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More in tune with the moods of nature, the rhythm of sea and sky,
the breath of the salt breeze, than we who have sold our birthright
for arts, these savages sat silent for a little while as if the
spirit of the hour possessed their souls.

Then the stars began to take their places in heaven to do their duty
toward the poor of earth, and I saw the bright and inspiring faces
of many I knew. The wind shifted and freshened, the sail was drawn
nearer, and our speed became perilous. The waves grew, but
Tetuahunahuna, seeing nothing, but feeling with sheet and helm the
temper of changing air and water, kept the canoe's prow steady, and
the men, in emergencies, threw themselves half over the starboard
gunwale. I was on the edge of the steersman's perch, enjoying the
mist of the flying spray and watching the stars appear one by one.

Tetuahunahuna pointed toward the northern sky.

"_Miope!_ I steer by the star the color of the rosewood tree," he
said. There was our own Mars, redder than the sunsets over Mariveles.
Northwest he was, this god of war and fertility, and our bow beacon.
Turning and gazing toward Fatu-hiva I saw the Southern Cross, low in
the sky, brilliant, and splendid.

"_Mataike fetu!_" Ghost Girl named the constellation. "The Small Eyes."

"Miope has rivers like Taka-Uku and Atuona," I said, relying on the
alleged canals of Mars to save my soul. "I have seen through a
_karahi mea tiohi i te fetu_, the Mirror Thing Through Which One
Looks At The Stars, long as a tree and big around as a pig. Miope
has people upon it."

"Are they Marquesans?"

"They must be Marquesans for there are islands," I replied.

"And _popoi_ and pigs?" demanded the _ena_-perfumed one.

"_Namu?_ Have they rum?" whispered the Ghost Girl, and nestled closer,
remembering that soon we would be at my own house.

I had confidence in Tetuahunahuna's stars. The Polynesians have
always had an excellent working knowledge of the heavens and were
deeply interested in astronomy. They knew the relative positions of
the stars, their changes and phases. They predicted weather changes
accurately, and kept in their memories periodicity charts so that
they are able to form estimates of what will be, by considering what
has been. They had a wonderful art of navigation, considering that
they had no compass, sextant, or other instrument, and that their
vessels were always comparatively small. The handling of canoes,
like swimming, is instinctive with them, and no white ever compares
with them in skill.

Our boat doubled Point Teachoa, and we were in the Bay of Traitors.
The wind suddenly fell flat, and we rowed several miles to the beach.
A score of lights moved about on the dark waters of the bay, and
fishermen shouted to us to come to them. We found Great Fern, my
landlord, with Apporo, Broken Plate with the Vagabond, and they had
several canoes full of fish. They were delighted at my return, and
rubbed noses with me over the gunwales.

Getting ashore at the stone steps of Taka-Uka was a task worthy of
such boatsmen, in the darkness, the sea beating madly against the
cliffs. Tetuahunahuna listened to the smashing waves and peered for
the blacker outlines of the stairway and the faint gleam of the foam.
The boat approached; the sea leaped to break it against the rocks.
The steersman held it a second, and in that second you had to leap.
It is touch and go, and heaven help you! If you miss, you fall into
the sea, or the boat crushes you against the rocks. The swell sweeps
the place you land on, and you must ascend quickly to safety or find
hold against the suck of the retiring water.

Tetuahunahuna ran to the nearest house for a lantern and poles, and
while two remained in the boat to hold it off the rocks, the others
carried my luggage to Atuona. I took the lead in a drizzling rain,
carrying the light, mighty glad to stretch my legs after more than a
dozen hours of cramp. Passing the house of the chief-of-police, I
heard laughter and the clink of glasses. Bauda halted me with a
leveled revolver, thinking we were a rum-smuggling gang. That brave
African soldier was ever dramatic, and _D'Artagnan_ could not have
struck a finer attitude as he thrust the gun in my face and called
out, "_Halte là_!"

"_Ah, c'est le Yahnk' Doodl'. Mais tonnerre de dieu_, you have been
away a long time!"


Sea sports; curious sea-foods found at low tide; the peculiarities
of sea-centipedes and how to cook and eat them.

With what delight I returned to lazy days in Atuona Valley, lounging
on the black _paepae_ of my own small blue cabin in the shadow of
Temiteu, idling on the sun-warm sands of the familiar beach, walking
the remembered road between banana hedges heavy with yellowing fruit!
The heart of man puts down roots wherever it rests; it is perhaps
this sense of home that gives the zest to wandering, for new
experiences gain their value from contrast with the old, and one
must have felt the bondage, however light, of emotion and habit
before he can know the joy of freedom from it. Still a man leaves
part of himself in every home he makes, and the wanderer, free of
the one strong cord that would hold him to one place, feels always
the urge of a thousand slender ties pulling him back to the thousand
temporary homes he has made everywhere on the world.

So the old routine closed around me pleasantly; mornings in the
shade of my palms and breadfruit, eating the breakfasts prepared for
me by Exploding Eggs over the fire of cocoanut husks, baths in the
clear pool of the river with my neighbors, afternoons spent in the
cocoanut-groves or with merry companions on the beach. Exploding
Eggs directed the surf board with a sure hand, lying flat, kneeling
or even standing on the long plank as he came in on the crest of the
breakers. I had now and again succeeded in being carried along while
flat on my stomach on the board, but failed many times oftener than
I succeeded. Now I set myself in earnest to learn the art of
mastering the surf.

Three or four o'clock in the afternoon was the time I usually chose
for the sport, and once I had made it a practice, all the boys and
girls of the village accompanied me, or waited for me at the shore,
sure of hilarious hours. I must make children my companions, here,
for my older friends were so oppressed by the gloom of race
extinction that save for Malicious Gossip and one or two others,
there was no capacity for joyousness left in them. Exploding Eggs was
my chum, paid as forager and firemaker, but giving from friendliness
his services as a wise and admirable teacher of the unknown to one
unmade by civilization.

The bay of Atuona, narrow between high cliffs covered with
cocoanut-trees, was the scene of my lessons. The tide came booming
into this cove from the Bay of Traitors, often with bewildering force,
and a day or two a month as gently as the waves at Waikiki. The
river spread a broad mouth to drink the brine, and the white sand
was over-run by the flowered vines that crept seaward to taste the
salt. No house was in sight, no man-made structure to mar the
primitive, as our merry crew of boys and girls sported naked in the
surf, fished from the rocks, or lay upon the shining beach.

For my first essay I used the lid of a box that had enclosed an
ornate coffin ordered from Tahiti by a chief who anticipated dying.
It was large, and weighty to drag or push through the surf to the
proper distance. Laboring valiantly with it, I reached some distance
from the shore, and prepared a triumphal return. The waves were big,
curving above me in sheets of clearest emerald crested with spray,
breaking into foam and rising again, endlessly reshaping, repeating

Awaiting my opportunity, I chose one as it rose behind me, and flung
myself upon it. Up and up and still higher I went, carried by
resistless momentum, and suddenly like a chip in a hurricane I was
flung forward at a fearsome speed, through rushing chaos of wind and
water, seeing the beach dashing toward me, shouting with exultation.

At the next instant my trusty board turned traitor. Its prow sank,
the end beneath me rose, and like a stone discharged from a sling I
was thrown under the waves, head over heels, banging my head and
body on the sand, leaped upon by following waves that piled me into
shallow water, rolling me over and over, striking me a blow with the
coffin-lid at every roll.

I lay high and dry, panting and aching, while from all the beach
rose shouts of laughter. Exploding Eggs rolled on the sand in his
delight, holding his gasping sides, scarcely able to remind me of
the necessity, which in my excitement I had forgotten, of keeping
the prow of the board pointed upward as I rode.

Often as I repeated this instruction in my mind, firmly as I
determined to remember it while I toiled sea-ward again with the
coffin-lid, the result was always the same. A moment of rest in the
unresting waves, a quick, agile spring, a moment of mad,
intoxicating joy, and then - disaster. I became a mass of bruises, the
skin scraped inch by inch from my chest by contact with the rough
wood. I would not give up until I had to, and then for a week I was

One stiff ache from head to foot, I lay ignominiously on the sand,
and watched Exploding Eggs, with a piece of box not bigger than a
fat man's shirt-front, take wave after wave, standing on the board,
dashing far across the breakers to the shore, with never a failure,
while Gedge's little half-breed daughter, a beautiful fairy-like
creature, darted upon the sea as a butterfly upon a zephyr.

After several weeks of effort and mishap, one day the secret came to
me like a flash, and the trick was learned. I had been using the
great board and was weary. I exchanged with Exploding Eggs for a
plank three feet long and fourteen inches wide. Almost exhausted, I
waited as usual with the butt of the board against my stomach for
the incoming breaker to be just behind and above me, and then leaped
forward to kick out vigorously, the board pressed against me and my
hands extended along its sides, to get in time with the wave.

But the wave was upon me before I had thought to execute these
instructions, I straightened myself out rigidly, and lo! I shot in
like a torpedo on the very top of the billow, holding the point of
the board up, yelling like a Comanche Indian. So fast, so straight
did I go, that it was all I could do to swerve in the shallow water
and not be hurled with force on the sand.

"_Metai! Me metai!_" cried my friends in excited congratulation,
while like all men who succeed by accident, I stood proudly, taking
the plaudits as my due.

From that afternoon I had most exhilarating sport, and indeed, this
is the very king of amusements for fun and exercise. Skeeing,
tobogganing, skating, all land sports fade before the thrills of this;
nor will anything give such abounding health and joy in living as
surf-riding in sunny seas.

A hundred afternoons on Atuona Bay I spent in this exhilarating
pastime. To it we added embellishments, multiplying excitements. A
score of us would start at the same moment from the same line and
race to shore; we would carry two on a board; we would stand and
kneel and direct our course so that we could touch a marked spot on
the beach or curve about and swerve and jostle each other. Exploding
Eggs was the king of us all, and Teata was queen. She advanced as
effortlessly as a mermaid, her superb figure shining on the shining
water, tossing her long black hair, and shrieking with delight.

Occasionally we varied these sports by a much more dangerous and
arduous game. We would push our boards far out in the bay, half a
mile or more, diving under each wave we faced, until after
tremendous effort we reached the farthest sea-ward line of breakers.
Often while I swam, clinging to the board and struggling with the
waves for its possession, I saw in the emerald water curling above
me the shadowy shapes of large fish, carried on the crests of the
combers, transfigured clearly against the sky, fins and heads and
tails outlined with light.

Once in smoother water we waited for the proper moment, counting the
foam-crests as they passed. Waves go in multiples of three, the
third being longer and going farther than the two before it, and the
ninth, or third third, being strongest of all. This ninth wave we
waited for. Choosing any other meant being spilled in tumbling water
when it broke far from land, and falling prey to the succeeding ones,
which bruised unmercifully.

[Illustration: Double canoes]

[Illustration: Harbor sports]

But taking the ninth monster at its start, we rode marvelously,
staying at its summit as it mounted higher and higher, shouting
above the lesser rollers, until it dashed upon the smooth sand half
a mile away. Exultation kept the heart in the throat, the pulses
beating wildly, as the breaker tore its way over the foaming rollers,
I on the roof of the swell, lying almost over its front wall,
holding like death to my plank while the wind sang in my ears and
sky and sea mingled in rushing blueness.

To take such a ride twice in an afternoon taxed my strength, but the
Marquesan boys and girls were never wearied, and laughed at my
violent breathing.

The Romans ranked swimming with letters, saying of an uneducated man,
"_Nec literas didicit nec natare._" He had neither learned to read
nor to swim. The sea is the book of the South Sea Islanders. They
swim as they walk, beginning as babies to dive and to frolic in the
water. Their mothers place them on the river bank at a day old, and
in a few months they are swimming in shallow water. At two and three
years they play in the surf, swimming with the easy motion of a frog.
They have no fear of the water to overcome, for they are accustomed
to the element from birth, and it is to them as natural as land.

It should be so with all, for human locomotion in water is no more
tiresome or difficult than on the earth. One element is as suitable
to man as the other for transportation of himself, when habitude
give natural movement, strength, and fearlessness. A Marquesan who
cannot swim is unknown, and they carry objects through the water as
easily as through a grove. I have seen a woman with an infant at her
breast leap from a canoe and swim through a quarter of a mile of
breakers to the shore, merely to save a somewhat longer walk.

One's hours at the beach were not all spent in the water. Many were
the curious and delicious morsels we found on the rocks that were
uncovered at low tide, stranded fish, crabs, and small crawling
shell-fish. One of our favorites was the sea-urchin, called _hatuke_,
_fetuke_, or _matuke_. Round, as big as a Bartlett pear, with greenish
spines five or six inches long, they were as hideous to see as they
were pleasant to eat. In the last quarter of the moon they were
specially good, though what the moon has to do with their flavor
neither the Marquesans nor I know. It is so; the Marquesans have
always known it, and I have proved it.

The spines of these sea-urchins make slate-pencils in some of the
islands, and are excellent for hastily writing on a nearby cliff a
message to a friend who is following tardily. The creatures are
poisonous when alive, however, and revenge a blow of careless hand
or foot by wounds that are long in healing.

We found lobsters among the rocks, too, and on some beaches a
strange kind of lobsterish delicacy called in Tahiti _varo_, a kind
of mantis-shrimp that looks like a superlatively villainous centipede.
They grow from six to twelve inches long and a couple of inches wide,
with legs or feelers all along their sides, like the teeth of a
pocket-comb. Their shells are translucent yellow with black markings;
the female wears a red stripe down her back and carries red eggs
beneath her. Both she and her mate, with their thousand crawling legs,
their hideous heads and tails, have a most repulsive appearance. If
one did not know they are excellent food and most innocent in their
habits, one would flee precipitately at sight of them.

Catching the _varo_ is a delicate and skilful art. They live in the
shallows near the beach, digging their holes in the sand under two
or three feet of water. When the wind ruffles the surface, it is
impossible to see the holes, but on calm days we waded knee-deep in
the clear water, stepping carefully and peering intently for the
homes of the sea-centipede. Finding one, we cautiously lowered into
the hole a spool fitted with a dozen hooks.

A pair of the creatures inhabits the same den. If the male was at
home, he seized the grapnel and was quickly lifted and captured, the
hooks being lowered again for the female. But if the female emerged
first, it was a sure sign that her mate was absent.

I pondered as to this habit of the _varo_, and would have liked to
persuade me that the male, being a courteous shrimp, combatted the
invading hooks first in an effort to protect his mate. But the
grapnel is baited with fish, and though masculine pride could wish
that chivalry urged the creature to defend his domestic shrine, it
appears regrettably certain that he is merely after the bait, to
which he clings with such selfish obstinacy that he sacrifices his
liberty and his life. However, the lady soon shows the same grasping
tendency, and their deserted tenement is filled by the shifting sands.

Catching _varo_ calls for much patience and dexterity. I never
succeeded in landing one, but Teata would often skip back to the
sands of the beach with a string of them. Six would make a good meal,
with bread and wine, and they are most enjoyable hot, though also
most dangerous.

"Begin their eating by sucking one cold," warned Exploding Eggs when
presiding over my first feast upon the twelve-inch centipedes.
"If he does not grip you inwardly, you may then eat them hot and in
great numbers."

Many white men can not eat the _varo_. Some lose appetite at its
appearance, its likeness to a gigantic thousand-leg, and others find
that it rests uneasy within them, as though each claw, or tooth of
the comb, viciously stabbed their interiors. I found them excellent
when wrapped in leaves of the _hotu_-tree and fried in brown butter,
and they were very good when broiled over a fire on the beach. One
takes the beastie in his fingers and sucks out the meat. Beginners
should keep their eyes closed during this operation.


Court day in Atuona; the case of Daughter of the Pigeon and the
sewing-machine; the story of the perfidy of Drink of Beer and the
death of Earth Worm who tried to kill the governor.

The Marquesan was guaranteed his day in court. There was one judge
in the archipelago and one doctor, and they were the same, being
united in the august person of M. L'Hermier des Plantes, who was
also the pharmacist. The jolly governor, in his twenties, with
medical experience in an African army post and in barracks in France,
was irked by his judicial and administrative duties, though little
troubled by his medical functions, since he had few drugs and knew
that unless these were swallowed by the patient in his presence they
would be tried upon the pigs or worn as an amulet around the neck.
Faithful to his orders, however, the judge sat upon the woolsack
Saturdays, unless it was raining or he wished to shoot _kuku_.

One Saturday morning, being invited to breakfast at the palace, I
strolled down to observe the workings of justice. Court was called
to order in the archives room of the governor's house. The judge sat
at a large table, resplendent in army blue and gold, with cavalry
boots and spurs, his whiskers shining, his demeanor grave and stern.
Bauda, clerk of the court, sat at his right, and Peterano, a native
catechist, stood opposite him attired in blue overalls and a
necklace of small green nuts, ready to act as interpreter.

Each defendant, plaintiff, prisoner, and witness was sworn
impressively, though no Bible was used; which reminded me that in
Hongkong I saw a defendant refuse to handle a Bible in court, and
when the irate English judge demanded his reasons, calmly replied
that the witness who had just laid down the book had the plague, and
it was so proved.

The first case was that of a Chinese, member of the Shan-Shan
syndicate which owned a store in Atuona. He was charged with
shooting _kukus_ without a license. There were not many of these
small green doves left in the islands, and the governor, whose
favorite sport and delicacy they were, was righteously angered at the
Chinaman's infraction of the law. He fined the culprit twenty dollars,
and confiscated to the realm the murderous rifle which had aided the

The Shan-Shan man was stunned, and expostulated so long that he was
led out by Flag, the gendarme, after being informed that he might
appeal to Tahiti. He was forcibly put off the veranda, struggling to
explain that he had not shot the gun, but had merely carried it as a
reserve weapon in case he should meet a Chinese with whom he had a

A sailor of the schooner _Roberta_, who had stolen a case of
absinthe from Captain Capriata's storeroom aboard and destroyed the
peace of a valley to which he took it as a present to a feminine
friend, was fined five dollars and sentenced to four months' work on
the roads.

The criminal docket done, civil cases were called. The barefooted
bailiff, Flag, stole out on the veranda occasionally to take a
cigarette from the inhabitants of the valley of Taaoa, who crowded
the lawn around the veranda steps. All save Kahuiti, they had come
over the mountains to attend in a body a trial in which two of them
figured - the case of Santos vs. Tahiaupehe (Daughter of the Pigeon).

Santos was a small man, born in Guam, and had been ten years in Taaoa,
having deserted from a ship. He and I talked on the veranda in
Spanish, and he explained the desperate plight into which love had
dragged him. He adored Tahaiupehe, the belle of Taaoa. For months he
had poured at her feet all his earnings, and faithfully he had
labored at copra-making to gain money for her. He had lavished upon
her all his material wealth and the fierce passion of his Malay heart,
only to find her disdainful, untrue, and, at last, a runaway. While
he was in the forest, he said, climbing cocoanut-trees to provide
her with luxuries, she had fled his hut, carrying with her a certain
"Singaire" and a trunk. He was in court to regain this property.

"_Ben Santos me Tahaiupehe mave! A mai i nei!_" cried Flag, pompously.
The pair entered the court, but all others were excluded except me.
As a distinguished visitor, waiting to breakfast with the judge and
the clerk, I had a seat.

The Daughter of the Pigeon, comely and voluptuous, wore an
expression of brazen bitterness such as I have seen on the faces of
few women. A procuress in Whitechapel and a woman in America who
had poisoned half a dozen of her kin had that same look; sneering,
desperate, contemptuous, altogether evil. I wondered what
experiences had written those lines on the handsome face of Daughter
of the Pigeon.

Ben Santos was sworn. Through the interpreter he told his sad tale
of devotion and desertion and asked for his property. The Singaire
had been bought of the German store. He had bought it that Daughter
of the Pigeon might mend his garments, since she had refused to do
so without it. He had not given it to her at all, but allowed her
the use of it in consideration of "love and affection" he swore.

Daughter of the Pigeon glared at the unhappy little man with an
intensity of hatred that alarmed me for his life. She took the stand,
malevolently handsome in finery of pink tunic, gold ear-rings, and
necklace of red peppers, barefooted, bare-armed, barbaric. She spat
out her words.

"This man made love to me and lived with me. He gave me the
sewing-machine and the trunk. He is a runt and a pig, and I am tired
of him. I left his hut and went to the house of my father. I took my
Singaire and my trunk."

"Ben Santos," inquired the judge, with a critical glance at Daughter
of the Pigeon, "What return did you make to this woman for keeping
your house?"

"I provided her food and her dresses," stammered the little man.

"Food hangs from trees, and dresses are a few yards of stuff," said
the surgical Solomon. "The fair ones of the Marquesas do not give
themselves to men of your plainness for _popoi_ and muslin robes.
You are a foreigner. You expect too much. The preponderance of
probability, added to the weight of testimony, causes the court to
believe that this woman is the real owner of the sewing-machine and

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 26 of 29)