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and to gain a third the son of Ugh! offered to go overboard and tie
a rope to the shark's tail, which is the way natives often catch them.
A shark was not worth a liter of rum, I said, being in no mind to
risk the limbs of a man in such a sport. Besides, I had no more to
give away. I could imagine the rage of Seventh Man Who Wallows
should he learn of my wasting in such foolishness what would keep us
both warm if it rained.

As we caught the wind a flock of _koio_ came close to us in their
search for fish. The black birds were like a cloud; there must have
been fifty thousand of them, and flying over us they completely cut
off the sunlight, like a dark storm. If they had taken a fancy to
settle on us they must have smothered us under a feathered avalanche.
Ugh! was startled and amazed that the birds should come so close,
and all raised an uproar of voices and waved arms and oars in the air,
to frighten them off. They passed, the sun shone upon us again, and
in a sparkling sea we made our way past Iva Iva Iti and Iva Iva Nui,
rounding a high green shore into the bay of Vait-hua.

The mountains above the valley loomed like castellated summits of
Italy, so like huge stone fortresses that one might mistake them for
such from the sea. The tiny settlement reaching from the beach half
a mile up the glen was screened by its many trees.

The whaleboat slid up to a rocky ledge, and my luggage and I were
put ashore. Exploding Eggs, who had insisted on accompanying me,
took it into his charge, and with it balanced on his shoulders we
sauntered along the road to the village where the French gendarme had
lost his nose to the mad _namu_-drinker.


Idyllic valley of Vait-hua; the beauty of Vanquished Often; bathing
on the beach; an unexpected proposal of marriage.

The beach followed the semi-circle of the small bay, and was hemmed
in on both sides by massive black rocks, above which rose steep
mountains covered with verdure. The narrow valley itself sloped
upward on either hand to a sheer wall of cliffs. In the couple of
miles from the water's edge to the jungle tangle of the high hills
were thousands upon thousands of cocoanut-palms, breadfruit-, mango-,
banana-, and lime-trees, all speaking of the throng of people that
formerly inhabited this lovely spot, now so deserted. The tiny
settlement remaining, with its scattered few habitations, was
beautiful beyond comparison. A score or so of houses, small, but
neat and comfortable, wreathed with morning-glory vines and shaded
by trees, clustered along the bank of a limpid stream crossed at
intervals by white stepping-stones. Naked children, whose heads were
wreathed with flowers, splashed in sheltered pools, or fled like
moving brown shadows into the sun-flecked depths of the glade as we

We were met beneath a giant banian-tree by the chief, who greeted us
with simple dignity and led us at once to his house. The most
pretentious in the village, it consisted of two rooms, built of
redwood boards from California, white-washed, clean, and bare,
opening through wide doors upon the broad _paepae_. This house, the
chief insisted, was to be my home while I remained his guest in
Vait-hua. My polite protestations he waved away with a courtly
gesture and an obdurate smile. I was an American, and his guest.

My visit was obviously a great event in the eyes of Mrs. Seventh Man
Who Is So Angry He Wallows In The Mire. A laughing Juno of thirty
years, large and rounded as a breadfruit-tree, more than six feet in
height, with a mass of blue-black hair and teeth that flashed white
as a fresh-opened cocoanut, she rose from her mat on the _paepae_
and rubbed my nose ceremoniously with hers. Clothed in a necklace of
false pearls and a brilliantly scarlet loincloth, she was truly a
barbaric figure, yet in her eye I beheld that instant preoccupation
with household matters that greets the unexpected guest the world

While the chief and I reclined upon mats and Exploding Eggs sat
vigilant at my side, she vanished into the house, and shortly
returned to set before us a bowl of _popoi_ and several cocoanuts.
These we ate while Neo discoursed sadly upon the evil times that had
befallen his reign.

"Me very busy when prenty ship come," he mourned. "Me fix for wood;
get seven dollar load. Me fix for girl for captain and mate. Me stay
ship, eat hard-tackee, salt horsee, chew tobacco, drink rum. Good
time he all dead."

The repast ended, we set out to view the depleted village with its
few inhabitants, the remainder after Europe had subtracted native
habits and native health.

The gorge that parted the valley was wide and deep for the silver
stream that sang its way to the bay. When the rain fell in cascades
the channel hardly contained the mad torrent that raced from the
heights, a torrent that had destroyed the road built years before
when whaler's ships by the dozens came each year. Now the natives
made their way as of old, up and down rocky trails and over the

Near the beach we came upon a group of tumbledown shanties, remnants
of the seat of government. Only a thatched schoolhouse and a tiny
cabin for the teacher were habitable. Here the single artist of the
islands, Monsieur Charles Le Moine, had taught the three "R's" to
Vait-hua's adolescents for years. He was away now, Neo said, but we
found his cabin open and littered with canvases, sketches,
paint-tubes, and worn household articles.

"He got litt'ee broomee, an' sweep paint out litt'ee pipe on thing
make ship's sails," Neo explained. Surely a description of a broad
modern style.

On the wall or leaning against it on the floor were a dozen drawings
and oils of a young girl of startling beauty. Laughing, clear-eyed,
she seemed almost to speak from the canvas, filling the room with
charm. Here she leaned against a palm-trunk, her bare brown body
warm against its gray; there she stood on a white beach, a crimson
_pareu_ about her loins and hibiscus flowers in her hair.

"That Hinatini," said Seventh Man Who Wallows, speaking always in
what he supposed to be English. "She some pumkin, eh? Le Moine like
more better make _tiki_ like this than say book. She my niece."

The rich colors of the pictures sang like bugle-notes among the
shabby odds and ends of the studio. A cot, a broken chair or two, a
table smeared with paints, an old shoe, a pipe, and a sketch of the
Seine, gave me La Moine in his European birthright, but the absence
of any European comforts, the lack even of dishes and a lamp, told
me that Montmartre would not know him again. The eyes of the girl
who lived on the canvases said that Le Moine was claimed by the Land
of the War Fleet.

Turning from the dingy interior of his cabin, I saw in the sunlight
beyond the door his model in the life. Le Moine had not the brush to
do her justice. Vanquished Often, as Hinatini means, was perhaps
thirteen years old, with a grace of carriage, a beauty and perfection
of features, a rich coloring no canvas could depict. Her skin was of
warm olive hue, with tinges of red in the cheeks and the lips
cherry-ripe. Her eyes were dark brown, large, melting, childishly
introspective. Her hands were shapely, and her little bare feet,
arched, rosy-nailed, were like flowers on the sand. She wore the
thinnest of sheer white cotton tunics, and there were flamboyant
flowers in the shining dark hair that tumbled to her waist.

She greeted me with the eager artlessness of the child that she was.
She was on her way to the _vai puna_, the spring by the beach, she
said. Would I accompany her thither? And would I tell her of the
women of my people in the strange islands of the _Memke?_ They were
very far away, were they not, those islands? Farther even than Tahiti?
How deep beneath the sea could their women dive?

I answered these, and other questions, while we walked down the beach,
and I marveled at the unconscious grace of her movements. The chief
wonder of all these Marquesans is the beauty and erectness of their
standing and walking postures. Their chests are broad and deep,
their bosoms, even in girls of Vanquished Often's age, rounded,
superb, and their limbs have an ease of motion, an animal-like
litheness unknown to our clothed and dress-bound women.

Vanquished Often was the most perfect type of all these physical
perfections, a survival of those wondrous Marquesan women who addled
the wits of the whites a century ago. There was no blemish on her,
nor any feature one would alter.

Half a dozen of her comrades were lounging upon the sand when we
reached the _via puna_. Here an iron pipe in the mountain-side
tapped subterranean waters, and a hollowed cocoanut-tree gave them
exit upon the sand where salt waves flowed up to meet them. Long
lean curving cocoanuts arched above, and beneath their ribbons of
shade lay an old canoe, upon which sat those who waited their turn
to bathe, to fill calabashes, or merely to gossip.

For all time, they said, this had been the center of life in Vait-hua.
Old wives' tales had been told here for generations. The whalers
filled their casks at this spring, working every hour of the
twenty-four because the flow was small. Famous harpooners, steersmen
who winked no eye when the wounded whale drew their boat through a
smother of foam, shanghaied gentlemen, sweepings of harbors,
Nantucket deacons, pirates, and the whole breed of sailors and
fighting fellows, congregated here to bathe and to fill their
water-casks. Near this crystal rivulet they slashed each other in
their quarrels over Vait-hua's fairest, and exchanged their
slop-chest luxuries and grog for the favors of the island chiefs.

It was Standard Oil, sending around the world its _tipoti_, or tin
cans, filled with illuminating fluid cheaper than that of the whale,
that ended the days of the ships in Vait-hua, and they sailed away
for the last time, leaving an island so depopulated that its few
remaining people could slip back into the life of the days before the
whites came.

"_Alice Snow_ las' whaleship come Vait-hua six years before," said
the Seventh Man Who Wallows. "Before that, one ship, _California_
name, Captain Andrew Hicks. Charlie, he sailmaker, run away from
Andrew Hicks. One Vait-hua girl look good to him. She hide him in
hills till captain make finish chase him. That him children."

Indeed, most of the faces turned toward me from the group about the
spring were European, either by recent heredity or tribal nature. I
could see the Saxon, the Latin, and the Viking, and one girl was all
Japanese, a reference to which caused her to weep. "Iapona" was to
her pretty ears the meanest word in Vait-hua's vocabulary, and her
playmates held it in reserve for important disagreements.

Vanquished Often, slipping from her white tunic, stepped beneath the
stream of crystal water and laughed at the cool delight of it on her
smooth skin. It was a picture of which artist's dream, the naked
girl laughing in the torrents of transparent water, the wet crimson
blossoms washing from her drowned hair, and beneath the striped
shade of the palm-trunks her simple, savage companions waiting their
turn, squatting on the sand or crowded on the canoe, their loins
wrapped in crimson and blue and yellow _pareus_. Behind them all the
mountains rose steeply, a mass of brilliant green jungle growth, and
before them, across the rim of shining white sand, spread the wide
blue sea.

Courtesy suggested that I should be next to feel the refreshing
torrent. We let slip the garment of timorous covering very easily
when nudity is commonplace. Vait-hua was to teach me to be modest
without pother, to chat with those about me during my ablutions
without concern for the false vanities of screens or even the
shelter of rocks as in the river in Atuona. In such scenes one
perceives that immodesty is in the false shame that makes one cling
to clothes, rather than in the simple virtues that walk naked and

Tacitus recites that chastity was a controlling virtue among the
Teutons, ranking among women as bravery among men, yet all Teutons
bathed in the streams together. In Japan both sexes bathe in public
in natural hot pools, and that without diffidence. The Japanese,
though a people of many clothes, regard nudity with indifference,
but use garments to conceal the contour of the human form, while we
are horrified by nakedness and yet use dress to enhance the form,
especially to emphasize the difference between sexes. Our women's
accentuated hips and waistlines shock the Japanese, whose loose
clothing is the same for men and women, the broader belt and double
fold upon the small of the back, the obi, being the only

Mohammedan women surprised in bathing cover their faces first; the
Chinese, the feet. Good Erasmus, that Dutch theologian, said that
"angels abhor nakedness." Devout Europeans of his day never saw their
own bodies; if they bathed, they wore a garment covering them from
head to feet. Thus standards of clothing vary from age to age and
from country to country.

Missionaries bewilder the savage mind by imposing their own
standards of the moment and calling them modesty. The African negro,
struggling to harmonize these two ideas, wore a tall silk hat and a
pair of slippers as his only garments when he obeyed Livingstone's
exhortations to clothe himself in the presence of white women.

Vait-hua was all savage; whatever bewilderments the missionaries had
brought had faded when dwindling population left the isle to its own
people. In the minds of my happy companions at the _vai puna_,
modesty had no more to do with clothing than, among us, it had to do
with food. The standards of the individual are everywhere formed by
the mass-opinion of those about him; I came from my bath, replaced
my garments, and felt myself Marquesan.

The sensation was false. Savage peoples can never understand our
philosophy, our complex springs of action. They may ape our manners,
wear our ornaments, and seek our company, but their souls remain
indifferent. They laugh when we are stolid. They weep when we are
unmoved. Their gods and devils are not ours.

From our side, too, the abyss is impassable. Civilization with its
refinements and complexities has stripped us of the power of
complete surrender to simple impulses. The white who would become
like a natural savage succeeds only in becoming a beast. "_Plus
sauvage que les kanakas_," is a proverb in the islands. Its
implications I had occasion to heed ere the evening was ended.

Wrapped only in a gorgeous red _pareu_, I sat on the _paepae_ of the
chief's house, now become mine. I was the especial care of Mrs. Seventh
Man Who Wallows, who all afternoon long had sat on her haunches over
a cocoanut husk fire stirring savory foods for me. Fish, chickens,
pigs, eggs, and native delicacies of all kinds she had cooked and
sauced so appetizingly that I conferred on her the title of "Chefess"
_de Cuisine_, and voiced my suspicions that some deserting cook
from a flagship had traded his lore for her kisses. Her laughter was
spiced with pride, and the chief himself smilingly nodded and gestured
to assure me that I had guessed right.

Now in the quiet of the evening, empty bowls removed, pandanus-leaf
cigarettes lighted, and pipe passing from hand to hand, we sat
rejoicing in the sweet odors of the forest, the murmur of the stream,
and the ease of contentment. Many elders of the village had come to
meet the stranger, to discuss the world and its wonders, and to
marvel at the ways of the whites. The glow of the pipe lighted
shriveled yet still handsome countenances scrolled with tattooing,
and caught gleams from rolling eyes or sparkles from necklace and
earring. Above the mountains a full moon rose, flooding the valley
with light and fading the brilliant colors of leaf and flower to
pale pastel tints.

Vanquished Often sat beside me, her dark hair falling over my knee,
and listened respectfully to the conversation of her elders, who
discussed the gods of the stranger.

They wondered what curious motive had impelled the Jews, the
_Aati-Ietu_, to kill _Ieto Kirito_ the Savior of the world.
They discussed the strange madness that had possessed _Iuda
Iskalota_, that he had first bought land with his forty pieces of
silver and then hanged himself to a _purau_ tree. Was it cocoanut
land? they asked. Was it not good land?

Often across the worn stones of the _paepae_ stole a _vei_, a
centipede, upon which a bare foot quickly stamped. The chief said
casually, "If he bite you, you no die; you have hell of a time."
They were not natives of the Marquesas originally, he said; they
came in the coal of ships. His patriotism outran his knowledge, for
the first discoverers bitterly berated these poisonous creatures,
though no more warmly than Neo, who drew heavily upon his stock of
English curses to tell his opinion of them.

When the time came for saying _apae kaoha_ my kindly hosts sought to
confer upon me the last proof of their friendliness. They proposed
that I marry Vanquished Often.

My refusal was incomprehensible to them, and Vanquished Often's
happy smile in the moonlight quickly faded to a look of pain and
humiliation. They had offered me their highest and most revered
expression of hospitality. To refuse it was as uncustomary and as
rude as to refuse the Alaskan miner who offers a drink at a public

"_Menike_," pleaded the chief, "that Hinatini more better marry
white man, friend of Teddy, from number one island. She some punkins
for be good wife. Suppose may be you like Vait-hua you stay long time;
suppose you go soon, make never mind!"

The fair chieftess shook her earrings and smiled archly. "Bonne
filly pooh voo, Menike," she urged in her Marquesan French.
"Good wife for you. It is my pleasure that you are happy. She is
beautiful and good. You will be the son of our people while you are

Vanquished Often, who had a vague notion of the greatness of her
uncle's Menike friends, Teddy and Gotali, and of the desirability of
an alliance with one of their tribe, approached me softly and rubbed
my back in a circle the while she crooned a broken song of the
whaling days, concerning the "rolling Mississippi" and the "Black
Ball line." Seventh Man Who Wallows in the Mire himself began to
make concentric circles on my breast with his heavy hand, so that I
was beset fore and aft by the most tender and friendly advances of
the Marquesan race. Never was hapless guest in more unfortunate

She was but a child, I said; Americans did not mate with children.
They smiled as at a pleasantry, and again extolled her charms.
Desperately I harked back to the ten commandments in an endeavor to
support my refusal by other reasons than distaste or discourtesy,
but laughter met my text. "White man does not follow white man's
_tapus_," said my hostess, gently placing my hand in that of
Vanquished Often. The slender fingers clung timorously to mine.
Unhappy Hinatini feared that she was about to be disgraced before her
people by the white man's scorn of her beauty.

I was fain to invent a romance upon the spot. I was madly enamoured
of an Atuona belle, I said. She waited for me upon my own _paepae_;
she was a mighty woman and swift to anger. She would wreak vengeance
upon me, and upon Vanquished Often. I would adopt Vanquished Often
as my sister. In token of this I pressed my lips upon her forehead
and kissed her hands. She smiled bewitchingly, pleased by the novel

My hosts and their friends departed with her, half pleased, half
puzzled at this latest whimsy of the strange white, and I lay down
upon the mats of the chief's house, with Exploding Eggs lying across
the doorway at my feet.

The night brought fitful dreams, and in the darkest hour I woke to
feel a frightening thing upon my leg. By the light of the dimly
burning lantern I saw a thousand-leg, reddish brown and ten inches
long, halting perhaps for breath midway between my knee and waist.
It seemed indeed to have a thousand legs, and each separate foot
made impresses of terror on my mind, while each toe and claw
clutched my bare flesh with threatening touch.

The brave man of the tale who saves himself from cobra or rattler by
letting the serpent crawl its slow way over his perfectly controlled
body might have withheld even a quiver of the flesh, but I am no
Spartan. At my convulsive shudder each horrid claw gripped a
death-hold. In one swift motion I seized a corkscrew that lay nearby,
pried loose with a quick jerk every single pede and threw the odious
thing a dozen yards. A trail of red, inflamed spots rose where it
had stood and remained painful and swollen for days.

[Illustration: Idling away the sunny hours]

[Illustration: Nothing to do but rest all day]

Whether it was because this experience became mixed with my first
dreams in beautiful Vait-hua, or whether my Celtic blood sees
portents where they do not exist, certain it is that as the stealthy
charm of that idyllic place grew upon me through the days something
within me resisted it. I was ever aware that its beauty concealed a
menace deadly to the white man who listened too long to the rustle
of its palms and the murmur of its stream.


Communal life; sport in the waves; fight of the sharks and the mother
whale; a day in the mountains; death of Le Capitaine Halley; return
to Atuona.

Life in Vait-hua was idyllic. The whites, having desolated and
depopulated this once thronged valley, had gone, leaving the remnant
of its people to return to their native virtue and quietude. Here,
perhaps more than in any other spot in all the isles, the Marquesan
lived as his forefathers had before the whites came.

Doing nothing sweetly was an art in Vait-hua. Pleasure is nature's
sign of approval. When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself
and his environment. The people of this quiet valley did not crave
excitement. The bustle and nervous energy of the white wearied them
excessively. Time was never wasted, to their minds, for leisure was
the measure of its value.

Domestic details, the preparation of food, the care of children, the
nursing of the sick, were the tasks of all the household. Husband
and wife, or the mates unmarried, labored together in delightful
unity. Often the woman accompanied her man into the forests,
assisting in the gathering of nuts and breadfruit, in the fishing
and the building. When these duties did not occupy them, or when
they were not together bathing in the river or at the _via puna_,
they sat side by side on their _paepaes_ in meditation. They might
discuss the events of the day, they might receive the visits of
others, or go abroad for conversation; but for hours they often were
wrapped in their thoughts, in a silence broken only by the rolling
of their pandanus cigarettes or the lighting of the mutual pipe.

"Of what are you thinking?" I said often to my neighbors when
breaking in upon their meditation.

"Of the world. Of those stars," they replied.

They would sympathize with that Chinese traveler who, visiting
America and being hurried from carriage to train, smiled at our idea
of catching the fleeting moment.

"We save ten minutes by catching this train," said his guide,

"And what will you do with that ten minutes?" demanded the Chinese.

To be busy about anything not necessary to living is, in Marquesan
wisdom, to be idle.

Swimming in the surf, lolling at the _via puna_, angling from rock
or canoe or fishing with line and spear outside the bay, searching
for shell-fish, and riding or walking over the hills to other valleys,
filled their peaceful, pleasant days. A dream-like, care-free life,
lived by a people sweet to know, handsome and generous and loving.

That he never saw or heard of the slightest quarrel between
individuals was the statement a century ago of Captain Porter, the
American. Then as now the most perfect harmony prevailed among them.
They lived like affectionate brothers of one family, he said, the
authority of the chiefs being only that of fathers among children.
They had no mode of punishment for there were no offenders. Theft
was unknown, and all property was left unguarded. So Porter, who,
with his ship's company, killed so many Marquesans, was fully aware
of their civic virtues, their kindness, gentleness and generosity.

It is so to-day, in Vait-hua where the whites are not. I have had my
trousers lifted from my second-story room in a Manila hotel by the
eyed and fingered bamboo of the Tagalog _ladron_, while I washed my

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 5 of 29)