Nicholas Senn.

Tahiti; the island paradise online

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house is situated at the mouth of a large moun-
tain stream, and faces the broad lagoon hemmed
in by a coral reef, over which the surf dashes
from day to day and from year to year with the
same regularity, with the same splashing and
moaning sounds of the waves as they leap from
the restless ocean beyond into the peaceful bosom
of the calm lagoon.

Papara, like all of the native villages, is located
on the circular road familiarly known as the
ninety-mile drive. The road from Papeete to
Papara, a distance of twenty miles, leads through
the most picturesque and interesting part of the
island. The road is a genuine chaussee, con-
structed at great expense by the French govern-
ment, and is kept in excellent repair. For the
most part it follows the coast in full view of the
lagoon and the ocean beyond, and, for more than
one-half of the distance, the smaller volcanic
sister island, Moorea, is in sight. The mountains
are constantly in sight, ceaselessly changing in
their aspects with distance and change of per-
spective. The narrow strip of :coast-land is cov-
ered with a thick layer of the most productive
soil upon a foundation of rock and red volcanic
earth. Vegetation everywhere is rampant and
extends from the very edge of the lagoon to the
naked pinnacles of the mountains. In many
places the road skirts the foot-hills, and at dif-
ferent points the precipitous mountains rise from


the bed of the lagoon, where the road-bed had to
be made by blasting away a part of their firm
foundation of volcanic stone.

The traveler on the whole trip is never without
the companionship of the branchless, slender,
graceful cocoa-palms, with their terminal crown
of giant leaves, clusters of blossoms, and nuts of
all sizes and stages of maturity. A stately forest
of cocoa-palms like those found on the coast of
Tahiti is a sight that can not fail to interest and
fascinate the Northerner fresh from zero weather,
snow and ice. The straight, columnar trunks,
with their sail-like terminal fronds and clusters
of fruit in all stages of development from the
blossom to the golden yellow of the ripe nut, are
objects of study and admiration which create in
the visitor a strong and lasting attachment for
the tropics. There is no other spot on the globe
where the tourist can see larger and more beau-
tiful palm forests than on the circular road
between Papeete and Papara. The cocoa-palm
is queen here, as there is no other tree among its
many neighbors that has succeeded in equaling
it in height. The lofty, proud head of the palm
has no competitor; it is alone in that stratum
of air and looks down upon the plebeian
trees beneath with a sense of superiority, if not
of scorn. For miles this road passes through
magnificent forests of cocoa-palms, with a heavy
undergrowth of guava, extending from the shore



high Up the foot-hills and mountainsides. The
cocoa-palm is fond of salt water and thrives best
when its innumerable slender, long roots can im-
bibe it from the briny shore.

The pandanus tree is even more partial to a
soil impregnated with salt water. On this drive
this tree is frequently seen, and in preference at
the very brink of the coast, with the butt-end of
the trunk high in the air, resting on a colonnade
of numerous powerful, slightly diverging roots.
Another tree omnipresent on this drive is the
pauru tree, with its large leaves and charming
cream-yellow, salver-shaped flowers. This tree
loves the dark, shady jungles, where its tortuous
branches . mingle freely with the dense under-
growth and climbing plants.

The views that present themselves on this drive
at every turn are simply bewitching and vary with
every curve of the road. The gentle ocean
breeze that fans the flushed face of the raptured
traveler is lost when the road leaves the coast
and plunges into a primeval forest, when

Gradual sinks the breeze
Into a perfect calm; that not a breath
Is heard to quiver through the closing wood.


As the carriage emerges from the dark shades
of the forest into the dazzling sunlight in full
view of the near-by ocean again.



The winds, with wonder whist,

Smoothly the waters kiss'd,

Whispering new joys to the mild ocean.


Every turn of the wheel on this winding road
brings nev/ deHghts. The views of mountains
and ocean, the strange trees and flowers, the
childlike natives and their dusky, naked children,
the quaint villages, the turbulent mountain
streams and the diminutive cataracts and water-
falls, framed in emerald green on the mountain-
sides, enchant the eye and stimulate the mind
every moment. These little waterfalls have ex-
cavated the hardest rocks and have chiseled out,
in the course of centuries, crevices and caves of
the strangest designs.

The floral wealth of Tahiti is immense. Mr.
McDaniel, of Los Angeles, Cal., during a several-
months' visit to the island, analyzed and classi-
fied two thousand different kinds of plants. Some
of the flowers are gorgeous, others yield a sweet
perfume which is diffused through the pure air,
imparting to it the balmy character for which it
has become famous. An acquaintance with these
flowers suggests :

Were I, O God, in churchless lands remaining,
Far from all voice of teachers or divines,
My soul would find, in flowers of thy ordaining,
Priests, sermons, shrines. Shakespeare.

At a sudden turn of the road a vista is disclosed


that defies description. In the open roadway,
brilHantly illuminated by the noonday sun, in the
distance, a flame-tree, with its flowers of fire,
dazzles the eyes, and its grandeur and beauty
increase as we approach it, while, in a few
moments, what appeared as an apparition is
behind us, and the tension of vision is relieved by
a long, restful look over the limitless expanse of
the blue sea. I have seen the flame-tree in dif-
ferent countries, but the sight of this one, with its
magic surroundings, made a picture of exquisite
beauty which forcibly recalled the lines :

The spreading branches made a goodly show,
And full of opening blooms was ev'ry bough.


The numerous villages of land-crabs met on
this drive afford amusement for the stranger,
unfamiliar with this inhabitant of the coast in
the tropics. The land-crabs have evidently a
well-organized government in each community.
Among the most important oflicials are the sen-
tinels, who are always on duty, when the inhab-
itants of the village have left their underground
habitations, to give timely notice of impending
danger. With the approach of man, the whole
colony is on the alert. As a matter of safety,
the land-crab does not stray far away from its
subterranean home. When these animals are out
in the open they are never caught napping. Their
large, exophthalmic eyes are never idle, and the


instant danger threatens they speed to their place
of safety. If you have enough patience to wait,
you will find, sooner or later, two large staring
eyes on a level with the hole where the animal
disappeared. The land-crab is cautious, constant-
ly on the lookout, and, on the first signal of
danger, makes a rush for his or somebody else's

A short distance from Papeete is a truck gar-
den managed by Chinamen. This enterprise, the
only one I noticed on the drive, demonstrates well
what the soil of Tahiti is capable of producing
in the way of growing vegetables. It is an ideal
vegetable garden, weedless, and verdant v/ith all
kinds of vegetables. The foreign population of
the city is supplied from here with lettuce, aspar-
agus, cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions,
turnips and melons of the choicest quality. The
natives have no use for vegetables and make no
attempts to raise them for the market. The
guava shrub is found everywhere. It has infested
the country ,weed-like, and its golden fruit is not
appreciated by the natives ; only a very small part
of the fruit is gathered for making jelly, one of
the few articles of export.

This is the part of the island where the vanilla-
bean is most extensively cultivated. A vanilla
plantation is a jungle in which the bean thrives
best. In the thick woods all along the road, the
climbing bean is seen trailing up the shrubs and


trees, often to a height oi twenty feet. At the
time of my visit the blossoms had disappeared
and the green beans had reached a length of
about four inches, half their length when they are
ripe. A patient and prolonged search made for
a flower was finally rewarded by the finding of a
belated bud which, on being placed in water, ex-
pandedi into a flower during the night, affording
me an opportunity to study its anatomy.

Three small villages, Faaa, Punaauia and Paea,
are passed on the way from Papeete to Papara,
and, like all other villages, each of them had
its own government school, a Catholic and a
Protestant church, and, connected with these, two
parochial schools. The compulsory education in-
troduced into the island applies to children from
six to sixteen years of age. The churches are
well attended, but I was informed by a German,
who has resided in Tahiti for thirty years, that
the people attend service more as a matter of
amusement than with any intention of obtaining
spiritual benefit.

Nearly all of the village shops are kept by
Chinamen, and it is needless to say that these
shrewd foreigners take undue advantage of the
simple, trusting natives, in all of their business
transactions. Much of the hard-earned money of
the natives finds its way into the capacious
pockets of these enterprising Orientals.

We reached Papara toward evening, and, when


we came in sight of the chiefery, were deeply
impressed with the beauty of the location. Palm
trees, flowering shrubs and garden flowers adorn
the spacious grounds in front and all around the
ancient mansion which is perched on an elevated
plateau adjoining the large and beautiful stream
of crystal mountain water, and facing the placid
lagoon. An immense double war-canoe was at
anchor in the river. It is now used as a fishing-
boat by one of the sons of the chief, when he
desires to catch the bonita outside of the lagoon.
It takes seven men to manage this giant icanoe,
by means of paddles.

In front of the wide veranda of the one-story
house is an ornamental tree which spreads its
branches at least twenty feet in all directions.
As it was in full bloom at the time of my visit,
it added much to the beauty and comfort of the
immediate surroundings in front of the house.

'the rooms of the mansion are large, and brim-
ful of local antiquities and old furniture imported
from Europe, which impart to them a coziness
and charm which have been greatly appreciated
and gratefully remembered by many a welcome
visitor. It is in a house like this, presided over by
the chief of Papara and his charming family, that
one can experience what genuine, unselfish hos-
pitality means.

Twelve servants, men and women, take
care of the house, the family and the visitors.


Most of these were born on the place, and some
of them, very old now, were in the service of the
grandfather of the present chief. The relation
between master and servants in this house is a
very pleasant one. The servants are looked upon
and treated rather as relatives than employes.
Their pay is small, but they are given all the
comforts of a home.

Word had been sent ahead from Papeete an-
nouncing our visit, for the purpose of securing
for us the rare pleasure of partaking of a gen-
uine native dinner. A little pig was roasted
underground, and chickens were boiled in the
milk of the cocoanut, exquisite dishes, which,
with excellent coffee, French bread, and a variety
of luscious tropical fruit, made up a dinner which
it would be impossible to duplicate in any of the
large cities of the continents.

The village of Papara is a most interesting
place to visit. Besides the magnificent scenery,
one finds here many native huts, and the town
hall is a large, airy structure, built of bamboo
sticks and covered with a thatched roof. Near
the village are the grotto and cave, which enjoy
a local reputation, and are well worth seeing by
the visitor.


The sun's rim dips; the stars rush out:

At one stride conies the dark;

With far-heard whisper o'er the sea;

Off shot the spectre bark. Coleridge.

The day had been hot and sultry. From a
cloudless sky, the tropical sun shot down, without
mercy, his arrows of heat, against which the
lightest and most porous headdress, umbrella,
roof and shade afforded but inadequate protection.
Man and beast were listless, perspiring, careful
to make no unnecessary exertion. The green,
succulent foliage bowed under the oppressive
heat, and even the gayest of the flowers drooped
their proud heads in homage to the fierce
king of the serene blue sky. The very at-
mosphere quivered in convulsive movements,
and the intense light, reflected from the surface
of the sleeping ocean and the white city, dazzled
and blinded those who ventured to go out into
the streets. The little capital city of Papeete,
nestled on the plateau between the harbor and
the foot of towering mountains, half hidden
among the tropic trees, was at rest ; market and
streets deserted, business houses closed, and the
wharf silent and lifeless. The numerous misera-
ble curs in the streets sought shelter in the shade,
lying in a position affording most perfect relaxa-



tion, with protruded, blue, saliva-covered tongues,
fighting the heat by increasing the respiratory
movements to the utmost speed. The numer-
ous half-wild pigs in the streets, with paralyzed
tails and relaxed bristles, buried themselves as
deeply as possible in the nearest mud-pool, and
with eyes closed, submitted passively to the fiery
rays of the midday sun. The roaming chickens,
from bald chicks a few days old to the ruffled,
fatless veterans of questionable age, suspended
their search for rare particles of food with which
to satisfy their torturing sense of hunger, and
simply squatted where the heat overcame them,
in the nearest shady place, there to spend the
enforced siesta with bills wide open and the dry,
blue tongues agitated by the rapid and violent
breathing. The birds of the air ceased their frolic ;
their song was silenced, and they took refuge in
trees with thickest foliage. Men, women and
children, rich and poor, merchant and laborer,
were forced to suspend work and play, and seek,
in the shadow of their homes or near-by trees,
protection against the onslaught of the burning
rays of the sun. Such is the victory of the sun
of the tropics. He demands unconditional sur-
render on the part of every living thing. He
knows no compromise, as he is sure of victory as
long as his victim is in a favorable strategic posi-
tion. This was the case on the day of which I
speak. As the rays of the sun became more and


more oblique, and the invisible great fan of the
land-breeze was set in motion, wafting down
from the high mountain peaks a current of cool
air, the city woke up from its midday slumber.
The sun had lost his fiery power. He was re-
treating from the field of combat, and approach-
ing in the distance the rim of the placid ocean.
The monarch of the day, so near his cool, watery
couch, laid aside his mask of fire and smiled
upon the vanishing world with a face beaming
with happiness and peace.

The sun was set, and Vesper, to supply
His absent beams, had lighted up the sky.


It was an evening bright and still
As ever bhtsh'd on wave or bower,
Smiling from heaven, as if naught ill
Could happen in so sweet an hour.


The last act of the retiring monarch of the day
revealed his incomparable skill .as a painter.
He showed discretion in the selection of the time
to demonstrate to the best advantage his match-
less artistic skill. He chose the evening hour,
when the soul is best prepared to take flight from
earthly to heavenly things. He waited until man
and beast had laid aside the burden and cares of
the day, and were in a receptive, contemplative
mood to study and appreciate the paintings sus-
pended from the paling blue dome of the sky.


He waited until he could hide himself from view
behind the bank of fleecy clouds moving lazily in
the same direction. Then he grasped the invis-
ible palette charged with colors and tints of
colors unknown to the artists of this world, and
seized the mystic, gigantic brush when

The setting sun, and music at the close.
As the last taste of sweets is sweeted last,
Writ in remembrance more than things long past.


The time for this magic work was short. The
moment the passing clouds veiled his face it
began. From the very beginning it became ap-
parent that the hidden artist exhibited super-
human skill. The most appreciative and scrutin-
izing of his admirers felt powerless to compre-
hend and much more to give a description of the
panoramic views which he painted with such
rapid succession on the sky, clouds and the dull
surface of the dreamy, listless ocean. With in-
tense interest we watched the constantly varying,
artistic display, felt keenly the shortcomings of
human art, and realized, to the fullest extent, the
force and truth of

Who hath not proved how feebly words essay
To fix one spark of beauty's heavenly ray.


All painters place the greatest importance upon
a proper background for their pictures in order



to give light and shade a strong expression. So
does the sun. With a few strokes of the magic
brush, the deep bkie of the horizon was wiped
out and replaced by the palest shade of blue, so
as to bring forth, in bolder relief, the resplendent
colors on the moving canvas of the clouds. The
artist fringed the margins of the clouds with
deHcate lace of shining gold. Through clefts
and rents in the clouds the smiling face of the
painter peeped upon the beautiful evening be-
yond. His work had only begun. In rapid turns
the clouds were converted into a sheet of gold
with a violet border that deepened into a vivid
crimson hue. As the artist disappeared, inch by
inch, under the limitless expanse of the ocean,
he wiped out the brilliant colors on the canvas of
clouds, and gilded the horizon with a sheet of
gold, deepening his favorite color, yellow, into an
orange hue, which remained unchanged until the
approaching darkness threw a drapery of sombre
black over the inspiring scene. Twilight shuns
the tropics. Day lapses into night almost imper-
ceptibly, and, with the setting of the sun, the
earth is wrapped in darkness. There is no com-
promise in the tropics, between the rulers of day
and night. With the disappearance of the last
rays of the sun, the pale blue dome of the sky is
decorated with millions of flickering stars, cast-
ing their feeble light upon land and sea through
the immeasurable ethereal medium which sepa-
rates heaven from earth.


The sun has lost his rage; his downward orb
Shoots nothing now but animating warmth
And vital lustre. Thomson.

On the evening of which I speak, the short
twilight foreshadowed the appearance of the
heavenly advance-guard proclaiming the coming
of the Queen of Night.

When the evening King gave place to night,
His beams he to his royal brother lent,
And so shone still in his reflected light.


Looking in the direction opposite from where
the monarch of the day had disappeared, the
cloudless sky brightened over the bare gray
mountain-peak, and the stars, in joyful antici-
pation of the approaching event, abandoned their
stoic immobility and trembled in feverish excite-
ment. An impressive silence reigned in the little
city, broken now and then by the almost noise-
less footsteps of half-naked, barefoot natives, or
the clattering of the hoofs of a horse and hum-
ming of the wheels of a passing cart, and, once
or twice, by the whirr of the only automobile in
the island, steered by an enterprising, prosperous
French merchant.

Nature awoke from her noonday slumber, the
glossy leaves resumed their natural shape and
freshness, the drooping flowers revived, ex-
panded and exhaled their fragrance, perfuming
the evening air. The birds had found shelter and


protection for the night in the leafy domes of
the many beautiful shade and ornamental trees.
It was solemn eveningtide, when the heart of
man is most receptive for noble and pure impres-
sions. It was the time to turn away the thoughts
from the busy, selfish world and reflect upon the
wonders of creation. It was the time to look
upward to the calm, pale, blue sky, feebly illum-
inated by the soft light of countless tiny lamps
suspended by invisible cords from the limitless
space above. It was the time to look beyond
earthly things. It was the time to understand :

The beauty of the world and the orderly arrangement
of everything celestial makes us confess that there is
an excellent and eternal nature, which ought to be
worshiped and admired by all mankind. Cicero.

We were speechless spectators of the passing
and coming. Our thoughts were turned to the
invisible hand that created the earth we inhabit
and all of the heavenly bodies, and which directs
their movements with infallible precision and un-
failing regularity. We thought of things incom-
prehensible to man, of things far beyond the
grasp of the human mind, of things known only
to the Almighty Lord, Creator of all things in
heaven and earth.

With our eyes fixed on the gateway of entrance
of the Queen of Night, we patiently awaited her
arrival, anxious, however, to catch the first
glimpse of her beautiful face. No blare of trump-


ets or bugle call announced her approach. She
rose in the sky silently, resplendent in her own
magic beauty, and her charms are always sweet-
est when the nights are calm and peaceful. She
combined beauty with two of the most attractive
feminine virtues — modesty and gentleness. As
we watched her regal entrance into the sky, the
golden arch assumed the deep yellow hue of the
precious metal it resembled, and, in a few mo-
ments, the pale rim of her svv^eet face rose over
the dark, bald mountain-peak, and ascended
slowly and majestically, higher and higher, away
from earthly things, on her journey through the
pathless sky. This evening she appeared in
perfect glory, permitting us to look into her full,
calm face. Her consort, the sun, had just dis-
appeared, leaving behind him a golden crescent
on the opposite horizon. She was following his
pathway and had taken possession of his throne
for the night. The departing sun and the as-
cending moon were in strange and pleasing con-
trast at the threshold of that beautiful night.

O! belle nuit! mit preferable au jour!
Premier nuit a amour consacree!
En sa faveur, prolonge ta duree,
Et du soleil retarde le retour.

De Malfilatre.

The moon loves to reign in peace and quietude.
She abhors the tumult of the battle-field and the
struggles of man for wealth and honor. She is


the friend of the wounded, the sick and the poor ;
and the guardian angel of all those in need of
repose. As she ascended heavenward, the rip-
pling ocean became a great mirror, a mirror
worthy to reflect her beautiful face. The soft,
pale light streaming out from the silvery orb
cast phantom-like shadows in the forests, parks
and streets. Solemnity reigned supreme.

On seas, on earth, and all that in them dwell,
A death-like and deep silence fell. Waller.

Happy the people who respect and love the
Queen of Night and her reign of peace and rest !
Charming Queen! Retard your journey, pro-
long your peaceful mission for the well-being of
your loyal subjects so much in need of your
calming influence and of your soft, soothing
light ! To such petitions the goddess of the sky
has only one inflexible reply: "The universe is
my kingdom, the earth you live in is only one
of my smallest possessions. I must remain loyal
to all of my realms."

This evening in Tahiti had another and still
more sublime entertainment in store for us, a
spectacle which can be seen in perfection only in
the tropics, and, I imagine, Tahiti is the stage

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Online LibraryNicholas SennTahiti; the island paradise → online text (page 12 of 14)