Frederick O'Brien.

White Shadows in the South Seas online

. (page 25 of 29)
Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 25 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

now and not on the edge, so we ran and galloped and shouted. Wild
horses fled from us, and we heard the grunt of boar in the fern
thickets. The fan-palms, dwarfs, but graceful, intermingled with
magnificent tree-ferns, while above them curved the _huetu_, the
immense mountain plantain, called _fei_ in Tahiti, where they are
the bread of the people; they have ribbed, emerald leaves, as big as
a man. Feeders of dark people in many lands for thousands of years,
theirs is the same golden fruit I had eaten at breakfast with Père
Olivier, three thousand feet below. They grow only in the mountains,
and the men who bring them into the villages have feet shaped like a
hand spread out to its widest, with toes twisted curiously by
climbing rocks and grasping roots for support.

The rain began to fall again, and the wind came stronger, but now we
were going down in earnest. The sea shone again, but it was on the
Oomoa side. We passed under trees hung with marvelous orchids, the
_puaauetaha_, Orivie said, parasitic vines related to the vanilla
as the lion is related to the kitten, cousins, but with little
family likeness.

The trail became very dangerous at this point, a rocky slide, with
steps a foot or two apart like uneven stairs, and all a foot, or
sometimes two, under running water. I jumped and slid and slipped,
following the unhappy plunging horse. Darkness came on quickly with
the blinding rain, and the descent was often at an angle of
forty-five degrees, over rocks, eroded hills, along the edge of a
precipice. I fell here, and saved myself by catching a root in the
trail and pulling myself up again. I would have dropped upon the roof
of the gendarme's house a thousand feet below.

We heard the sound of the surf, and letting the horse go, Orivie led
me, by that sense we surrender for the comforts of civilization,
down the bed of a cascade to the River of Oomoa, which we waded, and
then arrived at Grelet's house. We had come thirteen miles. I was
tired, but Orivie made nothing of the journey.

Covered with mud as I was, I went to the river and bathed in the
rain and, returning to the house, looked after my health. A half
ounce of rum, a pint of cocoanut-milk from a very young nut, the
juice of half a lime just from the tree, two lumps of sugar, and I
had an invigorating draught, long enough for a golf player after
thirty-six holes, and delicate enough for a debutante after her
first cotillion. The Paumotan boys and Pae looked on in horror,
saying that I was spoiling good rum.


Return in a canoe to Atuona; Tetuahunahuna relates the story of the
girl who rode the white horse in the celebration of the féte of Joan
of Arc in Tai-o-hae; Proof that sharks hate women; steering by the
stars to Atuona beach.

The canoe we had followed to Hanavave stopped in Oomoa on its way to
Hiva-oa, my home, for I had bargained with Tetuahunahuna, its owner,
for my conveyance to Atuona. Grelet would eventually have
transported me, but so great was his aversion to leaving Fatu-hiva
that I felt it would be asking too much of him. He reminded me that
Kant, the great metaphysician, had lived eighty years in his
birthplace and never stirred more than seven miles from it.

The canoe had come to Hanavave to bring back two young women. One
was dark, a voluptuous figure in a pink satin gown over a lace
petticoat. A leghorn hat, trimmed with shells and dried nuts, sat
coquettishly upon her masses of raven hair. Upon her neck, rounded
as a young cocoanut-tree, was a necklace of pearls that an empress
might have envied her, had they been real and not the synthetic gift
of some trader. Small and shapely feet, bare, peeped from under her
filmy frills. Her eyes were the large, limpid orbs of the typical
Marquesan, like sepia, long-lashed; her nose straight and perfect,
her mouth sensuous and demanding. Ghost Girl, her name signified,
and she flitted about the islands like a sprite.

"She levies tribute on all whom she likes," said Grelet. "Her
devotions are rum and tobacco." On meeting me she squatted and spat
through her fingers to show her thirst, as do all Marquesans whose
manners have not been corrupted by strangers.

The other girl, younger, in a scarlet tunic with a wreath of
hibiscus flowers on her head, startled me by appearing with all her
body that I could see colored a brilliant yellow. She had decked
herself for the journey with a covering of _ena_-paste, perfumed
with saffron, a favorite cosmetic of island beauties.

The sun was white on Oomoa beach as we came down to it from the
grateful shade of Grelet's plantation. Against the blinding glimmer
of it the half-naked boatsmen, bearing bunches of bananas, dozens
of drinking nuts, bread, and wine, the gifts of my host, were dark
silhouettes outlined against the blue sea.

Behind them walked Tetuahunahuna. Calm, unburdened, and without a
tattoo mark on his straight brown body, he looked the commander of
men that he was, a man whose word none would think to question or to
doubt. Indifferent alike to the dizzying heat and to the admiring
glances of the women, he set at once to ordering the loading of the
boat that lay upon the sands beyond the reach of the breakers.

A dozen women lounged in the ancient public place beneath the banian
tree, a mighty platform of black stone on which the island women had
sat for centuries to watch their men come and go in canoes to the
fishing or to raids on neighboring bays, and where for decades they
have awaited the landing of their white sailor lovers.

"_Tai, menino!_ A pacific sea!" they called to us as we passed them,
and their eyes followed with envy the progress of Ghost Girl and
Sister of Anna.

The boat was already well loaded when I reached it. The fermented
breadfruit wrapped in banana-leaves, the pig dug from the pit that
morning and packed in sections of bamboo, the calabashes of river
water, the bananas and drinking nuts, were all in place. With
difficulty my luggage was added to the cargo, and we found cramped
places for ourselves and bade farewell to Grelet, while the oarsmen
held the boat steady at the edge of the lapping waves. Tetuahunahuna,
watching the breakers, gave a quick word of command, and we plunged
through the foam.

The boat leaped and pitched in the flying spray. The oarsmen,
leaping to their places, struck out with the oars. A sharp "_Haie!_"
of alarm rose behind me, and I saw that an oar had snapped. But
Tetuahunahuna, waist-deep in the water at our stern, gave a mighty
push, and we were safely afloat as he clambered over the edge and
stood dripping on the steersman's tiny perch, while the men, holding
the boat head-on to the rolling waves, drove us safely through to
open water.

Outside the bay they put by their oars and we waited for a breeze to
give the signal for hoisting mast and sail. The beach lay behind us,
a narrow line of white beyond the whiter curve of surf. The blue sky
burned above us, and to the far shimmering horizon stretched the
blue calm of a windless sea.

We rolled idly, the sun scorching us. In an hour I was so hot that I
began to wonder if I could endure the torment. The buckle on my
trousers burned my flesh, and I could not touch my clothes without
pain. The Marquesans lay comfortably on the seats and bundles,
enjoying their pandanus-leaf cigarettes. Every few moments the
bow-oar skillfully rolled one, took a few puffs and handed it to the
next man, who, after taking his turn, passed it down the waiting line.

From time to time Tetuahunahuna, squatting in the stern, made a sign,
and a fresh cigarette passed untouched through eight hands to his.
He smoked serenely, gazing at the smooth swells of water and waiting
with inexhaustible patience for the wind. At his feet the
fifteen-year-old girl, Sister of Anne, disposed her saffron-colored
body upon oars laid across the thwarts and slept. Ghost Girl, beside
me, laid her glossy head in my lap to doze more comfortably.

Jammed against the unyielding thwarts, I passed miserable hours,
unable to move more than a few inches in the narrow space. At noon,
with the vertical eye of the evil sun staring down upon us, my
clothes were so hot that I had to hold them off my body. I meditated
leaping into the ocean and swimming awhile. Ghost Girl saw my
intention when I stirred, and pulled me back beside her.

"_Mako!_" she cried. "_Puaa hae!_" She pointed to starboard. A gray
fin moved slowly through the water twenty feet away. "A shark, and a
wicked beast he is!" She reached to pick up an opened cocoanut and
tossed some of the milk over her shoulder to appease the demon.
"_Mako!_" she repeated. "_Puaa hae!_"

"_Requin!_" echoed Tetuahunahuna in French. "The devil of the

"But you are not afraid of them. You swim where they are," said I.

"Few of us are bitten by sharks," said Tetuahunahuna, sizing up a
puff of wind that brought a faint hope. It died, and he continued.
"We are often in the sea, and do not fear the _mako_ enough to make
us weak against him. I have killed many with a knife. I have tied
ropes about their bellies and made them feel silly as we pulled them
in. I have tickled their bellies with the point of the knife that
slit them later. They are awkward, they must turn over to bite, and
they are afraid of a man swimming. But they are devils, and hate
women. They do not like men, but women they will go far to kill."

He took the cigarette Ghost Girl handed him and, squatting on the
rudder deck, looked at me to see if I were interested. Wretched as I
felt, I returned his glance, and said "_Tiatohoa?_" which means,
"Is that so?" and showed that I was attentive.

"It is so," he replied. "There are reasons for this. In times before
the memory of man a shark-god was deceived by a woman. In his anger
he overturned an island, but this did not appease his hate. Since
that time all sharks have preyed on women."

Sister of Anne moved restlessly in her sleep and put her
_ena_-covered feet across my knees, feet as hot as an iron
pump-handle on a July noon.

"_Hakaia!_" exclaimed Ghost Girl, and hung the feet over the side.

"Sharks will let men live to kill women," Tetuahunahuna resumed.
"There are many proofs of this, but most convincing is a happening
that every one in Tai-o-hae and Nuka-hiva knows, because it happened
only a few years ago. I saw that happening."

I looked at him with attention, and after a few puffs of smoke he

"You may think, you who use the Iron Fingers That Make Words, that
the shark does not know the difference between men and women. I have
seen it, and I will tell you honestly. I have thought often of it,
for all who live in Tai-o-hae know that woman, and her foster-sister
sits there with the _ena_ upon her. She does not lie in the cemetery,
this girl of whom I speak, nor is her body beside that of her
fathers in the _ua tupapau_. Her name was Anna, a name for your
country, _fenua Menike_, for her father was captain of a vessel with
three masts that came from Newbeddifordimass, a place where all the
Menike ships that hunt the whale came from. Her mother was O Take Oho,
of the valley of Hapaa, whose father was eaten by the men of
Tai-o-hae in the war with that white captain, Otopotee.

"_Ue!_ Those big ships that hunt the whale come no more. The _paaoa_
spouts with none to strike him. Standireili makes the lanterns burn
in Menike land, and they send it here in tipoti, the big cans. The
old days are gone.

"The father of Anna saw her first when she was one year old and
could barely swim. He came in his ship from Newbeddifordimass, and
he said that it was for the last time, for the whaling was done. He
was a young man, strong and a user of strong words, but he looked
with pride on the little Anna, and kept her with her with her mother
on his ship for many weeks, while the men of the ship danced with
the girls. He would bathe on the beach in the bay of Tai-o-hae, and
the little Anna would swim to him through the deep water. He gave
her a small silver box with a silver chain, for the _tiki_ of
Bernadette, on the day that he sailed away.

"He did not come again to Tai-o-hae, nor Atuona, nor Hanavave. We
heard that he traded with Tahiti, and had given up the chase of the
_paaoa_. I have never been in Tahiti. They say that it is
beautiful and that the people are joyous. They have all the _namu_
they can drink. The government is good to them." Tetuahunahuna sighed,
and looked at my bag, in which was the bottle of rum Grelet had
given me.

I poured a drink into the cocoanut-shell Ghost Girl had emptied, and
gave it to him. "_Kaoha!_" he said and, having swallowed the rum,
went on.

"When Anna had fourteen years she was _mot kanahua_, as beautiful as
a great pearl. She was tall for her age as are the daughters of the
great. Her hair was of red and of gold, like that of Titihuti of
Autuona. Her eyes were the color of the _mio_, the rosewood when
freshly cut, and her breasts like the milk-cocoanut husked for

"Many young men, Marquesan men and all the white men, and George
Washington, the black American, tried to capture Anna, but Père
Simeon, the priest, had given her to the blessed Maria Peato, and
the Sisters guarded her carefully. From the time she played naked on
the beach she wore the tiki of Bernadette in the silver box given
her by her father, and she said the prayers Père Simeon taught her
from the book. She wore a blue _pareu_, and that was strange, for
only old people, and few of them, wear any but the red or yellow
loin-cloth. But blue, said little Anna, is the color of Maria Peato,
mother of Christ."

The others were listening curiously. Ghost Girl crossed herself and
muttered, "_Kaoha_, Maria Peato!"

"When she had fourteen years, then, Anna was different from all
other girls on these beaches. All men sighed for her, but she was
one who would not follow the custom of our girls since always. She
was made different by her mother, by the prayers of Père Simeon, and
by something strange in her _kuhane_ - what do you say? Soul. She
cared nothing for drink or _pipi_, the trinkets girls adore. She
spoke of herself always as the daughter of a Menike captain, a
father who would come for her and take her away. Her mother had kept
this always in her mind, and Anna never joined the dances.

"Her mother, who lived on the beach and waited for the sailors, saw
her seldom, for Père Simeon had taken Anna away, and kept her in the
nuns' house, and they guarded her. He had put a _tapu_ upon her."

I sat up suddenly, struck by a memory. "It was she who rode the
white horse, and bore the armor of Joan in the great parade?"

"It was she. The nuns would have had her live in the nun's house
forever, and become one of them. But Anna told me on the beach when
she came hiding to see her mother, that she would live in the nuns'
house only until her Menike father came to take her away. She kept
the _tiki_ of Bernadette in its silver box upon her neck, and it was
her god to whom she said her prayers."

"_Epo!_" I said, sitting up, dumfounded. "Go on, Tetuahunahuna. Tell
me more."

"There came the great day of the blessed Joan," said Tetuahunahuna,
after tasting a fresh cigarette. "There were drums and chants, and
rum for all. Père Simeon took away the rum, alas! and only the
Menike sailors on the ships could have enough. Anna wore a garment
that shone like the sun on the waves, and sat upon a white horse,
riding from the mission to the House of Lepers on the beach. Père
Simeon walked before her carrying the tiki of the Sacrament, and
there were banners white as the new web of the cocoanut. Anna did
not look to right or to left as she sat upon the horse, but when she
stood on the sand by the House of Lepers, she looked long at a new
ship in the bay.

"Anna said that this ship might be that of her white father, but the
name was different, and this ship was not from Newbeddifordimass.
She said she would swim to this ship to see her father, but her
mother said no. Her mother told her that the waters were full of
sharks, and that not even a _tiki_ of Bernadette would save her.
Then came the nuns, and took Anna away. Anna wept as she went with
them, for she desired to stay and look at the ship.

"That night the boats of the ship could not land on the beach of
Tai-o-hae, for the sea was too great, so that they came and went
from Peikua, the staircase in the rocks. The sailors had leave to do
what they wished and they had plenty of rum given them by the captain
who was born that day forty years before. I went then to the ship to
drink the captain's rum and to buy tobacco. I am of Hiva-oa, and the
ship was large, and new to me."

Tetuahunahuna's gesture brought quickly to him a fresh cigarette,
and he savored its rank smoke with satisfaction. The slender canoe
swung like a hammock in the long, sluggish rollers. The sun blazed
pitilessly upon us, and no slightest ruffle of white broke the
surface of the calm, unrelenting sea that held us prisoner.

"At night there was nobody on the ship not drunk. Some of the men
had seized several women on the road that leads to Tai-o-hae, and
had forced them to the boat and carried them aboard. Among these
women was Anna, who had fled from the nuns to seek word of her father.
She fought like a wild woman of the hills when they held her in jest
to make her swallow the rum, but the strong ship men conquered her,
and the sound of their laughter and her cries was so great that the
captain himself came forward. When he saw her he claimed her as the
youngest, as is the custom.

"She went with him weeping. When they came to his cabin, we heard
her crying aloud to Maria Peato. We heard the shouts of the captain,
enraged, subduing her with blows. There was much rum, and the women
were dancing. There was much noise, but I had drunk little, having
just come to the ship, and I heard the crying and weeping of Anna."

"After a time came Anna, running across the deck. It was a large
vessel, and it was a dark night. The captain pursued her. She
climbed the rigging, and the captain ordered two men to go aloft and
bring her to him.

[Illustration: The gates of the Valley of Hanavave]

[Illustration: A fisherman's house of bamboo and cocoanut leaves]

"Every one came to look, with yells and with songs. The sailors
climbed after her, and she went higher and higher, until near the
top of that tall mast, taller than the greatest cocoanut-tree in
Atuona. There she held to the wood, calling upon Maria Peato. The
captain was like a man mad with _namu_. He called to the sailors to
climb higher. But when one reached to take her by the foot, she
threw herself into the air and fell a great distance into the water.

"The captain cried that he would give four litres of rum to the man
that brought her back. Some ran to get the boat, others dived after
her. I was one of these.

"I have said that it was a black night. When in the water we could
get no sight of her. Then on the ship one turned a bright lantern on
the sea, and all of us saw her arm as it was raised to swim. She was
a hundred feet before us, and swimming with great swiftness. The
sailors meantime had set out in the boat, but they had drunk much rum,
and rowed around and around. We three men swimming in the beams of
the lantern came closer to her at every stroke.

"Almost my hand was upon her, when the largest shark I have ever
seen rose beside her. You know it is at night that these devils look
for their prey. Anna saw the _mako_ at the same moment, and made a
great splashing. I heard her call out the name of Bernadette the

"The men with me turned about, but I kept on. I cried to the boat to
hurry to us. I could see the _mako_ turn in the water, as he must do
to take anything into his mouth. I kicked him and I struck him, and
I cursed him by the name of _Manu-Aiata_, the shark god. If I had
had a knife I could have killed him easily.

"But, Menike, I could do nothing. He did not want me. The boat came,
but not in time. I saw the devil take her in his jaws as the wild
boar takes a bird that is helpless, and I felt him descend into the
depths of the sea. I could do nothing."

A cat's-paw stole across the sea from the southeast, the boat rolled
hard, and Tetuahunahuna sprang erect.

"_A toi te ka!_ Make sail!" he said.

They raised the slender mast, a rose-wood tree, roughly shaped in
the forest, and fastened it to either thwart with three ropes.
Through a ring at its head was passed the lift, and the sail of mats,
old and worn, was set, men and women all fastening the strings to
the boom. Two sheets were used, one cleated about five feet from the
rudder, the other at the disposition of the steersman, who let out
the boom according to the wind.

The breeze sprang up and died, and sprang up again. At last the
deathly calm, the sickening heat, were over, and we sped across the
freshening waves.

Mast and sail out of the way, we stretched ourselves in the boat
with more comfort, enjoying the cooling current of air. Tetuahunahuna,
the sheet in his hand, squatted again on his narrow perch.

"You returned to that ship when the boat picked you up?" I asked.

"_Aue!_" he replied. "The captain was crazed with anger. He cursed me,
and said that the girl has swum ashore."

"'No, the shark has taken Anna,' I said. 'She will look for her
white father no more.'

"The captain had a glass of rum at his mouth, but he put it down. He
would have me tell him again her name. When I did so, he shook as if
with cold, and he swallowed the rum quickly.

"'Where was she born?' he said next.

"'At Hapaa. Her mother is O Take Oho, whose father was eaten by the
men of Tai-o-hae,' I said, and looking at his face I saw that his
eyes were the color of the _mio_, the rosewood when freshly cut.

"The captain went to his cabin, and soon he leaped up the stairs,
falling over the thing they look at to steer the ship, and there,
lying on the deck, he cried again and again that I had done wrong
not to tell him earlier.

"He held in his hand the _tiki_, the silver box that Anna had always
worn about her neck, that her father had given her.

"He was like a wild bull in the hills, that ship's captain, when he
arose, roaring and cursing me. I feared that he would shoot me, for
he had a revolver in his hand and said that he would kill himself.
But he did not.

"A Marquesan who was as hateful to himself would have eaten the
_eva_, but this man had not the courage, with all his cries. I
swam ashore when he became maddened as a _kava_ drinker who does not
eat. The mother of Atuona, whom I told in Tai-o-hae, went to see him,
but he did not know her, and she took the _tiki_ from his cabin when
she found him praying to it. He was _paea_, his stomach empty of
thought. When the ship left, he was tied with the irons they have
for sailors, and the second chief sailed the vessel."

The Ghost Girl shook the _ena_-covered maiden.

"_Oi vii!_" she said petulantly. "Take in your feet. Do you want the
_mako_ to eat them? Do you not remember your sister?"

The shark still moved a few fathoms away.

We were now in the open sea, with forty miles to go to the Bay of
Traitors. The boat lay over at an angle, the boom hissed through the
water when close-hauled, and when full-winged, its heel bounced and
splashed on the surface, as we made our six knots. There was twice
too much weight in the canoe, but these islanders think nothing of
loads, and for hours the company sat to windward or on the thwart
while we took advantage of every puff of wind that blew. The six
oarsmen took turns in bailing, using a heavy carved wooden scoop,
but in the frequent flurries the waves poured over the side.

The island of Fatu-hiva faded behind us, and raised Moho-Tani, the
Isle of Barking Dogs, a small, but beautifully regular, islet, like
a long emerald. No soul dwells there. The Moi-Atiu clan peopled it
before a sorcerer dried up the water sources. A curse is upon it,
and while the cocoanuts flourish and all is fair to the eye, it
remains a shunned and haunted spot.

Tahuata, that lovely isle of the valley of Vait-hua, rose on our left,
with the cape _Te hope e te keko_, a purple coast miles away, which
as the dusk descended grew darker and was lost. The shadowy
silhouettes of the mountains of Hiva-oa projected themselves on the

Night fell like a wall, and nothing was to be seen but the glow of
the pipe that passed as if by spirit hands around our huddled group.
The head of Ghost Girl was on my knees, and among the sons and
daughters of cannibals peace enveloped me as at twilight in a grove.

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 25 of 29)