" "Comely center!" or, "Ante uppy!"

These were the sounds that had swept my memory back to civilization
and drawn me from my Golden Bed. O Lalala had all the slang of
poker - the poker of the waterfronts of San Francisco and of
Shanghai - and evidently he had already taught his eager pupils that

They crouched about the mat, bent forward in their eagerness, and
the flickering light caught twisting mouths and eyes ringed with
tattooing. Over their heads the torches flared, held by breathless
onlookers. The candlenuts, threaded on long spines of cocoanut-leaves,
blazed only a few seconds, but each dying one lit the one beneath as
it sputtered out, and the scores of strings shed a continuous though
wavering light upon the shining mat and the cards.

The midnight darkness of the enclosing grove and the vague columns
of the palms, upholding the rustling canopy that hid the sky, hinted
at some monstrous cathedral where heathen rites were celebrated.

I pushed through the fringe of onlookers, none of whom heeded me,
and found Apporo and Exploding Eggs holding torches. The madness of
play was upon them. The sad placidity of every day was gone; as in
the throes of the dance they kept their gleaming eyes upon the
fluctuations of fortune before them. Twice I spoke sharply before
they heard me, and then in a frenzy of supplication Apporo threw
herself upon me.

Would I not give her matches - the packets of matches that were under
the Golden Bed? She and her husband, Great Fern, had spent but an
hour in the magic circle ere they were denuded of their every match.
Couriers were even now scouring the valley for more matches. Quick,
hasten! Even now it might be that the packets under the Golden Bed
were gone!

"Surely, then, come," I said, struck by an incredible possibility.
Could it be that the crafty O Lalala - absurd! But Apporo, hurrying
before me down the lantern-lighted trail, confirmed my suspicions.

O Lalala had stated and put into effect the prohibition of any other
stakes other than the innocent matches - mere counters - which he had
mentioned to the governor. But swift messengers had heralded
throughout the valley that there would be gambling - authorized
_par gouvernement_ - in Lam Kai Go's plantation, and already the
cards had been shuffled for seven or eight hours. Throughout all
Atuona matches had been given an extraordinary and superlative value.
To the farthest huts on the rim of the valley the cry was "Matches!"
And as fast as they arrived, O Lalala won them.

We hastened into my cabin, and Apporo was beneath the Golden Bed ere
the rays of my lantern fell upon the floor. The packets had

"Exploding Eggs!" cried Apporo, her dark eyes tolling in rage.

"But - he is honest," I objected.

In such a crisis, she muttered, all standards were naught. Exploding
Eggs had been one of the first squatters at the sugar-cane mat.
"The Bishop himself would trade the holy-water fonts for matches,
were he as thirsty to play as I am!"

There were no more matches in the valleys of Atuona or Taka-Uka, she
said. Every dealer had sold out. Every house had been invaded. The
losers had begged, borrowed, or given articles of great value for
matches. The accursed Tahitian had them all but a few now being waged.
Defeated players were even now racing over the mountains in the
darkness, ransacking each hut for more.

The reputation of Hiva-oa, of the island itself, was at stake. A
foreigner had dishonored their people, or would if they did not win
back what he had gained from them. She was half Chinese; her
father's soul was concerned. He had died in this very room. To save
his face in death she would give back even her interest in the
Golden Bed, she would pledge all that Great Fern possessed, if I
would give her only a few matches.

Her pleas could only be hopeless. There was not a match in the cabin.

Together we returned to the cocoanut-grove. O Lalala still sat
calmly winning the matches, the supply of which was from time to
time replenished by panting newcomers. He swept the mat clean at
every valuable pot.

His only apparent advantage was that he made the rules whenever
questions arose. He was patient in all disputes, yielding in small
matters, but he was as the granite rocks of the mountain above him
when many matches were at stake. With solemnity he invoked the name
of Hoy-lee, the mysterious person who had fixed immutably the
_tapus_ of pokaree. He made an occult sign with his thumb against
his nose, and that settled it. If any one persisted in challenging
this _tiki_ he added his other thumb to the little finger of his
first symbol, and said, "Got-am-to-hellee!" As a last recourse, he
would raise his crutch and with public opinion supporting him would
threaten to invoke the law against gambling and stop the game if
disputation did not cease.

Steadily the pile of Swedish _toendstikkers_ grew behind him. All
through the night the game raged beneath the light of the candlenuts,
in a silence broken only by the hoarse breathing of the crouching
brown men, the sandy-sounding rustle of the palm-fronds overhead, and
cries of "Ante uppy!" or "Comely center!" When dawn came grayly
through the aisles of the grove, they halted briefly to eat a bowl
of _popoi_ and to drink the milk of freshly gathered nuts. O Lalala,
relaxing against the heap of his winnings, lifted a shell to his lips
and over its rim gave me one enigmatic look.

Whistling softly, I went down to the House of the Golden Bed,
breakfasted there without the aid of Exploding Eggs, and then sought
the governor. He had gone by the whale-boat of Special Agent Bauda
to an adjoining deserted island to shoot _kuku_. Hiva-oa was without
a government.

All day the madness raged in the cocoanut-grove. In the afternoon
the vicar apostolic of the Roman Catholic Church, supported by the
faithful Deacon Fariuu, himself toiled up the slope to stop the game.
The bishop was received in sullen silence by regular communicants. A
catechist whom he had found squat before the mat paid no attention
to his objurgations, save to ask the bishop not to stand behind him,
as O Lalala had said that was bad luck. The churchmen retired in a
haughty silence that was unheeded by the absorbed players.

Later the deacon returned, bringing with him the very matches that
had been kept in the church to light the lamps at night service.
These he stacked on the sugarcane mat. The vicar bishop followed him
to call down the anathema maranatha of high heaven upon this renegade
who had robbed the cathedral and the priests' house of every
_toendstikker_ they had held, and when he had again retired, the
deacon, dropping his last box on the woven table, elevated his hands
toward the skies and fervently asked the Giver of All Good Things to
aid his draw. But he received a third ace, only to see O Lalala put
down four of the damnable bits of paper with three spots on each one.

At three o'clock next morning the game lapsed because the Tahitian
had all the counters. These he sent to his house, where they were
guarded by a friend. For a day he sat waiting by the sugar-cane mat,
and the Monte Carlo was not deserted. O Lalala would not budge to
the demands of a hundred losers that he sell back packages of
matches for cocoanuts or French francs or any other currency. Pigs,
fish, canned goods, and all the contents of the stores he spurned as
breaking faith with the kindly governor, who would recognize that
while matches were not gambling stakes, all other commodities were.

On the fourth day the canoes that had paddled and sailed to every
other island of the archipelago began to return. Some brought fifty
packets, some less. Dealers had tossed their prices sky-ward when
asked to sell their entire stocks.

[Illustration: A chieftess in _tapa_ garments with _tapa_ parasol]

[Illustration: Launching the whale-boat]

Now the game began again with the fierceness of the typhoon after
the center has passed. Men and women stood in line for the chance to
redeem their fortunes, to slake their rage, to gain applause. Once
they thought they had conquered the Tahitian. He began to lose, and
before his streak of trouble ended, he had sent more than thirty
packages from his hut to the grove. But this was the merest breath
of misfortune; his star rose again, and the contents of the canoes
were his.

On the fifth day it became known that the Shan-Shan syndicate of
Cantonese had a remaining case of _toendstikkers_. They claimed
that until now they had overlooked this case. It held a hundred
packages, or twelve hundred boxes. It was priceless as the sole
possible barrier against the absolute ending of the game.

The Shan-Shan people were without heart. They demanded for the case
five francs a packet. Many of the younger Marquesans counselled
giving the Cantonese a taste of the ancient _u'u_, the war-club of a
previous generation. Desperate as was the plight of the older
gamesters, they dared not consent. The governor would return, the
law would take its course, and they would go to Noumea to work out
their lives for crime. No, they would buy the case for francs, but
they would not risk dividing it among many, who would be devoured
piecemeal by the diabolical O Lalala.

"Kivi, the Vagabond, the Drinker of _kava_, is the chief to lead our
cause," said Great Fern. "He has never gone to the Christian church.
He believes still in the old gods of the High Place, and he is
tattooed with the shark."

Kivi was the one man who had not played. He cared nothing for the
pleasures of the _Farani_, the foolish whites. After palaver, his
neighbors waited on him in a body. They reasoned with him, they
begged him. He consented to their plan only after they had wept at
their humbling. Then they began to instruct him.

They told him of the different kinds of combinations, of straights
and of flushes, and of a certain occasional period when the Tahitian
would introduce a mad novelty by which the cards with one fruit on
them would "runnee wil'ee." They warned him against times when
without reason the demon would put many matches on the mat, and
after frightening out every one would in the end show that he had no
cards of merit.

Immediately after sunset, when the _popoi_ and fish had been eaten,
and all had bathed in the brook, when the women had perfumed their
bodies and put the scarlet hibiscus in their hair, and after Kivi
had drunk thrice of _kava_, the game began. The valley was deserted,
the _paepaes_ empty. No fires twinkled from the mountainsides. Only
in the cocoanut-grove the candlenuts were lit as the stars peeped
through the roof of the world.

A throng surrounded the pair of combatants. The worn cards had been
oiled and dried, and though the ominous faces of the _tiki_ upon
them shone bravely, doubtless they were weary of strife. The pipe was
made to smoke; Kivi puffed it and so did all who had joined in the
purchase of the case from the thieves of Cantonese. Then the cards
were dealt by Kivi, who had won the cut.

O Lalala and he eyed each other like Japanese wrestlers before the
grapple. Their eyes were slits as they put up the ante of five
packets each. O Lalala opened the pot for five packets and Kivi,
nudged by his backers, feverishly balanced them. He took three cards,
O Lalala but one. Standing behind the Tahitian, I saw that he had no
cards of value, but coolly he threw thirty packets upon the mat. The
others shuddered, for Kivi had drawn deuces to a pair of kings. They
made the pipe glow again. They puffed it; they spat; they put their
heads together, and he threw down his cards.

Then calmly the Tahitian laid down his own, and they saw that they
could have beaten him. They shouted in dismay, and withdrew Kivi,
who after some palaver went away with them into the darkness.

One or two candlenut torches dimly illumined the figures of the
squatting women who remained. Upon the sugar-cane mat O Lalala
stretched himself at ease, closing his eyes. A silence broken only
by the stealthy noises of the forest closed upon us. Teata, her dark
eyes wide, looked fearfully over her shoulder and crept close to me.
In a low voice she said that the absent players had thrown earth
over their shoulders, stamped, and called upon Po, the Marquesan
deity of darkness, yet it had not availed them. Now they went to make
magic to those at whose very mention she shuddered, not naming them.

We waited, while the torches sputtered lower, and a dank breath of
the forest crept between the trees. O Lalala appeared to sleep,
though when Apporo attempted to withdraw a card he pinned it with
his crutch.

It was half an hour before the players returned. Kivi crouched to
his place without a word, and the others arranged themselves behind
him in fixed array, as though they had a cabalistic number-formation
in mind.

Fresh torches were made, and many disputed the privilege of holding
them, as they controlled one's view of the mat. O Lalala sat
imperturbable, waiting. At last all was ready. The light fell upon
the giant limbs and huge torsos of the men, picking out arabesques of
tattooing and catching ruddy gleams from red _pareus_. The women, in
crimson gowns caught up to the waist, their luxuriant hair adorned
with flowers and phosphorescent fungus, their necks hung with the
pink peppers of Chile, squatted in a close ring about the players.

The lame man took up the pack, shuffled it, and handed it to Kivi to
cut. Then Kivi solemnly stacked before him the eighty-five packets
of matches, all that remained in the islands. Five packs went upon
the mat for ante, and Kivi very slowly picked up his cards.

He surveyed them, and a grim smile of incredulity and delight spread
over his ink-decorated countenance. He opened for ten packets. O
Lalala quickly put down as many, and thirty more.

Kivi chuckled as one who has his enemy in his hand, but stifles his
feelings to hide his triumph. He then carefully counted his
remaining wealth, and with a gesture of invitation slid the entire
seventy packets about his knees. They were a great bulk, quite 840
boxes of matches, and they almost obscured the curving palms of blue
tattooed on his mighty thighs.

Again he chuckled and this time put his knuckles over his mouth.
"Patty!" said Great Fern for him, and made a gesture disdaining more

O Lalala scrutinized his face as the sailor the heavens in a storm,
and then studied the visages of all his backers. He closed his eyes

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 16 of 29)