Mystic Isles of the South Seas.
Part 5 out of 8
they are dressing. They have brought, tied in pareus, their Sunday
clothes. Women are changing gowns, and men struggle with shirts and
trousers, awkward inflictions upon their ordinarily free bodies.
All the night people who have journeyed from Papara, from Papenoo,
or nearer districts slumber upon the sidewalks. This sleeping about
anywhere is characteristic of the Tahitian. On the quays, in the
doorways of the large and small stores, in carriages, and on the
decks of the vessels, men and women and children lie or crouch,
sleeping peacefully, with their possessions near them.
In the fare tamaaraa, the coffee-houses of the Tinitos, the Chinese,
the venders of provender and the marketers alike are slipping their
taofe tau, their four-sous' worth of coffee, with a tiny pewter mug
of canned milk, sugar, and a half-loaf of French bread with butter.
My vis-a-vis at Shin Bung Lung's is Prince Hinoe, the heir to the
broken throne, a very large, smiling brown gentleman, who sits with
the French secretary of the governor, the two, alack! patting the
shoulders, pinching the cheeks, and fondling the long, ebon plaits
of the bevy of beauties who are up thus early to flirt and make
merry. Tahiti is the most joyous land upon the globe. Who takes life
seriously here is a fool or a liver-ridden penitent. The shop is
full of peals of laughter and stolen kisses. Those sons of Belial
who taught the daughter of the governor of the Dangerous Isles her
unspeakable vocabulary are here. They have been to the Paris, the
premier saloon of Papeete, for their morning's morning, an absinthe,
or a hair of the dog that bit them yester eve.
What jokes they have! Stories of what happened last night in the
tap-room of the cinematograph, how David opened a dozen bottles
of Roederer, and there was no ice, so all alike, barefooted and
silk-stockinged, drank the wine of Champagne warm, and out of beer
glasses; of Captain Minne's statement that he would kill a scion of
Tahitian royalty (not Hinoe) if he did not marry his daughter before
the captain returned from the Paumotus; and of Count Polonsky's
calling down the black procureur, the attorney-general, right in the
same tap-room, and telling him he was a "nigger," although they had
been friends before.
Tahitian and French and English, but very little of the latter,
echoes through the coffee-room. Even I make a feeble struggle to
speak the native tongue, and arouse storms of giggles.
The market-place faces the Mairie, the city hall, and its center
is a fountain beloved of youth. There sit or loll the maidens of
Papeete at night, and titter as pass the sighing lads. There wait
the automobiles to carry the pleasure bent to Kelly's grove at Fa'a,
where the maxixe and the tango rage, the hula-dancers quiver and
quaver, and wassail has no bounds.
When the whites are at dinner, the natives meet in the market-place,
which is the agora, as the place du gouvernment is the forum of the
dance and music of these ocean Greeks.
But at this hour it is wreathed with women, scores squat upon their
mats on the pave, their goods spread before the eyes of the purchasers.
The sellers of the materials for hats are many. The bamboo fiber,
yellowish white, is the choicest, but there are other colors and
stuffs. The women venders smoke cigarettes and are always laughing. Old
crones, withered and feeble, shake their thin sides at their own and
Already the buyers are coming fast, householders and cooks and
bachelors and beaux, tourists and native beauties.
A score of groups are smoking and chatting, flirting and running
over their lists. Carriages and carts are tied everywhere, country
folk who have come to sell or to buy, or both, and automobiles, too,
are ranged beside the Mairie.
Matrons and daughters, many nationals, are assembling. The wife
of a new consul, a charming blonde, just from New Jersey, has her
basket on her arm. She is a bride, and must make the consul's two
thousand dollars a year go far. A priest in a black gown and a young
Mormon elder from Utah regard each other coldly. A hundred Chinese
cafe-keepers, stewards, and merchants are endeavoring to pierce the
exteriors of the foods and estimate their true value. The market is
not open yet. It awaits the sound of the gong, rung by the police
about half past five. Four or five of these officials are about,
all natives in gaudy uniforms, their bicycles at the curb, smoking,
and exchanging greetings with friends.
The question of deepest interest to the marketers is the fish. The
tables for these are railed off, and, peering through the barriers,
the onlookers comment upon the kinds and guess at the prices.
The market-house is a shed over concrete floors, clean, sanitary,
and occupied but an hour or two a day. There are three main divisions
of the market, meat, fish, and green things. Meat in Tahiti is better
uneaten and unsung. It comes on the hoof from New Zealand. Now, if you
are an epicure, you may rent a cold-storage chamber in the glacerie,
and keep your steaks and roasts until tender.
Fish is the chief item to the Tahitian. Give him only fish, and he
may murmur at his fate; but deny him fish, and he will hie him to the
reef and snare it for himself. All night the torches of the fishermen
gleam on the foaming reef, and often I paddle out near the breakers and
hear the chants and cries of the men as they thrust their harpoons or
draw their nets. So it is the women who sell the fish, while the weary
husbands and fathers lie wrapped in dreams of a miraculous draught.
There are three great aquariums in the world, at Honolulu, Naples, and
New York. There is no other such fish-market as this of Papeete, for
Hawaii's has become Asiaticized, and the kanaka is almost nil in the
angling art there. But those same fish that I gazed at in amazement in
the tanks of the museums are spread out here on tables for my buying.
Impossible fish they are, pale blue; brilliant yellow; black as
charcoal; sloe, with orange stripes; scarlet, spotted, and barred in
rainbow tints. The parrot-fish are especially splendid in spangling
radiancy, their tails and a spine in their mouths giving them their
The impression made upon one's first visit to the Papeete market is
overwhelming, the plenitude of nature rejoicing one's heart, and the
care of the Great Consciousness for beauty and color, and even for
the ludicrous, the merely funny, causing curious groping sensations
of wonder at the varied plan of creation.
Sexual selection and suitability to survive are responsible. Those
vivid colors, those symmetrical markings, and laughable forms are
all part of the going on of the world, the adaptation to environment,
and the desire for love and admiration in the male and female.
These things from the deep seem hardly fish. They are bits of the
sunset, fragments of a mosaic, Futuristic pictures; anything but our
sodden, gray, or wateryhued fish of temperate climes. Some are as
green as the hills of Erin, others as blue as the sky, as crimson as
blood, as yellow as the flag of China. They are cut by nature in many
patterns, round, or sectional, like a piece of pie, triangular, almost
square; some with a back fin that floats out a foot or two behind.
They are grotesque, alarming, apparently the design of a joker. But
tread not on the domain of the scientist, for he will prove to
you that each separate queerness is only a trick of nature to fit
its owner to the necessities of his habitat. The parrot-fish are
screamingly fantastic. There are not even in the warm California or
Florida waters the duplicates of these rainbow fish. The Garibaldi
perch and the electric fish excite interest at Santa Catalina, but
here are a hundred marvels, and if I wish I can see them all as they
swim in and out of the coral caverns within the lagoon.
Porcupine fish are a delicacy, squid are esteemed, and even the
devilfish is on the tables, hideous, repellent, slimy, horned, and
tentacled; not mighty enough to crush out the life of the fisher,
as was the horrific creature in Victor Hugo's "Toilers of the Sea,"
whom his hero fought, yet menacing even when dead. It is a frightful
figure in its aspect of hatred and ugliness, but good to eat. See
that fat Tahitian thrust his finger into the sides of the octopus to
plumb its cooking qualities. It is quickly sold.
There are crabs and crawfish, eels and shrimps, prawns and varos,
all hung up on strings. There are oysters and maoao, alive
and dripping. The maoao is the turbo, a gastropod, a mysterious
inhabitant of a twisted shell, who shuts the door to his home with
a brightly-colored operculum, for all the world like half of a
cuff-button. One eats him raw or cooked or dried. But he is not so
odd as the varo one of the most delicious and expensive of Tahitian
foods. These sea centipedes, as the English call them in Tahiti,
are a species of ibacus, and are from six to twelve inches long,
and two wide. They have legs or feelers all along their sides, like
a pocket comb, a hideous head, and tail, and a generally repulsive
appearance. If one did not know they were excellent eating, and most
harmless in their habits, one would be tempted to run or take to a
tree at sight of them. Their shell is a translucent yellow, with black
markings. The female has a red stripe down her back, and red eggs
beneath her. She is richer in flavor, and more deadly than the male
to one who has a natural diathesis to poisoning by varos. Many whites
cannot eat them. Some lose appetite at their looks, their likeness to
a gigantic thousand-leg. Others find that the varo rests uneasy within
them, as though each claw or tooth of the comb grasped a vital part of
their anatomy. I think varos excellent when wrapped in hotu leaves,
and grilled as a lobster. I take the beastie in my fingers and suck
out the meat. Amateurs must keep their eyes shut during this operation.
Catching varos is tedious and requires skill. They live in the sand of
the beach under two or three feet of water. One has to find their holes
by wading and peering. They are small at the top, but roomy below. One
cannot see these holes through ruffled water. Once located, grapnels,
or spools fitted with a dozen hooks, are lowered into them. A pair
inhabits the same den. If the male is at home, he seizes the grapnel,
and is raised and captured, and the female follows. But if the female
emerges first, it is a sure sign that the male is absent in search of
food. I have pondered as to this habit of the varo, and have tried
to persuade me that the male, being a courteous shrimp,--he is a
kind of mantis-shrimp,--combats the intruding hooks first in order
to protect his loved one; but the grapnel is baited with fish, and
though masculine pride would insist that chivalry urges varo homme
to defend his domestic shrine, fishers for the tidbit say that he
is after the bait, and holds to it so tightly that he sacrifices his
life. Nevertheless, the lady embraces the same opportunity to rise,
and their deserted tenement is soon filled by the sands.
Trapping varos calls for patience and much dexterity. The mere finding
of the holes is possible only to natives trained from childhood. Six
varos make a good meal, with bread and wine, and they are most
enjoyable hot--also most indigestible.
"Begin their eating by sucking a cold one," once said a bon vivant
to me. "Only when accustomed to them should you dare them hot and
Flying-fish are sold, many of them delicate in taste and shapely.
One may buy favorite sauces for fish, and some of the women offered
them to me. One is taiaro, made of the hard meat of the cocoanut,
with pounded shrimp, and allowed to ferment slightly. It is put up in
bamboo tubes, three inches in diameter, and four or five feet long,
tied at the opening with a pandanus-leaf for a seal. It is delicious
on raw fish. I have seen a native take his fish by the tail and
devour it as one would a banana; but the Tahitians cut up the fish,
and, after soaking it in lime-juice, eat it with the taiaro. It is
as tasty as Blue Points and tabasco.
There are two other epicurean sauces, one made of the omotu, the
soft cocoanut, which is split, the meat dug out and put in the hue,
the calabash, mixed with a little salt water, lime-juice, and the
juice of the rea, the saffron, and allowed to ferment. This is the
mitihue, a piquant and fetid, puante sauce that seasons all Tahitian
meals. The calabash is left in the sun, and when the sauce dries up,
water is poured on the dry ingredients, a perpetual saucebox.
In the arrangement of vegetables our own hucksters could learn. Every
piece is scraped and cleansed. String beans are tied together in
bundles like cigars or asparagus, and lettuce of several varieties,
romaine and endive, parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips, and even
potatoes, sweet and white, are shown in immaculate condition. The
tomatoes do not rival ours, but Tahiti being seventeen degrees below
the equator, one cannot expect such tropical regions to produce
temperate-zone plants to perfection. That they are provided at all is
due to the Chinese, those patient, acute Cantonese and Amoyans. The
Tahitian has no competence in intensive cultivation or the will to
toil. Were it not for the Chinese, white residents in many countries
would have to forego vegetables. It is so in Mexico and Hawaii and
the Philippines, although Japanese in the first two compete with them.
The main food of the Tahitians is feis, as is bread to us, or rice to
the Asiatic. It is not so in the Marquesas, eight hundred miles north,
where breadfruit is the staff, nor in Hawaii, where fermented taro
(poi) is the chief reliance of the kanaka. The feis, gigantic bananas
of coarse fiber, which must be cooked, are about a foot in length,
and three inches in diameter, and grow in immense, heavy bunches in
the mountains, so that obtaining them is great labor. They are wild
creatures of heights, and love the spots most difficult of access. Only
barefooted men can reach them. These feis are a separate species. The
market-place is filled with them, and hardly a Tahitian but buys
his quota for the day. The fei-gatherers are men of giant strength,
naked save for the pareu about the loins, and often their feet from
climbing and holding on to rocks and roots are curiously deformed, the
toes spread an inch apart, and sometimes the big toe is opposed to the
others, like a thumb. There are besides many kinds of bananas here for
eating raw; some are as small as a man's finger, and as sweet as honey.
The fei-hunters hang six or seven bunches on a bamboo pole and bring
them thus to market. One meets these young Atlases moving along the
roads, chaplets of frangipani upon their curling hair, or perhaps a
single gardenia or tube-rose behind their ears, singing softly and
treading steadily, smiling, and all with a burden that would stagger
a white athlete.
The taro looks like a war-club, several feet long, three inches thick,
and with a fierce knob. It and its tops are in demand. The breadfruit
are as big as Dutch cheese, weighing four or five pounds, their green
rinds tuberculated like a golf-ball. Sapadillos, tamarinds, limes,
mangoes, oranges, acachous, and a dozen other native fruits are to be
had. Cocoanuts and papayas are of course, favorites. There are many
kinds of cocoanuts. I like best the young nut, which has the meat
yet unformed or barely so, and can be eaten with a spoon, and holds
about a quart of delicious wine. No matter how hot the day, this wine
is always cool. One has only to pierce the top of the green rind,
and tilt the hole above one's mouth. If one has alcoholic leanings,
the wine of a cocoanut, an ounce of rum, two lumps of sugar, a dash
of grenadine, and the mixture were paradise enow.
The papayas, which the British call mammee-apple or even mummy-apple or
papaw, because of the West Indian name, mamey, are much like pumpkins
in appearance. They grow on trees, quite like palms, from ten to thirty
feet high, the trunk scaly like an alligator's hide, and the leaves
pointed. The fruit hangs in a cluster at the crown of the tree, green
and yellow, resembling badly shaped melons. The taste is musky sweet
and not always agreeable to tyros. The seeds are black and full of
pepsin. Boiled when green, the papaya reminds one of vegetable marrow;
and cooked when ripe, it makes a pie stuffing not to be despised. I
have often hung steaks or birds in the tree, protected by a cage
from pests, or wrapped them in papaya-leaves to make them tender. The
very atmosphere does this, and the pepsin extracted from the papaya
by science is much used by druggists instead of animal extracts.
The market closed, the venders who have come in carts drive home,
while those Tahitians who are not too old adorn themselves with
flowers and seek pleasure. Young and old, they are laughing. Why? I
need never ask the reason here, but look to the blue sky, the placid
sea within the lagoon, the generous fruitage of nature, the palms and
flowers ever present and inviting; the very sign of the gentle souls
and merry hearts of these most lovable people. When I am alone with
them I do not walk. I dance or skip.
Life is easy. The fei, the breadfruit, the cocoanut, the mango, and the
taro are all about. No plow, no hoe, or rude labor, but for the lifting
of one's hand there is food. The fish leap in the brine, and the pig
fattens for the oven. Clothes are irksome. A straw hut may be built
in an hour or two, and in the grove sounds the soft music of love.
Aue! nom de poisson! within a day the market became a
wailing-place. There were no fish. The tables daily covered with
them were empty. The happy wives and consorts who had been wont to
sell the catch of the men remained in their homes, and the fishers
themselves were there or idle on the streets. The districts around
the island, which for decades had despatched by the daily diligence,
or by special vehicle or boat, the drafts of the village nets, sent not
a fin. Never in Tahiti's history except when war raged between clans,
or between Tahitians and French, had there been such a fish famine.
And, name of a dog! it was due to a greve, a strike. It came upon the
Papeete people like a tidal wave out of the sea, or like a cyclone
that devastates a Paumotu atoll, but, entre nous, it had been brooding
for months. Fish had been getting dearer and dearer for a long time,
and householders had complained bitterly. They recalled the time
when for a franc one could buy enough delicious fish for a family
feast. They called the taata hara, the native anglers, cochons,
hogs, and they discussed when they gathered in the clubs, or when
ladies met at market, the weakness of the authorities in allowing
the extortion. But nothing was done. The extortion continued, and
the profanity increased. At the Cercle Bouganville Captain Goeltz
and the other retired salts banged the tables and said to me:
"Sacre redingote! is it that the indigenes pay the governor or give
him fish free? Are we French citizens to die of hunger that savages
may ride in les Fords?"
They shouted for Doctor Funks, and drank damnation to the regime
that let patriots surfer to profit les canaques. But, in reality,
the governor months ago had secretly begun a plan to help them.
One day the governor, his good lady being gone to visit at Raiatea,
had given his cook three francs to buy fish for the dejeuner at the
palace. When they came on the table, a bare bite for each of the
company, the governor had called in the chef.
"Mais, I gave you three francs for the fish, n'est-ce pas?"
"Mais, vous don' lai moi t'ree franc, oui, oui," answered the
Chinese. "Moi don'lai canaque po po'sson."
The governor had led in the chorus of sacres and diables. All at
the table were of the redingote family, all feeding from the national
trough at Paris, and they had the courage and power to end the damnable
imposition on the slender purses of Papeete citizens. Sapristi! this
robbery must cease. He must go slow, however. Being an honest and
unselfish man, he investigated and initiated legislation so carefully
and tardily that the remedy for the evil was applied only four days
ago. He had returned to France, so one could not say that he consulted
his own purse; but the present governor, an amiable man and a good
bridge-player, also liked fish, and they pay no bonanza salaries,
the French. The fishermen had known, of course, of the approaching
end of their piracy, but, like Tahitians, waited until necessity
for action. The official paper in which all laws are published had
the ordinance set out in full. Translated, briefly, from the French,
it ran like this:
That the Governor of the establishments of France in Oceania,
a chevalier of the Legion of Honor [this information is inserted
in every degree, announcement and statement the governor makes, and
stares at one from a hundred trees], in view of the "article du decret
du 21 decembre, 1885," etc. [and in view of a dozen other articles
of various dates since], considering that fish is the basis of the
alimentation of the Tahitians, that in the Papeete public market, fish
has been monopolized with the result that its price has been raised
steadily, and a situation created injurious to the working people,
the cost of living necessitating a constant increase in salaries,
orders that after a date fixed, fish be sold by weight and at the
following prices per kilo, according to the kind of fish:
30 cents a kilo 25 cents a kilo 20 cents a kilo
1st category 2d category 3d category
Aahi Auhopu Ature
Ahuru Au aavere Atoti
Anae Ioio Aoa-Ropa
Apai Mahimahi Faia
Ava Moi Fee
Lihi Nato Fai
Mu Nape Honu
Nanue Orare Inaa
Oeo Paere Maere
Paaihere Parai Maito
Paraha peue Puhi pape Marara
Tehu Tohe veri Manini
Varo Taou Mao
Oura (chevrette) Uhi Mana
Paapaa (crabs) Ume Ouma
Oura-miti (langouste) Vau Oiri
As a kilo is two and a fifth pounds, the ature that Joseph caught
by the Quai de Commerce, being in the third category, would cost,
under the ukase, less than ten cents a pound. Crabs being in the
first category--paapaa,--would cost about thirteen cents a pound,
and the succulent varo the same, whereas they were then two francs,
or forty cents a pound. We lovers of sea centipedes toasted the brave
The decrees were nailed to the trees on the Broom Road, in the rue
de Rivoli, and in the market-place. The populace were joyous, though
some old wholesale buyers like Lovaina questioned the wisdom of the
governor's edict and the effect on themselves.
"If they do that," said she, "maybe, by'n'by they fix my meal or
Until the date of carrying out the mandate, one picked out a pleasing
fish or string of fish, all nicely wrapped in leaves, and one asked,
"A hia? How much?"
When Lovaina inquired the price, she smiled her sweetest, rubbed
the saleslady's back, and uttered some joke that made her sway with
laughter, so that price became of no importance. But a sour-faced
white or a pompous bureaucrat paid her saving, and Chinese, who kept
the restaurants, invoked the curse of barrenness upon the venders.
The day came for the new scheme of fish-selling to go into effect. The
mayor, a long-bearded and shrewd druggist, had bought up all the
half-way accurate scales in the city, for there had not been a
balance in the market. Everything was by strings, bunches, feels,
and hefts. The fish counters, polished by the guardian of the marche,
were now brilliant with the shiny apparatus.
The long-awaited morning found a crowd peeping through the
railing half an hour earlier than usual. All would have a fill
of delicacies. Lovaina with the Dummy drove down to the Annexe for
me. Vava was making queer signs to her which either were unintelligible
or which she thought absurd. She waved her long forefinger before him,
which meant: "Don't talk foolishness. I am not a fool."
We reached the market-place when only a score or two had gathered.
A thousand devils! there was not a fish on the slabs. The merry wives
were absent. The condition was plain.
The Dummy uttered a demoniacal grunt, and shook his head and hands
before Lovaina in accusation. She answered him with a movement of
her head up and down, which signified acquiescence.
"Dummy know," she said mysteriously. "That Vava he find everything. He
like old-time tahutahu, sorcerer. He tell me Annexe no fish. He say
now no fish till finish those masheen."
She laughed and rubbed my shoulders.
"The fish slip away," she said, "and leave only their scales! Aue!"
M. Lontane, the second in command of the gendarmes, was sent
scouting, and reported to the governor--not the one who originated
the manifesto--that the famine was the result of an organized revolt
against the law and order of the land. Fishermen he had questioned,
replied simply, "Aita faito, paru! Aita hoo, paru!" Which, holy
blue! meant, "No scales, fish! No price, fish!"
What to do? One cannot make a horse drink unless one gives him
red peppers to eat. Even the Government could not make a fisherman
fish for market, as there was a law against enforced labor except as
punishment for crime or in emergencies, such as during the existence
of martial law, the guarding against a conflagration, or a tidal
wave or cyclone. At the Cercle Militaire many of the bureaucrats,
and especially the doctor who had treated the cow-boy, were for
martial law, anyway. Napoleon knew, said the fierce medecin. "A
whiff of grapeshot, and the reef would be again gleaming with lights,
and the diligences would pour in with loads of fish."
Doctor Cassiou, a very old resident, and not at all fierce, asked
his confrere against whom would the grapeshot be directed. Would he
gather the fishermen from all over Tahiti, and decimate them, the
way the Little Corporal purged mutiny out of his regiments? Lontane
was sent out again. In the Cerele Bougainville he took a rum punch
before starting on his bicycle, and he swore by his patron saint,
Bacchus, that he would solve the problem even if denied the remedy
of force majeure.
Within three hours of his return from Patutoa, a meeting was called
of the council of state, the governor, the doctors, the druggist,
a merchant or two, and a lawyer, and before it M. Lontane disclosed
that the natives were possessed by a new devil that he feared was a
recrudescence of the ancient struggle for independence.
Each fisherman he had examined refused to answer his interrogations,
saying only, "I dobbebelly dobbebelly."
The governor scratched his ear, and the mayor wiggled his hands behind,
as he had on the wharf after the battle of the limes, coal, and
potatoes. The lawyer said it must be an incantation, but that it was
not Tahitian, for that language had no "d" in its alphabet. M. Lontane
and all his squad were given peremptory orders to unriddle the enigma.
Meanwhile the fishless market continued. It was not entirely fishless,
for before the bell rang we would see over the railings a few handfuls
of varos, crayfish, and shrimps and perhaps a dozen small baskets of
oysters. A policeman prevented a riot, but could not stay the rush
when the bell rang and the gate was opened. The lovers of shellfish
and the servants of the well-to-do snatched madly at the small supply,
and paid whatever extravagant price was demanded. The scales were
never touched, and any insistence upon the new legal plan and price
was laughed at. With these delicacies beyond their means, the natives
stormed the two pork butchers, the Tinitos. They grabbed the chops and
lumps of pig, poking and kneading them, shouting for their weight,
and in some instances making off without paying. There was such a
howdy-do that extra policemen were summoned to form all into line.
There were no scaly fish, and it came out that the shellfish were
caught by women, widows who had no men to obey or please, who had
children, or who wanted francs to buy gewgaws or tobacco; and a few
unsocial men fishers who did not abide by the common interests of
At Lovaina's we were on a tiresome round of canned salmon, eggs,
and beef, and eggs rose to six sous each. In about a fortnight we
began to have fish as usual, and Lovaina signed to me that the Dummy
procured them in the country. I was very curious, and asked if I might
accompany him. She said that he would call for me at the Annexe the
next time he went.
I was awakened after midnight in my room--the doors were never
locked--by the Dummy leaning over and shaking me. I opened my eyes,
and he put his fingers to his lips. I dressed, and went with him in
the old surrey. We drove through the night along the Broom Road. Once
past the cemetery we were in the country. The cocoanut-trees were
gray ghosts against the dark foliage and trunks of the breadfruits
and the sugar cane; the reef was a faint gleam of white over the
lagoon and a subdued sound of distant waters.
We jogged along, and as we approached Fa'a, I lit a match and looked
at my watch. It was nearly two o'clock. The Dummy stopped the horse
at Kelly's dance-hall in a palm grove. The building was of bamboo
and thatch, with a smooth floor of Oregon pine, and was a former
himene house. Kelly had rented it from the church authorities. The
dancing was over for the night, but a few carts were in the grove,
and the lights were bright. We went inside, and found forty or fifty
Tahitians, men and women, squatting or sitting on the floor, while on
the platform was Kelly himself, with his accordion on the table. He saw
me and shouted "Ia ora na!" And after a few minutes, while others came,
began to speak. What he said was interpreted by a Frenchman, who, to my
astonishment, proved to be the editor of one of those anti-government
papers printed in San Francisco, that Ivan Stroganoff had shown me.
Kelly addressed the audience, "Fishermen and fellow stiffs." He said
that the fish strike was a success, and if they all remained true to
one another, they would win, and the scales would be kicked out. The
few scabs who sold fish in the market only made sore those unable to
buy. He said that he had found out that the law applied only to the
market-place, and that a plan would be tried of hawking fish from house
to house in Papeete. They would circumvent the governor's proclamation
in that way. He praised their fortitude in the struggle, and after the
editor had interpreted stiffs by te tamaiti aroha e, which means poor
children, and scabs by iore, which means rats, and had ended with a
peroration that brought many cries of "Maitai! Good!" Kelly took up
his accordion, and began to play the sacred air of "Revive us Again!"
He led the singing of his version:
"Hallelujah! I'm a bum! Hallelujah! Bum again!
Hallelujah! Give us a hand-out! To save us from sin!"
The Tahitians rocked to and fro, threw back their heads, and, their
eyes shut as in their religious himenes, chorused joyfully:
"Hahrayrooyah! I'm a boom! Hahrayrooyah! Boomagay!
Hahrayrooyah! Hizzandow! To tave ut fruh tin!"
They sang the refrain a dozen times, and then Kelly dismissed the
meeting with a request for "three cheers for the I. W. W."
There is no "w" in French or in Tahitian, and the interpreter said,
"Ruperupe ah-ee dohblevay dohblevay!" And the Tahitians: "Ai dobbebelly
Kelly came down from the platform, his freckled face shining and
his eyes serious but twinkling. He greeted me as the natives lit
cigarettes and filed out.
"I'm runnin' their strike for them," he said. "It 's on the square. The
poor fish! They don't make hardly enough to pay for their nets, let
alone an honest day's pay, and they're up half the night and takin'
chances with the sharks and the devil-fish. They have to pay market
dues and all sorts of taxes. They 're good stiffs all right, and
every one has a membership card in the I. W. W. applied for."
When we went outside, I saw that the Dummy who had been a witness of
the scene in the hall, had a large package of fish in the surrey,
and all around there were other packages of them. The men had been
selling to those who came to Fa'a for them, the law extending only
to the market in Papeete.
The strikers hawked the fish in town the next day, but this was
immediately forbidden. Hungry for fish--the Tahitians have one word
meaning all that--though the people were, few could drive out to Fa'a
to fetch them. Within Papeete fish were mysteriously nailed to the
trees at night, and over each was a card with the letters, "I. W. W."
Again a meeting of the council of state was called, and at it
M. Lontane revealed the meaning of those cabalistic letters and the
leadership of Kelly. He had tracked down the fishermen and found
their headquarters at the dance hall.
At the Cercle Bougainville there was an uproar. Merchants drank
twice their stint of liquor in their indignation. Syndicalism was
invading their shores, and their already limited labor supply would
I could not picture too seriously the wrath of the honest traders
at the traitorous conduct of Kelly, "a white man," as told by
M. Lontane. I was upbraided because of Kelly being an American with
an Irish name. Lying Bill said it was "A bloody Guy Fawkes plot."
M. Lontane took full credit for the discovery of what he termed
"A complot that would rival the Dreyfus case."
He struck his chest, and asked me sternly if I knew of M. LeCoq,
the great detective, of Emile Gaboriau.
Kelly was arrested in the midst of his dancing soiree at Fa'a. He
was put in the calaboose, and when he frankly said that he had come
to Tahiti to preach the gospel of I. W. W.-ism and that he believed
the fishermen had all the right on their side, he was sentenced as
"a foreigner without visible means of support, a vagrant, miscreant,
vagabond, and dangerous alien," to a month on the roads, and then to
be deported to the United States, whence he had come.
The strike or walk-out was broken. With the cessation of the
direction of Kelly and his heartening song, the fishermen gradually
went back to their routine, and their women folk to the market. The
scales were in operation, but the himene, "Hahrayrooyah! I'm a
boom! Hahrayrooyah! Boomagay!" was sung from one end of Tahiti
to another, and "Ai dobbebelly dobbebelly" was made at the Cercle
Bougainville a password to some very old rum said to have belonged
to the bishop who wrote the Tahitian dictionary.
A drive to Papenoo--The chief of Papenoo--A dinner and poker on the
beach--Incidents of the game--Breakfast the next morning--The chief
tells his story--The journey back--The leper child and her doll--The
Alliance Francaise--Bemis and his daughter--The band concert and the
fire--The prize-fight--My bowl of velvet.
We had another picnic; this time at Papenoo. Polonsky owned thirty
thousand acres of land in the Great Valley of Papenoo, the largest
of all the valleys of Tahiti. He had bought it from the Catholic
mission, which, following the monastic orders of the church in other
countries for a thousand years, had early adopted a policy of acquiring
land. But there were too few laborers in Tahiti now. Christianity
had not worked the miracle of preserving them from civilization. The
priests were glad to sell their extensive holdings at Papenoo, and the
energetic Russo-French count said that he would bring Slav families
from Europe to populate and develop it. He would plant the vast acreage
in cocoanut-trees, vanilla vines, and sugar-cane, and build up a white
community in the South Seas. He had noble plans for a novel experiment.
We started from the Cercle Bougainville in the afternoon in carriages
pulled by California bronchos. The dour Llewellyn, the handsome
Landers, the boastful McHenry, Lying Bill, David, the young American
vanilla-shipper, Bemis, an American cocoanut-buyer, the half-castes of
the orchestra, and servants, filled three roomy carryalls. The ideal
mode of travel in Tahiti in the cool of the day would be a donkey, a
slow, patient beast, who might himself take an interest in the scenery,
or at least the shrubbery. But the white must ever go at top speed,
and we dashed through the streets of Papeete, the accordions playing
"Revive us again!" the "Himene Tatou Arearea," and other tunes, and
we singing, "Hallelujah! I'm a bum!" and "Faararirari ta oe Tamarii
Tahiti! La, li!" One never makes merry privately in the South Seas.
Through Papeete we went along the eastern Broom Road, our train
attracting much attention. We stopped at the glacerie for ice, and
Polonsky insisted that we make a detour to his residence to drink a
stirrup-cup of champagne. He donned riding-breeches and took a horse
from his well-appointed stable.
Against the road on each side were close hedges of acalypha, or false
coffee, called in Tahitian tafeie, a small tree which grows quickly,
and the leaves of which are red or bronze or green, handsome and
admirably suited for fencing. Through these hedges and the broad
entrances I saw the houses and gardens, the residents and family life
of the people. Everywhere was a small prosperity, with gladness; pigs
and sheep cropping the grass and herbs, which were a mat of green,
rising so fast with the daily showers that only flocks could keep
it shorn. On the verandas and on the turf idle men and women were
gazing at the sky, talking, humming the newest air, plaiting hats,
or napping. No one was reading. There was no book-store in Tahiti. I
had not read a line since I came. I had not stepped up to the genial
dentist's to see an American journal. After years of the newspaper
habit, reading and writing them, it had fallen away in Tahiti as
the prickly heat after a week at sea. Of what interest was it that
the divorce record was growing longer in New York, that Hinky Dink
had been reelected in Chicago, and that Los Angeles had doubled in
population. A dawn on the beach, a swim in the lagoon, the end of
the fish strike, were vastly more entertaining.
We passed the gorge of Fautaua, where Fragrance of the Jasmine and I
had had a charmed day. The pinnacles of the Diadem were black against
the eastern sky. Aorai, the tallest peak in sight, more than a mile
high, hid its head in a mass of snowy clouds.
Not far away was the mausoleum of the last king of the Society Islands,
Pomare the Fifth, with whose wide-awake widow, the queen, I had smoked
a cigarette a day ago. It was a pyramid of coral, a red funeral-urn
on top, and a red P on the facade. Pillars and roof were of the same
color, and a chain surrounded it. The tomb was rococo, glaring,
typical of the monuments in the South Seas where the aboriginal
structures of beauty or interest were destroyed by the missionaries
to please their Clapham Seminary god. Pomare, who had been the victim
of French political chicane, enjoyed now but one privilege. If his
spirit had senses, it heard the lapping of the waves upon the beach
of the lagoon across which his ancestor, the first Pomare, had come
from Moorea to be a king.
We left the Broom Road for Point Venus to see the monument to Captain
James Cook, the great mariner of these seas. The only lighthouse
on Tahiti is there. On that spot Cook and his astronomers had
observed the transit of Venus in 1769, and it was there the first
English missionaries landed from the ship Duff to convert the pagan
Tahitians. Cook has a pillar, with a plate of commemoration, in a
grove of purau-trees, cocoanuts, pandanus, and the red oleander;
Cook who is an immortal, and was loved by a queen here.
We left behind Paintua, Taunoa, Arahim, Arue and Haapape, and came
to a shore where no reef checked the waves in a yeasty line a mile or
less from the beach. The breakers roared and beat upon a black shore,
strangely different from the Tahitian strand that I had seen. For miles
a hundred feet of sable rocks, pebbles, some small and others as big as
a man's hand, lay between the receded tide and the road, and all along
huge islets of somber stone defended themselves as best they could
against the attack of the surf. Signs of surrender showed in some,
caverns and arches cut by the constant hammer of swell and billow.
Sugar-cane, vanilla, pineapples, coffee, bananas, plantation after
plantation, with the country houses of Papeete's merchants, officials,
lawyers, and doctors, moved past our vehicle, and, as we increased
the distance from the capital, the beautiful native homes appeared.
Simple they were, with no windows or doors, mere shelters, but cool and
cheap, with no division of rooms, and no furniture but the sleeping
mats and a utensil or two. Natives were seen cooking their simple
meal of fish and breadfruit, or only the latter. The fire was in the
ground or under a grill of iron on stones. They would not go hungry,
for mango-trees lined the road, and bananas, feis, and pineapples
were to be had for the taking.
We drove through Aapahi and Faaripoo and saw a funeral. In the grounds
of the dead man sat two large groups of people, the men and the women
separate. They talked of his dying and his property, and his children,
while those who liked to do so made him ready for the grave. A hundred
yards away, in a school-yard, twoscore men, women, boys, and girls
played football. The males were in pareus, naked except about the
waist, and they kicked the heavy leather sphere with their bare feet.
Pare, Arue, and Mahina districts behind us, we were in Papenoo, a
straggling village of a few hundred people along the road, the houses,
all but the half-dozen stores of the Chinese, set back a hundred yards,
and the domestic animals and carts in the front.
With a flourish we drove into the inclosure of the largest, newest,
and most pretentious house, and were greeted by Teriieroo, the Tahitian
chief, all native, but speaking French easily and musically. Count
Polonsky shook hands with him, as did we all, but when a daughter
appeared, neither Polonsky nor we paid her any attention. Yet she was
Polonsky's "girl," as they say here, and he kept her in good style
in a house near her father's, sending his yellow automobile for her
when he wanted her at his villa near Papeete.
The chief's house had four bedrooms, each with an European bed,
three-quarter size, and with a mattress two feet high, stuffed with
kapok, the silky cotton which grows on trees all over Tahiti, These
mattresses were beveled, and one must lie in their middle not to slip
off. The coverlets were red and blue in stamped patterns.
It was dark when we touched the earth after two hours' driving, and
leaving the coachman to care for the horses, we went with the chief,
each of us carrying a siphon of seltzer or a bottle of champagne or
claret. Our way was through an old and dark cocoanut grove, a bare
trail, winding among the trees, and ending at the beach.
Polonsky had had built a pavilion for the revel. Fifty feet away was
a kitchen in which the dinner was cooking, its odors adding appetite
to that whetted by the several cocktails which Polonsky had mixed
when the ice was brought in a wheelbarrow from the wagon.
We sat down in chairs on the turf a foot from the jetty boulders,
and watched the inrush of the breakers. A light breeze outside had
stirred the water, and the combers were white and high.
"Every sea is really three seas," said McHenry, pipe in hand, as he
sipped his Martini. "We fellows who have to risk our cargoes and lives
in landing in the Paumotus and Marquesas, study the accursed surf to
find out its rules. There are rules, too, and the ninth wave is the
one we come in on. That is the last of the third group, the biggest,
and the one that will bring your boat near enough to shore to let
all hands leap out and run her up away from the undertow."
Lights were placed in the new house. It was elegantly made, of small
bamboos up and down, with a floor of matched boards, the roof of
cocoanut-leaves, and hung with blossoms of many kinds. The table had
been spread, and there was a glitter of silver and glass, with all
the accoutrements of fashion. We sat down, eight, the chief making
nine, and ate and drank until ten o'clock. The piece de resistance
was the sucking pig, with taro and feis, but roasted in an oven,
and not in native style; and there was a delicious young turkey from
New Zealand, a ham from Virginia, truffles, a salad of lettuce and
tomatoes, and a plum pudding from London. The claret was 1900 and
1904, a vintage obtained by Polonsky in Paris. The champagne, also,
was of a year, and frapped. Tahitian coffee, with brown sugar from
the chief's plantation, ended the banquet.
There was no conversation of any interest. The Parisian count was
far removed in experience and culture from the others, and probably
only the necessity of companionship in revelry and cards brought
them together. Europe, and all the earth, was his playground, and
doubtless he had lavished a fortune in pleasure in the capitals of the
Continent. Llewellyn had an education in the universities of England
and Germany, but since young manhood had been in his birthplace,
and the others were the rough and ready stuff of business or seafaring.
The table for the gambling was moved to the sward by the shingle,
and lamps hung upon bamboos planted at each end. It was balmy, and we
sat in our shirts, the bosoms open for the breeze, the count with his
gorgeous Japanese god shining upon his ivory breast, and the round
glass in his eye. The tattooed skeleton upon his forearm was uncanny
in the flickering light, the black shadows of the eyes seeming to
open and close as the rays fell upon it.
Landers, though he had drunk with all, was appreciative of every
nicety of the game, and won fifteen hundred francs. He alone was cool,
watching the faces of the players at every crisis, quick to detect
a weakness, to interpret rightly a gesture or counting of losses and
gains, remorselessly hammering home his victories, and always suave
and generous in action.
Llewellyn would withdraw his attention to listen to the himene of the
musicians thirty feet away, which consisted mostly of familiar American
airs, interpolated with bizarre staves and dissonances. One caught a
beloved strain, and then it wandered away queerly as if the musician
had forgotten the score and had done his best otherwise. I never heard
in Tahiti one air of Europe or America played through as composed,
without variation or omission, except the national anthem of France.
"They are happy, those boys," mused Llewellyn. "They get more out
of life than we do. Why should we fool with these cards here when we
Llewellyn was only a quarter Tahitian, but at times the island blood
was the only pulse he felt. One noticed it especially during the
himenes, when he seemed to wander far from the business in hand. That
business being poker, and Landers all attention to the cards and the
psychology of his antagonists, every time Llewellyn harked to the
himene he lost a little, and when he became entangled in a jackpot
of size, and drew too many cards on account of his abstraction, he
was mulcted of fifty francs and failed of winning the two hundred he
might have won.
"Unlucky at cards, lucky in something else," said he, self-consolingly.
"Ye want to drop that other thing when ye're playing cards," McHenry
advised as he scooped in the pot. "The cards are all queens to you."
Chief Teriieroo a Teriieroterai sat ten feet removed from the players,
but kept his eyes on the money. They played with notes, five francs
being the smallest, and the others twenties and hundreds. The chief
smiled whenever Count Polonsky drew in a heap of these, and when one
fell on the floor, he scrambled under the table to prevent it being
blown on the rocks. The Javanese served the drinks, and a crowd of
natives watched curiously the shifting vantages from a respectful
It was three o'clock when the scores were settled, and, the chief
leading with a lantern, we tramped through the great cocoanut-grove
to his residence.
Landers and I each took a bed, I being warned to be forehanded by my
experience in Moorea, where I slept on the floor. The chief retired,
and Polonsky went off with his arm about his inamorata's waist,
she having apparently awaited his return. When Llewellyn and McHenry
appeared half an hour later, having emptied a bottle reminiscent to
McHenry of his father's liking for Auld Reekie, they were discomfited
by the beds being all occupied, the other two having been early
claimed by two men who ate and drank and immediately slept.
When I awoke, the sun was up half an hour, and Landers and I went
for a bath in the brook. We found a pool famed in the legends of the
natives. In the olden days the kings and chiefs would have made it
tabu to themselves.
Landers had on a pareu only, his two hundred and fifty pounds of
bone and muscle a refreshing sight, and his eyes as bright as if he
had had the prescribed eight hours. They looked at him, sighingly,
the young women of the village, even at this hour busied cooking
breadfruit or fish and coffee; and Landers flirted with each one and
in Tahitian called out words which made them laugh, and sometimes
hide their heads coquettishly.
"I dated them all," he said to me when we were under the water. We
threw off our garments at the edge of the pool and plunged in. The
water was as soft as milk and as clear as crystal, cool and
invigorating. I drank my fill of it as I swam.
Breakfast we had in the chief's house, the remains of the amuraa
rahi of the night before. The chief drank coffee with us, and when
we had gone to sit on the veranda, his eight children and wife took
the board. I talked with Teriieroo a Teriieroterai for half an hour
in French. He was thirty-eight years old, very engaging, and had
"Eh bien," he said to my question, "I will tell you. I was married
first at sixteen years of age and this is my third wife." He pointed
over his shoulder to a tow-headed German for all I could see, and
who certainly showed no sign of the native except in her dress and
manners and avoirdupois.
"My first wife died," continued the arii, contemplatively. "I divorced
the second, and the third is just now eating the first dejeuner in
that room. I have eight children, and will have twenty, and I am
the chief of the Papenoo district, but this is not the place of my
ancienne famille. I was appointed here by the French Governor three
years ago to administer the district, which needed a strong hand. I
like it, and have bought land and built this house. I will stay my
days here. There is the farehau, the administration building where
I meet the people and we have conferences."
He pointed to a wooden cottage near by, with what looked like a
dancing-pavilion attached. There the people come to squat upon the
floor and relate their grievances. Most of the disputes before minor
and major courts were over land and water rights.
It was half past seven o'clock when we inspanned for the trek
to Papeete, a balmy, brilliant morning. The banks and cliffs were
masses of ferns, the living imposed upon the dead, and hibiscus and
gardenias and clumps of bamboo in a dissolving pageant mingled with
plots of taro and yams, pineapples and bananas. The majestic bread
trees and the spreading mangoes, the latter with their fruit verging
from gold to russet, were surflnounted by the soaring cocoanuts,
the monarchs of the tropics, whose banners fly from every atoll,
and fall only before the most terrible might of the King of Storms.
A cocoanut-palm bears at eight years and when about twenty-five feet
high. It rises seventy or eighty feet, and has a hundred curves. It
is the wily creature of the winds, but outwits them in all but their
worst moods. To the tropical man the cocoa-palm is life and luxury. He
drinks the milk and eats the meat, or sells it dried for making soaps
and emollients and other things; the oil he lights his house with and
rubs upon his body to assuage pain; he builds his houses and wharves of
it, and thatches his home with the husks, which also serve for fuel,
fiber for lines and dresses and hats, leaves for canoe-sails and the
shell of the nut for his goblet. Its roots he fashions into household
utensils. The cocoa grows where other edibles perish. It dips its bole
in the salt tide, and will not thrive removed from its beloved sea.
To me there is an inexpressible sentiment in the presence of these
cocoa-palms. They are the symbol of the simplicity and singleness
of the eternal summer of the tropics; the staff and gonfalons of the
dominion of the sun. My heart leaps at their sight when long away. They
are the dearest result of seed and earth. I drink their wine and esteem
dwelling in their sight a rare communion with the best of nature.
They joked Count Polonsky about his girl, and he began to explain.
"I was here a year before I found one that suited me," he said as
he rode beside the wagon. "I don't love her, nor she me, but I pay
her well, and ask only physical fidelity for my physical safety. Her
father is practical and influential, and will help me with my plans
for development of the Papenoo valley, which I have bought."
Three tall and robust natives in pareus of red and yellow, and carrying
long spears, went by, accompanied by a dozen dogs. We stopped them,
and they said they were from the Papara district on their way to hunt
pig in the Papenoo Mountains for Count Polonsky. The latter remembered
he had ordered such a hunt, and explained through Llewellyn that he
was their employer.
They faced him, and seldom was greater contrast. Magnificent
semi-savages, clothed in only a rag, their powerful muscles responsive
to every demand of their minds, and health glowing in their laughing
countenances: Polonsky, slight, bent, baldish, arrayed in Paris
fashions, a figure from the Bois de Boulogne, his glass screwed in
his weak eye, the other myopic, teeth missing, and face pale. But
at his command they hunted, for he had that which they craved, the
money of civilization, to buy its toys and poisons. Polonsky had a
reputation for generous dealing.
A bent native man repairing the road near Faaripoo had his face swathed
in bandages. He greeted us with the courteous, "Ia ora na!" but did
not lift his head.
"He is a leper," said Llewellyn. "I have seen him for years on this
road. He may not be here many more days, because they are segregating
the lepers. The Government has built a lazaretto for them up that
We saw a group of little houses a short distance removed from the
road. They were fenced in and had an institutional look.
"There's hundreds of lepers in Tahiti," remarked McHenry.
"Mac, you're a damned liar," replied Llewellyn. He was an overlord
in manner when with natives, but his quarter aboriginal blood caused
the least aspersion on them by others to touch him on the raw.
"Well, there's a bloody lot o'them," broke in Lying Bill.
"Eighty only," stated Llewellyn, conclusively. "The Government has
taken a census, and they 're all to be brought here. Did you hear
that Tissot left for Raiatea when he heard of the census? He's a
leper and a white man. They seized young Briand yesterday."
I was astonished, because the latter had lived opposite the Tiare
Hotel, and I had met him often at the barber's. I had been "next"
to him at Marechal's shop a week before.
"He did not know he was a leper until they examined him," Llewellyn
went on. "He does not know how he contracted the disease. I don't
mind it. I am not afraid. You get used to it. I tell you, the only
leper I ever knew that made me cry was a kid. I used to see on the
porch of a house on the road to Papara from Papeete a big doll. A
little leper girl owned it, and she was ashamed to be seen outside
her home, so she put on the veranda the doll she loved best to greet
her friends. She made out that the doll was really herself, and she
loved to listen when those who might have been playmates talked to
the doll and fondled it. She lived for and in the doll, and those
who cherished the little girl saw that each Christmas the doll was
exchanged secretly for a bigger one, keeping pace with the growth of
the child. I have caressed it and sung to it, and guessed that the
child was peeping and listening inside. She herself never touched
it, for it would be like picking up one's own self. Each Christmas
she saw herself born again, for the old dolls were burned without
her knowledge. And all the time her own little body was falling to
pieces. Last Christmas she was carried to the door to see the new
doll. I bought it for her, and I had in it a speaking-box, to say
'Bonjour!' I sent to Paris for it. She's dead now, poor little devil,
or they'd have shut her up in the lazaretto."
Bemis bought cocoanuts for shipment for food purposes. His firm sold
them all over America to fruitdealers for eating raw by children,
and shredded and prepared them for confectioners and grocers. He was
the only buyer in Tahiti of fresh nuts, as all others purchased them
as copra, split and dried, for the oil. Bemis had been here years ago,
"I'm married now," he told me, "but in those days I was a damn
fool about the Tahitian girls. I put in six months here before I
He became thoughtful, and asked me to accompany him to the soiree of
the Alliance Francaise, in the Palais cinema-hall. The Alliance was
for encouraging the study and use of the French language. A few decades
ago Admiral Serre, the governor, had forbidden the teaching of French
to girls in the country districts as hurtful to their moral weal. It
was feared that they would seek to air their learning in Papeete,
and, as said Admiral Serre, be corrupted. A new regime reckoned a
knowledge of French a requisite of patriotism.
At the Palais the scene was brilliant. Two large banana-trees were
apparently growing at the sides of the stage, and the pillars of the
roof were wreathed in palm-leaves. Scores of French flags draped the
walls. Pupils of the government schools occupied many seats, and their
families, friends, and officials the others. The galleries were filled
with native children. Marao, the former queen, and her daughters, the
Princesses Boots and Tekau, with a party of English acquaintances, were
in front, and the general audience consisted of French and every caste
of Tahitian, from half to a sixteenth. The men were in white evening
suits, and the women and girls in decollete gowns, white and colored.
It was eight o'clock when the governor entered on the arm of the
president of the Alliance, Dr. Cassiou. He was in a white drill
uniform, with deep cuffs of gold bullion, and a blazing row of
orders on his breast. The republique outdoes many monarchies in
decorating with these baubles its heroes of politics. The governor,
a wholesome-looking diplomat, was the image of the famous host of
the Old Poodle Dog restaurant in San Francisco, who himself would
have had a hundred ribbons in a just democracy.
The band of native musicians played "The Marseillaise," but nobody
stood. With all their embellishments, the French would not incommode
themselves at the whim of a baton-wielder, who in America had only to
wave his stick in "The Star-Spangled Banner," and any one who did not
humor his whim by getting on his feet was beaten by his neighbors,
who would not suffer without him.
With the governor were the inspecteurs colonials, the bearded
napkin-wearers of Lovaina's. They, too, had a line of gay ribbon
from nipple to nipple. These three and the boulevardier, the gay
secretary, sat upon the stage beside a stack of gilded red books. The
band played "La Croix d'Honneur," and the good Dr. Cassiou read from a
manuscript his annual address in a low voice becoming a ministrant at
sick-beds. Another piece by the band, and the books were distributed to
the pupils, who went tremulously upon the stage to receive them from
the governor's hand. This was a lengthy process, but each child had a
claque, which communicated enthusiasm to the others of the audience,
and there was continuous clapping.
"Les Cadets de Russie" by the band preceded the allocution by the
governor. He also spoke sotto voce, as if to himself, and as no
one heard his words, the fans of native straw and Chinese turkey
feathers were plied incessantly. The heat was oppressive. A sigh of
relief came with the entr'acte, when all the grown folk flocked to
the attached saloon. I joined the queen's group for a few moments,
and drank champagne with her and her daughters, and I was called over
to have a glass of Perrier Jouet with the governor's party. Most of
the natives drank bottled lemonade from the glacerie at five sous
a bottle. The queen wore a rose in her hair. She was very large,
with almost a man's face, shrewd, heavy, determined, and yet lively,
and without a shade of pretense. Her walk was singularly majestic,
and was often commented upon.
The Princess Tekau was beautiful, quite like a Spanish senorita in
color and feature, her ivory skin gleaming against a pale-blue bodice,
and her blue-black hair piled high. We talked French or English, with
many Tahitian words thrown in, according to the mood or need of the
moment. Every one was laughing. After all, Tahiti was very simple,
and even officialdom could not import aristocracy or stiffness into
a climate where starch melted before one could impress a spectator.
The inspecteurs and others of the suite had smiles and quips for
humbler girls than princesses. I saw one of the awesome whiskerandos
from Paris, haughty and secretive toward the French, lighting the
cigarette of a blanchisseuse at the Pool of Psyche, his arm about her,
and his black bristles nearer than necessary to her ripe mouth. A
merchant dining away from home slapped caressingly the hips of the
girls who waited upon him, nor concealed his gestures. Hypocrisy had
lost her shield in Tahiti, because, except among a few aged persons,
and the pastors, she was not a virtue, as in America and England,
but a hateful vice.
Back again in the Palais, cooled and made receptive to music by
the joyous quarter of an hour in the buffet, we heard Mme. Gautier
sing "Le Cid," by Massenet, and the Princess Tekau accompany her
effectively on the piano. A solo de piston, a violin, a flute, all
played by Tahitians, entertained us, and then came the fun. M. X----
was down for a monologue. Who could it be? He bounced on the stage in
a Prince-Albert coat and a Derby hat, rollicking, truculent, plainly
exhilarated. Why, it was M. Lontane in disguise, the second in command
of the police, the hero of the battle of the limes, the coal, and
the potatoes. He gave a side-splitting burlesque of the conflict. He
acted the drunken stoker, the man who would write to "The Times"
when M. Lontane placed his pistol at his stomach, and he made us see
the fruit and coal flying. It was all good natured, and his dialogue
(monologue) amusing. We saw how we Anglo-Saxons appeared to the French,
and learned how the hoarse growl of the British sailor sounded.
The governor was delighted, the inspecteurs also. The officials
took their cue, the entire audience laughed, and the galleries of
children, not understanding at all, but convulsed at the antics of
the head policeman, yelled encore. The British consul grinned, and the
governor turned and winked at him. The entente cordiale was cemented
again. The second in command, who provoked the sundering of the tie,
had reunited it by his comicality. Ire dissolved in glee.
A play followed, in which several of the players were in the audience,
and in which my barber, M. Bontet, shone, and moving-pictures
followed. The babies were long asleep, and we yawning when we were
dismissed at half past twelve.
Bemis, the cocoanut-buyer, sat through the entr'acte, not accompanying
me to the buffet. He received a shock during the handing out of
the premiums and was silent afterward. Bemis was a striking man,
because the very regular features of his young face were set off by
a mass of white hair. He was placid, without a disturbing intellect,
and interested solely in the price and condition of fresh cocoanuts
for shipment. I had seen him start when a little girl of distinctive
expression was called to the stage to receive her book. She sat with
her mother and putative father, and their other children. When I
first saw her, I pulled his arm.
"Bemis," I said, "for heaven's sake, look at that girl!"
He looked, and his face tensed, growing ashen white. "She's the image
of you, Bemis," I pursued.
"For God's sake, talk low!" he cautioned. "People are rubbering at me
now. She is mine, I'm sure. I was here six months a dozen years ago
and had an affair with her mother, who sits there. What can I do? I
have my own at home in Oakland. I could not tell. I never knew about
that girl until a week ago. She doesn't know me. I saw her on the Broom
Road, so I came to-night to have a good look at her. I was afraid to
come alone. It would do no good for me to tell her. She's taken care
of. She's lovely, isn't she? I'd like to take her in my arms once."
We walked to the Annexe.
"I'll tell you," he resumed. "I can't blame myself. I was like any
young fellow who comes down here,--I wasn't more than twenty-five,--but
I feel like hell. That child's face is almost identical, except for
color, with my baby of eight or nine at home. I'm afraid I'll see it
at night when I go back."
On the trees, which carry all the public announcements, appeared a
notice of a concert by the local band:
Fanfare de Papeete
Le public est informe la Fanfare donnera son
Concert sur la Place du Gouvernement Mardi Soir a 8 heures.
All day it rained, but at seven a myriad of stars were in the sky. The
Place du Gouvernement is a large lawn between the group of buildings
devoted to administrative affairs, with seats for several score,
but not for the hundreds who attended the band concert. The notice
about the flambeaux drew even the few boys and youths who might not
have come for the music.
In the center of the lawn was a kiosk, and on the four sides the
rue de Rivoli, the garden of the Cercle Militaire, the grounds of
the former palace of the Pomares, now the executive offices, and the
pavilion of the Revues.
I went early when the lights were being turned on. Only the sellers of
wreaths had arrived, and they seated themselves along the square, their
ferns and flowers on the ground beside them. Then came the venders
of sweets, ice-cream, and peanuts, and soon the band and the throng.
An allegro broke upon the air, and stilled for a moment
the chatter. Most of the people stood or strolled in twos or
dozens. They bought wreaths and placed them on their bare heads,
while the few who wore hats encircled them with the brilliant greens
and blossoms. Bevies of handsome girls and women in their prettiest
tunics, many wearing Chinese silk shawls of blue or pink, their hair
tied with bright ribbons, sat on the benches or grouped about the
confectionery-stands. Many carriages and automobiles were parked in
the shadows, holding the more reserved citizens--the governor, the
royal family, the bishop, the clergy, and dignified matrons of girth.
The bachelors and male coquets of the Tahitians and French, with a
sprinkling of all the foreigners in Papeete, the officers and crews
of the war-ship Zelee and sailing vessels, smoked and endeavored to
segregate vahines who appealed to them. The dark procureur general
from Martinique had an eye for beauty, and the private secretary of
the governor was in his most gallant mood, a rakish cloth hat with
a feather, a silver-headed stick, a suit of tight-fitting black,
and a tiare Tahiti over his ear, marking him among the other Lotharios.
The band was led by a tall, impressive native who both beat and hummed
the airs to guide the others. A tune ended, the bandsmen hurried to
mix with the audience, to smoke and flirt. The shading acacia-trees
lining the avenues permitted privacy for embraces, kisses, for making
engagements, and for the singing of chansons and himenes of scandalous
import. Better than the Latin, the Tahitian likes direct words and
candor in song.
French naval officers and sailors passed and repassed, or sought
the obscurity of the mangoes or the acacias. One heard the sibilance
of kisses, the laughter, and the banter, the half-serious blows and
scoldings of the vahines who repelled over-bold sailors. In an hour
the sedate and the older took leave; the governor and the procureur
turned into the Cercle Militaire for whist or ecarte and a glass
of wine, the carriages withdrew, and the band's airs and manner
of playing took on a new freedom and abandon. A polka was begun,
and couples danced upon the grass, the ladies in their peignoirs,
their black hair floating, and their lips chanting, their wreaths
and flowers nodding to their motions.
In retired nooks where the lamp-lights did not penetrate ardent ones
threw themselves into the postures and agitations of the upaupa,
Boys now began to light the flambeaux for the retraite. These
were large bundles of cocoanut-husks and candlenuts soaked in oil,
and they gave a generous flare. Suddenly, we heard the mairie-bell
tolling. The band-leader climbed upon the roof of the kiosk, descended,
and gave a vigorous beat upon the air for "the Marseillaise," which
ends all concerts.
It was quickly over, and seizing the flambeaux, all rushed from the
Place du Gouvernement, lighting the way of the retraite, now more
furious even than planned. The band struck up, "There'll be a Hot Time
in the Old Town To-night," the drum and bugle made warlike notes, and
down the rue de Rivoli we went madly toward the conflagration sighted
by the leader. After the band and the flambeaux-bearers danced the
jolly commoners, with here and there a more important pair of legs,
an English clerk, a tourist, or an official, all excited by the music,
the torches, and the running to the fire. The flambeaux reeled to and
fro with the skipping and leaping of their carriers, the multitude
sang loudly, and the music became broken as the leader lost control
of his men. They came to the house of the hose-cart, and transformed
themselves into firemen, laying down their instruments and harnessing
themselves to the lines. Away we went again, now at top speed. Other
carts with apparatus dashed into the Broom Road from side streets
and caught up with us.
The pullers yelled warnings in Tahitian to those who might impede
their way or be run over. The stir was tremendous, for fires were rare
and greatly feared. The regulations of the possession and storage
of combustibles were severe, even a wagon or handcart containing as
little as one can of kerosene being compelled to fly a red flag.
After a mile we came to the fire, a Chinese restaurant beside a little
creek and in a cocoanut-grove. The roof had fallen in and there were
reports that a woman and two children had been killed. Two men with
quart cans threw water from the stream on the edge of the blaze.
The little hose-carts, with a small ladder, arrived with eclat, native
gendarmes clearing the road, and Frenchmen and natives shouting the
danger of death by these formidable engines. They were of no purpose,
the water-taps which were conspicuous in the main streets being absent
here, and no water under pressure was available. They knew this, of
course, but the hose was unreeled, and a dozen people tripped up by
its snakelike movements, the while bandsmen and gendarmes roared out
manoeuvers. By now a thousand were there. I counted roughly several
hundred bicycles and two public automobiles, holding thirty persons
each, came from the center of town, the enterprising owners canvassing
the coffee-shops and saloons for passengers. These carryalls drew up
by the stream within forty feet of the blaze, forcing the pedestrians
and cyclists to retreat.
Lovaina appeared, puffing furiously. Vava was roused to a high
pitch. He told me by signs how he had seen the fire and given the alarm
to the mairie, or city hall, the bell of which tolled for an hour.
There was no wind, and the flames rose straight up, scorching
the cocoanut-leaves, but unharming other houses within twenty-five
feet. The crowd lingered until the last timber had fallen. After seeing
that there was small danger to the adjoining buildings, and learning
that the loss fell upon Chinese only, that no one had been hurt, and
that a can of kerosene had exploded, interest in the conflagration
dropped, and friends and acquaintances who had met chatted amiably
on other subjects. The proximity of the fire and the marshy condition
of the ground made it proper for the ladies with well-turned legs to
raise their gowns high, displaying garterless stockings held up by the
"native twist" above the calf. Accordions and mouth-organs enlivened
the talk, and not until only charred boards remained did we leave.
Besides the occasional concerts of the band, boxing and moving-pictures
made up the public night life of Papeete. Attached to the theaters
were bars, as at the Palais, and these were the foci of those who
hunted distraction, and the trysting-places of the amorous. One found
in them or flitting about them all the Tahitian or part Tahitian
girls in Papeete who were not kept from them by higher ambition or
by a strict family rule. From Moorea, Raiatea, Bora-Bora, and other
islands, and from the rural districts of Tahiti, drifted the fairest
who pursued pleasure, and to these cafes went the male tourists,
the gayer traders, the sailors, and the Tahitian men of city ways,
the chauffeurs, clerks, and officials.
Boxing and cinemas were novelties in Tahiti, and though the bars
were only adjuncts of the shows, they had become the scenes of a
hectic life quite different from former days. The groves, the beach,
and the homes were less frequented for merrymaking, the white having
brought his own comparatively new customs of men and women drinking
together in public houses. And there had crept in on a small scale an
exploitation of beauty by those who profited by the receipts at the
prize-fights, the cinemas, and the bars. The French or part castes who
owned these attractions were copying the cruder methods of the Chinese.
Llewellyn, David, and McHenry were habitues of these resorts, and I
not an infrequent visitor. We went together to a prize-fight, which
had been well advertised. A small boy with a gong handed me a bill
on the rue du Four, which read:
Casino de Tahiti
Ce Soir Vendredi
Pour le championnat des Etablissements francais de l'Oceanie
Grand Match de Boxe Entre MM.
Great Boxing Match Between MM.
Moto Raa rahi i rotopu ia
Opeta (Raratonga) & Teaea (Mataiea)
Moni parahiraa 1re 2f. 50 2me 2f. 3me 1f. 50
The bill said further in French and Tahitian that this was to be
the climax of all ring battles in the South Seas between natives,
the Christchurch Kid and Cowan, the bridegroom, being hors concours.
Every seat was reserved by noon. All day the automobile stages ran
into the country districts to bring natives, and from Moorea came
boat-loads of spectators. On the streets native youths emulated the
combatants, and at every corner boys were at fisticuffs. The Casino
de Tahiti was on the rue de Rivoli, a large wooden shed painted in
polychromatic tints, and with a gallery open to the air for the band,
which played an hour before all events to summon patrons. Groups were
in the street by eight o'clock, many having been unable to buy seats,
and others there merely to hear the music and to laugh. Many were
Chinese, queueless, smartly dressed in conventional white suits and
American straw hats. The storekeepers had come in from the country. The
men heatedly discussed the merits of the boxers. Opeta of Raratonga
was mentioned as the champion of the world--this part of it.
Smoking was not allowed inside, so not until the last moment did the
men file in. Hundreds of women were long in their places, some white,
many part white, and others Tahitians. They were in their best gowns,
flirting, eating fruit and nuts, laughing, and talking. Every girl
of the Tiare Hotel was there, and all the guests. I was wedged in
between Lovaina and Atupu, and the latter stroked my leg often,
as one does a cat or dog, affectionately, but without much thought
about it. Lovaina, too, rubbed my back from time to time.
A picture preceded the fight. It was of cow-boys, robbers, and the Wild
West, with much shooting. A half-caste explained it, and his wit was
considerable, tickling the ears as the scenes tickled the eyes. The
natives applauded or execrated the films as the Parisians do at the
opera. They encouraged the heroes and cursed the villains. Lovaina
was interested, but said:
"Those robber in picshur make all boy bad. The governor he say that
maybe he stop that Bill 'Art kind of picshur. Some Tahiti boy steal
horse and throw rope on other boy for lassoo."
When the screen was removed, a roped enclosure, a square "ring," was
disclosed. The announcer spoke in Tahitian of the signal achievements
of the two fighters, of their determination to do their best then
and there. The women cheered these declarations. Seated just below
me was a red-headed French girl, with perhaps a slight infusion of
Polynesian blood, who had a baby in a perambulator. Her strawberry
plaits dangled temptingly as she cooed to the baby. She was for Opeta,
the foreign competitor.
A white-haired Australian woman, with a strong accent, favored Teaea,
and when the Raratonga youth was winning, shouted to Teaea:
"'It 'im 'arder, Ol' Peet! 'E's outa wind! Knock 'is shell hoff!"
The Casino de Tahiti had two galleries, and in the topmost, at a franc,
five sous each, sat the little gods, as with us. Others were perched
on doors, on projections of cornices, and in every nook.
The fighters were naked except for breech-clouts. They were
barefooted. They wore their hair longish, and it appeared like
rough, black caps, which now and again fell over their faces and was
flung back by a toss of their heads. They were handsome men, framed
symmetrically, lithe, and healthy-looking. Their bodies soon shone
with the sweat. Their eyes, as soft as velvet to begin, grew fiery
as they punished each other. In truth, this punishment was not severe
from American prize-ring standards. The islander was unused to blows,
and the gloves were of the biggest size, such as those worn by business
men in gymnasiums.
Opeta had as seconds American beach-combers; and Teaea, natives. They
had all the pugilistic appurtenances of towels, bottles, etcetera,
and fanned and rubbed their men between rounds as if they were matched
for a fortune.
Teaea had a green ribbon in his loin-cloth. He was taller and heavier
than Opeta, but showed his inferiority quickly. They danced about
and fiddled for an opening, sparred for wind, and did all the fancy
footwork of the fifth-class fighter, but they seldom came together
except in clinches. The referee, the Christchurch Kid, was the
martyr, for he had to pull them apart every minute. The rounds were
of two minutes' duration, and the rests one minute. After seven very
tame rounds, the spectators became angered, and in the eighth Teaea
went down, and took the count of ten on his hands and feet, warily
watching his opponent. In the ninth, Opeta, excited by the demands of
the gallery, slugged him in the head. Teaea sought the boards again,
and the counting of ten by the referee began.
The Mataiea boxer was on his back, but his glazing eyes stared
reproachfully at Opeta. The latter, now clearly the victor, glanced
at the red-headed girl, who was dancing on the floor beside her
perambulator and waving her congratulations. The house was on its feet
yelling wildly to Teaea to rise. Those who had bet on him were calling
him a knave and a coward, while Opeta's backers were imploring him
to kill Teaea if he stood up. The Raratonga champion became excited,
confused and when Teaea, at the call of eight, cautiously turned over
and lifted his head, he struck him lightly.
The inhabitants of the country districts vociferated in one voice:
"Faufau! Faufau!" cried the gods.
"Foul! Foul! 'E 'it' im, 'hand' e's hon 'is 'ands hand kneeses,"
exclaimed the Australian woman.
The audience took up the chorus in French, Tahitian, and
English. Though Opeta had won them all by his ability and fairness
and was plainly the better man, the sentiment was for the rules. The
Christchurch Kid thought a moment, and conferred with the announcer,
who talked with all the seconds. The spectators were insistent,
and though loath to end the show, the Kid held up the gloved hand of
The announcer declared him the "champignon" of Papeete, but naively
declared that Opeta was still full of fight, and challenged the
universe. The Raratonga man was dumfounded at the result of his
forgetfulness, and gazed coldly and accusingly at the red plaits. The
people, too, now regretted their enthusiasm for the right, which had
shortened their program of rounds, and demanded that the battle go
on. But the band had left, the lights were dimmed, and gradually the
The Australian waited to shake the hand of her knight, to whom
"I bloomin' well knew you 'd do 'im hup! 'E's got nothin' hin 'is
right. 'E's a runaw'y, 'e is."
David and I went into the buffet of the cinema after the fight to
hear the arguments over it, and he to collect bets. He had chosen the
winner by the toss of a coin. The French Governor of the Paumotus was
there, gaily bantering half a dozen girls for whom he bought drinks. We
joined him with Miri and Caroline and Maraa and others, the best-known
sirens of Papeete. They were handsome, though savage-looking, and
they had lost their soft voices. Alcohol and a thousand upaupahuras
had made them shrill. They smoked endless cigarettes. Some wore shoes
and stockings, and some were barefooted. Their dresses were red or
blue, with insertions of lace and ribbons, and they were crowned with
flowers in token of their mood of gaiety.
David insisted on a bowl of velvet, three quarts of champagne, and
three of English porter mixed in a great urn. The champagne bubbled in
the heavier porter, and the brew was a dark, brilliant color, soft and
smooth. It was delicious, and seemed as safe as cocoanut milk. I drank
my share of it in the cinema cafe, and after that was conscious only
vaguely of going to the Cocoanut House garden, where Miri and Caroline
and Maraa danced nude under the trees by the light of the full moon.
Then came blankness until I awoke several hours after midnight. I
was sitting on the curbing of the Pool of Psyche, and some one was
holding my hand. I thought it must be Atupu or Lovaina, and groped
for a moment before I could pull my senses together. I looked up,
and saw a wreathed and bearded native, and then down and saw his
attire, mixed man's and woman's, and knew he was one of the mahus
who loafed about the queen's grounds. I drew away my hand as from a
serpent's jaws, and clasped my head, which rocked in anguish. A horrid
chuckle or dismal throaty sound caused me to see the Dummy standing
in the gateway, looking contemptuously at me, and witheringly at my
companion. I had a second's thought of myself as a son of Laocooen.
The mahu got up and hastened away, and Vava put his hand on my shoulder
and lifted me as a child to the road. He pointed toward the Annexe,
and as I went haltingly with him, he now and again uttered unearthly
cackles and bawls as if enjoying a farce I could not see. He, like the
mahu, was one of those mishaps of nature assigned to play an absurd
and sorry part in the tragicomedy of life in which all must act the
roles assigned by the great author-manager until death puts us out
of the cast. In that scene I myself was the buffoon of fate.
A journey to Mataiea--I abandon city life--Interesting sights on the
route--The Grotto of Maraa--Papara and the Chief Tati--The plantation
of Atimaono--My host, the Chevalier Tetuanui.
Life in the country made me laugh at myself for having so long
stayed in the capital. The fever of Papeete had long since cooled
in my veins. A city man myself, I might have known that all
capitals are noxious. Great cities are the wens on the body of
civilization. They are aggregations of sick people, who die out
in the third generation. Greed builds them. Crowded populations
increase property values and buy more manufactured luxuries. The
country sends its best to perish in these huddlements. In America,
where money interests boom cities and proudly boast their corruption
in numbers, half the people are already in these webs in which the
spider of commerce eats its victims, but ultimately may perish for
lack of food. Brick and steel grow nothing.
I had made excursions from Papeete, but always carrying the poisons
of the town with me. At last my playmates deserted me. Lying Bill and
McHenry sailed on their schooner for the Paumotu and the Marquesas
islands, Landers left for Auckland, and Count Polonsky for a flying
visit to America. Llewellyn, though an interesting study, learned
in native ways, and with comparisons of Europe and America, was
too atrabilious, and, besides, had with his young partner, David,
abandoned himself to the night life, the cinema bars, with their
hilarious girls and men, the prize-fights, and the dancing on the
beach in the starlight. Schlyter, the tailor, an occasional companion,
was busied cutting and sewing a hundred uniforms for a war-ship's crew.
I bethought me of the letter Princess Noanoa Tiare had given me to
the chief of Mataiea, and with a bag I departed for that village at
daybreak, after taofe tau for four sous at Shin Bung Lung's Fare
Tamaaraa. The diligence was open at the sides and roofed with an
awning, and was drawn by two mules, with bells on their collars.
On the stage I paid twenty centimes a kilometre, or six and a half
cents a mile. It carried the mail, passengers, and freight. In every
district there was a mailbox on the fence of the chefferie, the chief's
office, and on the trees alongside the road at regular intervals,
and the driver took mails from people who hailed him. Arriving
at a chefferie, the stage halted, the district mutoi, or native
policeman-postman, appeared leisurely, opened the locked box on the
diligence, looked at ease over the contents, took out what he liked,
and put back the remainder, with the postings of the chefferie.
A glance at the map of Tahiti shows it shaped like a Samoan fan, or,
roughly, like a lady's hand mirror. It is really two islands, joined
by the mile-wide isthmus of Taravao. The larger island is Poroiunu
or Tahiti-nui (big Tahiti), and the smaller Taiarapu, or Tahiti-iti
(little Tahiti). Tahiti-nui is almost round; and Tahitiiti, oval. Both
are volcanic, distinct in formation. They are united by a sedimentary
piece of land long after they were raised from the ocean's bed.
Mataiea is twenty-seven miles from Papeete, and well on toward the
Most of our passengers were Chinese, and I realized the Asiaticizing
of Tahiti. They were store-keepers, small farmers, or laborers. The
Broom Road lay most of the way along the beach, back of the fringe of
cocoanut and pandanus-trees, and between the homes and plantations
of Tahitians and foreigners. I saw all the fruits of the islands in
matchless profusion, intermingled with magnificent ferns, the dazzling
bougainvillea, the brilliant flamboyant-tree, and a thousand creepers
and plants. Every few minutes the road rushed to the water's-edge,
and the glowing main, with its flashing reef, and the shadowy outlines
of Moorea, a score of miles away, appeared and fled. Past villages,
churches, schools, and villas, the shops of the Chinese merchants,
the sheds for drying copra, rows of vanilla-vines, beaches with
canoes drawn up and nets drying on sticks, men and women lolling
on mats upon the eternal green carpet of the earth, girls waving
hands to us, superb men, naked save for pareus, with torsos, brown,
satiny, and muscled like Greek gladiators, women bathing in streams,
their forms glistening, their breasts bare; and constant to the scene,
dominating it, the lofty, snakelike cocoanuts and their brothers of
less height and greater girth.
At Fa'a a postwoman appeared. Before opening the mail-box she tarried
to light a cigarette and to chat with the driver about the new picture
at the cinema in Papeete. She commented laughingly on the writers and
addressees of the letters, and flirted with a passenger. The former
himene-house, which had been the dance-hall of Kelly, the leader of
the fish-strike, was vacant, but I heard in imagination the strains of
his pagan accordion, and the himene which will never be forgotten by
the Tahitians, "Hallelujah! I'm a bum!" Kelly had gone over the water
to the jails of the United States, where life is hard for minstrels
who sing such droll songs.
In Punaauia, the next district to Fa'a, was a schoolhouse and on it
a sign: 2 x 2 = 4.
M. Souvy, a government printer of Tahiti, had given the site out of his
humble savings. By the sign, in his blunt way, he struck at education
which does not teach the simple necessity of progress--common sense.
"Cela saute aux yeux," he had said.
He was long dead, but his symbol provoked a question from every
new-comer, and kept alive his name and philosophy. I never saw it but
I thought of an article I had once written that led to the overturning
of the educational system of a country. How all guide-posts point to
oneself! Near the school-house, a dozen yards from the salt water,
was a native house with a straw roof, a mere old shell, untenanted.
M. Edmond Brault, the government employee and musical composer,
a passenger on the diligence, had with him his violin, intending to
spend the day in company with it in a grove. He remarked the tumbledown
condition of the house, and said:
"I have sat under that toil de chaume, that straw roof, and talked
with and played for a painter who was living there quite apart from
the world. He was Monsieur Paul Gauguin, and he had a very distingue
establishment. The walls of his atelier were covered with his canvases,
and in front of the house he had a number of sculptures in wood. That
was about 1895, I think. I can see the maitre now. He wore a pareu
of red muslin and an undershirt of netting. He said that he adored
this corner of the world and would never leave it. He had returned
from Paris more than ever convinced that he was not fitted to live
in Europe. Yet, mon ami, he ran away from here, and went to the
savage Marquesas Islands, where he died in a few years. He loved the
third etude of Chopin, and the andante of Beethoven's twenty-third
sonata. You know music says things we would be almost afraid to put
in words, if we could. If Flaubert might have written 'Madame Bovary'
or 'Salambo' in musical notes, he would not have been prosecuted by
the censor. We musicians have that advantage."
"In America," I replied, "we have never yet censored musical
compositions, and many works are played freely because the censors
and the reform societies' detectives cannot understand them. But if
our inquisitors take up music, they may yet reach them. For instance,
the prelude of 'Tristan and Isolde,' and Strauss' 'Salome.'"
"No," returned the Frenchman, quickly; "music would make them
A little farther on, in the valley of Punaruu, the amiable violinist
and pianist showed me the ruins of defense works thrown up by the
French to withstand the attacks of the great chieftain, Oropaa of
Punaauia, who with his warriors had here disputed foot by foot the
advance of the invaders. These Tahitians were without artillery,
mostly without guns of any sort, but they utilized the old strategy
of the intertribal wars, and rolled huge rocks down upon the French
troops in narrow defiles.
We saw from our seats through the shadows of the gorge of Punaruu
two of the horns of Maiao, the Diadem. In the far recesses
of those mountains were almost inaccessible caves in which the
natives laid their dead, and where one found still their moldering
skeletons. M. Brault touched my shoulder.
"Rumor has it that the body of Pomare the Fifth is there," he said;
"that it was taken secretly from the tomb you have seen near Papeete,
and carried here at night. There are photographs of those old skeletons
taken in that grotto of the tupapaus, as the natives call the dead
and their ghosts. The natives will not discuss that place."
It was from Punaauia that Teriieroo a Teriierooterai had gone to
Papenoo to be chief. This was the seat of his ancienne famille. Here
he had been a deacon of the church, as he was in Papenoo, because
it meant social rank, and was possible insurance against an unknown
future. The church edifice was the gathering-place, as once had been
the marae, the native temple. This was Sunday, and I passed a church
every few miles, the Roman Catholic and the Protestant vying. They
had matched each other in number since the French admiral had exiled
the British missionary-consul, and compelled the queen to erect a
papal church for every bethel.
Along the road and in the churchyards the preachers and deacons were
in black cloth, sweating as they walked, their faces beatudinized as
Many carried large Bibles, and frowned on the merry, singing crew
who went by on foot, in carriages and automobiles. Everywhere, in
all countries, the long, black coat and white or black cravat are
the uniforms of evangelism. In Tahiti I saw ministers of the gospel,
white and brown, appareled like circuit-riders in Missouri; hot,
dusty, and their collars wilted, but their souls serene and sure in
their mission. They associated God and black, as night and darkness.
The sound of sermons echoed from chapels as we progressed, the voices
raised in the same tone one heard in a Methodist camp-meeting in
Kansas, and the singing, when in French, having much the same effect,
a whining, droning fashion; without spirituality or art.
But why look for a moment at these unfortunates or listen to their dull
chants when marvels of nature unfolded at every step! There was never
such luxuriant vegetation, never such a riot of color and richness of
growth as on every side. The wealth of the bougainvillea's masses of
lustrous magenta was matched by the dazzling flamboyant, trees forty
feet high, and their foliage a hundred in circumference, a sheen of
crimson. Clumps of bamboo as big as a city lot and towering to the
sky, with the yellow allamanda framing the bungalows, and a tangle
of bananas, lantana, tafeie, cocoas, and a hundred other fruits,
flowers and creepers, made the whole journey through a paradise.
Around many cocoanut-palms were bands of tin or zinc ten or twenty feet
from the earth. These were to foil the rats or crabs which climb the
trees and steal (can a creature steal from nature?) the nuts. Every
available piece of thin metal was used for this. The sheets were
often flattened kerosene- and gasoline-cans and were drawn taut and
smooth. These are impasses for the wily climbers.
"Ils ne passeront pas," said the French; "Aita haere!" the Tahitians.
The road was good, but narrow, in few places room for two to pass
except by turning out, skirting the beach at the water's-edge,
crossing causeways over inlets, and in admirable curves clinging to
the hillsides, which bathed in the sea. Moving over a small levee we
came to the pointe de Maraa, where was the Grotto of Maraa, a gigantic
recess worn in the solid wall of rock, a dark mysterious interior,
which gave me a momentary surge of my childhood dread and love of
caves and secret entrances to pirates' lairs. The diligence halted
at the request of M. Brault, and he and I jumped out and ran to the
grotto. In it was a lake with black waters, and down the face of the
cliff, which rose hundreds of feet straight, dripped a million drops of
the waters of the hills, so that the ground about was in puddles. The
inside walls and arched ceiling were covered with a solid texture of
verdant foliage, wet and fragrant. We found a little canoe fastened
to a stone, and adventured on the quiet surface of the pond until at
about eighty yards of penetration we came to a blind curtain of stone.
"This grot," said M. Brault, "was for centuries the retreat of those
conquered in war, sacred to gods, and a sanctuary never violated, like
those cities of refuge among the Hebrews and Greeks. Now it is a picnic
rendezvous, very dear to Papeete whites and to tourists. C'est la vie."
Tahitian women passengers were adorning their heads with wreaths of
maiden-hair and rare ferns from the cavern. Great lianas hung down
the walls, and these they climbed to reach the exquisite draperies of
the chamber. The farther we left behind the capital, the more smiling
were the faces, the less conventional the actions and gestures of
Papara was at hand, the richest and most famous of all the districts
of Tahiti. The village was a few Chinese stores, a Catholic and
a Protestant church, a graveyard, and a scattered collection of
homes. I bade au revoir to my delightful companion, Edmond Brault,
having determined to walk the remaining kilometers, and to send on
my inconsiderable bag of clothing.
Lovaina had given me a note to the chief of Papara, Tati, whose father
was Salmon, an English Jew, and whose sister was Marao, the relict of
the late king, and known as the queen. His father was the first white
to marry formally a Tahitian noblewoman. Pomare IV had generously
granted permission for the high chiefess of Papara to ally herself
with the shrewd descendant of the House of David, and their progeny
had included the queen, Tati, and others celebrated in Tahitian life.
Tati welcomed me with the heartiness of the English gentleman and
the courtesy of the Tahitian chief. He was a man of large parts
himself, limited in his hospitality only by his means, he, like all
natives, having thrown away most of his patrimony in his youth. He
was the best-known Tahitian next to Prince Hinoe, but much abler than
he. He knew the Tahitian history and legends, the interwoven tribal
relations, the descents and alliances of the families, better than
any one else. Such knowledge was highly esteemed by the natives,
for whom chiefly rank still bore significance. The Tatis had been
chiefs of Papara for generations, and had entertained Captain Cook.
He lived in a bungalow near the beach, handsome, spreading, and with
a mixed European and indigenous arrangement and furnishing that was
very attractive. I met his sons and daughters, and had luncheon with
them. Tati, of course, spoke English fluently, yet with the soft
intonation of the Tahitian. Some of the dishes and knives and forks
had belonged to Robert Louis Stevenson, who, said Tati, had given them
to him when he was departing from Tahiti. Tati's sister, a widow, was
of the party, and together we went to the Protestant churchyard to her
husband's tomb. It was imposing and costly, and the inscription read:
In Memory of Dorence Atwater, beloved husband of arii inoore Moetia
Salmon. Born at Terryville, Conn., Feb. 3, 1845. Died at San Francisco,
Cal., November 28, 1910. As a last tribute to his name there was
erected in his native state a monument with this inscription:
This memorial is dedicated to our fellow townsman, Dorence Atwater,
for his patriotism in preserving to this nation the names of 13,000
soldiers who died while prisoners at Andersonville, Ga.
He builded better than he knew; some day, perchance, in surprise he
may wake to learn:
He builded a monument more enduring than brass.
The name given Atwater when he married Moetia Salmon was Tupuataroa,
which means a wise man. Mrs. Atwater was rich and melancholy. She
mourned her dead. Atwater had come to Tahiti as American consul, and
had piled franc on franc in trade and speculation, with great dignity
and success. He had been the leading American of his generation in
the South Seas, and had left no children.
Tati said that when the church was dedicated--it was a box-like
structure of wood and coral, whitewashed and red-roofed--three thousand
Tahitians had feasted in a thatched house erected for the arearea. The
himene-chorus was made up of singers from every district in Tahiti
and Moorea. Tati had presided.
"We ate for three days," he related to me. "More than two hundred
and fifty swine, fifteen hundred chickens, and enough fish to equal
the miraculous draft on the shores of Galilee. We Polynesians were
always that way, Gargantuan eaters at times, but able to go fifty
miles at top speed on a cocoanut in war."
Tati would have me stay indefinitely his guest, but I had written to
Mataiea of my intended arrival there, and though there were insistent
cries that I return soon, I said farewell.
Tati himself walked with me to the bridge over the Taharuu River,
one of the hundred and fifty streams I crossed in a circuit of Tahiti.
"My ancestor, the old chief Tati," he told me, "cut down the sacred
trees of our clan marae near by, the aitos, tamanus, and miros. He
had become a Christian, as was fashionable, and at the instigation of
the English missionaries destroyed many beautiful and ancient trees,
statues, carvings, and buildings. The Tahitians who mourned his
iconoclasm had a chant which said that the Taharuu River ran blood
when their gods were dishonored."
From the stream the vast domain of the plantation of Atimaono stretched
to Mataiea. It had been planted in the sixties, when British demands
for cotton, and the blockade and laying waste of the South in the
American Civil War caused a thousand such speculations all over
It was for this plantation, the most celebrated in Tahiti, that
Chinese were imported, and a thousand had their shanties where now
is brush. Those were the times that the Marquesas had their cotton
boom, and lapsed, too. Upon a hill of this plantation the English
manager, a former cavalry officer, had built himself a palatial
mansion, and lived like a feudal lord, the most powerful resident
of Tahiti. Travelers from all the world were his guests. Fair ladies
danced the night away upon his broad verandas and drank the choicest
wines of France. Scandal wove a dozen strange stories of intrigues,
of a high official who sold his wife to him, of Arioian orgies, and all
the associations of semi-regal rule and accountability to none. Cotton
prices declined, the bubble burst in bankruptcy, the miserable death
of the aristocrat, and the fury of cheated English investors.
The plantation was now owned by a storekeeper of Tahiti, prosy and
disliked, who had fattened by ability to outwit the natives; but the
glory had departed, and the place languished, ruins and jungle, the
prey of guava and lantana. The neighborhood was known as Ati-Maono,
"The Clan of Maon."
The lines between village and country were not rigid, and often
the hamlet straggled along the road for much of the district. Every
kilometer there was a stone marking the distance from Papeete. One
knew the villages more by the Chinese stores than by any other feature.
"You will find the Papara country full of oranges," Fragrance of the
Jasmine had said.
The fruit was as sweet and delicious as any I had eaten, and the trees
larger than their parents of Sydney, Australia. I strolled along the
road eating, speaking all who passed or were in sight within their
gardens, and came to Mataiea, where I was to live months and to learn
the Tahitian mind and language.
Ariioehau Amerocarao, commonly known as Tetuanui Tavana, or Monsieur
le Chef de Mataiea, Tetuanui, and his wife, Haamoura, were the salt of
the earth. The chief was a large man, molded on a great frame, and very
corpulent, as are most Polynesians of more than thirty years. He was
about sixty, strong and sweet by nature, brave and simple. His vahine
was very stout, half blind from cataracts, but ever busied about her
household and her guests. As chief and roadmaster of his district,
Tetuanui received a small compensation, but not enough for the wants
of his dependents, so a few paying white guests were sent to him by
Lovaina. The house was set back from the Broom Road in a clearing
of a wood of cocoanuts, breadfruits, badamiers, and vi-apples. The
father of Haamoura had given the land to his daughter, and they had
built on it a residence of two high stories, with wide verandas.
The chief and his wife had no children, but had adopted
twenty-five. They had brought most of these to manhood and womanhood,
and many were married. Perhaps their care, dots for the daughters,
and estates for the sons, had made the parents poor. One was the
blood son of Prince Hinoe, and was now a youth, and worked about the
plantation of the chief. His christened name was Ariipaea Temanutuanuu
Teariitinorua Tetuanui a Oropaa Pomare. He was a prince and very
handsome and gentle, but he gathered the leaves from the volunteer
lawn for the horses. There was an atmosphere of affection and happiness
about the home I have not sensed more keenly anywhere else.
The Duke of Abruzzi's photograph and one of the Italian war-ship
Liguria, were on a wall in the drawing-room, with others of notable
people whom the chief had entertained. He himself wore the cross of
the Legion of Honor, which had been presented to him in Paris when
he visited there many years before.
The house was raised ten feet from the earth, and the ground below
was neatly covered with black pebbles from the shore. Shaded by the
veranda-floors, which formed the ceilings of their open rooms, the
family sat on mats, and made hats, sewed, sang, and chatted. They
laughed all day. A dozen children played on the sward where horses,
ducks, geese, chickens, and turkeys fed and led their life. When rice
or corn was thrown to them, the mina-birds flocked to share it. These
impudent thieves pounced on the best grains, and though the chickens
fought them, they appeared to be afraid only of the ducks. These
hated the minas, and pursued them angrily. But the minas can fly, and,
when threatened, lazily lifted themselves a few feet out of reach of
the bills, and returned when danger was over.
The chief's plantation extended from the sea to the mountain,
altogether about ten acres, which in Tahiti is a good-sized single
holding. Cocoanuts, breadfruit, limes, oranges, badamiers, mangoes,
and other trees made a dense forest, and a hectare or more was planted
with vanilla-vines that grew on the false coffee of which hedges were
usually made. A hundred yards away a stream meandered toward the sea,
and there women of the household sat and washed clothes.
They had no taro planted, though there was much about. Taro, the
staple food of Hawaiians, either simply boiled or fermented as poi,
was not a decided favorite in Tahiti. The natives thought it tasteless
compared with the fei, so rich in color and flavor. The taro is a lily
(Arum), and its great bulbs are the edible part, though the tops of
small taro-plants are delicious, surpassing spinach, and we had them
often on our table.
Our customary meals at eleven and at six were of raw oysters,
shrimp, crabs, craw-fish, or lobsters; fish of many kinds, chicken,
breadfruit, vi-apples stewed, bananas, oranges, feis, cocoanuts,
and sucking pigs. The family ate sitting or squatting on the ground,
but I had a table and silver, glass and linen. It is the way of the
Tahitian. The big house, well furnished, was not inhabited by the
chief's family. It was their monument of success. They slept in one
of several houses they had near by, and their elegant dishes were
unused except for white guests.
On the beach at the river's mouth the heron sat or stalked solemnly,
and the tern flew about the reef. The white iitae lived about the
From the broad veranda in front was a view of the sea, and all day
and night the breakers beat upon the reef a mile away, now as soft
as the summer wind in the lime-trees of Seville, and again loud as
winter in the giant pine forests of Michigan. The fleecy surf gleamed
and shimmered in the sun as it rolled over the coral dam, and when the
sea was strong, there was another sound, the lapping of the waves on
the sand a hundred yards from me. A little wharf had been built there
by the Government, and a schooner arrived and departed every few days,
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