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missiles, many six or seven pounds in weight, fell from heights of
fifty to one hundred feet and struck the earth with a dull sound.
The roads and trails were littered with them. They fall every hour of
the day in the tropics, yet I have never seen any one hurt by them.
Narrow escapes I had myself, and I have heard of one or two who were
severely injured or even killed by them, but the accidents are
entirely out of proportion to the shots fired by the trees. One
becomes an expert at dodging, and an instinct draws one's eyes to
the branch about to shed a _mei_, or the palm intending to launch a

As I made my way up the trail, pausing now and then to look about me,
I came upon an old woman leaning feebly on a tall staff. Although it
was the hour of afternoon sleep, she was abroad for some reason, and
I stopped to say "_Kaoha_," to her. A figure of wretchedness she was,
bent almost double, her withered, decrepit limbs clad in a ragged
_pareu_ and her lean arms clutching the stick that bore her weight.
She was so aged that she appeared unable to hear my greeting, and
replied only mutteringly, while her bleary eyes gleamed up at me
between fallen lids.

Such miserable age appealed to pity, but as she appeared to wish no
aid, I left her leaning on her staff, and moved farther along the
trail, stopping again to gaze at the shadowed valley below while I
mused on the centuries it had seen and the brief moment of a man's
life. Standing thus, I was like to lose my own, for suddenly I heard
a whirr like that of a shrapnel shell on its murderous errand, and
at my feet fell a projectile.

I saw that it was a breadfruit and that I was under the greatest
tree of that variety I had ever seen, a hundred feet high and
spreading like a giant oak. In the topmost branches was the
tottering beldame I had saluted, and in both her hands the staff, a
dozen feet long. She was threshing the fruit from the tree with
astounding energy and agility, her scanty rags blown by the wind,
and her emaciated, naked figure in its arboreal surroundings like
that of an aged ape.

How she held on was a mystery, for she seemed to lean out from a
limb at a right angle, yet she had but a toe-hold upon it. No part
of her body but her feet touched the branch, nor had she any other
support but that, yet she banged the staff about actively and sent
more six-pounders down, so that I fled without further reflection.

The score of houses strung along the upper reaches of Atuona Valley
were silent at this hour, and everywhere native houses were decaying,
their falling walls and sunken roofs remembering the thousands who
once had their homes here. Occasionally in our own country we see
houses untenanted and falling to ruin, bearing unmistakable
evidences of death or desertion, and I have followed armies that
devastated a countryside and slew its people or hunted them to the
hills, but the first is a solitary case, and the second, though full
of horror, has at least the element of activity, of moving and
struggling life. The rotting homes of the Marquesan people speak
more eloquently of death than do sunken graves.

In these vales, which each held a thousand or several thousand when
the blight of the white man came, the abandoned _paepaes_ are solemn
and shrouded witnesses of the death of a race. The jungle runs over
them, and only remnants remain of the houses that sat upon them.
Their owners have died, leaving no posterity to inhabit their homes;
neighbors have removed their few chattels, and the wilderness has
claimed its own. In every valley these dark monuments to the
benefits of civilization hide themselves in the thickets.

None treads the stones that held the houses of the dead. They are
_tapu_; about them flit the _veinahae_, the _matiahae_, and the
_etuahae_, dread vampires and ghosts that have charge of the
corpse and wait to seize the living. Well have these ghoulish
phantoms feasted; whole islands are theirs, and soon they will sit
upon the _paepae_ of the last Marquesan.

I reached the top of the gulch and paused to gaze at its extent. The
great hills rose sheer and rugged a mile away; the cocoanuts ceased
at a lower level, and where I stood the precipices were a mass of
wild trees, bushes, and creepers. From black to lightest green the
colors ran, from smoky crests and gloomy ravines to the stream
singing its way a hundred feet below the trail.

A hundred varieties of flowers poured forth their perfume upon the
lonely scene. The frangipani, the red jasmine of delicious odor, and
tropical gardenias, weighted the warm air with their heavy scents.

Beside the trail grew the _hutu_-tree with crimson-tasseled flowers
among broad leaves, and fruit prickly and pear-shaped. It is a fruit
not to be eaten by man, but immemorally used by lazy fishermen to
insure miraculous draughts. Streams are dammed up and the pears
thrown in. Soon the fish become stupified and float upon the surface
to the gaping nets of the poisoners. They are not hurt in flavor or

The _keoho_, a thorny shrub, caught at my clothes as I left the trail.
Its weapons of defence serve often as pins for the native, who in
the forest improvises for himself a hat or umbrella of leaves.
Beside me, too, was the _putara_, a broad-leaved bush and the lemon
hibiscus, with its big, yellow flower, black-centered, was twisted
through these shrubs and wound about the trunk of the giant _aea_, in
whose branches the _kuku_ murmured to its mate. Often the flowering
vine stopped my progress. I struggled to free myself from its clutch
as I fought through the mass of vegetation, and pausing perforce to
let my panting lungs gulp the air, I saw around me ever new and
stranger growths - orchids, giant creepers, the _noni enata_, a small
bush with crimson pears upon it, the _toa_, or ironwood, which gave
deadly clubs in war-time, but now spread its boughs peacefully
amidst the prodigal foliage of its neighbors.

The umbrella fern, _mana-mana-hine_, was all about. The _ama_, the
candlenut-tree, shed its oily nuts on the earth. The _puu-epu_, the
paper mulberry, with yellow blossoms and cottony, round leaves,
jostled pandanus and hibiscus; the _ena-vao_, a wild ginger with
edible, but spicy, cones, and the lacebark-tree, the _faufee_, which
furnishes cordage from its bark, contested for footing in the rich
earth and fought for the sun that even on the brightest day never
reached their roots.

I staggered through the bush, falling over rotten trees and
struggling in the mass of shrubs and tangled vines.

Away up here, hidden in the depths of the forest, there were three
or four houses; not the blue-painted or whitewashed cabins of the
settlement, but half-open native cots, with smoke rising from the
fire made in a circle of stones on the _paepaes_. The hour of sleep
had passed, and squatted before the troughs men and women mashed the
_ma_ for the _popoi_, or idled on the platform in red and yellow
_pareus_, watching the roasting breadfruit. There must be
poverty-stricken folk indeed, for I saw that the houses showed no
sign whatever of the ugliness that the Marquesan has aped from the
whites. Yet neither were they the wretched huts of straw and thatch
which I had seen in the valley and supposed to be the only remnants
of the native architecture.

As I drew nearer, I saw that I had stumbled upon such a house as the
Marquesan had known in the days of his strength, when pride of
artistry had created wonderful and beautiful structures of native
wood adorned in elegant and curious patterns.

It was erected upon a _paepae_ about ten feet high, reached by a
broad and smooth stairway of similar massive black rocks. The house,
long and narrow, covered all of the _paepae_ but a veranda in front,
the edge of which was fenced with bamboo ingeniously formed into
patterns of squares. A friendly call of "_Kaoha!_" in response to
mine, summoned me to the family meeting-place, and I mounted the
steps with eagerness.

I was met by a stalwart and handsome savage, in earrings and
necklace and scarlet _pareu_, who rubbed my nose with his and
smelled me ceremoniously, welcoming me as an honored guest. Several
women followed his example, while naked children ran forward
curiously to look at the stranger.

Learning the interest and admiration I felt for his house, my host
displayed it with ill-concealed pride. Its frame was of the
largest-sized bamboos standing upright, and faced with hibiscus
strips, all lashed handsomely and strongly with _faufee_ cordage.
Upon this framework were set the walls, constructed of canes arranged
in a delicate pattern, the fastenings being of _purau_ or other
rattan-like creepers, all tied neatly and regularly. As the
residence was only about a dozen feet deep, through three times that
length, these walls were not only attractive but eminently
serviceable, the canes shading the interior, and the interstices
between them admitting ample light and air.

We entered through a low opening and found the one long chamber
spacious, cool, and perfumed with the forest odors. There were no
furnishings save two large and brilliantly polished cocoanut-tree
trunks running the whole length of the interior, and between them
piles of mats of many designs and of every bright hue that roots and
herbs will yield.

While I admired these, noting their rich colors and soft, yet firm,
texture, a murmurous rustle on the palm-thatched roof announced the
coming of the rain. It was unthinkable to my host that a stranger
should leave his house at nightfall, and in a downpour that might
become a deluge before morning. To have refused his invitation had
been to leave a pained and bewildered household.

_Popoi_ bowls and wooden platters of the roasted breadfruit were
brought within shelter, and while the hissing rain put out the fires
on the _paepae_ the candlenuts were lighted and all squatted for the
evening meal. Breadfruit and yams, with a draught of cocoanut milk,
satisfied the hunger created by my arduous climb. Then the women
carried away the empty bowls while my host and I lay upon the mats
and smoked, watching the gray slant of the rain through the
darkening twilight.

Few houses like his remained on Hiva-Oe, he said in reply to my
compliments. The people loved the ways of the whites and longed for
homes of redwood planks and roofs of iron. For himself, he loved the
ways of his fathers, and though yielding as he must to the payments
of taxes and the authority of new laws, he would not toil in the
copra-groves or work on traders' ships. His father had been a
warrior of renown. The _u'u_ was wielded no more, being replaced by
the guns of the whites. The old songs were forgotten. But he, who
had traveled far, who had seen the capital of the world, Tahiti, and
had learned much of the ways of the foreigner, would have none of
them. He would live as his fathers had lived, and die as they had

"It is not long. We vanish like the small fish before the hunger of
the _mako_. The High Places are broken, and the _pahue_ covers our
_paepaes_. It does not matter. _E tupu te fau; e toro to farero, e
mou te taata._ The hibiscus shall grow, the coral shall spread, and
man shall cease. There is sleep on your eyelids, and the mats are

His hospitality would give me the place of honor, despite my protests,
and soon I found myself lying between my host and his wife, while
the other members of the household lay in serried rank beyond her on
the mats that filled the hollow between the palm-trunks. All slept
with the backs of their heads upon one timber, and the backs of
their knees over the other, but I found comfort on the soft pile
between them. My companions slumbered peacefully, as I have remarked
that men do in all countries where the people live near, and much in,
the sea. There was no snoring or groaning, no convulsive movement of
arms or legs, no grimaces or frowns such as mark the fitful sleep of
most city dwellers and of all of us who worry or burn the candle at
both ends.

I lay listening for some time to their quiet breathing and the sound
of rain drumming on the thatch, but at last my eyes closed, and only
the dawn awoke me.

[Illustration: Splitting cocoanut husks in copra making process]

[Illustration: Cutting the meat from cocoanuts to make copra]


The household of Lam Kai Oo; copra making; marvels of the
cocoanut-groves; the sagacity of pigs; and a crab that knows the
laws of gravitation.

Next morning, after bidding farewell to my hosts, I set out down the
mountain in the early freshness of a sunny, rain-washed morning. I
followed a trail new to me, a path steep as a stairway, walled in by
the water-jeweled jungle pressing so close upon me that at times I
saw the sky only through the interlacing fronds of the tree-ferns
above my head.

I had gone perhaps a mile without seeing any sign of human habitation,
hearing only the conversation of the birds and the multitudinous
murmuring of leaves, when a heavy shower began to fall. Pressing on,
hampered by my clinging garments and slipping in the path that had
instantly become a miniature torrent, I came upon a little clearing
in which stood a dirty, dark shanty, like a hovel in the outskirts
of Canton, not raised on a _paepae_ but squat in an acre of mud and
the filth of years.

Two children, three or four years old, played naked in the muck, and
Flower, of the red-gold hair, reputed the wickedest woman in the
Marquesas, ironed her gowns on the floor of the porch. Raising her
head, she called to me to come in.

This was the house of Lam Kai Oo, the adopted father of Flower.
Seventy-one years old, Lam Kai Oo had made this his home since he
left the employ of Captain Hart, the unfortunate American cotton
planter, and here he had buried three native wives. His fourth, a
woman of twenty years, sat in the shelter of a copra shed nursing a
six-months' infant. Her breasts were dark blue, almost black, a
characteristic of nursing mothers here.

Both the mother and Flower argued with me that I should make Many
Daughters my wife during my stay in Atuona, and if not the leper lass,
then another friend they had chosen for me. Flower herself had done
me the honor of proposing a temporary alliance, but I had persuaded
her that I was not worthy of her beauty and talents. Any plea that
it was not according to my code, of even that it was un-Christian,
provoked peals of laughter from all who heard it; sooth to say, the
whites laughed loudest.

Beneath a thatch of palm-leaves Lam Kai Oo was drying cocoanuts. His
withered yellow body straddled a kind of bench, to which was fixed a
sharp-pointed stick of iron-wood. Seizing each nut in his claw-like
hands, he pushed it against this point, turning and twisting it as
he ripped off the thick and fibrous husk. Then he cracked each nut
in half with a well-directed blow of a heavy knife. For the best
copra-making, the half-nuts should be placed in the sun, concave
side up. As the meats begin to dry, they shrink away from the shell
and are readily removed, being then copra, the foundation of the
many toilet preparations, soaps and creams, that are made from

As it rains much in the Marquesas, the drying is often done in ovens,
though sun-dried copra commands a higher price. Lam Kai Oo was
operating such an oven, a simple affair of stones cemented with mud,
over which had been erected a shed of palm-trunks and thatch. The
halved cocoanuts were placed in cups made of mud and laid on wooden
racks above the oven. With the doors closed, a fire was built in the
stone furnace and fed from the outside with cocoa-husks and brush.
Such an oven does not dry the nuts uniformly. The smoke turns them
dark, and oil made from them contains undesirable creosote.
Hot-water pipes are the best source of heat, except the sun,
but Lam Kai Oo was paying again for his poverty, as the poor
man must do the world over.

Forty-four years earlier he had left California, after having given
seven years of his life to building American railways. The smoke of
the Civil War had hardly cleared away when Captain Hart had
persuaded him, Ah Yu and other California Chinese to come to Hiva-oa,
and put their labor into his cotton plantations. Cannibalism was
common at that date. I asked the old man if he had witnessed it.

"My see plenty fella eatee," he replied. "Kanaka no likee Chineeman.
Him speak bad meatee."

He told me how on one occasion the Lord had saved him from drowning.
With a lay brother of the Catholic Mission, he had been en route to
Vait-hua in a canoe with many natives. There was to be a church feast,
and Lam Kai Oo was carrying six hundred Chile _piastres_ to back his
skill against the natives in gambling; Lam, of course, to operate
the wheel of supposed chance.

The boat capsized in deep water. The lay brother could not swim, but
was lifted to the keel of the upturned boat, while the others clung
to its edges. He prayed for hours, while the others, lifting their
faces above the storming waves, cried hearty amens to his
supplications. Finally the waves washed them into shallow water. The
brother gave earnest thanks for deliverance, but Lam thought that
the same magic should give him back the six hundred pieces of silver
that had gone into the sea.

"My savee plenty Lord helpee you," said he. "Allee samee, him hell
to live when poor. Him Lord catchee Chile money, my givee fitty
dolla churchee."

He sighed despairingly, and fed more cocoa-husks to his make-shift
oven. The shower had passed, moving in a gray curtain down the valley,
and picking my way through the mire of the yard, I followed it in
the sunshine.

My way led now through the cocoanut-groves that day and night make
the island murmurous with their rustling. They are good company,
these lofty, graceful palms, and I had grown to feel a real
affection for them, such as a man has for his dog. Like myself, they
can not live and flourish long unless they see the ocean. Their
habit has more tangible reason than mine; they are dependent on air
and water for life. The greater the column of water that flows daily
up their stems and evaporates from the leaves, the greater the
growth and productivity.

Evaporation being in large measure dependent on free circulation of
air, the best sites for cocoanut plantations are on the seashore,
exposed to the winds. They love the sea and will grow with their
boles dipped at high tide in the salt water.

These trunks, three feet in diameter at the base and tapering
smoothly and perfectly to perhaps twelve inches at the top, are in
reality no more than pipes for conveying the water to the thirsty
fronds. Cut them open, and one finds a vast number of hollow reeds,
held together by a resinous pitch and guarded by a bark both thick
and exceedingly hard. There is no branch or leaf except at the very
tip of the trunk, where a symmetrical and gigantic bouquet of leaves
appears, having plumes a dozen feet long or more, that nod with every
zephyr and in storms sway and lash the tree as if they were living

I used to wonder why these great leaves, the sport of the idlest
breeze as well as the fiercest gale, were not torn from the tree,
but when I learned to know the cocoanut palm as a dear friend I
found that nature had provided for its survival on the wind-swept
beaches with the same exquisite attention to individual need that is
shown in the electric batteries and lights of certain fishes, or in
the caprification of the fig. A very fine, but strong, matting,
attached to the bark beneath the stalk, fastened half way around the
tree and reaching three feet up the leaf, fixes it firmly to the
trunk but gives it ample freedom to move. It is a natural brace,
pliable and elastic.

There is scarcely a need of the islander not supplied by these
amiable trees. Their wood makes the best spars, furnishes rafters
and pillars for native houses, the knee- and head-rests of their beds,
rollers for the big canoes or whale-boats, fences against wild pig,
and fuel. The leaves make screens and roofs of dwellings, baskets,
and coverings, and in the pagan temples of Tahiti were the rosaries
or prayer-counters, while on their stiff stalks the candlenuts are
strung to give light for feasts or for feasting. When the tree is
young the network that holds the leaves is a beautiful silver, as
fine as India paper and glossy; narrow strips of it are used as hair
ornaments and contrast charmingly with the black and shining locks
of the girls. When older, this matting has every appearance of
coarse cotton cloth, and is used to wrap food, or is made into bags
and even rough garments, specially for fishermen.

The white flowers are small and grow along a branching stalk,
protected by a sheath, and just above the commencement of the leaf.
From them is made the cocoanut-brandy that enables the native to
forget his sorrows. Flowers and nuts in every stage of development
are on the same tree, a year elapsing between the first blossom and
the ripe nut. Long before it is ripe, but after full size has been
attained, the nut contains a pint or even a quart of delicious juice,
called milk, water, or wine, in different languages. It is clear as
spring water, of a delicate acidity, yet sweet, and no idea of its
taste can be formed from the half-rancid fluid in the ripe nuts sold
in Europe or America. It must be drunk soon after being taken from
the tree to know its full delights, and must have been gathered at
the stage of growth called _koie_, when there is no pulp within the

Not long after this time the pulp, white as snow, of the consistency
and appearance of the white of a soft-boiled egg, forms in a thin
layer about the walls of the nut. This is a delicious food, and from
it are made many dishes, puddings, and cakes. It is no more like the
shredded cocoanut of commerce than the peach plucked from the tree
is like the tinned fruit.

The pulp hardens and thickens as time goes on, and finally is an
inch in thickness. Occasionally the meat when hard and ripe is
broiled and eaten. I like it fairly well served in this fashion.

If left on the tree, the nut will in time fall, and in due course
there begins in it a marvelous process of germination. A sweet,
whitish sponge forms in the interior, starting from the inner end of
the seed enclosed in the kernel, opposite one of the three eyes in
the smaller end of the nut. This sponge drinks up all the liquid, and,
filling the inside, melts the hard meat, absorbs it, and turns it
into a cellular substance, while a white bud, hard and powerful,
pushes its way through one of the eyes of the shell, bores through
several inches of husk, and reaches the air and light.

This bud now unfolds green leaves, and at the same period two other
buds, beginning at the same point, find their way to the two other
eyes and pierce them, turning down instead of up, and forcing their
way through the former husk outside the shell, enter the ground.
Though no knife could cut the shell, the life within bursts it open,
and husk and shell decay and fertilize the soil beside the new roots,
which, within five or six years, have raised a tree eight or nine
feet high, itself bearing nuts to reproduce their kind again.

All about me on the fertile soil, among decaying leaves and
luxuriant vines, I saw these nuts, carrying on their mysterious and
powerful life in the unheeded forest depths. Here and there a
half-domestic pig was harrying one with thrusting snout. These pigs,
which we think stupid, know well that the sun will the sooner cause
a sprouting nut to break open, and they roll the fallen nut into the
sunlight to hasten their stomachs' gratification, though with
sufficient labor they can get to the meat with their teeth.

There is a crab here, too, that could teach even the wisest,
sun-employing pig some tricks in economics. He is the last word in
adaptation to environment, with an uncanny knowledge that makes the
uninformed look askance at the tale-teller. These crabs climb
cocoanut-trees to procure their favorite food. They dote on cocoanuts,
the ripe, full-meated sort. They are able to enjoy them by various
endeavors demanding strength, cleverness, an apparent understanding
of the effect of striking an object against a harder one, and of the
velocity caused by gravity. Nuts that resist their attempts to open
them, they carry to great heights, to drop them and thus break their

These crabs are called by the scientists _Birgos latro_, by the
Marquesans _tupa_, by the Paumotans _kaveu_, and by the Tahitians,
_ua vahi haari_. It was a never-failing entertainment on my walks

Online LibraryFrederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas → online text (page 9 of 29)