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extreme sorcery. The _taua_, the pagan priest, was still powerful,
however, and his gods demanded victims. The men here conspired with
the men of Hanahouua to descend on Oi, a little village by the sea
between here and Oomoa. They had guns of a sort, for the whalers had
brought old and rusty guns to trade with the Marquesans for wood,
fruit, and fish. Frère Fesal learned of the conspiracy, but the men
were drinking rum, and he was helpless. The warriors went stealthily
over the mountains and at night lowered themselves from the cliffs
with ropes made of the _fau_. There were only thirty people left in
Oi, and the enemy came upon them in the dark like the wolf. Only one
man escaped - There he is now, entering the mission. We will ask him
to tell the story."

He stood in the rickety doorway and called, "Tutaiei, come here!" An
old and withered man approached, one-eyed, the wrinkles of his face
and body abscuring the blue patterns of tattooing, a shrunken, but
hideous, scar making a hairless patch on one side of his head.

"I was on the beach pulling up my canoe and taking out the fish I
had speared," said this wreck of a man. "Half the night was spent,
and every one was asleep except me. We were a little company, for
they had killed and eaten most of us, and others had died of the
white man's curse. In the night I heard the cries of the Hanavave
and Hanahouua men who had lowered themselves down the precipice and
were using their war-clubs on the sleeping.

"I was one man. I could do nothing but die, and I was full of life.
In the darkness I smashed with a rock all the canoes on the beach
save mine. In my ears were the groans of the dying, and the war-cries.
I saw the torches coming. I put the fish back in my canoe, and
pushed out.

"They were but a moment late, for I have a hole in my head into
which they shot a nail, and I have this crack in my head upon which
they flung a stone. They could not follow me, for there were no
canoes left. I paddled to Oomoa after a day, during which I did what
I have no memory of."

"They had guns?" I asked him.

"They had a few guns, but they used in them nails or stones, having
no balls of metal. Their slings were worse. I could sling a stone as
big as a mango and kill a man, striking him fair on the head, at the
distance those guns would shoot. We made our slings of the bark of
the cocoanut-tree, and the stones, polished by rubbing against each
other, we carried in a net about the waist."

"But if that stone broke your head, why did you not die?"

"A _tatihi_ fixed my head. The nail in my leg he took out with a
loop of hair, and cured the wound."

"Did you not lie in wait for those murderers?"

Tutaiei hemmed and cast down his eye.

"The French came then with soldiers and made it so that if I killed
any one, they killed me; the law, they call it. They did nothing to
those warriors because the deed was done before the French came. I
waited and thought. I bought a gun from a whaler. But the time never

"All my people had died at their hands. Six heads they carried back
to feast on the brains. They ate the brains of my wife. I kept the
names of those that I should kill. There was Kiihakia, who slew
Moariniu, the blind man; Nakahania, who killed Hakaie, husband of
Tepeiu; Niana, who cut off the head of Tahukea, who was their
daughter and my woman; Veatetau should die for Tahiahokaani, who was
young and beautiful, who was the sister of my woman. I waited too
long, for time took them all, and I alone survive of the people of Oi,
or of those who killed them."

"The vendetta between valleys - called _umuhuke_, or the Vengeance of
the Oven, - thus wiped out the people of Oi," commented Père Olivier.
"The skulls were kept in banian-trees, or in the houses. Frère Fesal
started the mission here and built that little church. There were
plenty of people to work among. But now, after thirty years I have
been here, they are nearly finished. They have no courage to go on,
that is all. _C'est un pays sans l'avenir._ The family of the dying
never weep. They gather to eat the feast of the dead, and the crying
is a rite, no more. These people are tired of life."

It was Stevenson who though that "the ending of the most healthful,
if not the most humane, of field sports - hedge warfare - " had much
to do with depopulation. Either horn of the dilemma is dangerous to
touch. It is unthinkable, perhaps, that white conquerors should have
allowed the Marquesans to follow their own customs of warfare. But
changes in the customs of every race must come from within that race
or they will destroy it. The essence of life is freedom.

Any one who has read their past and knows them now must admit that
the Marquesans have not been improved in morality by their contact
with the whites. Alien customs have been forced upon them. And they
are dying for lack of expression, nationally and individually.
Disease, of course, is the weapon that kills them, but it finds its
victims unguarded by hope or desire to live, willing to meet death
half way, the grave a haven.

[Illustration: Beach at Oomoa]

[Illustration: Putting the canoe in the water]

In the old days this island of Fatu-hiva was the art center of the
Marquesas. The fame of its tattooers, carvers in wood and stone,
makers of canoes, paddles, and war-clubs, had resounded through the
archipelago for centuries. Now it is one of the few places where
even a feeble survival of those industries give the newcomers a
glimpse of their methods and ideals now sinking, like their
originators, in the mire of wretchedness.

Outside the mission gates, in the edge of the jungle, Père Olivier
and I came upon two old women making _tapa_ cloth. Shrunken with age,
toothless, decrepit, their only covering the ragged and faded
_pareus_ that spoke of poverty, they sat in the shade of a
banian-tree, beating the fibrous inner bark of the breadfruit-tree.
Over the hollow log that resounded with the blows of their wooden
mallets the cloth moved slowly, doubling on the ground into a heap
of silken texture, firm, thin, and soft.

This paper-cloth was once made throughout all the South Sea Islands.
Breadfruit, banian, mulberry, and other barks furnished the fiber.
The outer rough bark was scraped off with a shell, and the inner
rind slightly beaten and allowed to ferment. It was then beaten over
a tree-trunk with mallets of iron-wood about eighteen inches long,
grooved coarsely on one side and more finely on the other. The
fibers were so closely interwoven by this beating that in the
finished cloth one could not guess the process of making. When
finished, the fabric was bleached in the sun to a dazzling white,
and from it the Marquesans of old wrought wondrous garments.

For their caps they made remarkably fine textures, open-meshed,
filmy as gauze, which confined their abundant black hair, and to
which were added flowers, either natural or beautifully preserved in
wax. Their principal garment, the _cahu_, was a long and flowing
piece of the paper-cloth, of firmer texture, dyed in brilliant colors,
or of white adorned with tasteful patterns. This hung from the
shoulders, where it was knotted on one shoulder, leaving one arm and
part of the breast exposed. Much individual taste was expressed in
the wearing of this garment; sometimes the knot was on one shoulder,
sometimes on the other, or it might be brought low on the chest,
leaving the shoulders and arms bare, or thrown behind to expose the
charms of a well-formed back or a slender waist. Beneath it they
wore a _pareu_, which passed twice around the waist and hung to the
calves of the legs.

Clean and neat as these garments always were, shining in the sun,
leaving the body free to know the joys of sun and air and swift,
easy motion, it would be difficult to imagine a more graceful,
beautiful, modest, and comfortable manner of dressing.

For dyeing these garments in all the hues that fancy dictated, the
women used the juices of herb and tree. Candlenut-bark gave a rich
chocolate hue; scarlet was obtained from the _mati_-berries mixed
with the leaves of the _tou_. Yellow came from the inner bark of the
root of the _morinda citrifolia_. Hibiscus flowers or delicate ferns
were dipped in these colors and impressed on the _tapas_ in elegant

The garments were virtually indestructible. Did a dress need
repairing, the edges of the rent were moistened and beaten together,
or a handful of fiber was beaten in as a patch. Often for fishermen
the _tapas_ were made water-proof by added thicknesses and the
employment of gums, and waterproof cloth for wrappings was made
thick and impervious to rain as the oilcloth it resembled.

Hardly one of these garments survives in the Marquesas to-day. They
have been driven out by the gaudy prints of Germany and England
brought by the traders, and by the ideas of dress which the
missionaries imported together with the barrels of hideous
night-gown garments contributed by worthy ladies of American villages.

The disappearance of these native garments brought two things,
idleness and the rapid spread of tuberculosis. The _tapa_ cloth
could not be worn in the water or the rain, as it disintegrated.
Marquesans therefore left their robes in the house when they went
abroad in stormy weather or bathed in the sea. But in their new
calicos and ginghams they walked in the rain, bathed in the rivers,
and returned to sleep huddled in the wet folds, ignorant of the

As the _tapa_ disappeared, so did the beautiful carvings of canoes
and paddles and clubs, superseded by the cheaper, machine-made
articles of the whites. Little was left to occupy the hands or minds
of the islanders, who, their old merrymakings stopped, their wars
forbidden, their industry taken from them, could only sit on their
_paepaes_ yawning like children in jail and waiting for the death
that soon came.

The Marquesans never made a pot. They had clay in their soil, as
Gauguin proved by using it for his modeling, but they had no need of
pottery, using exclusively the gourds from the vines, wooden vessels
hollowed out, and temporary cups of leaves.

This absence of pottery is another proof of the lengthy isolation of
the islands. The Tongans had earthen ware which they learned to
make from the Fijians, but the Polynesians had left the mainland
before the beginning of this art. Thus they remained a people who
were, despite their startling advances in many lines, the least
encumbered by useful inventions of any race in the world.

Until hardly more than a hundred years ago the natives were like our
forefathers who lived millenniums ago in Europe. But being in a
gentler climate, they were gentler, happier, merrier, and far cleaner.
One can hardly dwell in a spirit of filial devotion upon the relation
of our forefathers to soap and water, but these Marquesans bathed
several times daily in dulcet streams and found soap and emollients
to hand.

It was curious to me to reflect, while Père Olivier and I stood
watching the two aged crones beating out the _tapa_ cloth, upon what
slender chance hung the difference between us. Far in the remote
mists of time, when a tribe set out upon its wanderings from the
home land, one man, perhaps, hesitated, dimly felt the dangers and
uncertainties before it, weighed the advantages of remaining behind,
and did not go. Had he gone, I or any one of Caucasian blood in the
world to-day, might have been a Marquesan.

It would be interesting, I thought, to consider what the hundred
thousand years that have passed since that day have given us of joy,
of wealth of mind and soul and body, of real value in customs and
manners and attitude toward life, compared to what would have been
our portion in the islands of the South Seas before his white cousin
fell upon the Marquesan.


Fishing in Hanavave; a deep-sea battle with a shark; Red Chicken
shows how to tie ropes to shark's tails; night-fishing for dolphins,
and the monster sword-fish that overturned the canoe; the native
doctor dresses Red Chicken's wounds and discourses on medicine.

Grelet returned to Oomoa in the whale-boat, but I remained in
Hanavave for the fishing. My presence had stimulated the waning
interest of the few remaining Marquesans, and the handful of young
men and women went with me often to the sea outside the Bay of
Virgins, where we lay in the blazing sunshine having great sport
with spear or hook and line.

We speared a dozen kinds of fish, specially the cuttlefish and
sunfish, the latter more for fun and practice than food. They are
huge masses, these pig-like, tailless clowns among the graceful
families of the ocean, with their small mouths and clumsy-looking
bodies, but they made a fine target at which to launch harpoon or
spear from the dancing bow of a canoe. Keeping one's balance is the
finest art of the Marquesan fisherman, and he will stand firm while
the boat rises and falls, rolls and pitches, his body swaying and
balancing with the nice adjustment that is second nature to him. It
is an art that should be learned in childhood. Many were the
splashes into the salt sea that fell to my lot as I practised it,
one moment standing alert with poised spear in the sunlight, the
next overwhelmed with the green water, and striking out on the
surface again amid the joyous, unridiculing laughter of my merry

Wearying of the spear, we trolled for swordfish with hook and line,
or used the baitless hook to entice the sportful albicore, or dolphin,
whose curving black bodies splashed the sea about us. A piece of
mother-of-pearl about six inches long and three-quarters of an inch
wide was the lure for him. Carefully cut and polished to resemble
the body of a fish, there was attached to it on the concave side a
barb of shell or bone about an inch or an inch and a half in length,
fastened by _faufee_ fiber, with a few hog's bristles inserted. The
line was drove through the hole where the barb was fastened and,
being braided along the inner side of the pearl shank, was tied
again at the top, forming a chord to the arch. Thus when the
beguiled dolphin took the hook and strained the line, he secured
himself more firmly on the barb.

This is the best fish-hook, as it is perhaps the oldest, ever
invented, and I have found it in many parts of the South Seas, but
never more artfully made than here on Hanavave. It needs no bait,
and is a fascinating sight for the big fish, who hardly ever
discover the fraud until too late.

The line was attached to a bamboo cane about fifteen feet long, and
standing in the stern of the canoe, I handled this rod, allowing the
hook to touch the water, but not to sink. Behind me my companions,
in their red and yellow _pareus_, pushed the boat through the water
with gentle strokes of their oars. When I saw a fish approaching,
they became active, the canoe raced across the sparkling sea, and
the hook, as it skimmed along the surface, looked for all the world
like a flying fish, the bristles simulating the tail. Soon the
hastening dolphin fell upon it, and then became the tug-of-war,
bamboo pole straining and bending, the line now taut, now relaxing,
as the fish lunged, and the paddlers watching with cries of
excitement until he was hauled over the side, wet and flopping, a
feast for half a dozen.

One never-to-be-forgotten afternoon we ran unexpectedly upon a whole
school of dolphins a few miles outside the bay, and before the sun
sank I had brought from the sea twenty-six large fish. Some of these
were magnificent food-fish, weighing 150 to 200 pounds. We had to
send for two canoes to help bring in this miraculous draught, and
all the population of the valley rejoiced in the supply of fresh and
appetizing food.

The Marquesan methods of fishing are not so varied to-day as when
their valleys were filled with a happy people delighting in all
forms of exercise and prowess and needing the fish to supplement a
scanty diet. For many weeks before I came, they said, no man had gone
fishing. There were so few natives that the trees supplied them all
with enough to eat, and the melancholy Marquesan preferred to sit
and meditate upon his _paepae_ rather than to fish, except when
appetite demanded it. There is a Polynesian word that means
"hungry for fish," and to-day it is only when this word rises to
their tongues or thoughts that they go eagerly to the sea or to the
tooth-like base of the cliffs.

Often we took large quantities of fish among these caves and rocks
by capturing them in bags, using a wooden fan as a weapon. The sport
called for a cool head, marvelous lungs, and skill. It was extremely
dangerous, as the sharks were numerous where fish were plentiful,
and the angler must needs be under the water, in the shark's own

[Illustration: Pascual, the giant Paumotan pilot and his friends]

[Illustration: A pearl diver's sweetheart]

The best hand and head for this sport in all Hanavave was a girl,
Kikaaki, a name which means Miss Impossibility. She was not handsome,
save with the beauty of youth and abounding health, but her wide
mouth and bright eyes were intelligent and laughter-loving.

Starting early in the morning, we would go to the edge of the bay,
where the coral rises from the ocean floor in fantastic shapes and
builds strange grottoes and cells at the feet of the basalt rocks.
While I held the canoe, Miss Impossibility would remove her shapeless
calico wrapper, and attired only in scarlet _pareu_, her hair piled
high on her head and tied with the white filet of the cocoanut-palm,
she would go overboard in one curving dive, a dozen feet or more
beneath the sea.

When the water was quiet and shadowed by the cliffs, I could see her
through its green translucence, swimming to the coral lairs of the
fish that gleamed in the reflected, penetrating sunlight. Walking on
the sandy bottom, a hand net of straw in one hand, and a stick
shaped like a fan in the other, she would cover a crevice with the
net and with the fan urge the fish into it.

Foolish as was their conduct, the fish appeared to be deceived by
the lure, or made helpless by fear, for they streamed into the
receptacle as Miss Impossibility beat the water or the coral. She
would have seemed to me well named had I never seen her at the sport.

She would usually stay beneath the water a couple of minutes, rising
with her catch to rest for a moment or two with her hand on the edge
of the boat, breathing deeply, before she went down again. Losing
sight of her among the under-water caves one day, I waited for what
seemed an eternity. I cannot say how long she was gone, for as the
time lengthened seconds became minutes and hours, while I was torn
between diving after her and remaining ready for emergency in the
boat. When at last she came to the surface, she was nearly dead with
exhaustion, and I had to lift her into the canoe. She said her hair
had been caught in the branching coral, and that she had been barely
able to wrench it free before her strength was gone.

I went down with her several times, but could not master the art of
entrapping the fish, and was overcome with fear when I had entered
one of the dark caves and heard a terrible splashing nearby, as if a
shark had struck the coral in attempting to enter my hazardous refuge.

Even Miss Impossibility had not the courage to face a shark; yet
every time she dived she risked meeting one. Red Chicken had killed
one at this very spot a few weeks earlier. The danger even to a man
armed with a knife was that the shark would obstruct from a cave, or
come upon him suddenly from behind.

Often we had with us in the fishing a Paumotan, Pascual, the pilot
of the ship _Zelee_, who was in Hanavave visiting a relative. He was
the very highest physical and mental type of the Paumotan, a
honey-comb of good-nature, a well of laughter, and a seaman beyond
compare. To be a pilot in the Isles of the Labyrinth demands many
strong qualities, but to be the pilot of the only warship in this
sea was the very summit of pilotry. He had an accurate knowledge of
forty harbors and anchorages, and spoke English fluently, French,
Paumotan, Tahitian, Marquesan, and other Polynesian tongues. From
boyhood until he took up pilotage he was a diver in the lagoons for
shell and in harbors for the repair of ships.

"I have killed many sharks," he said, "and have all but fed them
more than once. I had gone one morning a hundred feet. The water is
always colder below the surface, and I shivered as I pulled at a
pair of big shells under a ledge. It was dark in the cavern, and I
was both busy and cold, so that as I stooped I did not see a shark
that came from behind, until he plumped into my spine.

"I turned as he made his reverse to bite me, and passed under him,
out to better light. I knew I had but a second or two to fight. I
seized his tail quickly, and as he swept around to free himself I
had time to draw the knife from my _pareu_ and stab him. He passed
over me again, and this time his teeth entered my shoulder, here - "
He opened his shirt and showed me a long, livid scar, serrated, the
hall-mark of a fighter of _mako_.

"But by fortune - you may be sure I called on God - I got my knife
home again, and sprang up for the air, feeling him in the water
behind me. Twice I drove the blade into him on the way, for he would
not let me go. My friend in the canoe, who saw the struggle, jumped
down to my aid, and being fresh from the air, he cut that devil to
pieces. I was not too strong when I reached the outrigger and hung
my weight upon it. We ate the liver of that _mako_, and damned him
as we ate. I had fought him from the ledge upward at least eighty
feet of the hundred."

"_Aue!_" said Red Chicken, hearing me exclaim at the tale. "You have
never seen a man fight the _mako_? _Epo!_ To-morrow we shall show you."

On the following day when the sun was shining brightly, several of
us went in a canoe to a place beneath the cliffs haunted by the
sharks, and there prepared to snare one. A rope of hibiscus was made
fast to a jagged crag, and a noose at the other end was held by Red
Chicken, who stood on the edge of a great boulder eagerly watching
while others strewed pig's entrails in the water to entice a victim
from the dark caves.

At length a long gray shape slid from the shadows and wavered below
our feet. Instantly Red Chicken slipped from the rock, slid
noiselessly beneath the water, and slipped the noose over the
shark's tail before it knew that he was nearby. The others, whose
hands were on the rope, tightened it on the instant, and with a yell
of triumph hauled the lashing, fighting demon upon the rocks, where
he struggled gasping until he died.

There was still another way of catching sharks, Red Chicken said,
and being now excited with the sport and eager to show his skill, he
insisted upon displaying it for my benefit, though I, who find small
pleasure in vicarious danger, would have dissuaded him. For this
exploit we must row to the coral caves, where the man-eating fish
stay often lying lazily in the grottoes, only their heads protruding
into the sun-lit water.

Here we maneuvered until the long, evil-looking snout was seen; then
Red Chicken went quietly over the side of the canoe, descended
beside the shark and tapped him sharply on the head. The fish turned
swiftly to see what teased him, and in the same split-second of time,
over his fluke went the noose, and Red Chicken was up and away,
while his companions on a nearby cliff pulled in the rope and killed
the shark with spears in shallow water. Red Chicken said that he had
learned this art from a Samoan, whose people were cleverer killers of
sharks than the Marquesans. It could be done only when the shark was
full-fed, satisfied, and lazy.

I had seen the impossible, but I was to hear a thing positively
incredible. While Red Chicken sat breathing deeply in the canoe,
filled with pride at my praises, and the others were contriving
means of carrying home the shark meat, I observed a number of fish
swimming around and through the coral caves, and jumped to the
conclusion that from their presence Red Chicken had deduced the
well-filled stomachs and thoroughly satisfied appetite of the shark.
Red Chicken replied, however, that they were a fish never eaten by
sharks, and offered an explanation to which I listened politely, but
with absolute unbelief. Imagine with what surprise I found Red
Chicken's tale repeated in a book that I read some time later when I
had returned to libraries.

There is a fish, the Diodon antennatus, that gets the better of the

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 23 of 29)