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shark in a curious manner. He can blow himself up by taking in air
and water, until he becomes a bloated wretch instead of the fairly
decent thing he is in his normal moments. He can bite, he can make a
noise with his jaws, and can eject water from his mouth to some
distance. Besides all this, he erects papillae on his skin like
thorns, and secretes in the skin of his belly a carmine fluid that
makes a permanent stain. Despite all these defences, if the shark is
fool enough to heed no warning and to eat Diodon, the latter puffs
himself up and eats his way clean through the shark to liberty,
leaving the shark riddled and leaky, and, indeed, dead.

Should this still be doubted, my new authority is Charles Darwin.

After his display of skill and daring - and, as I thought, vivid
imagination - Red Chicken became my special friend and guide, and on
one occasion it was our being together, perhaps, saved his life, and
afforded me one of the most thrilling moments of my own.

He and I had gone in a canoe after nightfall to spear fish outside
the Bay of Virgins. Night fishing has its attractions in these
tropics, if only for the freedom from severe heat, the glory of the
moonlight or starlight, and the waking dreams that come to one upon
the sea, when the canoe rests tranquil, the torch blazes, and the
fish swim to meet the harpoon. The night was moonless, but the sea
was covered with phosphorescence, sometimes a glittering expanse of
light, and again black as velvet except where our canoe moved gently
through a soft and glamorous surface of sparkling jewels. A night
for a lover, a lady, and a lute.

Our torch of cocoanut-husks and reeds, seven feet high, was fixed at
the prow, so that it could be lifted up when needed to attract the
fish or better to light the canoe. Red Chicken, in a scarlet _pareu_
fastened tightly about his loins, stood at the prow when we had
reached his favorite spot off a point of land, while I, with a paddle,
noiselessly kept the canoe as stationary as possible.

Light is a lure for many creatures of land and sea and sky. The moth
and the bat whirl about a flame; the sea-bird dashes its body
against the bright glass of the lonely tower; wild deer come to see
what has disturbed the dark of the forest, and fish of different
kinds leap at a torch. Red Chicken put a match to ours when we were
all in readiness. The brilliant gleam cleft the darkness and sent
across the blackness of the water a beam that was a challenge to the
curiosity of the dozing fish. They hastened toward us, and Red
Chicken made meat of those who came within the radius of his harpoon,
so that within an hour or two our canoe was heaped with half a dozen

Far off in the path of the flambeau rays I saw the swordfish leaping
as they pursued small fish or gamboled for sheer joy in the luminous
air. They seemed to be in pairs. I watched them lazily, with
academic interest in their movements, until suddenly one rose a
hundred feet away, and in his idle caper in the air I saw a bulk so
immense and a sword of such amazing size that the thought of danger
struck me dumb.

He was twenty-five feet in length, and had a dorsal fin that stood
up like the sail of a small boat. But even these dimensions cannot
convey the feeling of alarm his presence gave me. His next leap
brought him within forty feet of us. I recalled a score of accidents
I had seen, read, and heard of; fishermen stabbed, boats rent,
steel-clad ships pierced through and through.

Red Chicken held the torch to observe him better, and shouted:

"_Apau!_ Look out! Paddle fast away!"

I needed no urging. I dug into the glowing water madly, and the
sound of my paddle on the side of the canoe might have been heard
half a mile away. It served no purpose. Suddenly half a dozen of the
swordfish began jumping about us, as if stirred to anger by our torch.
I called to Red Chicken to extinguish, it.

He had seized it to obey when I heard a splash and the canoe
received a terrific shock. A tremendous bulk fell upon it. With a
sudden swing I was hurled into the air and fell twenty feet away. In
the water I heard a swish, and glimpsed the giant espadon as he
leaped again.

I was unhurt, but feared for Red Chicken. He had cried out as the
canoe went under, but I found him by the outrigger, trying to right
the craft. Together we succeeded, and when I had ousted some of the
water, Red Chicken crawled in.

"_Papaoufaa!_ I am wounded slightly," he said, as I assisted him.
"The Spear of the Sea has thrust me through."

The torch was lost, but I felt a big hole in the calf of his right
leg. Blood was pouring from the wound. I made a tourniquet of a
strip of my _pareu_ and, with a small harpoon, twisted it until the
flow of blood was stopped. Then, guided by him, I paddled as fast as
I could to the beach, on which there was little trouble in landing
as the bay was smooth.

Red Chicken did not utter a complaint from the moment of his first
outcry, and when I roused others and he was carried to his house, he
took the pipe handed him and smoked quietly.

"The Aavehie was against him," said an old man. Aavehie is the god
of fishermen, who was always propitiated by intending anglers in the
polytheistic days, and who still had power.

[Illustration: Spearing fish in Marquesas Islands]

[Illustration: Pearl shell divers at work]

There was no white doctor on the island, nor had there been one for
many years. There was nothing to do but call the _tatihi_, or native
doctor, an aged and shriveled man whose whole body was an intricate
pattern of tattooing and wrinkles. He came at once, and with his
claw-like hands cleverly drew together the edges of Red Chicken's
wound and gummed them in place with the juice of the _ape_, a
bulbous plant like the edible _taro_. Red Chicken must have suffered
keenly, for the _ape_ juice is exceedingly caustic, but he made no
protest, continuing to puff the pipe. Over the wound the _tatihi_
applied a leaf, and bound the whole very carefully with a bandage of
_tapa_ cloth folded in surgical fashion.

About the mat on which Red Chicken lay the elders of the village
congregated in the morning to discuss the accident and tell tales
while the pipe circulated. One had seen his friend pierced through
the chest by a sword-fish and instantly killed. Numerous incidents
of their canoes being sunk by these savage Spears of the Sea were
recited by the wise men who, with no books to bother them or written
records to dull their memories, preserved the most minute
recollections of important events of the past.

For my part, on the subject of the demoniacal work of the swordfish,
I regaled them with accounts of damage wrought to big ships; of how
a bony sword had penetrated the hull of the _Fortune_, of Plymouth,
cutting through copper, an inch of under-sheathing, a three-inch
plank of hard wood, twelve inches of solid, white-oak timber, two
and a half inches of hard oak ceiling, and the head of an oil cask;
of the sloop _Morning Star_, which had to be convoyed to port with a
leak through a hole in eight and a half inches of white oak; of the
United States Fish Commission sloop, _Red Hot_, rammed and sunk; of
the British dreadnaught, which was pumped to Colombo where the leak
made by the fish was found, and 15,000 francs insurance paid.

"Our fathers never went fishing until they had implored the favor of
the gods," said Red Chicken. "I am a Catholic, but it may be the sea
is so old, older than Christ, that the devils there obey the old
gods we used to worship. If that largest Spear of the Sea that we
saw had attacked me or our boat, he would have killed us and sunk
the canoe, for he was four fathoms long, and his weapon was as tall
as I am."

The _tatihi_ nodded his head gravely. His soul was still in the
keeping of the gods of his fathers, and-he saw in Red Chicken's
wound the vengeance of the un-appeased Aavehie.

I was amazed to find that Red Chicken had no fever, and was
recovering rapidly. Without modern medicine or knowledge of it, the
_tatihi_ had healed the sufferer, and I drew him on to talk of his

His surgical knowledge was excellent; he knew the location of the
vital organs quite accurately from frequent cutting up of bodies for
eating. He had treated successfully broken bones, spear-wounds
through the body, holes knocked in skulls by the vicious, egg-sized
sling-stones. If the skull was merely cracked, with no smashing of
the bone, he drilled holes at the end of each crack to prevent
further cleavage and, replacing the skin he had folded back, bound
the head with cooling leaves and left nature to cure the break. If
there was pressure on the brain or a part of the skull was in bits,
his custom was to remove all these and, trimming the edges of the
hole in the brainpan, to fit over it a neat disk of cocoanut-shell,
return the scalp, and nurse the patient to health.

He had known of cases when injured brain matter was replaced with
pig-brains, but admitted that the patient in such cases became first
violently angry and then died. Lancing boils and abscesses with
thorns had been his former habit, but he favored a nail for the
purpose nowadays.

Fearing lest fever should attack Red Chicken, he had prepared a
decoction from the hollow joints of the bamboo, which he
administered in frequent doses from a cocoanut-shell. It was
milk-white, and became translucent in water, like that beautiful
variety of opal, the hydrophane. There was a legend, said the
_tatihi_, that the knowledge of this medicine had been gleaned from
a dark man who had come on a ship many years before, and with this
clue I recognized it as _tabasheer_, a febrifuge long known in India.

A fire had been built outside the straw hovel in which Red Chicken
lay, and stones were heating in it, so that if milder medicine did
not avail the patient might be laid on a pile of blazing stones
covered with protecting leaves, and swathed in cloths until
perspiration conquered fever. The patient would then be rushed to the
sea or river and plunged into cold water.

But this procedure was not necessary. Red Chicken got well rapidly,
and in a few days was walking about as usual, though with a
thoughtful look in his eye that promised a soul-struggle with Père
Olivier, whose new gods had not protected the fisherman against the
gods of the sea.


A journey over the roof of the world to Oomoa; an encounter with a
wild woman of the hills.

Père Olivier tried to dissuade me from walking back to Oomoa, and
offered me his horse, but I determined to go afoot and let Orivie, a
native youth, be my mounted guide. Orivie is named for Père Olivier;
there being no "l" in the Marquesan language, the good priest's name
is pronounced as if spelled in English Oreeveeay.

The horse, the usual small, tough mountain-pony, was caught, and
upon him we strapped the saddle with cow-skin stirrups, hairy and big,
and a rope bridle. Orivie, handsomely dressed in wrinkled denim
trousers, a yellow _pareu_ and an aged straw hat, mounted the beast,
and bidding farewell to the friends I had made, we began to climb
the trail through the village.

At each of the dozen houses we passed I had to stop and say _Kaoha_
to the occupants. In these islands there is none of that coldness
toward the casual passer-by which is common in America, where one
may walk through the tiniest village and receive no salutation unless
the village constable sees a fee in arresting the wayfarer for not
having money or a job. All the elders were tattooed, and as every
island and even every valley differed in its style of skin decoration,
these people had new patterns and pictures of interest to me. I made
it a point to linger a little before each house, praising the
appearance of these tattooed old people, both because it pleased
them and because it is a pity that this national art expression
should die out at the whim of whites who substitute nothing for it.
By this deprivation, as by a dozen others, the Marquesans have been
robbed of racial pride and clan distinction, and their social life

Despite this delay, Orivie and I were soon past the houses. As
population has decreased in all the valleys the people have moved
down from the upper heights to districts nearer the sea, for
neighborliness and convenience. Only a few in some places have
remained in the further glens, and these are the non-conformists, who
retain yet their native ways of thought and living and their ancient
customs. This I knew, but I pursued my way behind the climbing
little horse, enjoying the many sights and perfumes of the jungle,
in happy ignorance of an experience soon to befall me with one of
these residents of the heights. It fell upon me suddenly, the most
embarrassing of several experiences that have divided me between
fear and laughter.

Perhaps a mile above the village, in a wilderness of shrubbery, trees,
and giant ferns, we came upon a cross-trail, a thin line of travel
hardly breaking the dense growth, and saw a woman appear from among
the leaves. She was large, perhaps five feet, ten inches, tall; a
Juno figure, handsome and lithe. Such a woman of her age, about
twenty-two years, does the work of a man, makes copra, fells trees,
lifts heavy stones, and is a match for the average man in strength.
She was dark, as are all Marquesans who live a hardy and vigorous
life unsheltered from sun and wind, and in the half shadow of the
forest she seemed like an animal, wild and savage. Her scarlet
_pareu_ and necklace of red peppers added color to a picture that
struck me at once as bizarre and memorable.

The horse had passed her, and turning about in the saddle Orivie
replied to her greeting, while I added a courteous "_Kaoha!_" She
looked at me with extraordinary attention, which I ascribed to my
white ducks and traveling cap, while she asked who I was. Orivie
replied that I was a stranger on my way over the mountains. She
advanced into the main trail then, letting slip from her shoulders a
weight of packages, tea, and other groceries, and suddenly embraced
me, smelling my face and picking me up in a bear hug that, startled
as I was, nearly choked me.

"Take care!" cried Orivie, in a tone between alarm and amusement. I
backed hastily away, and sought to take refuge beside a boulder, but
she vaulted after me, and seizing me again, resumed her passionate

"She is a woman of the mountains! She will take you away to her
_paepae_!" my excited guide yelled warningly.

That was her intention. There was no doubt about it. She seized me
by the arm and tried to drag me away from the boulder to which I
clung. For several moments I was engaged in a struggle more sincere
than chivalrous on my part and ardently demonstrative on hers. But
as I absolutely would not accede to her desire to give me a home in
the hills, she was forced to give up hope after a final embrace,
which I ended rudely, but scientifically. Rising to her feet again,
she picked up her burden, which must have weighed fully a hundred
pounds, and went her way.

"She is a _hinenao pu_," said Orivie. That means literally a coquette
without reason. I did not seek for double meaning in the remark, but
expressed my opinion of all _hinenaos_ as I replaced my cap and
readjusted my garments.

"These women of the heights are all like that," said my guide.
"They have no sense and no shame. If they see a stranger near their
home, they will seize him, as men do women. If they are in the mood,
they will not take no for an answer. It has always been their custom,
as that of the hill men capturing the valley women. It is shameful,
but it has never changed. She would give you food and treat you with
kindness as a man does his bride. You know, in the old days the
strong women had more than one husband; sometimes four or five, and
they chose them in this way. If you were nearer where Tepu lives,
she would make you a prisoner. They have often done that."

"Do we go near her home?" said I.

"No; we see no more _paepaes_," replied Orivie.

"Then," I said, "let us hasten onward."

We mounted at every foot, and soon were above the cocoanuts. The
trail was a stream interspersed with rocks, for in these steep
accents the path, worn lower than its borders, becomes in the rainy
season the natural bed of the trickle or torrent that runs to the
valley. The horse leaped from rock to rock, planting his back feet
and springing upward to a perch, upon which he hung until he got
balance for another leap. I followed the animal, knowing him wiser
in such matters than I. From time to time Orivie urged me to ride
and when I refused gave me the knowing look bestowed upon the witless,
the glance of the asylum-keeper upon the lunatic who thinks himself
a billiard ball.

We were soon so high that I saw below only a big basin, in which was
a natural temple, the vast ruin of a gigantic minster, it seemed,
and across the basin a rugged, saw-like profile of the mountain-top.
Eons ago the upper valley was a volcano, when the island of
Fatu-hiva was under the sea. Once the fire burst through the crater
side toward the present beach, and after the explosion there was
left a massive gateway of rock, through which we had come from the
village. Towering so high that they were hardly perceptible when we
had been beside them, they showed from this height their whole
formation, like the wrecked walls of a stupendous basilica.

Up and up we went. The way was steeper than any mountain I have ever
climbed, except the sheer sides of chasms where ropes are necessary,
or the chimneys of narrow defiles. I have climbed on foot Vesuvius,
Halaakela, Kilauea, Fuji, and Mayon, and the mountains of America,
Asia, and South America, though I know nothing by trial of the
terrors of the Alps. However, the horse could and did go up the steep,
though it taxed him to the utmost, and these horses are like
mountain-goats, for there is hardly any level land in the Marquesas.

[Illustration: Catholic Church at Hanavave
Frère Fesal on left, Père Olivier on right]

[Illustration: A canoe in the surf at Oomoa]

Unexpectedly, the sea came in view, with the Catholic church and its
white belfry, but in another turn it disappeared. I fell again and
again; the horse floundered among the stones in the trough and fell,
too, Orivie seizing trees or bushes that lined the banks to save
himself. Rocks as large as hundred-ton vessels were on the
mountainside above, held from falling only by small rocks interposed,
feeble obstacles to an avalanche. Beetling precipices overhung the
village. I thought they might fall at any moment, and the Marquesans
recount many such happenings. In Tai-o-hae three hundred natives
were entombed forever by a landslide, and Orivie pointed out the
tracks of such slides, and immense masses of rock in the far depths
below, beside strips of soft soil brought down by the rains.

The wild guava and the thorny _keoho_, the taro, the pandanus and
the banian, all the familiar and useful trees and plants were left
behind. We toiled onward in a wilderness of stone.

I climbed around the edge of a precipice, and stood above the sea.
The blue ocean, as I looked downward, was directly under my eyes,
and I could see the fishing canoes like chips on the water. It was a
thousand feet straight down; the standing-place was but three feet
wide, wet and slippery. The mighty trade-wind swept around the crags
and threatened to dislodge me.

That demoniacal impulse to throw oneself from a height took
possession of me. Almost a physical urging of the body, as if some
hidden Mephistopheles not only poured into the soul his hellish
advice to end your life, but pushed you to the brink. As never
before the evil desire to fall from that terrible height attacked me,
and the world became a black dizziness. Struggling, I threw out my
hand; the unconscious grip upon a stunted fern, itself no barrier
against falling, gave me a mental grip upon myself, and the crisis
was passed.

On hands and knees I crept around the ledge, for the wind was a gale,
and a slip of a foot might mean a drop of a fifth of a mile.

The next valley, Tapaatea, came in view, and Hanavave a cleft in the
mountains, the stream a silver cord. A cascade gleamed on the
opposite side against the Namana hills. It is Vaieelui, the youth
Orivie informed me, as we went higher, still on the dangerous ledge
that binds the seaward precipice. All the valleys converged to a
point, and nothing below was distinct.

Higher we went, and were level with the jagged ridge of the Faeone
mountains toward the north, and could look through the pierced
mountain, Laputa; through the hole, _tehavaiinenao_, that is like a
round window to the sky, framed in black, about which legends are
raised. Orivie smiled indulgently as I explained to him that that
hole was made by sea-currents when Laputa was under the ocean. He
knew that a certain warrior, half god and half man, threw his spear
through the mountain once upon a time.

We came then to the veriest pitch of the journey, like the roof of
the world, and it was necessary to crawl about another ledge that
permitted a perpendicular view of 2500 feet, so desperate in its
attraction that had I known the name of that saint who is the patron
of alpenstock buyers I would have offered him an _ave_. This was the
apex. Once safely past it, the trail went downward to a plateau.

I caught up with Orivie and the horse, and my muscles so rejoiced at
the change of motion in descent that almost involuntarily I took a
few steps of a jig and uttered the first verses of "I Only Had Fifty
Cents." Mosses and ferns by the billion covered every foot of the
small plateau. There were no trees. The trail was a foot deep in
water, like an irrigation ditch. One still might easily break one's
neck. And I reflected that Père Olivier crosses many times a year
between Oomoa and Hanavave, in his black soutan and on his weary
horse, in all weathers, alone; it is a fact to treasure for
recalling when one hears all missionaries included in the accusation
of selfishness that springs so often to the lips of many men.

We reached the plane of cocoanuts, and I asked Orivie to fetch down
a couple, after essaying to perform that feat myself and failing
dismally besides scratching my nose and hands. Bare feet are a
requisite - bare and tough as leather. The Marquesans cut notches in
the trees after they reach maturity, to make the climbing easier, a
custom they have in many parts of Asia, but not in Tahiti. These
footholds are made every three feet on opposite sides. They are cut
shallowly, inclining downward and outward, in order not to wound the
wood of the tree or to form pockets in which water would collect and
rot it. With these aids they climb with ease, using a rope of
_purau_ bark tied about the wrists, and by these they pull
themselves from notch.

I have seen a child of six years reach the top of a sixty-foot tree
in a minute or so, and I have seen a man or woman stop on the way,
fifty feet from the earth, and light a cigarette. Slim, fat, chiefs
or commoners, all learn this knack in infancy. Men who puff along
the road because of their bulk will attain the branches of a palm
with the agility of monkeys.

Orivie had no notches to assist him, but tied his ankles together
with a piece of tough vine, leaving about ten inches of play, and
with this band, pressed tightly against the tree, giving firm
support while his arms, clasping the trunk above, drew him upward a
yard at a time, he was at the crest of a fifty-foot tree in a minute,
and threw down two drinking nuts. They were as big as foot-balls and
weighed about five pounds each. We had no knife, but broke in the
tops with stones, and holding up the shining green nuts, let the
wine flow down our throats. Never was a better thirst-quencher or
heartener! The hottest noon on the hottest beach, when the coral
burns the feet, this nectar is cool. After the most arduous climb,
when lungs and muscles ache with weariness, it freshens strength and
lifts the spirit.

By the cocoanut-grove ran a level stream shaded with pandanus, and
following it, we commenced again to mount on a pathway arched by
small trees, down which the stream coursed. The cocoanuts fell away
as we went up the ridge and emerged upon a tableland covered with
ferns, some green and some dead and dry, carpeting the flat expanse
as far as eye could see with a mat of lavender, the green and the
brown melting into that soft color.

We were further on the broad roof on the mountains, in the middle

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 24 of 29)