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the natives' one, and in time he drove the devil of liberty and
defense of native land from the heart of the Marquesan.

Before the French achieved this, however, the white had sowed a crop
of deadly evils among the Marquesans that cut them down faster than
war, and left them desolate, dying, passing to extinction.

As I looked from the deck of the _Morning Star_ I was struck by the
fittingness of the scene. Fatu-hiva had been left behind and Hiva-oa,
our destination, was before us, bleak and threatening. To my eyes it
appeared as it had been in the eyes of the gentler Polynesians of
old time, the abode of demons and of a race of terrible warriors.
Hence descended the Marquesans, Vikings of the Pacific, in giant
canoes, and sprang upon the fighting men of the Tahitians, the
Raiateans and the Paumotans, slaughtering their hundreds and carrying
away scores to feast upon in the High Places.

"Mauri i te popoi a ee i te au marere i hiti tovau.
Ia tari a oe. Tari a rutu mai i hea?
A rutu mai i toerau i hitia!
O te au marere i hiti atu a Vaua a ratu i reira
A rutu i toerau roa!
Areare te hai o Nu'u-hiva roa.
I te are e huti te tai a Vavea."

"The spirit of the morning rides the flying vapor that rises salt
from the sea.
Bear on! Bear on! And strike - where?
Strike to the northeast!
The vapor flies to the far rim of the Sea of Atolls.
Strike there! Strike far north!
The sea casts up distant Nuka-Hiva, Land of the War Fleet,
where the waves are towering billows."

This was the ancient chant of the Raiateans, sung in the old days
before the whites came, when they thought of the deeds that were
done by the more-than-human men who lived on these desolate islands.

[Illustration: Harbor of Tai-o-hae]

[Illustration: Schooner _Fetia Taiao_ in the Bay of Traitors
The little isle behind the schooner is Hanake]


Anchorage of Taha-Uka; Exploding Eggs, and his engagement as valet;
inauguration of the new governor; dance on the palace lawn.

As we approached Hiva-oa the giant height of Temetiu slowly lifted
four thousand feet above the sea, swathed in blackest clouds. Below,
purple-black valleys came one by one into view, murky caverns of
dank vegetation. Towering precipices, seamed and riven, rose above
the vast welter of the gray sea.

Slowly we crept into the wide Bay of Traitors and felt our way into
the anchorage of Taha-Uka, a long and narrow passage between
frowning cliffs, spray-dashed walls of granite lashed fiercely by
the sea. All along the bluffs were cocoanut-palms, magnificent,
waving their green fronds in the breeze. Darker green, the mountains
towered above them, and far on the higher slopes we saw wild goats
leaping from crag to crag and wild horses running in the upper

A score or more of white ribbons depended from the lofty heights,
and through the binoculars I saw them to be waterfalls. They were
like silver cords swaying in the wind, and when brought nearer by
the glasses, I saw that some of them were heavy torrents while others,
gauzy as wisps of chiffon, hardly veiled the black walls behind them.

The whole island dripped. The air was saturated, the decks were wet,
and along the shelves of basalt that jutted from the cliffs a
hundred blow-holes spouted and roared. In ages of endeavor the ocean
had made chambers in the rock and cut passages to the top, through
which, at every surge of the pounding waves, the water rushed and
rose high in the air.

Iron-bound, the mariner calls this coast, and the word makes one see
the powerful, severe mold of it. Molten rock fused in subterranean
fires and cast above the sea cooled into these ominous ridges, and
stern unyielding walls.

There upon the deck I determined not to leave until I had lived for
a time amid these wild scenes. My intention had been to voyage with
the _Morning Star_, returning with her to Tahiti, but a mysterious
voice called to me from the dusky valleys. I could not leave without
penetrating into those abrupt and melancholy depths of forest,
without endeavoring, though ever so feebly, to stir the cold brew of
legend and tale fast disappearing in stupor and forgetfulness.

Lying Bill protested volubly; he liked company and would regret my
contribution to the expense account. Gedge joined him in serious
opposition to the plan, urging that I would not be able to find a
place to live, that there was no hotel, club, lodging, or food for a
stranger. But I was determined to stay, though I must sleep under a
breadfruit-tree. As I was a mere roamer, with no calendar or even a
watch, I had but to fetch my few belongings ashore and be a Marquesan.
These belongings I gathered together, and finding me obdurate, Lying
Bill reluctantly agreed to set them on the beach.

On either side of Taha-Uka inlet are landing-places, one in front of
a store, the other leading only to the forest. These are stairways
cut in the basaltic wall of the cliffs, and against them the waves
pound continuously. The beach of Taha-Uka was a mile from where we
lay and not available for traffic, but around a shoulder of the
bluffs was hidden the tiny bay of Atuona, where goods could be landed.

While we discussed this, around those jutting rocks shot a small
out-rigger canoe, frail and hardly large enough to hold the body of
a slender Marquesan boy who paddled it. About his middle he wore a
red and yellow _pareu_, and his naked body was like a small and
perfect statue as he handled his tiny craft. When he came over the
side I saw that he was about thirteen years old and very handsome,
tawny in complexion, with regular features and an engaging smile.

His name, he said, was Nakohu, which means Exploding Eggs. This last
touch was all that was needed; without further ado I at once engaged
him as valet for the period of my stay in the Marquesas. His duties
would be to help in conveying my luggage ashore, to aid me in the
mysteries of cooking breadfruit and such other edibles as I might
discover, and to converse with me in Marquesan. In return, he was to
profit by the honor of being attached to my person, by an option on
such small articles as I might leave behind on my departure, and by
the munificent salary of about five cents a day. His gratitude and
delight knew no bounds.

Hardly had the arrangement been made, when a whaleboat rowed by
Marquesans followed in the wake of the canoe, and a tall, rangy
Frenchman climbed aboard the _Morning Star_. He was Monsieur André
Bauda, agent special, _commissaire_, postmaster; a _beau sabreur_,
veteran of many campaigns in Africa, dressed in khaki, medals on his
chest, full of gay words and fierce words, drinking his rum neat,
and the pink of courtesy. He had come to examine the ship's papers,
and to receive the new governor.

A look of blank amazement appeared upon the round face of M. L'Hermier
des Plantes when it was conveyed to him that this solitary
whaleboat had brought a solitary white to welcome him to his seat of
government. He had been assiduously preparing for his reception for
many hours and was immaculately dressed in white duck, his legs in
high, brightly-polished boots, his two stripes in velvet on his
sleeve, and his military cap shining. He knew no more about the
Marquesas than I, having come directly via Tahiti from France, and he
was plainly dumfounded and dismayed. Was all that tender care of his
whiskers to be wasted on scenery?

However, after a drink or two he resignedly took his belongings, and
dropping into the wet and dirty boat with Bauda, he lifted an
umbrella over his gaudy cap and disappeared in the rain.

"'E's got a bloomin' nice place to live in," remarked Lying Bill.
"Now, if 'e 'd a-been 'ere when I come 'e 'd a-seen something! I
come 'ere thirty-five years ago when I was a young kid. I come with
a skipper and I was the only crew. Me and him, and I was eighteen,
and the boat was the _Victor_. I lived 'ere and about for ten years.
Them was the days for a little excitement. There was a chief, Mohuho,
who'd a-killed me if I 'adn't been _tapu'd_ by Vaekehu, the queen,
wot took a liking to me, me being a kid, and white. I've seen Mohuho
shoot three natives from cocoanut-trees just to try a new gun. 'E
was a bad 'un, 'e was. There was something doing every day, them days.
God, wot it is to be young!"

A little later Lying Bill, Ducat, and I, with my new valet's canoe
in the wake of our boat, rounded the cliffs that had shut off our
view of Atuona Valley. It lay before us, a long and narrow stretch
of sand behind a foaming and heavy surf; beyond, a few scattered
wooden buildings among palm and banian-trees, and above, the ribbed
gaunt mountains shutting in a deep and gloomy ravine. It was a lonely,
beautiful place, ominous, melancholy, yet majestic.

"Bloody Hiva-oa," this island was called. Long after the French had
subdued by terror the other isles of the group, Hiva-oa remained
obdurate, separate, and untamed. It was the last stronghold of
brutishness, of cruel chiefs and fierce feuds, of primitive and
terrible customs. And of "the man-eating isle of Hiva-oa" Atuona
Valley was the capital.

We landed on the beach dry-shod, through the skill of the
boat-steerer and the strength of the Tahitian sailors, who carried
us through the surf and set my luggage among the thick green vines
that met the tide. We were dressed to call upon the governor, whose
inauguration was to take place that afternoon, and leaving my
belongings in care of the faithful Exploding Eggs, we set off up the

The rough road, seven or eight feet wide, was raised on rocks above
the jungle and was bordered by giant banana plants and cocoanuts. At
this season all was a swamp below us, the orchard palms standing many
feet deep in water and mud, but their long green fronds and the
darker tangle of wild growth on the steep mountain-sides were

The government house was set half a mile farther on in the narrowing
ravine, and on the way we passed a desolate dwelling, squalid, set
in the marsh, its battered verandas and open doors disclosing a
wretched mingling of native bareness with poverty-stricken European
fittings. On the tottering veranda sat a ragged Frenchman, bearded
and shaggy-haired, and beside him three girls as blonde as German
_Mädchens_. Their white delicate faces and blue eyes, in such
surroundings, struck one like a blow. The eldest was a girl of
eighteen years, melancholy, though pretty, wearing like the others a
dirty gown and no shoes or stockings. The man was in soiled overalls,
and reeling drunk.

"That is Baufré," said Ducat. "He is always drunk. He married the
daughter of an Irish trader, a former officer in the British Indian
Light Cavalry. Baufré was a _sous-officier_ in the French forces here.
There is no native blood in those girls. What will become of them, I

A few hundred yards further on was the palace. It was a wooden house
of four or five rooms, with an ample veranda, surrounded by an acre
of ground fenced in. The sward was the brilliantly green, luxuriant
wild growth that in these islands covers every foot of earth surface.
Cocoanuts and mango-trees rose from this volunteer lawn, and under
them a dozen rosebushes, thick with excessively fragrant bloom.
Pineapples grew against the palings, and a bed of lettuce flourished
in the rear beside a tiny pharmacy, a kitchen, and a shelter for

On the spontaneous verdure before the veranda three score Marquesans
stood or squatted, the men in shirts and overalls and the women in
tunics. Their skins, not brown nor red nor yellow, but tawny like
that of the white man deeply tanned by the sun, reminded me again
that these people may trace back their ancestry to the Caucasian
cradle. The hair of the women was adorned with gay flowers or the
leaves of the false coffee bush. Their single garments of gorgeous
colors clung to their straight, rounded bodies, their dark eyes were
soft and full of light as the eyes of deer, and their features,
clean-cut and severe, were of classic lines.

The men, tall and massive, seemed awkwardly constricted in
ill-fitting, blue cotton overalls such as American laborers wear
over street-clothes. Their huge bodies seemed about to break through
the flimsy bindings, and the carriage of their striking heads made
the garments ridiculous. Most of them had fairly regular features on
a large scale, their mouths wide, and their lips full and sensual.
They wore no hats or ornaments, though it has ever been the custom
of all Polynesians to put flowers and wreaths upon their heads.

Men and women were waiting with a kind of apathetic resignation;
melancholy and unresisting despair seemed the only spirit left to

On the veranda with the governor and Bauda were several whites, one
a French woman to whom we were presented. Madame Bapp, fat and
red-faced, in a tight silk gown over corsets, was twice the size of
her husband, a dapper, small man with huge mustaches, a paper collar
to his ears, and a fiery, red-velvet cravat.

On a table were bottles of absinthe and champagne, and several
demijohns of red wine stood on the floor. All our company attacked
the table freight and drank the warm champagne.

A seamy-visaged Frenchman, Pierre Guillitoue, the village butcher - a
philosopher and anarchist, he told me - rapped with a bottle on the
veranda railing. The governor, in every inch of gold lace possible,
made a gallant figure as he rose and faced the people. His whiskers
were aglow with dressing. The ceremony began with an address by a
native, Haabunai.

Intrepreted by Guillitoue, Haabunai said that the Marquesans were
glad to have a new governor, a wise man who would cure their ills, a
just ruler, and a friend; then speaking directly to his own people,
he praised extravagantly the newcomer, so that Guillitoue choked in
his translation, and ceased, and mixed himself a glass of absinthe
and water.

The governor replied briefly in French. He said that he had come in
their interest; that he would not cheat them or betray them; that he
would make them well if they were sick. The French flag was their
flag; the French people loved them. The Marquesans listened without
interest, as if he spoke of some one in Tibet who wanted to sell a
green elephant.

In the South Seas a meeting out-of-doors means a dance. The
Polynesians have ever made this universal human expression of the
rhythmic principle of motion the chief evidence of emotion, and
particularly of elation. Civilization has all but stifled it in many
islands. Christianity has made it a sin. It dies hard, for it is the
basic outlet of strong natural feeling, and the great group
entertainment of these peoples.

[Illustration: André Bauda, Commissaire]

[Illustration: The public dance in the garden]

The speeches done, the governor suggested that the national spirit
be interpreted to him in pantomine.

"They must be enlivened with alcohol or they will not move," said

"_Mon dieu!_" he replied. "It is the 'Folies Bergère' over again!
Give them wine!"

Bauda ordered Flag, the native gendarme, and Song of the Nightingale,
a prisoner, to carry a demijohn of Bordeaux wine to the garden. With
two glasses they circulated the claret until each Marquesan had a
pint or so. Song of the Nightingale was a middle-aged savage, with a
wicked, leering face, and whiskers from his ears to the corners of
his mouth, surely a strange product of the Marquesan race, none of
whose men will permit any hair to grow on lip or cheek. While Song
circulated the wine M. Bauda enlightened me as to the crime that had
made him prisoner. He was serving eighteen months for selling
cocoanut brandy.

When the cask was emptied the people began the dance. Three rows
were formed, one of women between two of men, in Indian file facing
the veranda. Haabunai and Song of the Nightingale brought forth the
drums. These were about four feet high, barbaric instruments of skin
stretched over hollow logs, and the "Boom-Boom" that came from them
when they were struck by the hands of the two strong men was
thrilling and strange.

The dance was formal, slow, and melancholy. Haabunai gave the order
of it, shouting at the top of his voice. The women, with blue and
scarlet Chinese shawls of silk tied about their hips, moved stiffly,
without interest or spontaneous spirit, as though constrained and
indifferent. Though the dances were licentious, they conveyed no
meaning and expressed no emotion. The men gestured by rote,
appealing mutely to the spectators, so that one might fancy them
orators whose voices failed to reach one. There was no laughter, not
even a smile.

"Give them another demijohn!" said the governor.

The juice of the grape dissolved melancholy. When the last of it had
flowed the dance was resumed. The women began a spirited _danse du
ventre_. Their eyes now sparkled, their bodies were lithe and
graceful. McHenry rushed on to the lawn and taking his place among
them copied their motions in antics that set them roaring with the
hearty roars of the conquered at the asininity of the conquerors.
They tried to continue the dance, but could not for merriment.

One of the dancers advanced toward the veranda and in a ceremonious
way kissed the governor upon the lips. That young executive was much
surprised, but returned the salute and squeezed her tiny waist. All
the company laughed at this, except Madame Bapp, who glared angrily
and exclaimed, "_Coquine!_" which means hussy.

The Marquesans have no kisses in their native love-making, but smell
one or rub noses, as do the Eskimo. Whites, however, have taught
kisses in all their variety.

The governor had the girl drink a glass of champagne. She was
perhaps sixteen years old, a charming girl, smiling, simple, and
lovely. Her skin, like that of all Marquesans, was olive, not brown
like the Hawaiians' or yellow like the Chinese, but like that of
whites grown dark in the sun. She had black, streaming hair, sloe
eyes, and an arch expression. Her manner was artlessly ingratiating,
and her sweetness of disposition was not marked by hauteur. When I
noticed that her arm was tattoed, she slipped off her dress and sat
naked to the waist to show all her adornment.

There was an inscription of three lines stretching from her shoulder
to her wrist, the letters nearly an inch in length, crowded together
in careless inartistry. The legend was as follows:


These were the names given her at birth, and tattooed in her
childhood. She was called, she said, Tahiakeana, Weaver of Mats.

Seeing her success among us and noting the champagne, her companions
began to thrust forward on to the veranda to share her luck. This
angered the governor, who thought his dignity assailed. At Bauda's
order, the gendarme and Song of the Nightingale dismissed the
visitors, put McHenry to sleep under a tree, and escorted the new
executive and me to Bauda's home on the beach.

There in his board shanty, six by ten feet, we ate our first dinner
in the islands, while the wind surged through swishing palm-leaves
outside, and nuts fell now and then upon the iron roof with the
resounding crash of bombs. It was a plain, but plentiful, meal of
canned foods, served by the tawny gendarme and the wicked Song,
whose term of punishment for distributing brandy seemed curiously
suited to his crime.

At midnight I accompanied a happy governor to his palace, which had
one spare bedroom, sketchily furnished. During the night the slats
of my bed gave way with a dreadful din, and I woke to find the
governor in pajamas of rose-colored silk, with pistol in hand,
shedding electric rays upon me from a battery lamp. There was
anxiety in his manner as he said:

"You never can tell. A chief's son tried to kill my predecessor. I
do not know these Marquesans. We are few whites here. And, _mon dieu!_
the guardian of the palace is himself a native!"

[Illustration: Antoinette, a Marquesan dancing girl]

[Illustration: Marquesans in Sunday clothes
The daughter of Titihuti, chieftess of Hiva-Oa. On the left her husband,
Pierre Pradorat, on the right, his brother]


First night in Atuona valley; sensational arrival of the Golden Bed;
Titi-huti's tattooed legs.

It was necessary to find at once a residence for my contemplated
stay in Atuona, for the schooner sailed on the morrow, and my brief
glimpse of the Marquesans had whetted my desire to live among them.
I would not accept the courteous invitation of the governor to stay
at the palace, for officialdom never knows its surroundings, and
grandeur makes for no confidence from the lowly.

Lam Kai Oo, an aged Chinaman whom I encountered at the trader's
store, came eagerly to my rescue with an offered lease of his
deserted store and bakeshop. From Canton he had been brought in
his youth by the labor bosses of western America to help build the
transcontinental railway, and later another agency had set him down
in Taha-Uka to grow cotton for John Hart. He saw the destruction of
that plantation, escaped the plague of opium, and with his scant
savings made himself a petty merchant in Atuona. Now he was old and
had retired up the valley to the home he had long established there
beside his copra furnace and his shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

He led me to the abandoned shack, a long room, tumbledown, moist,
festooned with cobwebs, the counters and benches black with
reminiscences of twenty thousand tradings and Chinese meals. The
windows were but half a dozen bars, and the heavy vapors of a cruel
past hung about the sombre walls. Though opium had long been
contraband, its acrid odor permeated the worn furnishings. Here with
some misgivings I prepared to spend my second night in Hiva-oa.

I left the palace late, and found the shack by its location next the
river on the main road. Midnight had come, no creature stirred as I
opened the door. The few stars in the black velvet pall of the sky
seemed to ray out positive darkness, and the spirit of Po, the
Marquesan god of evil, breathed from the unseen, shuddering forest.
I tried to damn my mood, but found no profanity utterable. Rain
began to fall, and I pushed into the den.

A glimpse of the dismal interior did not cheer me. I locked the door
with the great iron key, spread my mat, and blew out the lantern.
Soon from out the huge brick oven where for decades Lam Kai Oo had
baked his bread there stole scratching, whispering forms that slid
along the slippery floor and leaped about the seats where many long
since dead had sat. I lay quiet with a will to sleep, but the hair
stirred on my scalp.

The darkness was incredible, burdensome, like a weight. The sound of
the wind and the rain in the breadfruit forest and the low roar of
the torrent became only part of the silence in which those invisible
presences crept and rustled. Try as I would I could recall no good
deed of mine to shine for me in that shrouded confine. The Celtic
vision of my forefathers, that strange mixture of the terrors of
Druid and soggarth, danced on the creaking floor, and witch-lights
gleamed on ceiling and timbers. I thought to dissolve it all with a
match, but whether all awake or partly asleep, I had no strength to
reach it.

Then something clammily touched my face, and with a bound I had the
lantern going. No living thing moved in the circle of its rays. My
flesh crawled on my bones, and sitting upright on my mat I chanted
aloud from the Bible in French with Tahitian parallels. The glow of
a pipe and the solace of tobacco aided the rhythm of the prophets in
dispelling the ghosts of the gloom, but never shipwrecked mariner
greeted the dawn with greater joy than I.

In its pale light I peered through the barred windows - the windows
of the Chinese the world over - and saw four men who had set down a
coffin to rest themselves and smoke a cigarette. They sat on the
rude box covered with a black cloth and passed the pandanus-wrapped
tobacco about. Naked, except for loin-cloths, their tawny skins
gleaming wet in the gray light, rings of tattooing about their eyes,
they made a strange picture against the jungle growth.

They were without fire for they had got into a deep place crossing
the stream and had wet their matches. I handed a box through the bars,
and by reckless use of the few words of Marquesan I recalled, and
bits of French they knew, helped out by scraps of Spanish one had
gained from the Chilean murderer who milked the cows for the German
trader, I learned that the corpse was that of a woman of sixty years,

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 3 of 29)