Frederick O'Brien.

White Shadows in the South Seas online

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are recited. The pride of the white man melts before such records.

Such incidents as the sack of Jerusalem, the Crusades, or Cassar's
assassination, are recent events compared to the beginnings of some
of these families, whose last descendants have died or are dying

I took Titihuti's words with me as I went down the trail from my
little blue cabin at the foot of Temetiu for the last time:
"We come, we do not know whence, and we go, we do not know where.
Only the sea endures, and it does not remember."

Great Fern, Haabuani, Exploding Eggs, and Water carried my bags and
boxes to the shore, while I said _adieux_ to the governor, Bauda,
and Le Brunnec. When I reached the beach all the people of the valley
were gathered there. They sat upon the sand, men and women and
children, and intoned my farewell ode - my _pae me io te_:

Kaoha! te Menike!
Mau oti oe anao nei
i te apua Kahito"
o a'Tahiti.
Ei e tihe to metao iau e hoa iriti oei an ote vei mata to taua.
E avei atu."

"O, farewell to you, American!
You go to far-distant Tahiti!
There you will stay, but you will weep for me.
Ever I shall be here, and the tears fall like the river flows.
O friend and lover, the time has come. Farewell!"

The sky was ominous and the boats of the _Saint François_ were
running a heavy surf. I waded waist-deep through the breakers to
climb into one. Malicious Gossip, Ghost Girl and the little leper
lass, Many Daughters, were sobbing, their dresses lifted to their

"_Hee poihoo!_" cried the steersman. The men in the breakers shoved
hard, and leaped in, and we were gone.

My last hour in the Marquesas had come. I should never return. The
beauty, the depressingness of these islands is overwhelming. Why
could not this idyllic, fierce, laughter-loving people have stayed
savage and strong, wicked and clean? The artists alone have known
the flower destroyed here, the possible growth into greatness and
purity that was choked in the smoke of white lust and greed.

At eight o'clock at night we were ready to depart.

The bell in the engine-room rang, the captain shouted orders from
the bridge, the anchors were hoisted aboard. The propeller began to
turn. The searchlight of the _Saint François_ played upon the rocky
stairway of Taha-Uka, penciled for a moment the dark line of the
cliffs, swept the half circle into Atuona Inlet, and lingered on the
white cross of Calvary where Gauguin lies.

The gentle rain in the shaft of light looked like quicksilver. The
smoke from the funnel mixed in the heavy air with the mist and the
light, and formed a fantastic beam of vapor from the ship to the
shore. Up this stream of quivering, scintillating irradiation, as
brilliant as flashing water in the sun, flew from the land thousands
of gauze-winged insects, the great moths of the night, wondrous,
shimmering bits of life, seeming all fire in the strange atmosphere.
Drawn from their homes in the dark groves by this marvelous
illumination, they climbed higher and higher in the dazzling
splendor until they reached its source, where they crumpled and died.
They seemed the souls of the island folk.

They pass mute, falling like the breadfruit in their dark groves.
Soon none will be left to tell their departed glories. Their skulls
perhaps shall speak to the stranger who comes a few decades hence,
of a manly people, once magnificently perfect in body, masters of
their seas, unexcelled in the record of humanity in beauty, vigor,
and valor.

To-day, insignificant in numbers, unsung in history, they go to the
abode of their dark spirits, calmly and without protest. A race goes
out in wretchedness, a race worth saving, a race superb in manhood
when the whites came. Nothing will remain of them but their ruined
monuments, the relics of their temples and High Places, remnants of
the mysterious past of one of the strangest people of time.

The _Saint François_ surged past the _Roberta_, the old sea-wolf,
worn and patched, but sturdy in the gleam of the searchlight.
Capriata, the old Corsican, stood on his deck watching us go.

I walked aft and took my last view of the Marquesas. The tops of the
mountains were jagged shadows against the sky, dark and mournful.
The arc-light swung to shine upon the mouth of the bay, and the Land
of the War Fleet was blotted out in the black night.

Some day when deeper poverty falls on Asia or the fortunes of war
give all the South Seas to the Samurai, these islands will again be
peopled. But never again will they know such beautiful children of
nature, passionate and brave, as have been destroyed here. They
shall have passed as did the old Greeks, but they will have left no
written record save the feeble and misunderstanding observations of
a few alien visitors.

_Apai! Kaoha e!_


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