A magnificent bower a hundred feet long, broad and high, had been erected of bamboo and gigantic leaves. It was similar to a temple builded by the ardent worshipers of Dionysus to celebrate the vine-god's feast. The roof of green thatch was supported on a score of the slender pillars of the ohe, the golden bamboo, and there were neither sides nor doors. The pillars were wreathed with ferns and orchids from the forest near by, and on the sward between them were spread a series of yellow mats woven in the Paumotu atolls. They carpeted the green floor of the temple, and upon them, in the center, the graceful leaves of the cocoanut stretched to mark the division of the vis-a-vis.
From these long leaves rose graduated alabaster columns, the inner stalks of the banana-plants, and on them were fastened flowers and ornaments, fanciful creations of the hands of Tahitian women, fashioned of brilliant leaves and of bamboo-fiber and the glossy white arrowroot-fiber. From the top of each column floated the silken film of the snowy reva-reva, the exquisite component of the interior of young cocoa-palm-leaves, a gossamer substance the extraction of which is as difficult as the blowing of glass goblets. Varos, marvelously spiced, prawns, and crayfish, garlanded the bases of these sylvan shafts, all highly decorative, and within reach of their admirers.
The stiff hand of the white which had garbed the wedding party in the ungraceful clothing of the European mode had failed to pose the natural attitude of the Tahitian toward good cheer.
A pile of breadfruit-leaves were laid before each feaster's space in lieu of plates, and four half-cocoanut-shells, containing drinking water, cocoanut-milk, grated ripe cocoanut, and sea-water. The last two were to be mixed to sauce the dishes, and the empty one filled with fresh water for a finger-bowl.
The bride and groom sat at the head of the leafy board, their intimates about them, and the pastor, who had joined them, stood a few moments with bowed head and closed eyes to invoke the blessing of God upon the revel, as did the orero, the pagan priest of Tahiti a few generations ago. The pastor and I, with the owner of the Atimaona plantation and a Mr. Davey, had had an appetizer a moment before.
We all sat on the mats according to bodily habit, the lithe natives on their heels, the grosser ones and we whites with legs crossed, and with the minister's raising of his head we fell to, with ease of position, and no artificial instruments to embarrass our hands. We transferred each to his own breadfruit-leaves what he desired from the stores in the center, meat and vegetables and fruit, and seasoned it as we pleased. New leaves brought by boys and girls constantly replaced used ones, and the shells of salt and fresh water were refilled.
Barrels of white and red wine had been decanted into bottles, and with American and German beer stood in phalanges beside the milky banana columns, and from these all replenished their polished beakers of the dark nuts.
The oysters, of a flavor equaling any of America or Europe, were minute and of a greenish-copper hue, and we removed them with our tongues, draining the ambrosial juice with each morsel, and ate twenty or thirty each. The fish was steeped in lime-juice, not cooked, and flavored with the cocoanut sauce and wild chillies. The crayfish were curried with the curry plant of the mountains, the shrimp were eaten raw or boiled, and the goldfish were baked.
The sucking pig and fowl had been baked in a native umu, or oven, on hot stones, and the taro and yams steamed with them. Taro tops were served with cocoanut cream. One was not compelled by any absurd etiquette to choose these dishes in any sequence. My left-hand neighbor was indifferent in choice, and ate everything nearest to him first, and without order, taking feis or bananas or a goldfish, dozens of shrimps, a few prawns, a crayfish, and several varos, but informing me, with a caress of his rounded stomach, that he was saving most of his hunger for the chicken, pig, and poi. He was a Tahitian of middle age, with a beaming face, and happy that I spoke his tongue. When the pig and poi were set before us, he devoured large quantities of them. The poi was in calabashes, and was made of ripe breadfruit pounded until dough with a stone pestle in a wooden trough, then baked in leaves in the ground, and, when cooked, mixed with water and beaten and stirred until a mass of the consistency of a glutinous custard. He and I shared a calabash, and his adroitness contrasted with my inexperience in taking the poi to our mouths. He dipped his forefinger into the poi, and withdrew it covered with the paste, twirled it three times and gave it a fillip, which left no remnant to dangle when the index was neatly cleaned between his lips. Custom was to lave the finger in the fresh-water shell before resuming relations with the poi.
My handsome neighbor ate four times as much as I, and I was hungry. His appetite was not unusual among these South Sea giants. I noticed that he ate more than three pounds of pig and a quart of poi after all his previous devastation of shellfish, feis, chicken, and taro, besides two fish as big as both my hands. My right-hand neighbor was Mr. Davey, an urbane and unreserved American, who informed me in a breath that he was a dentist, a graduate of Harvard University, seventy-two years old, and had been in Tahiti forty-two years. He called his granddaughter of eighteen to meet me, and she brought her infant. Only he of his tribe could speak English, but she talked gaily in French.
He practised his profession, he said, but with some difficulty, as the eminent Acting-Consul Williams had by law a monopoly of dentistry in the French possessions in the South Seas. The monopoly had been certified to by the courts after a controversy between them, but his Honor Willi did not enforce the prohibition except as to Papeete, and besides was very rich, and had more patients than he could possibly attend.
At the lower end of the mats the bachelors sat,—there were only three whites at the feast,—and merriment had its home there. After the first onslaught, the vintages of Bordeaux and of the Rhineland, and the brews of Munich and Milwaukee shared attention with the viands. The head of the mats had a sedate atmosphere, because of the several preachers there, and those Tahitians ambitious to shine in a diaconal way talked seriously of the problems of the church, of future himenes, and the waywardness of those who "knew not the fear of Ietu-Kirito." Their indications of grief at the hardness of the heathens' hearts grew more lively as they sipped the wine, thinking perhaps of that day when the Master and the disciples did the same at another wedding feast.
Soon their voices were drowned by the low notes of an accordion and the chanting by the bachelors of an ancient love-song of Tahiti. Miri and Caroline and Maraa, being of Mataiea, had returned for this arearea, and were seated with the young men. The Tahitians are charitable in their regard of very open peccadilloes, especially those animated by passion or a desire for amusement, thinking probably that were stones to be thrown only by the guiltless, there would be none to lift one; certainly no white in Tahiti. The dithyramb of a bacchanal sounded, and the outlaw dentist was reminded of his former intimate friend, King Pomare the Fifth.
"I was a bosom chum of the king," he said confidentially as he poured me a shell of Burgundy. "He was much maligned. He drank too much for his health, but so do almost all kings, from what I've read and seen. Lord! what a man he was! He'd sit around all night while the hula boomed, applauding this or that dancer, and seeing that the booze circulated. He was a fish, that's a fact. He never had enough, and he could stow away a cask. Good-hearted! When he would go to the districts he always sent word when he had laid out his course, and after a few days in each place he would go on with his crowd. He paid for everything except, of course, gifts of fruit and fish. Every night there would be a big time, dancing and drinking. Jiminy! But times were different then. Look at me! I've lived freely all my life, and I am over forty years here, but you wouldn't know I was past seventy. It's the climate and not worrying or being worried about clothes or sin."
The bride had long since left the table, removed her shoes, and put on a Mother Hubbard gown. She and her mother I saw having a bite together in private comfort.
There were many speeches by Tahitians, most of them long, and some referring to the happy couple and their progeny in the quaint way of the medieval French in the chamber scenes after marriage, as related in story and drama. The pastors depressed their mouths, the deacons filled theirs with food to stifle their laughter, and the groom was the subject of flattering raillery. The women did not sit down, because mostly occupied in the service; but the hetairae, Miri, Caroline, and Maraa, entertained the bachelors without criticism or competition. The Tahitian women had no jealousy of these wantons, or, at least, no condemnation of them. They have always had the place in Polynesia that certain ancient nations gave them, half admired and half tolerated. They had official note once a year when the most skilful of them received the government cachet for excellence in dances before the governor and his cabinet celebrating the fall of the Bastile. They became quite as well known in their country by their performance on those festal days as our greatest dancers or actresses.
When the mats became deserted, and the pastors had taken their carts for their homes, a little elated but still quoting holy writ, the nymphs and a dozen other girls of seething mirth took possession of the temple with a score of young men, and sang their love-songs and set the words to gesture and somatic harmony. Brooke and I lay and mused as we listened and gazed. When a youth crowned with ferns began to play a series of flageolets with his nose, the poet put his foot on mine.
"We are on Mount Parnassus," he whispered. "The women in faun skins will enter in a moment, swinging the thyrsus and beating the cymbals. Pan peeps from behind that palm. Those are his pipes, as sure as Linus went to the dogs."
I met others of the royal family than the former queen, Marao, and her daughters, the Princesses Tekau and Boots, at an amuraa maa given at the mansion of Tetuanui. The preparations occupied several days, and we all assisted in the hunt for the oysters, shrimp, crabs, mao, and fish, going by twos and threes to the lagoon, the reef, the stream, and the hills for their rarest titbits. The pigs and fowl were out of the earth by the day of the feast, and Haamoura and Tatini set the table, a real one on legs. The veranda was elegantly decorated with palms, but the table was below stairs in the cooler, darker, unwalled rooms, on the black pebbles brought from a far-away beach. The pillars of the house were hung with banana-leaves and ferns, but the atmosphere was not vividly gay because of the high estate and age of Tetuanui and his visitors.
The company arrived in automobiles, conspicuous among them Hinoe Pomare, the big hobbledehoy son of Prince Hinoe, and, next to his father, heir to the throne. With him was his sister, Tetuanui, who was departing for Raratonga, and her husband. He was a brother of Cowan, the prize-fighter, and in their honor was the luncheon. Introduced to all by the chief of Mataiea, I was asked to sit with them. The group was extraordinarily interesting, for besides the prince's heir and his sister, Chief Tetuanui, and his brother-in-law Charlie Ling, was Paraita, son of a German schooner captain, who was adopted by Pomare V, and Tinau, another adopted son of the late king, who owned, and ran for hire, a motor-car. There were other men, but among the women, all of whom sat below the humblest man, myself, was the Princesse de Joinville of Moorea, mother of Prince Hinoe, and grandmother of the youth at the head of the table, and of the boy, Ariipae, who attended to the chief's garden.
This grandmother, known as Vahinetua Roriarii, was one of the very last survivors among the notable figures of the kingdom. She had a cigarette in the corner of her sunken mouth, but she tossed it away when she and Haamoura, the chief's wife, kissed each other on both cheeks in the French way. The Princesse de Joinville was tottering, but with something in her face, a disdain, a trace of power, that attracted me before I knew her rank or history. Her once raven hair was streaked with gray, she trembled, and her step was feeble; but all her weaknesses and blemishes impressed me as the disfigurement by age and abrasion of a beautiful and noble statue. She was more savage-looking than any modern Tahitian woman, more aboriginal, and yet more subtle. I once contemplated in the jungle of Johore an old tigress just trapped, but marked and wounded by the pit and the blows of her captors. She looked at me coolly, but with a glint in her eye that meant, I thought, contempt for all that had occurred since her last hour of freedom.
In the curious network of lines all over the worn face of the princess there were suggestions of the sensual lure that had made her the mistress of the court; a gentle but pitiful droop to the mouth that I had noticed persisting in the roues and sirens of Asia after senility had struck away all charm. The princess refused a third glass of wine at the table, but smoked incessantly, and listened absent-mindedly to the music and the songs. Her thoughts may have been of those mad nights of orgy which Davey, the dentist, and Brault, the composer, had described. Her cigarettes were of native tobacco wrapped in pandanus leaf, as the South American wraps his in corn husk. They were short; merely a few puffs.
Afa, the tane of the lovely Evoa of the Annexe, brought to the luncheon Annabelle Lee, the buxom wife of Lovaina's negro chauffeur. She was a quadroon, a belle of dark Kentucky, with more than a touch of the tar-brush in her skin and hair, and her gaudy clothes and friendly manner had won the Tahitians completely. She was receiving much attention wherever she went in Tahiti, for she had the fashion and language and manners of the whites, as they knew them, and yet was plainly of the colored races. The chauffeur himself, a self-respecting negro, had sat at table with Lovaina many times. There was in Tahiti no color-line. In America a man with a drop of colored blood in his veins is classed as a colored man; in Cuba a drop of white blood makes him a white man. The whites honor their own pigment in all South America, but in the United States count the negro blood as more important. In Tahiti all were color-blind.
The amuraa maa was over in a few hours. There were no speeches, but much laughter, and much singing of the himene written by the king, "E maururu a vau!"
The tune was an old English hymn, but those were all the words of the song, and they meant, "I am so happy!" They were verses worthy of monarchy anywhere, and equaled the favorite of great political gatherings in America, "We're here because we're here!"
"When I was made chief of Mataiea," said Tetuanui, reminiscently to me as we sang, "I went, as was the custom, to Papeete to drink with the king. He had just fallen down a stairway while drunk, and injured himself severely, so that our official drinking was limited. He hated stairs, anyhow, but his trouble was that he mixed his drinks. That is suicidal. He would empty into a very large punch-bowl champagne, beer, absinthe, claret, whisky and any other boissons, and drink the compound from a goblet. He could hold gallons. He was dead in two weeks after I had my chiefly toasts with him. His body was like an old calabash in which you have kept liquor for a quarter of a century. We had no alcohol until the whites brought it." Tetuanui ended with a line of Brault's song about Pomare: "Puisqu'il est mort ... N'en parlons plus!"
Mataiea was the farthest point on Tahiti from Papeete I had reached, and wishing to see more of the island, I set out on foot with Tatini, my handmaid. We bade good-bye to Tetuanui and Haamoura and all the family after the dawn breakfast. Mama Tetuanui cried a few moments from the pangs of separation, and the chief wrung my hand sorrowfully, though I was to be back in a few days.
From the reef at Mataiea I had glimpsed the south-west of Tahiti, the lower edge of the handle of the fan-shaped double isle, mountainous and abrupt in form, and called commonly the presqu'ile de Taiarapu. The chief said that at the isthmus of Taravao, the junction of the fan and handle, there was the Maison des Varos, a famous roadhouse, kept by M. Butscher, where one might have the best food in Tahiti if one notified the host in advance.
"One must wake him up," said Tetuanui. "He is asleep most of the time."
I wrote him a letter, and on the day appointed, Tatini and I, barefooted, started. We went through Tetuanui's breadfruit-grove, and there, as wherever were choice growths, I stopped to examine and admire. No other tree except the cocoa equals the maori in usefulness and beauty. The cocoa will grow almost in the sea and in any soil, but the breadfruit demands humus and a slight attention. The cocoas flourish on hundreds of atolls where man never sees them, but the maoris ask a clearing of the jungle about their feet. The timber of the breadfruit is excellent for canoes and for lumber, and its leaves, thick and glossy, and eighteen inches long by a foot broad, are of account for many purposes, including thatch and plates. There are half a hundred varieties, and each tree furnishes three or four crops a year, hundreds of fruits as big and round as plum-puddings, green or yellow on the tree, pitted regularly like a golf-ball, in lozenge-shaped patterns. The bark of the young branches was used for making a tough tapa, native cloth, and resin furnishes a glue for calking watercraft. The tree bears in the second or third year, is hardy, but yields its life to a fungus, for which there is no remedy except, according to the natives, a lovely lily that grows in the forest. Transplanted, at the roots of the maori, the lily heals its disease and drives away the parasite. The missionaries cited this as a parable of Christianity, which would save from damnation the convert no matter how fungusy he was with sin. In tribal wars the enemy laid a sea-slug at the heart of the maori, and, its foe unseen, the tree perished from the corruption of the hideous trepang.
Papeari, the next district west of Mataiea, was well watered, as its name signified, and we passed cows and sheep and horses grazing under the trees or in pastures of lush grass. Swamps had been ditched and drained, and there was evidence of unusual energy in agriculture. The country gained in tropical aspect as we approached the narrow strip of land which is the nexus of Tahiti-nui and Tahiti-iti, of the blade and the handle of the fan. Tahitian mythology does not agree with geology, any more than does the catechism; for though the scientists aver that these separate isles were not united until ages after their formation, a legend ran that at one time the union was complete, but that a sea-god conceived a hatred for the inhabitants of the Presqu'ile of Taiarapu, the fearless clans of the Teva-i-tai and the Te-Ahupo.
One very dark night when the moon was in the ocean cavern of this evil Atua, he began his horrid labors to sever the tie. He smote the rocks from the foundations, and the people heard in terror throughout the night the thunders of his blows. He had almost achieved his task when the goodly sun-god appeared over the mountains far in advance of his usual time, and blinded the Titan so that he sought safety beneath the ocean. Tatini showed me the fearful signs of the demon's fury. Monstrous masses of rock were in the sea, and the isthmus was reduced to a mere mile of width, an extensive bay filling the demolished area. The deep inlet of Port Phaeton swept in there like the Gulf of Corinth in Greece. All this peninsula of Taiarapu was ceded to Captain Cook. He called it Tiaraboo in his journal, but he never took possession of his principality, realizing that the cession was in the fashion of the Spaniard who says, "All I have is yours," but would think you unmannerly to carry away anything of value.
Port Phaeton is famed in the annals of the early French conquerors, for in it they anchored their warships, and the Paris chauvinists dreamed of a navy-yard and a large settlement there. On the plateau of Taravao, a hilltop raised fifty feet, is an old fort of the French, a solid construction against the stubborn Tahitians whom they insisted, with cannon and musket, must receive Christianity through the French clergy of the Order of the Sacred Heart of Jesus instead of through English dissenters. From the plateau we could see the immense extent of the forests, which rose almost from the water to the tops of the mountains.
A dozen magnificent kinds of trees were all about us. The earth wore a verdant coat of grass, ferns, and vines, so profuse and bright that by contrast a remembrance of the barren parts of America crossed my mind, with the fulsome praise of them by the pious thieves of that region who sell them. It would be impossible and cruel, I reflected, to convey to those extravagants in adjectives the richness of herbage and the brilliancy of scene about the isthmus. The vegetation was ampler than anywhere else in Tahiti.
The tamanu-, the hotu-, and the mape-trees were in abundance. The tamanu yields tacamac, a yellow, resinous substance with a strong odor and a bitter, aromatic taste, that is used as incense and in ointments. The Tahitians call the tamanu the healing-tree. It grows just above high water on any kind of shore, embowering, with dark foliage, and peculiarly easeful in midday on the hot sands. I have had a tamanu-leaf soaked in fresh water laid upon my eye inflamed by too long a vigil in the sun on the reef. The small gray ball within its round green fruit affords a greenish oil that is a liniment of wizardry for bruises, stiffness, rheumatism, and fevers. In every house was a gourd stored with it.
The mape, the Tahitian chestnut, grew farther from the water, a powerful, commanding figure, with flowers of sublimated sweetness, and with it the tiairi, or tutui-tree, covered with blossoms, like white lilac, and bearing nuts with oily kernels. It is the candlenut-tree, which has furnished lights for Tahitians since they wandered to these latitudes. The nuts are baked to make brittle their shell, and the kernels of walnut size easily extracted and pierced. Strung on the midrib of a palm-leaf, the combination makes wax and wick, and has lighted many a council and many a dance in Polynesia.
The pandanus likes the coral sand, and is in appearance a tree out of a dream. It grows twenty feet high and stands on aerial roots resembling inclined stilts. The leaves are in tufts at the tips of the branches, set like a screw, twisting around the stem in graceful curves, and marking the stem with a spiral pattern from the root upward. The leaves are edged with spines. The wood is close, hard, and hollow, and full of oil. From the pandanus are made posts five or six inches through. The leaves, four or five feet long, are torn into strips for making hats, thatch, mats, and canoe sails. They are steeped in sea-water, and beaten with a mallet to remove the green outer skin, the residue being white, silken fiber. This is dyed to weave hats and belts. The aerial roots are crushed to make a tougher fiber for ropes, baskets, and mats. The fruit is something like a coarse pineapple, and the blossoms are very fragrant. The ripe fruit is crimson, and strings like beads into favorite necklaces. The fruit separates into cones, and one chews the inner end like licorice, while, when dried, the kernels can be ground into a brown, sweet flour for cakes, a wholesome, nourishing food, but esteemed only in more barren islands, where fish and cocoanuts are the principal diet. From the fruit is distilled a fiery liquor that the early whalers taught the line islanders to drink.
At the isthmus was the only crossing of the belt or, Broom Road, about Tahiti. One had to choose the left or the right, and we wound to the right to reach the Maison des Varos. To the left we could have gone to Tautira, famous as the last stand of the god Oro against the cross, and still under the chieftaincy of Ori-a-Ori, with whom R.L.S. and his family lived several months.
The road was a fairy-tale brightly illuminated by plantation, jungle, and garden, by reef and eyot. The sea lapped gently on sand as white as the fleecy clouds. Carts of Chinese and Tahitians passed, carrying their owners and produce. The Chinese said, "Yulanna!" for "Ia ora na!" and the natives called to us to eat with them in their near-by homes. But we walked on, saying, "Ua maururu!" "Much obliged!"
M. Butscher had a good-sized, rambling house, with verandas for dining, and bedrooms for sleep. We found him on his largest table, lying flat on his back, and contemplating, in the eternal and perplexing way of the Polynesians. The Daibutsu, the great Buddha of Kamakura, had no more peaceful, meditative aspect than had the Taravao taverner. He was long and meager, as dry as a cocoanut from the copra oven, as if all the juices of his body and soul had been expressed in his years of cooking the sea-centipedes for which he was celebrated. Tatini addressed him slowly: "Bocshair, ia ora na!"
He sat up stiffly, and regarded us with indifference. He was cast for an old and withered Mephistopheles, his lines all downward, his few teeth fangs, and his smile a threatening leer, as if he thought of a joke he could not tell to decent visitors, but which almost choked him to withhold. His clothes were rags, and his naked feet like the flippers of seals. He opened his mouth, yawned, and said, "Iiii," a word which means, "I slept with my eyes open."
He settled back upon the table, and became immersed again in reverie. On the floor by the kitchen was a Tahitian woman with a baby and a pandanus-basket of varos. They squirmed and wriggled, contorted and crackled like giant thousand-legs, and almost excited in me a repulsion.
The vahine laughed at me.
"I fished for them with a dozen grapnels," she said. "It was good fishing to-day. I put a piece of fish on each group of hooks. You know those holes are very small at the top and under two or three feet of water. Not many know how to find them. I set a grapnel in each hole, and then returned to the first to pull out the varo. I have more than twenty here."
Butscher rose, and sluggishly began to prepare the breakfast. He wrapped the varos in hotu-leaves, and put them in the umu to steam on the red-hot stones, and began to open oysters and fry fish in brown butter, as Tatini and I hastened to the beach for a bath. The sea was studded with coral growth, and sponges by the thousand, and we sat on these soft cushions under the surface, and watched the little fishes' antics, and chatted. Tatini had gathered half a dozen nono, a fruit that has a smooth skin and no stone, and she threw them at me.
"Do you know about the nono?" she asked merrily. "It was in our courtship. When a crowd of young men were gathered to bathe in the pools or to lie on the banks under the shade of the trees, suddenly a missile struck one of them on the shoulder. The others began to shout at him and to sing, for it was a sign that a vahine had chosen him. He jumped to his feet and ran in the direction of the hidden thrower, and she ran, too, but no farther than away from the eyes of the others."
"Tatini," I said, "the nono was the Tahitian arrow of a little fat god we have called Cupid."
"Aue!" she replied. "It was not always oaoa for him, because it might be an old woman, or some one he did not like, but who loved him. The Arii, the aristocratic ladies, no matter how old, threw nono at the youngest and handsomest youth, and they had to pursue them, because of good manners. You know, Maru, that an illegitimate child is called to-day taoranono, and taora means to throw."
"When I was in Hawaii," I told her, "the old natives used to talk of a game there which, under King Kalakaua, their next to last sovereign, was played at night in Iolani palace or in the garden, but a ball of twine took the place of the nono, and all stood about, men and women, in a circle, to speed and receive the token of passion. The missionaries severely condemned the game."
At the Maison des varos I breakfasted alone, for Tatini was too shy to break the taboo that separated the sexes at meals. Butscher waited on me, bringing one plate of ambrosia after another—oysters, shrimp, varos, and fish. I warmed his frigid blood with a cup or two of Pol Roger, 1905, a bottle of which he dragged from a cave.
"I am born in Papenoo," he volunteered, "fifty-three years ago. My father came from Alsace seventy-five years ago, when Tahiti had not many white people. I am a tinsmith, but I gave up that business many years ago to keep this maison. I was a catechist in the Catholic church here nine years, teaching the ignorant. I gave it up; it didn't pay. I got nothing out of it. I worked about the church, read the prayers, and led the service when the priest was not there, and I never made a penny. Everything for me was the future life. Vous savez, monsieur, toute a l'avenir! Sacre! what a fool I was! Mais, one day when I was lying on that table as you found me, I was iiii, and I dreamed that there was no hell and that I was a fool. I turned over a new leaf that moment. Now I never go near the church, and the future can take care of itself. That's my son-in-law going by in the cart. He's the richest young man in Taravao. Ah, oui! he'll spend a hundred francs here with me in a week for drinks. That's their baby."
Butscher's leathern, yellow visage contracted in an appalling grin.
"They have been married long?" I remarked politely.
"Mais, they are not married yet," replied the father-in-law. "There is no hurry."
Leaving Tatini to her own pleasures, I rented a horse and cart of Mephistopheles and drove into the district of Vairao. From the outset I realized the iniquitous character of the Atua who had tried to destroy or set adrift the people of the presqu'ile of Taiarapu, for they were handsomer and, if possible, more hospitable than those of Tahiti-nui. The road was closer to the water of the lagoon, and the reef and coral banks were nearer. I allowed the horse to go his own gait, and we jogged slowly, stopping to browse and to consider the landscape. The beach was covered with seeds and pods, the square-shaped seeds of the Barringtonia in their outer case of fiber, tutui-nuts, cocoanuts, flowers and bits of wood, and objects that would cause a naturalist to weep for lack of time. Our beaches of the temperate zones are wastes compared with these, for not only were the sands strewn with a vast debris of forest and jungle, but animal life abounded. The hermits toddled about, carrying their stolen shells, some as small as watch charms, and the land-crabs fed on the purauand hibiscus-leaves. They are the scavengers of the shore, eating everything, and thus acting as conservators of health, as do the lank pigs of the Philippines. They were in myriads, rushing about seemingly without purpose, and diving into their holes beneath the palm-roots. Their legs, unshelled, are as excellent food as the crabs of the Atlantic. In the water a foot or two away moved exquisite creatures, darting fish, and sailing craft—Portuguese men-of-war, and other almost intangible shapes of pearly hue.
The village of Vaieri is opposite the pass of Tapuaeraha. Far from the capital, and from the distractions of tourists and bureaucracy, this tiny group of homes along the beach was less touched by the altering hand of the white than Mataica, its setting and atmosphere affectingly unspoiled. There was a mildness, a reticence, a privacy surrounding the commune that bespoke a gentle people, living to themselves. It was almost at the end of the belt road, which virtually terminated at Puforatiai. Gigantic precipices, high cliffs, and rugged mountains forbade travel, and from a boat only could one see the extreme southern end of Tahiti-nui Marearea, Great Tahiti the Golden, as it was called by its once proud race.
Vaieri was environed by all the plants of this clime. They ran along the road and embosomed the houses. Guavas and oranges were tangled with bananas, roses, reeds, papayas, and wild coffee. The blue duranta and the white oleander, the cool gray-green hibiscus with lemon-colored blossoms, the yellow allamanda, the trumpet lily, acacias, lilac ipomaea, tree ferns, and huge bird's-nest ferns mingled with white convolvulus, and over all lifted groves of cocoas and the symmetrical breadfruit.
In this surrounding was a wooden house, built partly over the water, so that a seaward veranda extended into the lagoon, high on posts, and commanded a view of the sea and the mountain. I saw on this veranda a more arresting figure of a white man than I had before come upon in Tahiti. His body, clothed only in a pareu, was very brown, but his light beard and blue eyes proved his Nordic strain. He was of medium size, powerful, with muscles rounded, but evident, under his satin skin, and with large hands and feet. He was reading a book, and as I ambled by, he raised his head and looked at me with a serious smile.
I checked the horse, and tied him to a candlenut-tree. I felt that I had arrived at the end of my journey.
I spent the remainder of the day and the night there. The man and his wife were as stars on a black night, as music to a blind bard. His name was Nicolai Lermontoff, born in Moscow, and his wife was an American, Alaska her place of birth, and of residence most of her life. They were each about forty years old, and of extraordinary ease of manner and felicity of expression.
"Muy simpatica," had said the old Gipsy at the Generalife in Granada when I had spoken bolee with him. Lermontoff shook hands with me. His was as hard as leather, calloused as a sailor's or a miner's, and so contradicted his balanced head, intellectual face, and general air of knowledge and world experience that I said:
"You have the horniest palm in Tahiti."
"I am a planter," he replied. "We have been here a few years, and after buying the ground I had to clear it, because it had been permitted to go to bush. There were a few hundred cocoanut-trees, but nothing else worth while. I began at the highest point and worked to the sea."
I drew from him that he had bought eighteen acres of land for twelve hundred dollars, and had spent most of a year in preparing it for vanilla, cocoanuts, a few breadfruit, a small area of coffee and taro, and a vegetable patch.
"We have very little money," he explained, "and live largely on catches in the sea and stream, and fruit and vegetables, with a dozen chickens for eggs. I pull at the net with the village. Actually, we figure that fifteen dollars a month covers our expenditures. This house cost five hundred and eight dollars, but, of course, I did a lot of work on it. The chief items for us are books, reviews, and postage."
Three walls of the house were covered with books, and the fourth stopped at the floor to make the wide veranda over the lagoon.
Mrs. Lermontoff had on the peignoir of the natives, and was barefooted within the house, but wore sandals outside. She sat before a sewing-machine.
"I am making a gown or two for a neighbor who is sick," she said. "I do not give many hours to sewing. I like better the piano."
She knew all the Russian composers well, had studied at a conservatory in the German capital, and she also played Grieg for me with much feeling and a strong, yet delicate, touch. For dinner we had a broiled fish, which I myself cooked on stones outside the house, and tuparo, mountain feis steamed and mashed into a golden pulp, with cocoanut cream. With these we ate boiled green papaya, which tasted like vegetable marrow; and for dessert sweet oranges with grated fresh cocoanut, and for drink, the wine of the nut.
After the food we sat and looked at the reef, the purple sea, and the stars, and talked. These two were weary of life in the big countries of the world, and would rest in Tahiti. If they made enough money, they would like to go to America and work for the revolution they hoped for. They did not believe in bringing it about by violence, but by acting on the Christ principle, as they interpreted it. Yet they were not religionists.
"Of course one is not sure of the aims and end of life," said Lermontoff. "I have no greater certainty than the kaisers and czars or your great men, Morgan and Rockefeller; but, at least, theirs are not worth while for the race of man. I hold that man is the greatest product of life so far, and not government or trade. That the whirling spheres are made for man I disbelieve, but on this planet, and in our ken, he is the object we most prize, and rightfully. Therefore to build him in health and character, in talent and happiness, is all of existence. The life after death we are not sure of, but beauty is on earth, and to know it and worship it in nature, and in man and his thoughts and deeds are our ends. The individual man gains only by sacrifice for his fellows. He must give freely all he has. This is his only way out of the shadow that may be inherent in our growth, but in any event has been made certain by machinery and business control of world ethics."
They were believers in the doctrines of Leo Tolstoi, and especially in non-resistance, and the possessing little or no property to encumber their free souls. In the village they had become the guides of the Tahitians in the devious path of enforced civilization.
Mrs. Lermontoff, in lamenting the Tahitian's degradation, physical and spiritual, said that she was reminded always of the Innuit, the Eskimo, among whom she and her husband had passed several years.
"They are the most ethical, the most moral, the most communal people I know of," she commented. "They have a quality of soul higher than that of any other race, a quality reached by their slow development and constant struggle. I imagine they went through a terrible ordeal in the more temperate zones farther south before they consented to be pushed into the frozen lands of Canada, and then, following the caribou in the summer, to mush to the Arctic sea. There, while they had to change their habits, clothing and food, to learn to live on the seal and the bear and the caribou in the midst of ice and snow, they were spared for thousands of years the diseases and complexes of civilization, and reached a culture which is more worth while than ours."
I was skeptical, but she quoted several eminent anthropologists to support her statement that the Eskimo were better developed mentally than other people, and that in simplicity of life, honesty, generosity, provision for the young and the old, in absence of brutality, murder and wars, they had a higher system of philosophy than ours, which admits hells, prisons, asylums, poor houses, bagnios, famines and wars, and fails even in the recurrent periods of hard times to provide for those stricken by their lash.
"But," said Lermontoff, "the Innuit, too, is corrupting under the influence of trade, of alcohol, and the savage lust of the white adventurer. He attained through many centuries, perhaps thousands of years, of separation from other peoples, and without any of the softening teachings of Christianity, a Jesus-like code and practice, which the custodians of Christianity have utterly failed to impress on the millions of their normal adherents."
I looked out upon the reef where the waves gleamed faintly, upon the scintillating nearer waters of the lagoon, and upon us, barefooted, and clothed but for decency, and I had to jolt my brain to do justice to the furred and booted Eskimo in his igloo of ice. The difference in surroundings was so opposite that I could barely picture his atmosphere climatological and moral. I led the conversation back to their situation in Vaieri.
He had planted his vanilla-vines on coffee-bushes, the vanilla being an orchid, a parasite, that creeps over the upstanding plants, coffee, or the vermillion-tree. Lermontoff said that it was a precarious crop, a world luxury, the price of which fluctuated alarmingly. Yet it was the most profitable in Tahiti, which produced half of all the vanilla-beans in the world.
This man and woman made a deep impression upon me. They had seen cities everywhere, had had position and fashion, and were, for their advanced kind, at peace.
"We have no nerves here," said Mrs. Lermontoff. "Our neighbors are all fishermen, and we are friends. We drink no wine, we want no tobacco. We have health and nature; books and music supply our interests. Life is placid, even sweet."
When I bade them good-by it was with regret. They had found a refuge, and they had love, and yet they wanted to aid in the revolution they believed in. I restrained myself from pointing out that Tolstoi, at the last, forsook even his family to seek solitude and die.
A heathen temple—The great Marae of Oberea—I visit it with Rupert Brooke and Chief Tetuanui—The Tahitian religion of old—The wisdom of folly.
Reading one day from Captain Cook's Voyages about a heathen temple not far from Mataiea which Cook had visited, I suggested to Brooke that we go to it. None of the Tetuanui younger folk had seen it, but Haamoura directed us to return toward Papara as far as the thirty-ninth kilometer-stone, and to strike from that point towards the beach. Cook had had a sincere friendship, if not a sweeter sentiment, for Oberea, the high chiefess of the clan of Tevas at Papara, and whom at first he thought queen of Tahiti. He described her as "forty years of age, her figure large and tall, her skin white, and her eyes with great expression." That handsome lady had led him a merry chase, her complacent husband, Oamo, abetting her in the manner of Polynesia, where women must have their fling. The temple Cook and his officers inspected was the tribal church of the noble pair. The Voyages say:
The morai consisted of an enormous pile of stone work, raised in the form of a pyramid with a flight of steps on each side, and was nearly two hundred and seventy feet long, about one-third as wide, and between forty and fifty feet high. As the Indians were totally destitute of iron utensils to shape their stones, as well as mortar to cement them when they had made them fit for use, a structure of such height and magnitude must have been a work of infinite labor and fatigue. In the center of the summit was the representation of a bird, carved in wood; close to this was the figure of a fish which was in stone. This pyramid made part of one side of a wide court or square, the sides of which were nearly equal; the whole was walled in, and paved with flat stones.
When we reached the thirty-ninth kilometer-stone we met my host, Tetuanui, in his one-horse vehicle, inspecting the road. He agreed, though a little reluctantly, to take us to the marae (pronounced mah-rye). We turned down a road across a private, neglected property, and for almost a mile urged the horse through brambles and brush that had overgrown the way. We were going toward the sea along a promontory, "the point" upon which Cook's mariners saw the etoa-trees a century and a half ago, about the time that Americans were seeking separation from England, before Napoleon had risen to power, and when gentlemen drank three bottles of port after dinner and took their places under the table.
"Tooti was in love with Oberea," said the chief. "She was hinaaro puai."
The expression is difficult to translate, but Sappho and Cleopatra expressed it in their lives; perhaps ardent in love would be a mild synonym.
At last, after hard struggles, we reached Point Mahaiatea, the "point" of Cook, on the bay of Popoti, which swept from it to the beginning of the valley of Taharuu. The reef was very close to the shore, and the sea had encroached upon the land, covering a considerable area of the site of the marae. The waves had torn away the coral blocks, and they lay in confusion in the water. The beach, too, was paved with coral fragments, the debris of the temple. Though devastated thus by time, by the waves, and by the hands of house-, bridge-, and road-builders, by lime-makers, and iconoclastic vandals, the marae yet had majesty and an air of mystery. It was not nearly of the original height, hardly a third of it, and was covered with twisted and gnarled toa, or ironwood, trees like banians, the etoa of Cook, and by very tall and broad pandanus, by masses of lantana and other flowering growths. Tetuanui, Brooke, and I stumbled through these, and walked about the uneven top, once the floor of the temple.
"Every man in Tahiti brought one stone, and the marae was builded," said Tetuanui. "We were many then."
He had not been there in fifty years.
We crawled down the other side, a broken incline, and to the beach. Land-crabs scrambled for their holes, the sole inhabitants of the spot once given to chants and prayers, burials, and the sacrifice of humans to the never-satisfied gods. There was an acrid humor in the name of the bay on which we looked, Popoti meaning cockroach. That malodorous insect would be on this shore when the last Tahitian was dead. It existed hundreds of millions of years before man, and had not changed. It was one of the oldest forms of present life, better fitted to survive than the breed of Plato, Shakespere, or Washington. Its insect kind was the most dangerous enemy man had: the only form of life he had not conquered, and would be crooning cradle-songs when humanity, perhaps through its agency, or perhaps through the sun growing cold, had passed from the earth. Not impossibly, insects would render extinct all other beings, and then the cockroach could proclaim that creation had its apotheosis in it.
The marae was the cathedral of the Tahitians. About it focused all the ceremonies of the worship of divinity, of consecration of priests and warriors to their gods and their chiefs. The oldest marae was that of Opoa, on the island of Raiatea, the source of the religion of these groups. It was built by Hiro, the first king of Raiatea, who, deified after death, became the god of thieves. The Papara marae was made of coral, but the quarried mountain rock was laid at the foundation, and these ponderous, uneven stones being patched with coral, in time the blocks had become tightly cemented together. A lime-kiln was along the land side of this marae of Oberea, and for years had furnished the cement, plaster, and whitewash of the district.
In the rear of the marae was the ossary where the bones of the victims were thrown. In Manila I had viewed immense heaps of these discarded skeletons of humans dragged from niches in a wall and flung indiscriminately on the ground by the monks, who owned the Paco cemetery, because the rent for the niches was past due. Tetuanui said that in his grandfather's day there was a bad odor about the ossary, as there was in Paco until the American Government abolished the iniquity.
The altar itself was called Fatarau. Here were laid the offerings of fruit and meat, but human victims were not exposed on it. Their bodies were thrown into the ossary after the ceremony was completed. The altar was always bare except at these times, and none ascended it but priests, ecstatics, and the man who carried the god. Only he and the high priest might touch this idol. The demoniacs were usually in collusion with the priests, willy-nilly.
The idol was the king's or prince's god. Each had his own. A royal idol was wrapped in precious cloths and adorned with feathers, made usually of ironwood, and was about six feet long. They diminished in size with the importance of the owner, and among the commoners might be put in a pocket or a piece of bamboo, like the pocket saints one buys in Rome. Besides, every chief and little chief had his own marae, which might be very small indeed, as family shrines. Of great religious events the royal maraes were the scenes, and the high priests were attached to these. The personnel of the marae was:
The king, chief, or master of the temple; all ceremonies were for his benefit. The high priest and his assistants, the latter ordinary priests. The high priests served only the maraes of the first rank. The orero, who were preachers or poets; the oripou, or night runners; the guardian porters of the idol. The sorcerers or demoniacs.
Thus there were six ranks in the service of the temple. The high priest was supreme under the king, and decided when a human sacrifice was demanded by the gods. He was a kind of cardinal or bishop, and his jurisdiction extended over the maraes in the territory of his master. The priests' functions were like those of the high priest except that they were subordinate, and they could not replace him in certain ceremonies. The orero was the living book of the religion, the holy chants of tradition, of ancestry, and of state. He must recite without hesitation these various records before the marae in the middle of an immense crowd. The orero cultivated their memories marvelously. They were usually sons of oreros or priests, and trained by years of study to retain volumes, as actors do parts. The oripou or haerepo were youths, neophytes, intended for the priesthood, and assisted the ordinary priests; but their special duties were singular and interesting. They were the couriers of the night, the spies of their districts upon neighboring clans. In war-time their work was arduous and most important, and their calling very honorable. Kings' sons sometimes were oripou. The idol-carriers were tabu. Their persons might not be touched nor their food.
The sorcerers, ecstatics, and demoniacs were not regularly organized into a caste. When a man fancied himself possessed by a god, he became a recognized saint. He was tabu. He ascended to the altar and danced or gyrated as he pleased. The old missionaries, who believed these sorcerers inhabited by devils, record incredible deeds by them. Often the spirit forsook them, and they became common clay, but when primed with the deity's power, they would ascend vertical rocks of great height by touching the smooth surface with tiny idols which they held in their hands, and without any contact by their feet. These demoniacs recall the oracles of ancient nations, and especially Simon Magus, the precursor of innumerable fathers of new religions, who by the power of the "Christian God" fell to a horrible death when he tried to fly before the Roman emperor on the wings of the devil.
Before a day of sacrifice a victim was selected by the high priest. The victim had no knowledge of his approaching end. He must not be informed, and though his father and mother and family were told in advance, they never warned their unfortunate loved one. No hand was lifted to avert his fate, for he was tabu to the gods. Though no excuse could be offered for the slaying of their own clansman except the direful hold of religion, which in Tahiti, as in Europe not so long ago, put Protestant and Catholic on the pyre in the name of Christ, yet so soft-hearted were these people that they could not disturb the peace of mind of the offering, and until the moment when he was struck down from behind he was as unconcerned as any one. They never tortured as the English and French tortured Joan of Arc, and as the police of America torture thousands of Americans every day.
I looked long at this ruined pagan tabernacle, this arc of the covenant for Oberea and Oamo, and for Tetuanui's fathers. The chief said that his grandfather had seen it in its palmy period. Oberea was an ancestress of my host of Papara, Tati Salmon, who had the table-ware of Stevenson, and who was of the clan of Teva, as she.
Wrecked, battered by the surf, torn to pieces by pickaxes, undermined by the sea, and overgrown by the rank foliage of the tropics, the marae preserved for me and for Brooke, too, a solemnity and reminiscent grandeur that brought a vision of the beauty and might of the passionate Oberea, who had commanded it to be built. Though different in environment as the sea from the desert, and in size and aspect, materials and history, I was transported from this Tahitian temple to the pyramids on the sands of Egypt. Forty centuries later I could trace the same aspiration for community with deity and for immortality of monument which had sweated a hundred thousand men for twenty years to rear the lofty pile of Gizeh. In Borobodo, in the jungle of Java, I had seen, as near Cairo, the proudest trophy, temple, and tomb of king and priest humbled in the dust by the changing soul of man in his fight to throw off the shackles of the past.
This marae had not been a place of cannibalism, as the Paepae Tapu of the Marquesas Islands. The Tahitians had no record of ever having eaten humans. They replied to the first whites who asked them if they ate people:
Yet when a human sacrifice was made, the presiding chief was offered the left eye of the victim, and at least feigned to eat it. Was this a remnant of a forgotten cannibalistic habit, or a protest of the Tahitians and Hawaiians against the custom as not being Polynesian, but a concession to a fashion adopted in fighting the Fijian anthropopogi?
The people of Huahine, an island near Tahiti, had a supreme god named Tane, who might be touched only by one human being, a man selected for that purpose. He was the sole bachelor on the island, being forbidden to marry. Whenever the priests wanted Tane moved to a shrine, this chap, te amo atua (the god-bearer) had to pack him on his back. The idol was a heavy block of wood, and when his bearer wearied, it had to appear that the god wanted to rest, for a god-bearer could not be tired. The missionaries burned Tane with glee, after a battle between the Christian converts and the heathen reactionaries. The progressives won, and convinced the enemy that Tane was a wretched puppet of the priests, so that they dragged the god from his lofty house, and kicked him on to his funeral pyre. "There was great rejoicing in heaven that day," says a pious English commentator.
The Polynesians had very fixed ideas upon the origin of the universe and of man. In Hawaii, Taaroa made man out of red earth, araea, and breathed into his nostrils. He made woman from man's bones, and called her ivi (pronounced eve-y). At the hill of Kauwiki, on the eastern point of the island of Maui, Hawaii, the heaven was so near the earth that it could be reached by the thrust of a strong spear, and is to-day called lani haahaa.
The Marquesans said that in the beginning there was no light, life, or sound in the world; that a boundless night, Po, enveloped everything, over which Tanaoa, (Darkness), and Mutu-hei, (Silence), ruled supreme. Then the god of light separated from Tanaoa, fought him, drove him away, and confined him to night. Then the god Ono, (Sound), was evolved from Atea, (Light), and banished Silence. From all this struggle was born the Dawn, (Atanua). Atea married the Dawn, and they created earth, animals, man.
In most of Polynesia there are legends of a universal flood from which few escaped. In Fiji it was said that two races were entirely wiped out, one of women, and the other of men and women with tails. A little bird sat on the top of the uncovered land and wailed the destruction. The Marquesans built a great canoe like a house, with openings for air and light, but tight against the rain. The ark was stored with provisions, and the animals of the earth were driven in two by two, fastened in couples. Then the family of four men and four women entered the ark, sacrificed a turtle to God, and retired to rest amidst the terrific din of the confined animals. The storm burst, and the waters covered the entire land. The storm ceased and a black bird was sent over the sea of Hawaii. It returned to the ark, and a wind set in from the north. Another bird was loosed, and alighted on the sea-shore. It was recalled, and a third bird brought back twigs. The ark soon grounded, and the four men and four women released the beasts, and went ashore. These repopulated the earth.
The Samoans believed that the earth was once covered with water and the sky alone was inhabited, until God sent his only begotten daughter in the form of a kuri, or snipe, to look for dry land. She found a spot, and brought down to it earth, and a creeping plant, which grew and decomposed into worms, and, lo! the worms turned into men and women.
In Hawaii Nuu was saved from a similar flood, and with him his three sons and their families. Ten generations later Kanehoalani was commanded by God to introduce circumcision. He went to a far-off country, had a son by a slave woman and one by his wife. He was then commanded, this descendant of Nuu in the tenth generation, to go up on a mountain and perform a sacrifice. He sought a mountain, but none appeared suitable; so he communed with God, who told him to travel to the east, and he would find a precipice. He departed with his son and a servant. The Hawaiians still call the mountains back of Koolau, near Honolulu, after the name of the three, and when the missionaries gave them the Jewish sacred books, were delighted to point out that long before Christ came to earth they had believed as above, and that Abraham was the tenth from Noah, that Abraham practised circumcision, and was father of Isaac and the illegitimate Ishmael, and that their descendant of Nuu, as Abraham, became the father of twelve children, and the founder of the Polynesian race, as Abraham had of the Jews.
One might detect some relation to the Hebraic scriptures in the legends of the Maoris of New Zealand and Tonga that the older son of the first man killed his brother, and that in Fiji one still is shown the site where a vast tower was built because the Fijians wanted to peer into the moon to discover if it was inhabited. A lofty mound was erected, and the building of timber upon it. It was already in the sky when the fastenings broke, and the workmen were precipitated over every part of Fiji.
The sun stood still for Hiaka when she attempted to recover the body of Lohiau, her sister Pele's lover. There was not daylight enough to climb the mountain Kalalau and bring down the body from a cave, so she prayed, and the sun set much later than usual. Aukelenui-a Iku, the next to the youngest of twelve children, was hated by his brothers because he was his father's favorite, and they threw him into a pit to die. His next eldest brother rescued him, and he became a traveler, and found the water of life, with which he restored his brother who had been drowned years before. The Chaldeans had a similar legend. Ninkigal, goddess of the regions of the dead, ordered Simtar, her attendant, to restore life to Ishtar with the "waters of life."
Naula-a-Maihea of Oahu, not far from Honolulu, was upset from his canoe while paddling to Kauai, and was swallowed by a whale, which kindly threw him up on the beach of Wailua.
Kana-loa and Kane-Apua, prophets, walked about the world, causing water to flow from rocks, as did Moses, and in the ancient litany, recited by priest and congregation, the responses of "Hooia, e oia!" meant "It is true!" as does Amen, the response of Christian litanies to-day. The custom of using holy water prevailed all over Polynesia.
"The ocean which surrounds the earth was made salt by God so it should not stink," said the legend, "and to keep it salt is the special work of God."
To celebrate God's act, the priests of Polynesia blessed waters for purification, for prayer, and for public and private ceremonies, and to exorcise demons and drive away diseases, as the priests of America and Europe do. Holy water was called ka wai kapu a Kane, and from the baptizing of the new-born child to the sprinkling of the dying its sacred uses were many. To-day the older people use these pagan ablutions to alleviate pain and cure maladies. The old Greeks used salt water for the same purposes, and had holy-water fonts at the temple gates, as do the Catholic churches to-day.
Levy and Woronick believed, or pridefully affected to believe, that at a remote period a band of Israelites, perhaps one of the lost tribes carried away by the Assyrians, peopled these islands; or settled in Malaysia before the Polynesian exodus from there, and gave them their lore. Pere Rambaud of the Catholic mission at Papeete considered it more probable that Spaniards, reaching Hawaii from wrecked Spanish galleons voyaging between Mexico and Manila, brought the holy doctrines. His explanation, however, often advanced, fell utterly before the fact that the Polynesians had no knowledge of Jesus or any man or god like him, and knew nothing of original sin; but, more convincing, all Polynesia had these legends, and there had been no communication with the Maoris of New Zealand and with Fiji after the Spanish entered the Philippines. It is to me quite certain that the Polynesians brought with them from Malaysia or India or from farther toward Europe those traditions of the beginnings of mankind which grew up hundreds of thousands of years ago, and were dispersed with each group setting out for adventure or driven from the birthplace of thinking humans.
Taaroa, whose name was spelt differently in separated archipelagos, was the father of the Tahitian cosmogony. His wife was Hina, the earth, and his son, Oro, was ruler of the world. Tane, the Huahine god, was a brother of Oro, and his equal, but there were islands which disputed this equality, and shed blood to disprove it, as the sects of Christianity have since the peaceful Jesus died by the demands of the priests of his nation.
Haui was the Tahitian Hercules. Of course he, too, bade the sun to stay a while unmoving, and it did. Joshua, the son of Nun, whose astronomical exploit at Gibeon brought him immortal fame, was a glorious warrior; but Haui's unwritten achievements, as chanted by the orero at the marae where Tetuanui, Brooke, and I stood, would have forced the successor of Moses to have withdrawn his book from circulation, as too dull.
The Polynesian creator put on earth hogs, dogs, and reptiles. There were many kinds of dogs in their mythology, including the "large dog with sharp teeth," and the "royal dog of God." Among reptiles was Moo, a terrible dragon living in caverns above and beneath the sea, who was dreaded above all dangers. He was to them the monster that guarded the Hesperides garden, and the beast that St. George slew; but as the common lizard was the largest reptile in Polynesia, this, too, was an heirloom from another land. In the old Havaii—probably Java—they must have known those fierce crocodiles that I have seen drag down a horse drinking in the river at Palawan, and noted swimming in the open sea between Siassi and Borneo.
The chief and Brooke and I sat in the shade of the etoa-trees, and conversed about these ancient stories. Fixed in the mind of the race by the repetition of ages, they are the most difficult of all errors to erase, and the professors of this wisdom stamp it upon the heart and brain of the child in almost indelible colors, and make it tabu, sacrilege, or treason to deny its verity. Half a century ago repairs became necessary to Mohammed's tomb at Medina, and masons were asked to volunteer to make them, and submit to beheading immediately after. There was no lack of desirous martyrs. One descended into the mausoleum, finished the task, and, reaching the air again, knelt, turned his face toward Mecca, and bent his head for the ax. The Mussulman keepers of the tomb justified their act, as, the forbidding telling the truth about religion and government, about war and business, is justified. Their words were:
"We picture those places to ourselves in a certain manner, and for the preservation of our holy religion, and the safety of society, there must not be any one who can say they are otherwise."
It was noon when Brooke and I—Tetuanui having gone to instruct his gang—plunged into the sea in front of the chefferie, and laughed in the joy of the sweet hour. He had written lines of beauty that interpreted our humor:
Tau here, Mamua, Crown the hair, and come away! Hear the calling of the moon, And the whispering scents that stray About the idle warm lagoon. Hasten, hand in human hand, Down the dark, the flowered way, Along the whiteness of the sand, And in the water's soft caress Wash the mind of foolishness, Mamua, until the day. Spend the glittering moonlight there, Pursuing down the soundless deep Limbs that gleam and shadowy hair; Or floating lazy, half-asleep. Dive and double and follow after, Snare in flowers, and kiss, and call, With lips that fade, and human laughter And faces individual! Well this side of Paradise! ... There 's little comfort in the wise.
I start for Tautira—A dangerous adventure in a canoe—I go by land to Tautira—I meet Choti and the Greek God—I take up my home where Stevenson lived.
Seeing the way the Lermontoffs lived, caused me to resolve that during the remainder of my stay in Tahiti I would go even farther from Papeete than Mataiea. They suggested Tautira, a village they had never visited, but which was at the very end of the habitable part of the Presqu'ile of Taiarapu. My easiest route to Tautira was by crossing the isthmus of Taravao, to the other side of the peninsula, as nowhere in Tahiti except at Lake Vaihiria were there even passable trails across the lofty spine of the island. I was for sending back the cart and horse to Taravao and taking a canoe to Tautira. A council of the elders of Vaieri opposed me, but yielded to my persistence by advising me at least to ride as far as possible in the cart along the western road, and to find, nearer to Tautira, in Maora, or farther on, in Puforatoai, a canoe and canoeists for the risky attempt.
Tatini, who had lagged behind at Butscher's, appeared as I harnessed the horse. She had accompanied the Tinito storekeeper of Taravao to Vaieri, and would not permit me to go on alone. She climbed into the vehicle, and we wended a winding road, and forded several streams until we came to Puforatoai, having gone through Hatiti and Maora. There was a pass in the reef admitting to a questionable shelter, Port Beaumanoir, used by the French when little gunboats threatened to bombard villages to force the rule of Paris.
Puforatoai was a handful of houses, hardly a village. My advent was of importance, and its few people gathered about us. They voiced their amazement when Tatini announced our wish to find a navigator and vessel to Tautira. They all said it was impossible, that the coast to Pari, with the submerged reef of Faratara, was too rough now for any but a large power boat, and the wind would be baffling and threatening. But as fear of the sea was unknown to them, they expressed a will to make the attempt. We launched a large canoe, and two sturdy natives, relations of Tatini, took the paddles. They had made the journey more than once, but not at this season.
We got into difficulties from the start. The shores were very different from those of Mataiea, Papeari, and Vairao, the three districts I had come through from the house of Tetuanui. The alluvial strip of land which in them stretched from a quarter of a mile to a mile from the lagoon to the slopes of the hills, here was cramped to the barest strip. The huts of the indigenes, few and far apart outside of Puforatoai, seemed to be set in terraces cut at the foot of the mountains which rose almost straight from the streak of golden sand to the skies. In every shade of green, as run by the overhead sun upon the altering facets of precipice and shelf, of fei and cocoa, candlenut and purau, giant ferns and convolvulus, tier upon tier, was a riot of richest vegetation. But everywhere in the lagoon were bristling and hiding dangers from hummocks of coral and sunken banks.
Our canoe was twenty feet long, and with a very strong outrigger, but though all four of us paddled, Teta, the chief man of Puforatoai, in the stern, steering, the vaa labored heavily. Tatini was adept in canoeing, and with a quartet of hoe we would have ordinarily sent the vaa spinning through the water; but we were nearing the southernmost extremity of the Presqu'ile, and the wind and current from the northeast swept about the broken coast in a confusion of puffs and blasts, choppy waves and roaring breakers, and made our progress slow and hazardous. The breeze caught up the foam and formed sheets of vapor which whipped our faces and blinded us, while an occasional roller broke on our prow, and soon gave Tatini continuous work in bailing with a handled scoop.
Opposite the pass of Tutataroa our greatest peril came. The ocean swept through this narrow channel like a mill-race. The first swell tossed us up ten feet, and we rode on it fifty before Teta could disengage us from its clasp, and, without capsizing, divert our course westward instead of toward the parlous shore. One such jeopardy succeeded another. We were in a quarter of an hour directly under black and frowning heights from which a score of cascades and rills leaped into the air, their masses of water, carried by the gusts, falling upon us in showers and clouds, aiding the flying scud in shielding the distance ahead from our view.
"Aita e ravea," shouted Teta to me. "It is impossible to go on."
We were all as wet as if in the sea, our faces and bodies stung by the spindrift, and we were barely able to glimpse a dark and heaving panorama of surf, rock, and bluff in the mists that now and again were penetrated by the hot sun.
"Maitai! Hohoi!" I replied above the clangor, and raised my paddle.
Carefully and in a wide circle the vaa crept around to head back toward our port, and it was after sunset before we were in Teta's house in Puforatoai. The villagers met us with torches and incredulous aues and we walked up the road singing the song of the "Ai Dobbebelly Dobbebelly," which was known wherever a fisher for market dwelt in all Tahiti. The farther from Papeete and more and more as time passed, the words lost resemblance to English, and became mere native sounds without any exact meaning, but with a never-forgotten sentiment of rebellion against government and of gild alliance.
"Give us a hand-out!" had changed from "hizzandow" in Papeete, to "Hitia o te ra!" which meant that the sun was rising. Within a year or two the entire text would doubtless merge into Tahitian with only the martial air of "Revive us again!" and the dimming memory of the fish-strike to recall its origin. I had known a native who, whenever he approached me, sang in a faltering tone, "Feery feery!"
I asked him after many weeks what he meant, and he said that that was a himene, which a young American had sung at his potations in his village in the Marquesas Islands. I had him repeat "Feery feery!" dozens of times, and finally snatched at an old glee which ran through my mind: "Shoo Fly, don't bother me!" and when I sang it,
"I feel, I feel, I feel, I feel like a morning star!"
he struck his thigh, and said, "Ea! That is the very thing!" And to be fair to all races, one has only to listen to an American assemblage singing "The Starspangled Banner" to learn that after the first few lines most patriots decline into "ah-ah-la-la-ha-la-ah-la-la."
Before our supper of fish and fei, Teta, who was a deacon in the Protestant church, but of superior knowledge of his own tongue and legends, asked a blessing of God, and afterward recited for me the Tahitian chant of creation, the source of which was in the very beginnings of his race, perhaps even previous to the migration from Malaysia. He intoned it, solemnly, as might have an ancient prophet in Israel, as we sat in the starlit night, with the profound notes of the reef in unison with his deep cadence:
He abides—Taaroa by name— In the immensity of space. There was no earth, there was no heaven, There was no sea, there was no mankind. Taaroa calls on high; He changes himself fully. Taaroa is the root; The rocks (or foundation); Taaroa is the sands; Taaroa stretches out the branches (is wide-spreading). Taaroa is the light; Taaroa is within; Taaroa is, —— Taaroa is below; Taaroa is enduring; Taaroa is wise; He created the land of Hawaii; Hawaii great and sacred, As a crust (or shell) for Taaroa. The earth is dancing (moving). O foundations, O rocks, Oh sands! here, here. Brought hither, pressed together the earth; Press, press again! They do not ——— Stretch out the seven heavens; let ignorance cease. Create the heavens, let darkness cease. Let anxiety cease within; Let immobility cease; Let the period of messengers cease; It is the time of the speaker. Fill up the foundation, Fill up the rocks, Fill up the sands. The heavens are inclosing. And hung up are the heavens In the depths. Finished he the world of Hawaii. E pau fenua no Hawaii.
The cart at my request had been driven back to Taravao; so in the morning Tatini and I walked back to the isthmus. We drank coffee at five, and at three we had covered the twelve miles in the sauntering gait of the Tahitian girl, stopping to make wreaths, and to bathe in several streams. Butscher was on his table in his after-breakfast lethargy, and I regretted disturbing his iiii to ask him to serve us. Again Tatini refused to sit at table with me. Evidently, she feared the scowls of Butscher, who had none of the white's ideas of the equality of females with males at the board. Butscher added many francs to my bill by pouring me another bottle of Pol Roger, 1905, which after several days of cocoanut juice took on added delight. I made up my mind to tarry with Butscher a day, while Tatini returned to the Tetuanui mansion by diligence, and despatched my bags to me by the same carrier. I sent with her my love to the Tetuanui clan, and some delicacies from the Maison des Varos for the half-blind Haamoura. The diligence did not run farther than Taravao, and the next day, with my impedimenta in the cart, and with a boy to drive it, I turned my back on the road to Papeete, and began the jog trot to the famous, but hardly ever visited, district of Tautira.
I counted it the third stage in my pilgrimage in Tahiti. The first had been in and about the capital, mingling mostly with white men, and living in a public inn; the second at Mataiea had taken me far from those rookeries, and had introduced me to the real Tahitians, to their language, their customs, and their hearts; but still I had been a guest, and a cared-for and guarded white among aborigines. Now I wanted to cut off entirely from the main road, to sequester myself in a faraway spot, and to live as close to the native as was possible for me. My time was drawing near for departure. I must see all of the Etablissements Francais de l'Oceanie, the blazing Paumotu atolls, and the savage Marquesas, and I must make the most of the several months yet remaining for me in Tahiti.
The highway along the eastern portion of the Presqu'ile was much like that between Taravao and Puforatoai, tortuous, constricted, and often forced to hang upon a shelf carved out of the precipice which hemmed it. The route hugged the sea, but at every turn I saw inland the laughing, green valleys, deserted of inhabitants, climbing slowly between massive walls of rock to which clung great tree ferns, with magnificent vert parasols, enormous clumps of feis, with huge, emerald or yellow upstanding bunches of fruit; candlenut- and ironwood-trees. Uncounted, delicious odors filled the air, distilled from the wild flowers, the vanilla, orchids, and the forests of oranges, which, though not of Tahiti, were already venerable in their many decades of residence. Not a single path struck off from the belt road, except that as we came toward the centers of Afaahiti and Pueu districts the inevitable store or two of the Chinese appeared, the cheferie, a church or two, and the roofs of the Tahitians. These were always near the beach, set back a few hundred feet from the road in rare instances, but mostly only a few steps from it. The Tahitian never lived in hamlets, as the Marquesan and the Samoan, but each family dwelt in its wood of cocoanuts and breadfruit, or a few families clustered their inhabitants for intimacy and mutual aid. The whites, missionaries, conquerors, and traders found this system not conducive to their ends. Churches demand for prosperity a flock about the ministrant, business wants customers close to the store, and government is more powerful where it can harangue and proclaim, parade before and spy upon its subjects. Individualistic and segregated domestic circles give rise to tax evasions, feuds, and moonshining, plots and the growth of strong men. The city is the corral where humans mill like cattle in a panic, are more easily ridden down en masse, and become habitual buyers of unnecessary things.
The French, after their bold seizure of the island in the name of liberty for the earnest friars, and sealing their brave conquest in the blood of the obstinate Polynesian who had hated to learn a new liturgy and to unlearn his old Protestant songs, feared that the dispersion of the people upon their little plantations, to which they were greatly attached, would make their Frenchifying a long task. So, about sixty years ago, a governor, who, ten thousand miles from his superiors, with an exchange of letters taking many months, was an autocrat, decided that all the people of the same region must be huddled in a village. His name was Gaultier de la Richerie. His office was snatched from him by another politician before he could carry out his plan, and only one village exemplified it. In all the districts I had passed through from Papeete, while in each was the knot of chefferie, churches, stores, and perhaps a house or two, the other residences stretched along the entire length of the political divisions, from six to eight miles.
I was approaching the exception, Tautira, which, though farthest of all from the palace of the governor, had been chosen for the first experiment, and which had adapted its life to the paternal will of M. de la Richerie, now long since laid in the bosom of Pere Lachaise.
The estimable troubadour, Brault, had advised me of the history of Tautira. It was seldom visited by white tourists, as even the post brought by the diligence ended at Taravao, and letters for farther on were carried afoot by the mutoi, or postman-policeman of the adjoining district, who handed on to his contiguous confrere those for more distant confines. But for centuries Tautira was known as a focus of the wise, of priests, sorcerers, and doctors, and, said the knowing Brault, especially of the dancers, and those who, he explained, under the banner of Venus.
Ont vu maintes batailles Et recu nombre d'entailles Depuis les pieds jusqu'au front.
The little boy and I chatted as the horse ambled at will, occasionally urged to a trot by a shaking of the reins. The country as we progressed became far more beautiful than that behind. A new wildness, not fierce and rugged as between Vaiere and Puforatoai, but gentler and more inviting, preluded the exquisite setting of the village. We had to ford a stream three or four feet deep, the Vaitapiha, and the struggle through it was a rare pleasure, the child on the back of the animal, and I with the reins and a purau twig directing and commanding in vain. We had to leap into the water and remove a boulder or two that stymied the wheels. When we had pulled through to the opposite shore, I was reduced to a dry pareu, and in it alone, barefooted, I reached the rustic paradise, the loveliness of which was to content me more than any spot except the strangely fascinating valley of Atuona in the sad isle of Hiva-Oa.
In a delta formed by the Vaitapiha the settlement lay among tents of verdure. For a mile it sprawled around a small point of land which thrust out into the sea, and which was guarded by the most wonderful of walls, a reef of madrepore, as solid as granite and sixty feet wide. The road was arched by splendid trees of many kinds, and facing it, every several hundred feet, was a home. Many of these were cottages in modern style, but a dozen or so were the true Tahitian fare, of bamboo and thatch. All were covered with flowering vines, and surrounded by many fruiting trees.
"Tautira nei!" announced my coachman. "Tautira is here!"
He pulled up the horse. I had not given any thought to my lodging, and I jumped out and looked around. The brook curved about a mango grove, and under its high trees was a new native house, a replica of the commodious dwellings of old days. I walked into the grove, and was admiring the careful, but charming, arrangements of ferns and orchids, which, though brought from the forests, had been fitted into the scene to simulate a natural environment. All of a sudden a something I could not see hurled itself from a limb upon my head, and two affrighting paws seized my right ear and my hair, grown long at Mataiea, and tried to tear them out by the roots, while at the same time many fierce teeth closed, though without much effect, on my tough and weathered shoulder. In horror at the attack, I covered yards in two bounds, and my assailant was torn from its hold upon me.
I then turned and saw that it was a monkey tied to a rope fastened to the limb of the tree. He stood upright on the ground, his jaws agape, and a look of devilish glee upon his uncannily manlike face. At the same moment a white man ran from the house and called in English:
"You damned little scoundrel! How often have I whipped you for that same trick! I would better have left you in the slums in San Francisco."
And then apologetically to me:
"I ought to kill him for that. He's a devil, that monkey. He has bitten all the children around here, has killed all my chickens, and raised more hell in this village than the whole population put together. I swear, I believe he just enjoys being mean. Come in and have a snifter after that greeting! Did he hurt you?"
My would-be host was himself a very striking somebody. He wore only a pareu, as I, of scarlet muslin, with the William Morris design, but he had wound his about so that it was a mere ornamental triangle upon his tall, powerful, statuesque body. His chest and back had a growth of red-gold hair, which, with his bronzed skin, his red-gold beard, dark curls over a high forehead, handsome nose, and blue eyes, made him all of the same color scheme. He was without doubt as near to a Greek deity in life, a Dionysus, as one could imagine. He had two flaming hibiscus blossoms over his ears, and he looked in his late twenties. Accustomed as I was to semi-nudity and to white men's return to nature, I had never seen a man who so well fitted into the landscape as the owner of the ape. He was the faun to the curling locks and the pointed ears, with not a trace of the satyr; all youth and grace and radiance.