Nicholas Senn.

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shoots downwards, which, when they have rooted,
become stems ; the tree in this manner spreading
over a great surface, and enduring for many
years. The banyan tree found in the island of
Tahiti docs not spread as much as the Indian tree,
and the aerial roots which later become a part of
the trunk after they strike the ground and de-
velop an independent existence, become sup-
plied with new roots. Most of the aerial roots
of the Tahitian tree take their origin from the
lower part of the trunk and remain in close
contact with it after they strike the ground, and
many of them remain dangling free in the air
in vain attempts to secure an independent exist-
ence, the branch roots being comparatively few.
The tree is found at short intervals along the
ninety-mile drive, and the largest one I saw was
in the front yard of the Cercle Bougainville, the
French club in Papeete.

Pandanus Tree, Screw Pine. — The Pandanus
Freycinctia natural order of Pandanece. There
are about fifty species of this tree, natives of


South Africa to Polynesia. The pandanus tree
of Tahiti is a palm-Hke tree which is found along
the shore close to the water's edge, with a short
white stem, much branched with long, simple
imbricated leaves, usually spiny on the back and
margin, their base embracing the stem, their
spiral arrangement being well marked. The base
of the stem does not touch the ground, but rests
on a cluster of strong roots, which diverge
somewhat before they strike the soil. The leaves
are much used for thatch roofs and the thin, com-
pact, superficial layer serves as wrappers for the
native cigarettes. The fruit is edible and is eaten
by the natives in times of scarcity of food.

Flame Tree, Flamhoyer. — The Brachychiton
acerifoUiim is the Australian flame-tree intro-
duced, as is asserted, into Tahiti by Bougainville.
It is a magnificent and :common shade tree in
Papeete, but is also found scattered all along the
coast of the island. It is an evergreen tree with
showy trusses of crimson flowers. This is the
most beautiful of all ornamental trees in the
island. The mucilaginous sap, when exuded, in-
durates to a kind of bassarin — tragacanth.


The cultivation of the aromatic vanilla-bean is
one of the principal industries of Tahiti. The
bean grows luxuriantly in the shady forests in the
lowlands along the coast, and requires but little
care. The climate and soil of Tahiti are spec-
ially adapted to the cultivation of the vanilla-
bean, as the very best quality is grown here. The
Vanilla aromatica is a genus of parasitic Orchi-
dacece, a native of tropic parts of America and
Asia, which springs at first from the ground
and climbs with twining stems to the height of
from twenty to thirty feet on trees, sending into
them fibrous roots, produced from nodes, from
which the leaves grow. These roots, drawing the
sap from the trees, sustain the plant, even after
the ground-root has been destroyed. Flower
white; corolla tubular; stigma distant from
anthers, rendering spontaneous fructification dif-
ficult; leaves oblong, light green, fleshy, with an
exceedingly acrid juice; flowers in spikes, very
large, fleshy and generally fragrant. The fruit
is a pod-like, fleshy capsule, opening along the
side. The ripe bean is cylindrical, about nine
inches in length, and less than half an inch
thick. It is gathered before it is entirely ripe,
and dried in the shade. It contains within its
tough pericarp a soft black pulp, in which many



minute seeds are Imbedded. The plant is cul-
tivated by cuttings. In Mexico and South
American countries, the insects effect impreg-
nation; in Tahiti, this is done artificially. With
a small, sharp stick the pollen is conveyed to
the stigma of the pistil. Artificial impregnation
of fifteen hundred flowers is considered a good
day's work. Allusion has been made elsewhere to
the fact that the shrewd Chinamen have depre-
ciat-ed the vanilla industry in Tahiti and ruined
the reputation of the product. If the natives
could be induced to stop their dealings with the
scheming Chinese merchants and traders, and the
government would release them from export
duty, the cultivation of vanilla would soon re-
gain its former importance and would yield a
very profitable income. The Tahitians are not
agriculturists; they are averse to hard manual
labor; they are

Of proud-Hved loiterers, that never sow,
Nor put a plant in earth, nor use a plough.


and hence are anxious to obtain what little money
they need with as little effort as possible. Vanilla,
once planted, requires very little attention, and
it grows most luxuriantly in the dark shadow of
the dense forest, where the natives engaged in
artificial impregnation of the flower and in gather-
ing the bean are protected against the direct


heat of the sun. The great advantage of vanilla-
cnltivation to the island consists in the fact that
this valuable article of commerce can be grown
without deforestation, so essential in the culti-
vation of much less valuable products of the soil
of the tropics.


Papeete is not the place to study the natives,
their habits and customs, as European influence
and example have here largely effaced the sim-
plicity and charms of native life. The rural
districts are the places for the tourist to get
glimpses of real native life. He will find there
the best specimens of natives, and an opportunity
to study their primitive methods of living. There
is no other island of similar size where the
traveler will find it so easy to visit all of the
rural districts and villages. By following the
ninety-mile drive, he can encircle the entire
island in a comfortable carriage, and finish the
trip in four days, if his time is limited, and in
doing so he sees the inhabited part of the island
and nearly all of the villages. He will see on
this trip Paea Grotto and cave, also picnic-
grounds, eighteen miles from Papeete, Papara,
six miles further, is noted for native singing,
chanting and dancing. The real Tahitian life is
met at Pari and Tautira. On the other side of
the island, the road skirts along the coast and
ascends five hundred feet above the level of the
sea. The drive is a charming one, as the traveler
never loses the sight of mountains and hills, and
only very seldom, and at long intervals, of the
blue Pacific Ocean. In some places the road-bed



is cut through solid rock, and for a few moments
the panoramic view of the magnificent scenery
is shut out from sight, but on the other side of
the cut a picture more beautiful than ever is
unrolled. The ocean claims the first attention
as it smiles in the dazzling sunshine beneath

The murmuring surge,
That on th' unnumber'd idle pebbles chafes.
Can not be heard so high.


In the distance we :can see the foam-crested
waves dash over the coral reef in their attempts
to reach the placid waters of the peaceful lagoon,
where the wavelets play with the pebbles on the
shore. Looking toward the left, we again are
face to face with the mountains, that are our
constant companions, on the entire route. There
is a feeling of solemnity which takes possession
of the soul when communing with Nature in
her grandest mood, and we begin to feel that

I live not myself, but I become
Portion of that around me; and to me
High mountains are a feeling; but the hum
Of human cities, torture. Byron.

We see the naked mountain-peaks and the bare
backs of the foot-hills.

Rock-ribbed, and ancient as the sun.



We pass through magnificent groves of cocoa-
palms, and now the road leads through a primeval
forest with an impenetrable jungle on its floor,

The winds within the quiv'ring branches play'd,
And dancing trees a mournful music made.


We pass through or near the quaint native
villages peopled with naked children, scantily
dressed women, and men whose only garment
consists of a much-checkered, many-colored calico
loin-cloth. We cross rivers, brooks and rivulets
without number, and looking for their source
we see glimpses, here and there, of cascades and
cataracts, high up on the mountainside, in the
form of streaks of silver in the clefts of the
deep green ocean of trees. We see butterflies
by the hundreds, of all colors, playing in the
sunshine or eagerly devouring the nectar of the
sweetest flowers. We admire the richness and
variety of the floral kingdom, and inhale the
perfume of the fragrant flowers, suspended in
the pure air and wafted to us by the cool land
breeze sent down from the top of the mountains.
As the sun approaches the horizon, and the short,
bewitching twilight sets in, with the gorgeous
display of colors in the sky and the wonderful
effects of light and shadow on sea and shore,
we can realize that


Softly the evening came. The sun from the western

Like a magician extended his golden wand o'er the

landscape ;
Twinkling vapors arose; and sky, and water, and

Seemed all on fire at the touch, and melted and mingled



The vistas and views along this circular drive
are infinite; the surprises at every turn without
number. No matter how much the visitor may
have traveled, even if he has seen the whole
world outside of this blessed island, he will see
here many things he has never seen before.
Every step brings new revelations of the beauty
and goodness of Nature and her tender care for
man. What a paradise for lovers of nature,
for poets and artists! Here is a place above all
ottiers in the world, where

No tears
Dim the sweet look that Nature wears.


The further the visitor wends his way from
Papeete, the more he will find the natives in their
natural state, and the less contaminated by Euro-
pean influence. On the opposite side of the
island, at Pari, the people have preserved their
native customs, and live now about in the same
manner as when Wallis discovered the island.
Religion and civilization have liberated them


from ancient barbarities, but have had Httle in-
fluence in changing their customs, for

Custom has an ascendency over the understanding.

Dr. I. Watts.

All of the villages scattered at short intervals
along the ninety-mile drive are small ; the largest
with not more than five hundred inhabitants. In
Papeete, and between it and Papara, the natives
live in small frame houses, built on piling several
feet above the ground, covered with a roof of
corrugated iron, and made more spacious and
comfortable by a veranda facing the road. Few
native houses are encountered on this part of the
journey. Beyond Papara they are the rule, and
these retain their primitive charm. They are
built of upright sticks of bamboo, lashed side by
side to a frame of stripped poles in the form of
an oval. Upon this is a heavy roof of pandanus
thatch covering a cool, well-ventilated, sanitary
home. The air circulates freely through the open
spaces between the poles, as well as between the
two doorways on opposite sides of the house.
Mats take the place of a floor.

Cooking is done outside without the use of a
stove. The native oven is a very simple affair,
as it consists of a layer of stones upon which a
fire is built. When heated to the requisite degree
— and this is a matter the experienced housewife
must determine — the food is placed amid the


embers, wrapped in pieces of banana leaves and
covered over with piles of damp breadfruit leaves.
Breadfruit, taro, green bananas and plantains,
are the articles of food prepared in this way.
The roasting of a pig, the favorite meat of the
South Sea Islanders, is a more complicated proc-
ess, and to do it well requires much experience.
A hole is dug in the ground and paved with
stones, upon which a fire is built. When the stones
are thoroughly heated and the fire exhausted or
extinguished, the whole animal, properly pre-
pared and wrapped in leaves, is placed in the
pit, covered with damp leaves and loose earth.
On great festive occasions, fowl and fish are
added to the contents of the pit. The pork, fowl
and fish cooked in this manner are delicious, and
the slightly smoky taste only adds to their savori-
ness. It is the pride of the cook to remove the
roasted pig without mutilation, usually a very
delicate task. Chicken, boiled in the milk of the
cocoanut, is another masterpiece of native cook-
ery. The cocoanut is prepared in many ways for
the table and a sauce made of the compressed
juice of the grated nut, mixed with lime juice
and sea-water, makes a most palatable sauce for
meats and fish.

House-building and housekeeping are free
from care and never ruffle the family peace. If
a young couple desire to establish a home of their
own, they signify their intentions to their friends


'and neighbors. These gather, usually Sunday
afternoon at two o'clock, at the place selected for
the new home, bring bamboo sticks, poles and
pandanus leaves, and at sundown the house is
ready for occupation. The pandanus roof does
efficient service for about seven years, when it
has to be removed and replaced by a new one.
The bamboo framework, properly protected, lasts
for a much longer time. As the whole house
consists of a single oval room, is floorless and not
encumbered by furniture of any kind, the house-
wife has an easy existence, more especially as
the children can not outwear their clothing, and
their husband's loin-cloths need no repairs.

While meat in Tahiti is scarce, every family
has an easy access to a rich fish-supply. The
fish which swarm in the lagoons and outside of
the reefs furnish an easily secured food-supply.
They are caught in different ways — by hook or
netting — and not the least picturesque way is the
torchlight fishing on the lagoon. Torches are
improvised of long cocoa-palm leaves tied into
rolls. With a boat-load of these, together with
nets and spears, the fishermen in their canoes
paddle out upon the water after dark. Flying
fish, attracted by the light, shoot overhead and
are dexterously caught in a hand-net. Other
kinds of fish, by aid of the light, are speared
over the side of the canoe. Dolphin and bonita,
the latter a favorite fish, are taken with the hook


and line, in larger canoes sailing on the open sea,
but this kind of fishing is left to a few hardy men.
The women scoop up small river-fish in baskets,
and drag-nets are used in capturing the many
varieties of small fish of the lagoon. While the
fish are being cooked in the underground oven,
some member of the family goes into the adjacent
forest and in a short time returns with bread-
fruit, and a variety of fruits, to make up a dainty
and substantial repast.

The island is divided into seventeen districts
and each district has its own chief, who is en-
trusted with the local government. The chiefs
are elected by popular vote every few years, the
office being no longer hereditary. The chief re-
sides in the principal village of his district and
here is to be invariably found a government
school, a Protestant and a Catholic church with
its respective parochial school, and a meeting-
house which serves as a gathering-place for the
annual native plays and on all occasions of public
concern. A daily mail supplies the rural popu-
lation with the news of the island and keeps them
in touch with the outside world. Abject poverty
in the city and country is unknown, and begging
is looked upon as a disgrace. There is neither
wealth nor poverty in Tahiti. The people have
all they need and all they desire, and

Poor and content is rich, and rich enough.



I am quite sure that the tourist who has tasted
freely of modern life such as it now is in our
large cities, with all its cares and temptations,
all its unrealness and disappointments, when he
has seen the happy, contented, free-from-care
Tahitians, in their charming island and simple
homes, will be willing to confess :

For my part, I should prefer to be always poor, in
blessings such as these. Horatius.


Everything that exceeds the bounds of moderation
has an unstable foundation. Seneca.



Every visitor to Tahiti should visit Point
Venus, as it is a historic place near where the
Europeans made their first landings in Matavai
Bay, and where the first white settlers cast their
lot with the natives. It is in this neighborhood
where the English missionaries established their
permanent home and from here spread the new
tidings of the gospel over the entire island. They
labored in vain for nearly twenty years, when all
at once a religious wave swept over the island
which resulted in the speedy Christianization of
almost the entire population. I have already re-
ferred to Point Venus as the place where the
government lighthouse is located and where
Captain Cook had his headquarters when he and
the scientists who accompanied him observed the
transit of Venus by order of the English govern-
ment in the year 1769. The place where the
scientific observations were made is marked by
a modest monument of stone surrounded by an
iron railing, on which are inscribed the data
commemorative of the work accomplished. Close
by this monument, on the most prominent point,
has been erected the lighthouse which guides
the mariner in approaching the island during
the night. The distance from Papeete to Point
Venus is seven miles, over a macadamized road



which we found in a somewhat neglected condi-
tion. Two native villages, Pirae and Arue, are
passed on the way, and a third, Haapape, is close
by. The road leads through groves of cocoa-
palms, primeval forests and jungles, and a part
of it skirts the foot-hills of the towering moun-
tains. Most of the time the beautiful lagoon,
dotted here and there with fishermen's canoes,
is in sight. The calmness of the air, the solemnity
of the surroundings and the sight of these canoes
on the unruffled lagoon, reminded us of

Low stir of leaves and dip of oars
And lapsing waves on quiet shores.


Some of the more daring fishermen we saw
outside of the reef, in the same frail crafts,
battling with a rougher sea, but the skilled use
of their very primitive paddles kept the canoes
in good motion and steady, and it seemed

She walks the waters like a thing of life,
And seems to dare the elements to strife,


Matavai Bay, which the road follows for a
considerable distance, is a beautiful sheet of
water. It was in this bay that the ships of the
early voyagers found a resting-place, and where
on its shore the first white men touched the soil
of Tahiti and came face to face with a people
who had never heard of a world outside of the


islands of the Pacific. The scenery all along
this drive is truly tropical. The floral wealth
is great and its variety endless. It was on this
drive I found the passion-flower in full bloom
and exquisite beauty.

Near Point Venus we met a gang of natives,
in charge of the chief of the district, engaged
in repairing the road. All except the chief
were in loin-cloths as their only article of dress.
They worked leisurely, and smoked and chatted
in a way that showed that they were happy even
when bearing the burden of the day and the
scorching rays of the tropic sun, with nothing
in view for their ten-o'clock breakfast but the
cool mountain water instead of coffee, breadfruit
or plantain (fei) for bread, and some fruit gath-
ered in the woods on their way to work.

The round trip from Papeete to Point Venus
'can be made in three hours, and gives one a very
excellent idea of the general topography of the
island and is replete with both pleasure and


The next interesting short drive from Papeete
is to the Fautahua Valley, distance four miles.
It is noted for delightful river scenery and tropic
vegetation, and at the end of the valley is a
beautiful waterfall. This charming valley, with
its typical tropic scenery enclosed by towering
mountains and resounding with the rippling,
dashing music of a turbulent mountain stream
and the babbling and murmuring of the many
brooks and rivulets of pure crystal water which
feed it, is well worth a visit. This valley was
once densely populated, if we can judge from the
abundance of imported fruit trees and the coffee
shrub which now flourish in the forest unaided
by the care of man, while, at the present time,
the native huts are few and far apart. Wild
arrowroot grows here in profusion, and a variety
of exogenous shade trees have become an impor-
tant component part of the primeval forest, ren-
dered almost impenetrable by vines and a dense
undergrowth. A carriage-road extends to
Fashoda Bridge, well up in the mountains, be-
yond which it leads up the gorge, past a waterfall
which leaps over a rocky rim, where the moun-
tains join to the bed of the stream, six hundred
feet below. In different places the romantic
mountain road is spanned by graceful arches of



branches of the pauru tree, ambitious to find on
the opposite side of the road an independent
existence from the parent tree. One of the large,
quiet pools below the Fashoda Bridge, a favorite
bathing-place for women and their daughters,
has been made famous by the writings of Pierre
Loti, a French author.

From Fashoda Bridge a bridle path leads up
a very steep incline to the French military post
in the very heart of the mountains, six thousand
feet above the level of the sea. It was here that
the natives made their last stand in their war
with France. A little beyond the fort rise the
crags which compose "the Diadem," a conspic-
uous landmark in the mountains of Tahiti.

The view from Fashoda Bridge in all direc-
tions is inspiring: at the end of the gorge the
waterfall dashing over the volcanic rock, pul-
verized at many points in its descent into silvery
spray ; the tree-clad mountains on each side with
their steeples of bare rock; beneath, the wild
mountain stream, speeding to find rest in the
quiet basin below ; and all around, the rank vege-
tation which only the tropics under the most
favorable conditions can grow, and above, the
clear blue sky, brilliantly illuminated by the
morning sun. As late as nine o'clock in the
forenoon we found everything bathed in a heavy
dew, which added much to the beauty and fresh-
ness of the incomparable scenery.


Near the bridge, leading a pack-mule, we met
a soldier on his way to the city for supplies
for the small garrison in charge of the fort.
Military duty at this lone isolated station must
certainly prove monotonous, as from the bridge
the only way to reach the fort is either on foot
or mule-back. The quietude of this peaceful
valley, at the time of our visit, was disturbed by
a large force of native laborers who were laying
the pipes for the new city waterworks.


The village of Papara, the largest in the
island, has been the acknowledged stronghold of
the Tevas for centuries. Here the powerful
chiefs of the clan have ruled their subjects with
an inborn sense of justice until their jurisdiction
and, power were curtailed by foreign inter-
vention. For a long time the ruling house of
the Tevas dominated the social and political life
of the island. It was at Papara that the largest
and most imposing marae was built, consisting
of a huge pile of stones in the form of a
truncated cone, the ruins of which still remain
as a silent reminder of the political power of
the Tevas lone before the white man cast his
greedy eyes upon this island paradise.

The district of Papara, of which the village
of about five hundred inhabitants is the seat of
the local government, is the most fertile and
prosperous of all the seventeen districts into
which the island is at present divided. Tati
Salmon, son of Ariitaimai, the famed chiefess
and historian of the island, is the present chief.
He was educated in London, is highly respected
by the foreigners and natives alike, and owns
about one-third of the island. He lives in a
charming old-fashioned house, the original part
of which was built more than a century ago. The

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Online LibraryNicholas SennTahiti; the island paradise → online text (page 11 of 14)