Frederick O'Brien.

White Shadows in the South Seas online

. (page 22 of 29)
Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 22 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

suggestion that we bathe. The pool, I learned, was famous in the
valley, for one could swim forty feet in it, and on the other side
the hill rose straight, with banana-trees overhanging the water forty
feet above. We climbed this rocky face and dived into the water
again and again, rejoicing in its coolness and in that sheer pagan
delight of the dive, when in the air man becomes all animal, freed
from every restraint and denied every safeguard save the strength of
his own muscle and nerve.

We saw at last, on the edge of the bank, one of Grelet's dogs,
whining for attention. He was badly wounded in two places, blood
dripped on the rocks from open cuts three inches long, and one paw
hung helpless, while with eager cries and beseeching looks he urged
us to avenge him in his private feud with a boar. Assured of our
interest, he stayed not to be comforted or cured, but hobbled
eagerly up the trail, begging us with whines to accompany him.

Five men and several other dogs followed the wounded hound, and I
went with them. The Marquesans had war-clubs and long knives like
undersized machetes. Every Islander carries such a knife for cutting
underbrush or cocoanut-stems, and usually it is his only tool for
building native houses, so that he becomes very expert with it, as
the Filipino with his bolo or the Cuban with his machete.

For several hours we climbed the slopes, until we came upon a narrow
trail cut in the side of a cliff, a path perhaps two feet wide, with
sheer wall of rock above and abrupt precipice below. On this the
chief hunter stationed himself and two men while the others scouted
below. This leader was a man of sixty, tattooed from toes to scalp
on one side only, so that he was queerly parti-colored, and capping
this odd figure, he wore a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles. He
motioned to me to take my place in a niche of the cliff, where I
could stand and sweep the trail with my eyes, secure from assault.
He had given directions to the others and intended to provide for me
a rare sight, and to gain for himself a trifle of the glory that had
been his as a young man in wars against neighboring valleys.

For an hour we waited and smoked, hearing from time to time the
clamor of men and dogs in the thickets below. The common way of
hunting boars, said the chief, was to chase them through the woods
and kill them by throwing tomahawks at them. This method allows the
hunter to have a tree always within a short run, and about these
trees he dodges when pursued, or if too closely pressed, climbs one.
It is dangerous sport, as only a cool and experienced man can drive
a knife into a vital part of a boar in full career, and no wound in
non-vital parts will cause the desperate beast even to falter.

Gradually the cries of the men and the barking of the dogs grew
nearer, and suddenly, bursting from the bushes some distance down
the trail, we saw ten bristling hogs. They had been driven upward
until they reached the artificial shelf, and behind them hounds and
hunters cut off all escape.

"_Apau! Aia oe a!_" shouted the rear-guard as the boars took the
trail. "Lo! Prepare to strike!"

The three slayers gripped their clubs and braced their feet. I was
above the chief, who was the last of the trio. Where he planted his
feet, the path was most narrow, so that two could not pass. His
knife was in his _pareu_, which, to leave his legs unhampered, he had
rolled and tucked in until it was no more than a G-string. His
muscles were like the cordage of the _faufee_ - the vine that
strangles - and his chest like a great buckler, half blue and half

"_Peo! Pepo! Huepe! Huope!_" yelled the scouts, in the "tally-ho!"
cry of Marquesan, and the boars struck the trail with hatred hot in
their eyes and with gnashing tusks.

The three slayers were five hundred feet apart. The first struck at
all ten, as singly they rushed past him. Three he stopped. The
second man laid prostrate four. The three remaining were, naturally,
the fittest. They were huge, hideous, snarling beasts, bared teeth
gleaming in a slather of foam, eyes bloodshot and vicious. The old
chief saw them coming; he saw, too, that I had shrunk to a plaster
on the wall while he faced the danger like a warrior in the
spear-test of their old warfare.

"_Aia! Aia!_" he said to encourage me. His club of ironwood, its
edge sharp and toothed, he grasped with both hands; he widened his
foothold and threw his body forward to withstand a shock. He
calculated to an inch the arrival of the first boar, and swung his
_u'u_ on its head with precision. The boar crumpled up and fell
down the hillside. The second he struck as unerringly, but the third
he chose to kill with his knife.

[Illustration: _Feis_, or mountain bananas
Man in _pareu_, native loin cloth]

[Illustration: Where river and bay meet at Oomoa, Island of Fatu-hiva]

He laid down the _u'u_ and drew the knife with one motion, and as
the powerful brute rushed at him, stepped aside in the split second
between his gauge of its position and its leap. His knife was thrust
straight out. It met the boar with perfect and delicate accuracy.
The beast fell, quivered a moment, and lay still.

It was a perfection of butchery, for one slash of those tusks,
ripping the chief's legs, and he would have been down, crashing over
the cliff, and dead. I was almost in chants of admiration for his
nerve and accuracy.

"Ah, if this had been war, and these had been enemies!"

The dead boars were slung on poles, but a half dozen had to be left
on branches of trees for the morrow, and it was late in the day when
we reached Grelet's house for the feast.

Pae, the elder woman of the household, received us joyously. In the
master's absence she had become a different being from the sulky,
contrary one I had seen while he was at home. Usually she and
Hinatiaiani, the mother of the baby, ate their food squatting beside
the cook-house; they rarely came upon the veranda, never sat upon a
chair, and never were asked to our table. Now they were in
complete possession of the house and Pae was transformed into a
jolly soul, her kinsfolk about her on the veranda and the bottles
emptying fast. She celebrated our arrival with the boars by bringing
out two quarts of _crème de menthe_ and a bottle of absinthe, so
that the mice with the big cat away played an uncorking air right

All was now a bustle of preparation for the feast. While many
prepared the earth-oven for the pig, the head cook made fire in
their primitive way, using the fire-plough of _purau_-wood braced
against a pillar of the veranda. Meantime the oven was dug, sides and
bottom lined with stones, and sticks piled within it for the fire. A
top layer of stones was placed on the flames and when it had grown
red-hot, the pig was pulled and hauled over it until the bristles
were removed. The carcass was then carried to the river, the
intestines removed, and inside and outside thoroughly washed in a
place where the current was strong.

The oven was made ready for its reception by removing the upper
layer of stones and the fire, and placing banana-leaves all about
the bottom and sides, in which the pig, his own interior filled with
hot stones wrapped in leaves, was placed, with native sweet-potatoes
and yams beside him. More leaves covered all, and another layer of
red hot stones. A surface of dirt sealed the oven.

A young dog was also part of the fare, and was cooked in the same
manner as the pig. The Marquesans are fond of dogs. This particular
one had been brought to this valley from another and was not on
friendly terms with any of his butchers. In fact, his death was due
more to revenge than to hunger for his flesh. He had bitten the leg
of a man who lived in the upper part of Oomoa, and when this man came
limping to the banquet, he brought the biter as his contribution.

Those who would turn up their noses at Towser must hear Captain Cook,
who was himself slain and dismembered in Hawaii:

"The flesh of the South Sea Dog is a meat not to be despised. It is
next to our English Lamb."

Personally I am willing to let it be next to lamb at every meal, and
I shall always take its neighbor, but it argues a narrow taste not
to concede that the dishes of our foreign friends may have a relish
all their own. Dog has been a Maori tidbit for thousands of years.
It was introduced into New Zealand from these islands. The
aborigines had a fierce, undomesticated dog, which they hunted for
its flesh. It was a sort of fox, but disappeared before the
Polynesians reached the islands.

All Polynesians have liked dogs, liked them as pets, as they do
to-day, and liked them as grub. If one asks how one can pet Fido
Monday and eat him Tuesday, I will reply that we, the highest types
of civilization, pet calves and lambs, chickens and rabbits, and find
them not a whit the less toothsome. The Marquesan loves his pig as
we love our dog, cuddles him, calls him fond names, believes that he
goes to heaven, - and nevertheless roasts him for dinner.

The yams, potatoes, breadfruit, and other accompaniments of the dog,
pig, and chicken were all ready at six o'clock, when cries of
delight summoned us idlers. The earth had been cleared from the oven,
the leaves removed, and the pig was lifted into the air, cooked to a
turn, succulent, steaming, delicious. The feast was spread in a
clearing, so that the sun, sinking slowly in the west, might filter
his rays through the lofty trees and leave us brightened by his
presence, but cool in the shadows. For me a Roman couch of mats was
spread, while the natives squatted in the comfort of men whose legs
are natural.

The women waited upon us, passing all the food in leaves, in cleanly
fashion. Pae herself, though hostess, could not eat till all the men
were satisfied, for the _tapu_ still holds, though without authority.
Knives nor forks hindered our free onslaught upon the edibles, and
there were cocoanut-shells beside each of us for washing our hands
between courses, a usual custom.

_Piahi_, the native chestnuts shelled and cooked in cocoanut-milk,
were an appetizer, followed by small fish, which we ate raw after
soaking them in lime juice. There is no dish that the white man so
soon learns to crave and so long remembers when departed. Some of
the guests did not like the sauce, but took their small fish by the
tail, dripping with salt water, and ate it as one might eat celery,
bones, and all.

With the main course were served dried squid and porpoise, and fresh
flying-fish and bonito and shrimp. The feast was complete with
mangoes, oranges, and pineapples, also bananas ripened in the
expeditious way of the Marquesas. They bury them in a deep hole
lined with cracked candlenuts and grass and cover all with earth. In
several days - and they know the right time to an hour - the bananas
are dug up, yellow and sweet.

[Illustration: Sacred banyan tree at Oomoa]

[Illustration: Elephantiasis of the legs]

Pae furnished a limited quantity of rum for the fete, and a
cocoanut-shell filled with _namu_ was passed about. Every one was
already enthusiastic, and after several drinks of the powerful
sugar-distillation pipes were lit and palaver began. I had to tell
stories of my strange country, of the things called cities, large
villages without a river through them, so big that they held _tini
tini tini tini mano mano mano mano_ people, with single houses in
which more people worked than there were in all the islands. Such a
house might be higher than three or four cocoanut trees stood one on
the other, and no one walked up-stairs, but rode in boxes lifted by

"How many men to a rope?" asked Pae.

The old men told me about their battles, much as at a reunion of the
Grand Army of the Republic the veterans fight again the Civil war.
One man, whose tattooing striped his body like the blue bands of a
convict's suit, said that it was the custom on Fatu-hiva for the
leader or chief on each side to challenge the enemy champion.

"Our army stood thirty or forty feet away from the other army," said
he, "and our chief stood still while the other threw his spear. If
it struck our chief, at once the warriors rushed into battle; if it
missed, our chief had the right to go close to the other and thrust
a spear through his heart. The other stood firm and proud. He smiled
with scorn. He looked on the spear when it was raised, and he did
not tremble. But sometimes he was saved by his courage, for our
chief after looking at him with terrible eyes, said, 'O man of heart,
go your way, and never dare again to fight such a great warrior as I!'

"That ended the war. The other chief was ashamed, and led his men
down to their own valley. But if our chief had killed him, then
there was war; at once we struck with the _u'u_ and ran forward with
our spears. These battles gave many names to children, names
remembering the death or wounding of the glorious deeds of the
warriors. To await calmly the spear of the other chief, the head
raised, the eyes never winking, to look at the spear as at a welcome
gift - that was what our chiefs must do. Death was not so terrible,
but to leave one's body in the hands of the foe, to be eaten, to know
that one's skull would be hung in a tree, and one's bones made into
tattoo needles or fish-hooks - ! _Toomanu!_

"We are not the men we were. We do not eat the 'Long Pig' any more,
but we have not the courage, the skill, or the strength. When the
spears were thrown, and each man had but one, then the fight was
with the _u'u_, hand to hand and eye to eye. That was a fight of men!
The gun is the weapon of cowards. It is the gun that fights, not the

"Our last fight we brought back four bodies. Meat spoils quickly. We
had our feast right here where we sit now."

Excited barking of the dogs announced the arrival of Grelet with
several men. They had rowed all the way to Oia and had sailed back,
arriving by chance in time to share the abundance of our feast.
After the twelve-mile pull in the blazing sun and the toilsome
journey back by night this feast was their reward, and all their pay.

Pae, reduced once more to sullen servitude, poured the rum, generous
portions of it in cocoanut-shells, which the newcomers emptied as
they ate, hastening soon to join the other guests on the broad
veranda, where late at night a chant began.

Half a dozen men, tattooed from toes to waist and some to the roots
of their hair, sat on a mat on the floor, all naked except for their
_pareus_, the red and yellow of which shone in the light of the
oil-lamps in brightening contrast to brown skins and dark blue ink.
One was far gone with _fefe_, his legs almost as large as those of
an elephant. He was a grotesque in hideous green. The blue of the
candlenut-ink, in bizzare designs upon body and legs, had turned a
scaly greenish hue from age and _kava_ excesses. Revealed in the
yellow light, he was like a ghastly bronze monstrosity that had known
the weathering of a century.

He was the leader of the chant and, like all the others, had drunk
plenty of Grelet's rum. The pipe was passing, and Grelet took his
pull at it in the circle. The chant was of the adventures of the day.
The hunters and specially Namu Ou Mio, the slayer of the three boars,
told of the deed of prowess on the cliff-side, while the others sang
of their journey and the sea. Squatting on the mat, they bent and
swayed in pantomime, telling the tales, lifting their voices in
praises of their own deeds and of the virtues of Grelet.

That thrifty Swiss, in red breech-clout and spectacles, the
lamplight shining on his bald head, sat in the midst of them,
familiar by a score of years with their chants. Pae filled the pipe
and the bowls and joined in the chorus, while the Paumotan boys, in
a shadowy recess, sipped their rum and rolled their eyes in
astonished appreciation of the first joviality of their lives. When
the leader began the ancient cannibal chant, the song of war and of
feasting at the High Place, the tattooed men forgot even the rum.
The nights of riot after return from the battle, the fighting
qualities of their fathers, the cheer of the fires, the heat of the
ovens, and the baking of the "Long Pig," and the hours when the most
beautiful girls danced naked to win the acclaim of the multitude and
to honor their parents; all these they celebrated. The leader gave
the first line in a dramatic tone, and the others chanted the chorus.
Most of the verses they knew by rote, but there were improvisations
that brought applause from all.

At midnight the man with the elephantiasis removed his _pareu_ to
free his enormous legs for dancing, and he and the others, their
hands joined, moved ponderously in a tripping circle before the
couch on which I lay. The chant was now a recital of my merits, the
chief of which was that I was a friend of Grelet, that mighty man
wiser than Iholomoni (Solomon), with more wives than that great king,
and stronger heart to chase the wild bull. He steers a whale-boat
with a finger, but no wave can tear the helm from his grasp. Long
has he been in Oomoa, just and brave and generous has he been, and
his rum is the best that is made in the far island of Tahiti.

So passed the night and the rum, in a pandemonium of voices,
gyrating tattooed bodies, flashes of red and yellow and blue _pareus_,
rolling eyes, curls of smoke drifting under the gently moving canvas
ceiling, while from the garden came the scent of innumerable dewy
flowers; and at intervals in the chanting I heard from the darkness
of the bay the sound of a conch-shell blown on some wayfaring boat.

I dozed, and wakened to see Grelet asleep. Pae was still filling the
emptied cocoanut-shells, and the swollen green man postured before
me like some horrid figment of a dream. I roused myself again. Pae
had locked up the song-maker, and all the tattooed men slumbered
where they sat, the Paumotan boys with sunbonnets tied about their
heads lay in their corner, dreaming, perhaps, of their loved home on
Pukaruha. I woke again to find the garden green and still in the
gray morning, and the veranda vacant.

The Marquesans were all in the river, lying down among the boulders
to cool their aching heads. The _fefe_ sufferer stood like a
slime-covered rock in the stream. His swollen legs hurt him
dreadfully. Rum is not good for _fefe_.

"Guddammee!" he said to me in his one attempt at our cultured
language, and put his body deep in a pool.


A visit to Hanavave; Père Olivier at home; the story of the last
battle between Hanahouua and Oi, told by the sole survivor; the
making of _tapa_ cloth, and the ancient garments of the Marquesans.

Grelet said that the conch I had heard at night sounding off Oomoa
must have been in a canoe or whale-boat bound for Hanavave, a valley
a dozen miles away over the mountains, but only an hour or so by sea.
It might have brought a message of interest, or perhaps would be a
conveyance to my own valley, so in mid-forenoon we launched Grelet's
whale-boat for a journey to Hanavave.

Eight men carried the large boat from its shelter to the water,
slung on two short thick poles by loops of rope through holes in
prow and stern. It was as graceful as a swan, floating in the edge
of the breakers. Driving it through the surf was cautious, skilful
work, at which Grelet was a master. Haupupuu, who built the boat, a
young man with the features of Bonaparte and a _blase_ expression,
was at the bow, and three other Marquesans, with the two Paumotan
boys, handled the oars. There was no wind and they rowed all the way,
spurting often for love of excitement.

We skirted a coast of almost vertical cliffs crowned by cocoas, the
faces of the rock black or covered above the waterline with vines
and plants, green and luxuriant. Long stretches of white curtains
and huge pictures in curious outlines were painted on the sable
cliffs by encrusted salt. The sea surged in leaping fountains
through a thousand blow-holes carved from the black basalt, and the
ceaseless wash of the waves had cut the base of the precipices into
_paniho_, or teeth, as the Marquesans say.

There were half a dozen indentations in the bleak and rugged coast,
each a little valley guarded by cliffs on both sides, the natural
obstacle to neighborliness that made enemies of the clans.
Inhabitants of plains are usually friendly. Mountains make feuds.

We passed the valley of Hana Ui, inhabited when Grelet came, and
full of rich cotton-fields, now a waste with never a soul in it. We
passed Eue, Utea, Tetio, Nanifapoto, Hana Puaea and Mata Utuoa, all
empty of the living; graveyards and deserted _paepaes_. Thousands
made merry in them when the missionaries first recorded their numbers.
Death hung like a cloud over the desolate wilderness of these valleys,
over the stern and gloomy cliffs, black and forbidding, carved into
monstrous shapes and rimmed with the fantastic patterns made by the
unresting sea.

Near Matu Utuoa was a great natural bridge, under which the ocean
rushed in swirling currents, foam, and spray. Turning a shoulder of
the cliff, we entered the Bay of Virgins and were confronted with
the titanic architecture of Hanavave, Alps in ruins, once coral
reefs and now thrust up ten thousand feet above the sea. Fantastic
headlands, massive towers, obelisks, pyramids, and needles were an
extravaganza in rock, monstrous and portentous. Towering structures
hewn by water and wind from the basalt mass of the island rose like
colossi along the entrance to the bay; beyond, a glimpse of great
black battlements framed a huge crater.

A dangerous bay in the lee wind with a bad holding-ground. We
manoeuvered for ten minutes to land, but the shelving beach of black
stone with no rim of sand proved a puzzle even to Grelet. We reached
the stones again and again, only to be torn away by the racing tide.
At last we all jumped into the surf and swam ashore, except one man
who anchored the whale-boat before following us.

The canoe that had sounded the conch off Oomoa was lying on the shale,
and those who had come in it were on the stones cooking breadfruit.
The village, half a dozen rude straw shacks, stretched along a rocky
stream. Beyond it, in a few acres enclosed by a fence, were a tiny
church, two wretched wooden cabins, a tumbling kiosk, five or six
old men and women squatting on the ground amid a flock of dogs and
cats. This was the Catholic mission, tumbledown and decayed,
unpainted for years, overgrown by weeds, marshy and muddy, passing
to oblivion like the race to which it ministered.

Grelet and I found Père Olivier sweeping out the church, cheerful,
humming a cradle-song of the French peasants. He was glad to see us,
though my companion was avowedly a pagan. Dwelling alone here with
his dying charges, the good priest could not but feel a common bond
with any white man, whoever he might be.

The kiosk, to which he took us, proved to be Père Olivier's
eating-place, dingy, tottering, and poverty-stricken, furnished with
a few cracked and broken dishes and rusty knives and forks, the
equipment of a miner or sheep-herder. Père Olivier apologized for the
meager fare, but we did well enough, with soup and a tin of boiled
beef, breadfruit, and _feis_. The soup was of a red vegetable, not
appetizing, and I could not make out the native name for it, _hue
arahi_, until Grelet cried, "Ah, _j'ai trouvé le mot anglais!_
Ponkeen, ponkeen!" It was a red pumpkin.

[Illustration: Removing the pig cooked in the _umu_, or native oven]

[Illustration: The _Koina Kai_ or feast in Oomoa]

"_La soupe maigre de missionaire_," murmured the priest.

I led the talk to the work of the mission.

"We have been here thirty-five years," said Père Olivier, "and I,
thirty. Our order first tried to establish a church at Oomoa, but
failed. You have seen there a stone foundation that supports the
wild vanilla vines? Frère Fesal built that, with a Raratonga
islander who was a good mason. The two cut the stones and shaped them.
The valley of Oomoa was drunk. Rum was everywhere, the palm _namu_
was being made all the time, and few people were ever sober. There
was a Hawaiian Protestant missionary there, and he was not good
friends with Frère Fesal. There was no French authority at Oomoa,
and the strongest man was the law. The whalers were worse than the
natives, and hated the missionaries. One day when the valley was
crazed, a native killed the Raratonga man. You will find the murderer
living on Tahuata now. Frère Fesal buried his assistant, and fled

"That date was about the last Hanavave suffered from cannibalism and

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 22 of 29)