Mystic Isles of the South Seas.
Part 8 out of 8
drawing the nets and catching shrimp and eels. In the lagoon we usually
secured a plentiful draft of fish, brilliant creatures of silver and
crimson, as they leaped from the sea into the nets, and were later
tumbled into canoes or on the beach. The orare, aturi, and paaihere
were like the gleaming mesh purses worn by the women of our cities,
but the ihi was as red as the beard of the Greek god T'yonni. These
fish we kept in tubs of sea water, alive and even moderately happy
Saturday's parties went far into the woods to gather a choice kind of
fei, and the oranges and limes of the foot-hills. Raiere, Matatini,
and another boy, Tahitua, hunted the shrimp and eel. After our suppers,
about seven or eight o'clock, when it was quite dark, we equipped
ourselves for the chase, each with a torch and two or three lances,
all but Tahitua, who carried a bag.
We followed the grand chemin, as Alfred called it, along the lagoon
and past the clump of trees in which lived Uritaata, whom we saw
sleeping peacefully a dozen feet from the earth in the branches of
a mango. He lay on his back, with his arms above his little head,
and one foot grasping a leaf, and did not arouse to notice our
passing. The Tahitians gave him wide avoidance, with a mutter of
exorcism. We descended the bank, and entered the stream at a point
just below the last hut of the village.
Raiere cast a glow upon the water with his torch, and we saw the
shrimp resting upon the bottom or leaping into the air in foot-wide
bounds. He poised his smallest lance and thrust it with a very quick,
but exact, motion, so that almost every time he impaled a shrimp upon
its prongs. The oura was instantly withdrawn, and Tahitua received it
in his bag. All but he then began in earnest the quest of the bonnes
bouches. We separated a hundred feet or so, and treading slowly the
pebbled or bouldered and often slippery floor of the river, keeping to
the shallow places, we lighted the rippling waters with our torches,
and sought to spear the agile and fearful prey. The oura lances were
five feet long, not thicker than a fat finger, and fitted with three
slender prongs of iron--nails filed upon the basalt rock. One saw the
faintest glimpse of a shrimp on the bottom, or a red shadow as the
animal darted past, and only the swiftest coordination of mind and body
won the prize. Whereas Raiere and even Matatini secured most of those
they struck at, I made many laughable failures. I missed the still
body through the deceptive shadows of the water, or failed to strike
home because of the lightning-like movements of the alarmed shrimp.
The sport was fascinating. The water was as warm as fresh milk,
transparent, and with here a gentle and there a rapid current. A
million stars glittered in a sky that was very near, and the trees and
vegetation were in mysterious shadows. Only when our torches lit the
darkness did we perceive the actual forms of the cocoanuts, mango-
and purau-trees which bordered the banks and climbed the hills into
the distance. The puraus often seemed like banians, stretching far over
the water in strange and ghostlike shapes, with twisting branches and
gnarled trunks that in the obscurity gave a startling suggestion of
the fetish growths of the ancients. I felt a faint touch of fear as
I groped through the stream, now and again falling into a deep hole
or stumbling over a stone or buried branch, and I looked often to
reassure myself that Raiere's gigantic figure loomed in the farther
gloom. There was no danger save in me; the scene was peaceful, but for
our own disturbance of the night and the river, and not even a breeze
fluttered the dark leaves of the trees. The mountain rose steeply at
our backs, and constellations appeared to rest upon its shadowy crest.
At last we came to a place where a tiny natural dam caused the stream
to break in glints of white on a crooked line of rocks, and pausing
there, Raiere suddenly bent over. He called peremptorily to Tahitua
to bring him the big lance, which the little boy carried along with
"Puhi! Haere mai!" he said in a low, but urgent, voice.
Tahitua flew through the ripples, and we all hurried to see the
"Puhi! Puhi!" again said Raiere, and pointed to the rocks. We
cautiously stepped that way, and saw, apparently asleep at the foot of
the stones, a tangle of huge eels. Their black and gray slate-colored
bodies lay inert in folds, as if they had gathered for a night's
good slumber, and not until Raiere, with unerring aim thrust the
great spear, with its half-dozen points of iron, into one of them,
did the others scatter in a mad swim for safety. The mere transfixing
of the eel did not always mean his securing, but another of us must
put a lance in the contorting curves and with quick and dexterous
motion lift him to the bank where his struggles might be ended with
knife or rock. The release of him for a second might permit him to
wriggle to the river and escape.
With the finding of the first eel, began an hour's search for his
fellows. We had struck their haunt, but they did not yield us half
a dozen of their kind without diligent, though pleasant, work. We
splashed to places when one sang out that an eel was in sight, and
pursued them in their divagations through the river, trusting to
drive them into eddies or under the fringe of plants hanging from
the banks where we hunted them out.
In a couple of hours we found ourselves with a full creel of eels and
oura, and I a trifle dismayed at facing the march home. Raiere relieved
Tahitua of the burden, and a song shortened the way. I gave them the
ditty of the New-Zealand Maori, who metaphorically toasted his enemy:
O, the saltiness of my mouth
In drinking the liquid brains of Nuku
Whence welled up his wrath!
His ears which heard the deliberations!
Mine enemy shall go headlong
Into the stomach of Hinewai!
My teeth shall devour Kaukau!
The three hundred and forty of my enemy
Shall be huddled in a heap in my trough;
Te Hika and his multitudes
Shall boil in my pot!
The whole tribe shall be
My sweet morsel to finish with! E!
In the days of Captain Cook--The first Spanish
missionaries--Difficulties of converting the heathens--Wars over
Christianity--Ori-a-Ori, the chief, friend of Stevenson--We read the
Bible together--The church and the himene.
Captain Cook barely escaped shipwreck here. The Bay of Tautira is
marked on the French map, "Mouillage de Cook," the anchorage of
Cook. That indomitable mariner risked his vessels in many dangerous
roadsteads to explore and to procure fresh supplies for his crews. When
he had exhausted the surplus of pigs, cocoanuts, fowls, and green stuff
at one port, he sailed for another. Scurvy, the relentless familiar
of the sailor on the deep sea, made no peril or labor too severe. At
night Cook's ships approached Oati-piha, or Ohetepeha, Bay, as his
log-writers termed this lagoon, from the Vaitapiha River, flowing into
it, and the dawn found them in a calm a mile and a half from the reef.
They put down boats and tried to tow off their ships, but the tide set
them in more and more toward the rocks. For many hours they despaired
of saving the vessels, though they used "warping-machines," anchors,
and kedges. From my cook-house I saw where they had struggled for
their lives with breaker, current, and chartless bottom. A light
breeze off the land saved them, and in another day they returned to
"obtain cocoanuts, plantains, bananas, apples, yams and other roots,
which were exchanged for nails and beads." From the very pool into
which I dived Cook's hearties filled their casks with fresh water,
after shooting "two muskets and a great gun along the shore to
intimidate the Indians who were obstinate."
Cook, on his third voyage to Tahiti, found here a large wooden cross
on which was inscribed in Latin:
Charles the Third Emperor
It was plain that Spaniards had erected the cross, for Charles III was
King of Spain. These English tars hated the dons, with whom they had
but recently been embattled. When they were convinced that a Spanish
ship had been at Tautira twice since they had departed, and that the
builders of the cross had earned the respect and affection of the
natives, the Britons, in their old way of fair and assertive dealing,
left the cross standing after carving on the reverse in good Latin
as a claim of prediscovery:
George III King
1767, 1769, 1773, 1774, 1777.
Two Spanish priests, they learned, had lived in the village between
the arrival and return of the Spanish ships from Peru. They left no
imprint of their Catholic religion except the cross and a memory
of kindness; and why they resigned their mission to Tahiti is not
known. The British missionaries did not come until 1797, on the
Duff. They planted gardens and worked diligently and prayed. They
had vast patience, and confidence in their all-powerful and avenging
God, and a rapt devotion to his son, who forgave the sins of those
who adopted His faith. Their ideals were as fixed as the stars, and
their courage superior to the daily discouragements of their lives and
continuous hardships of separation from home. But they could not break
the strength of the superstitions of the pagans. A dozen years these
English ecclesiastics delved in their gardens, built their houses, and
begged Jehovah and Jesus to give them victory. Five years they mourned
without message or aid from England. Their clothes were in tatters,
and as covering their whole bodies with European garments from feet to
scalp, except face and hands, was a rigid prescription of their own
morals' and an example to the almost nude Tahitians, they suffered
keenly from shame. When, after half a decade, a brig arrived, its
supplies were found ruined by salt water and mold. The poor clerics,
in an earthly paradise, but hostile atmosphere, with little to report
to an unheeding England save the depths of the untilled field of
heathenry and depravity, might not have been blamed if they, too,
had given up their mission. The fruits of twelve years of gardening
and horticulture were destroyed in a day by ravaging parties. The
fact that their lives were spared and their persons not attacked,
except in a rare instance of an individual piece of villainy, is proof
of the mild dispositions of the infidels. The Tahitians worshiped
their gods with a superstitious awe not exceeded anywhere, and the
outlandish white men proclaimed openly that these gods were dirty
lumps of wood and stone and fiber, and to be despised in comparison
with the Christian Gods, Father and Son, which they implored them under
pain of eternal punishment to adopt. Imagine the fate of strangers who
settled in New England or Spain a hundred and twenty years ago and who
announced daily year in and year out that all the ancestors of the
people there were in hell, that their God and their angels, saints,
priests, and images were demons, or doing the work of demons, and
that only by acknowledging their belief in a deity unheard-of before,
by having water sprinkled on their heads, and ceasing the customs and
thoughts taught as most moral and divine by their own revered priests,
could they escape eternal misery as a consequence of a mistake made by
a man and a woman named Atamu and Ivi six thousand years earlier! In
Spain at that date the king whose name had been coupled with Christ's
on the cross near my house at Tautira was expelling the Jesuits from
his kingdom, and the Holy Office recorded its thirtieth thousand human
being burned at the stake in that country in the name of Jesus Christ.
The incredulous Tahitians tolerated the queer white men who wore
long, black coats and who had learned their language, and who,
except as to religion, spoke gently to them, healed their wounds,
patted their children on the head, and taught them how to use iron and
wood in unknown fashions. They saw that these men drank intoxicants
in great moderation, lived in amity, and did not advantage themselves
in trade or with the native women, as did all the other white men. And
But they were convinced of the truth of their own religion. Their
chiefs and priests replied:
"If your first man and woman took the lizard's word and ate fruit
from the tabu tree, they should have been punished, and if their
children killed the son of your God, they should have been punished;
but why worry us about it? We have not killed you, and our first man
and woman respected all tabu trees."
They disdained the cruel message that their forefathers were in the
perpetually burning umu, the oven, as did that Frisian king, Radbod,
who with one leg in the baptismal font, bethought him to ask where
were his dead progenitors, and was answered by the militant bishop,
Wolfran, "In hell, with all unbelievers."
"Then will I rather feast with them in the halls of Woden than dwell
with your little, starveling Christians in heaven" said the pagan,
and withdrew his sanctified limb to walk to an unblessed grave in
Otu, the son of King Pomare, had a revelation that the god Oro wished
to be removed to Tautira from Atehuru. The chiefs of that district
protested, and Otu's followers seized the idol, and went to sea
with him. They landed as soon as it was safe, and mollified the god
by a sacrifice; and having no victim, they killed one of Pomare's
servants. The island then divided into hateful camps, and Moorea
joined the fray. The mission sided with the king, and the crews of two
English vessels fortified the mission, and with their modern weapons
helped the royal party to whip the other faction. Wars followed, the
mission was again invaded, the houses burned, and the missionaries, not
desiring martyrdom, fled to Australia, thousands of miles away. But two
remained, and kept at their preaching, and finally the genius of the
Clapham clerics triumphed. Pomare ate the tabu turtle of the temple,
and a Christian nucleus was formed, headed by the sovereign. For years
a bloody warfare over Christianity distracted the islands, comparable
in intensity of feeling to that between Catholics and Huguenots in
France. The Christian converts were slaughtered by the hundreds,
and the pagans drove all the survivors to Moorea. After a season
the conquerors grew lonesome, and invited them to return and abjure
their false god, Ietu Kirito, whom they had defeated, and who by the
Christians' own statement had been hanged on a tree by the Ati-Iuda,
the tribe of Jews. Pomare and eight hundred men landed from Moorea,
and with the missionaries began a song service on the beach, and
"Come, let us join our friends above," and "Blow ye the trumpets,
blow!" echoed from the hills.
Couriers carried all over Tahiti word of the outrage to the gods,
and the incensed heathens rose in immense numbers and attacked the
hymners. Fortunately, says the missionary chronicle, the Christians
had their arms with them, and after prayers and exhortations by the
clergy, Pomare led his cohorts, men and women; and by the grace of God
and the whites, with a few muskets, they smote the devil-worshipers
hip and thigh, and chased them to the distant valleys.
Pomare, directed by the now militant missionaries, sent a body of
gunmen to Tautira to capture the god Oro, whose principal temple was
very near where stood my kitchen. The iconoclasts, with the zeal of
neophytes, destroyed every vestige of the magnificent marae, and,
unwinding the many coverings of Oro, carried to the king the huge log
which had been the national god for ages. The king first used it in
his cook-house as a shelf, and finally for firewood.
From then on the cross hecame the symhol of the new religion,
and those who had been most faithful to the old were the strongest
disciples. Until the French expelled the missionary-consul of England,
Pritchard, the missionaries virtually governed Tahiti; but with the
conflict of sects and the growing claims of trade, piety languished,
until now church-going was become a social pastime, and of small
influence upon the conduct of the Tahitians. The pastors were no longer
of the type of the pioneers, and with the fast decrease of the race,
the Tahitians were left largely to their own devices. Half a dozen
religions supported ministers from America and Europe in Papeete;
but there was no longer a fire of proselytizing, as all were nominally
Christians. In Tautira everybody went to the Protestant or the Catholic
church, the latter having a fifth as many attendants as the former. A
reason for this may have been that there was no French priest resident
at Tautira, and no Tahitian priests, whereas Tahitian preachers
abound. Also the chiefs were Protestants, and their influence notable.
Ori-a-Ori, though busied in his official duties, and by nature a
silent man, assumed of me a care, and in time gave me a friendship
beyond my possible return to him. I sent to Papeete for a variety
of edibles from the stores of the New-Zealand and German merchants,
and spread a gay table, to which I often invited Choti and T'yonni,
who were my hosts as frequently. Ori-a-Ori every evening sat with me,
and numbers of times we read the Bible, I, first, reciting the verse in
French, and he following in Tahitian. His greatest liking was for the
chapters in which the Saviour's life on the seaside with the fishermen
was described, but the beatitudes brought out to the fullest his deep,
melancholy voice, as by the light of the lamp upon the low table the
chief intoned the thrilling gospel of humility and unselfishness.
Never before had I appreciated so well the divine character of
Jesus or conjectured so clearly the scenes of his teaching upon the
shores of the Lake of Galilee. Excepting the tropical plants and the
eternal accent of the reef, the old Tahitian and I might have been in
Palestine with Peter and the sons of Zebedee and the disciples. They
were people of slender worldly knowledge, the carpenter's son knew
nothing of history, and ate with his fingers, as did Ori-a-Ori; but
their open eyes, unclouded by sophistication and complex interests,
looked at the universe and saw God. They lived mostly under the open
sky in touch with nature, dependent on its manifestations immediately
about them for their sustenance, and with its gifts and curses for
their concerns and symbols.
Occidentals, who seldom muse, to whom contemplation is waste of time,
do not enjoy the oneness with nature shared by these Polynesians
with the sacred Commoner whose beatitudes were to bring anarchy upon
the Roman world, and destroy the effects of the philosophies of the
ablest minds of Greece. The fishermen of Samaria were gay and somber
by turn, as were the Tahitians, doing little work, but much thinking,
and innocent and ignorant of the perplexing problems and offensive
indecencies of striving and luxury. The air and light nurtured them,
and they confidently leaned upon the hand of God to guide and preserve.
Thoreau's "Cry of the Human" echoed in the dark as the chief and I
chanted the idealistic desires of the friend of man:
We talk of civilizing the Indian, but that is not the name for his
improvement. By the wary independence and aloofness of his dim forest
life he preserves his intercourse with his native gods and is admitted
from time to time to a rare and peculiar society with nature. He has
glances of starry recognition to which our salons are strangers. The
steady illumination of his genius, dim only because distant, is like
the faint but satisfying light of the stars compared with the dazzling
and shortlived blaze of candles.
One evening when we had walked down to the beach to gaze at the
heavens and to speculate on the inhabitants of the planets, we sat
on our haunches, our feet lapped by the warm tide, and for the first
time I drew our conversation to a man who in a brief friendship had
won the deep affection of this noble islander.
"Ori-a-Ori," I began, "in America, in the city where I lived, my
house was near a small aua, a park in which was a tii, a monument, to
a great writer, a teller of tales on paper. On a tall block of stone
is a ship of gold, with the sails spread; so she seems to be sailing
over the ocean. The friends of the teller of tales built this in in
his honor after he died. Now that writer was once here in Tautira--"
Ori-a-Ori leaned toward me, and in a voice laden with memories,
a voice that harked back over a quarter of a century, said slowly
and meditatively, but with surety:
"Rui? Is the ship the Tatto?"
I had awakened in his mind recollections, doubtless often stirred,
but very vague, perhaps, almost mythical to him, after so long a
time in which nothing like the same experience had come to him. Yet
that they were dear to him was evident. They were concerned with
his vigorous manhood, though he was a youthful grandfather when
the Casco brought Robert Louis Stevenson to Tahiti to live in the
house of Ori. I reminded him of their exchanging names in blood
brothership, so that Stevenson was Teriitera, and Ori was Rui. Rui was
his pronunciation of Louis, as all his family in Tautira called the
Scotch author. Ori-a-Ori had known them all, his mother, his wife,
and his loved stepson, Lloyd Osborne. Nine weeks they had stayed in
his house, which the Princess Moe, Pomare's sister-in-law, had asked
Ori to vacate for the visitors before he knew them, but which he was
glad he had done when they became friends. Ori and his family had
retained only one room for their intimate effects, and had slept in a
native house on the site of my own. On the wild lawn across the road,
before his home, Rui had given his generous feast, costing him eighty
dollars at a time when he was most uncertain of funds, and gaining
him the reputation of the richest man known to the Tautirans, the
owner of the Silver Ship, as the Casco was called by the Paumotuans,
and by Stevenson afterward. There were four or five Tahitians I knew
here who remembered the amuraa maa of the sick man, who had his own
schooner, his pahi tira piti; but only Ori retained the deep, though
misty, impression made by a meeting of hearts in warmest kinship.
"Rui gave me knives and forks and dishes from the schooner to remember
him by," said the chief, abstractedly. "Tati, my relation, has them. I
have not those presents Rui handed me. Tati said that I ate with my
fingers, and that he was the head of the Teva clan; so I gave them
to him. Many papaa visit Tati at Papara. He is rich. Aue! I have not
the presents Rui put down on my table."
I said over for him what Rui had written:
I love the Polynesian; this civilization of ours is a dingy,
ungentlemanly business; it drops out too much of man, and too much
of that the very beauty of the poor beast ... if you could live,
the only white folk, in a Polynesian village, and drink that warm,
light vin du pays of human affection, and enjoy that simple dignity
of all about you....
Paiere, the adopted son of Ori, who was a boy when the Casco was at
Tautira, claimed a vivid remembrance of many incidents. He especially
had been impressed by the numbers of corks that flew in the house
and on the green; and when I invited him to a bottle of champagne,
he made hissing sounds and a plop to indicate that Rui had a penchant
for that kind of wine.
"I used to fetch him oranges and mangoes, and climb for drinking nuts,
of which Rui was fond," said Paiere.
Paiere was a deacon or functionary of the Protestant church, as was
Ori-a-Ori, and I went with the entire family to the Sunday evening
service. For weeks preparations and rehearsals for a himene nui,
a mammoth song service, had been agitating the village. Under my
trees the children gathered of late afternoons and imitated the
grown-up folk in their melodies. From the verandas and from the
church at night issued the peculiar strain of the himene, somehow
bringing to me, lying on my mat under the stars, a sense of fitness
to the prospect--the clear heavens, the purple lagoon, the wind in
the groves, and the low rumble of the surf.
On the Sunday of the himene nui, I met the French priest as he tied his
horse by the door of the Catholic church. He was in a dark cassock or
gown, his long, black beard and a flat, half-melon shaped hat giving
him a distinctive appearance in the simple settlement. He was old,
and weary from his hot ride, but courteous as world-wide travelers are,
and at his request I dropped in on his service before the other. He sat
by the middle door, and the twenty or thirty of the congregation on the
floor at one end. They sang a himene, and he followed and corrected
them from a book, so that their method was formal. Congregational
singing not being customary in Catholic churches, it was probable that
in Tahiti they had had to meet the competition of the Protestants,
who from their beginnings in Polynesia had made a master stroke by
developing this form of worship in extraordinary consonance with the
The Protestant temple held a hundred and fifty people. It was a
plain hall, with doors opposite each other in the middle, and at
one end a slightly raised platform on which sat the pastor and half
a dozen deacons. The pastor was delivering his sermon as I entered,
he and all his entourage in black Prince-Albert coats. He had a white
shirt and collar and tie, but others masked a pareu under the wool,
and were barelegged. All wore solemn faces of a jury bringing in a
death-verdict. Paiere nodded to a volunteer janitor, who insisted
upon my occupying a chair he brought.
Every one else was on the floor on mats, in two squares or separate
divisions. Babies lay at their mothers' extended feet, and others
ran about the room in silence. The pastor's sermon was about Ioba
and his tefa pua, which he scraped with poa, the shells of the
beach. He pictured the man of patience as if in Tautira, with his
three faithless friends, Elifazi, Bilidadi, and Tofari, urging him
to deny God and to sin; and the speaker struck the railing with his
fist when he enumerated the possessions taken from Ioba by God, but
returned a hundredfold. After he had finished, wiping the sweat from
his brow with a colored kerchief, the himene began.
The only advance we have made since the Greeks is, in music. Possibly
in painting we have better mediums; but in philosophy, poetry,
sculpture, decency, beauty, we have not risen. We cure diseases
more skilfully, but we have more; in health we are crippled by our
cities and our customs. Our violins and pianos, our orchestras,
and symphonies, are our great achievements; but in these South Seas,
where they do not count, the people had evolved a mass utterance of
canticles more thrilling and, more enjoyable than the oratorios of
Europe. In these himenes one may see transfigured for moments the
soul of the Polynesian ascending above the dust of the west, which
smothers his articulation.
A woman in the center of a row suddenly struck a high note, beginning
a few words from a hymn, or an improvisation. She sang through a
phrase, and then others joined in, singly or in pairs or in tens,
without any apparent rule except close harmony. These voices burst
in from any point, a perfect glee chorus, some high, some low, some
singing words, and others merely humming resonantly, a deep, booming
bass. The surf beating on the reef, the wind in the cocoanut-trees,
entered into the volume of sound, and were mingled in the emmeleia,
a resulting magnificence of accord that reminded me curiously of a
The himene was the offspring of the original efforts of the
Polynesians to adapt the songs of the sailormen, the national airs
of the adventurers of many countries, the rollicking obscenities and
drinking doggerel of the navies, and the religious hymns drilled into
their ears by the missionaries, English and French. Now the words and
the meanings were inextricably confused. A leader might begin with,
"I am washed in the blood of the Lamb," or, "The Son of Man goes
forth to war, a golden crown to gain; His blood-red banner streams
afar--who follows in his train?" But those striking in might prefer
such a phrase as, "The old white pig ran into the sea," or, "Johnny
Brown, I love your daughter," or something not possible to write
down. It was mostly in the old Tahitian language, almost forgotten,
and thus unknown to the foreign preachers. Sex and religion were as
mingled here as in America.
The airs were as wild as they were melodious; here a rippling torrent
of ra, ra, ra-ra-ra, and la, la, la-la-la breaking in on the sustained
verses of the leaders; falsetto notes, high and strident, savage and
shrilling, piercing the thrumming diapason of the men; long, droning
tones like bagpipes, bubbling sounds like water flowing; and all
in perfect time. The clear, fascinating false soprano of the woman
leader had a cadence of ecstasy, and I marked her under a lamp. Her
head was thrown back, her eyes were closed, and her features set as
in a trance. Her throat and mouth moved, and her nostrils quivered,
her countenance glorified by her visions which had transported her
to the bosom of Abraham.
The atmosphere rang as with the chimes of a cathedral, the
echoes--there were none in reality--returning from roof and tree, and
I had the feeling of the air being made up of voices, and of whirling
in this magic ether. The woman I observed would seem about to stop,
her voice falling away almost to no sound, and the prolonged drone
of the chorus dying out, when, as if she had come to life again,
she sang out at the top of her lungs, and the ranks again took up
their tones. I could almost trace the imposition of the religious
strain upon the savage, the Christian upon the heathen, like the
negro spirituals of Georgia, and I sat back in my chair, and forgot
the scene in the thoughts induced by the himene.
The souls of the Tahitians were not much changed by all their outward
transformation. Superficial, indeed, are the accomplishments of
missionaries, merchants, and masters among these Maoris. The old
guard dies, but never surrenders; the boast of Napoleon's soldiers
might be paraphrased by the voice of the Maori spirit. Our philosophy,
our catechisms, and our rules have not uprooted the convictions and
thought methods of centuries. Bewildered by our ambitions, fashions,
and inventions, they emulate us feebly, but in their heart of hearts
think us mad. Old chiefs and chiefesses I have had confess to me that
they were stunned by the novelties, commands, and demands of the papaa
(foreigner), but that their confusion was not liking or belief. In his
youth, in the midst of these bustling whites, the Tahitian imitates
them and feels sometimes humiliated that he is not one of them. But
in sober middle age all these new desires begin to leave him, and he
becomes a Maori again. The older he grows, the less attractive seem
the white man's ways and ambitions, though pride, habit, and perhaps
an acquired fear of the hell painted by priests and preachers from the
distant lands keep him church-going. Gods may differ, but devils never.
Choti and T'yonni and I spent an hour at my house before they walked
home to bed, and Choti read as a soporific, with a few bottles of
Munich beer, the "Sermon to the Fishes" of St. Antonius. As he read,
we heard the joyous stridence of an accordion in a hula harmony. The
upaupahura was beginning in the grove where Uritaata lived. The austere
St. Antonius had lectured long to the eels on the folly of wiggling,
to the pikes on the immorality of stealing, and to the crabs and
turtles on the danger of sloth. But:
"The sermon now ended,
Each turned and descended;
The pikes went on stealing,
The eels went on eeling;
Much edified were they,
But preferred the old way.
"The crabs are back-sliders,
The stock-fish thick-siders,
The carps are sharp-set,
All the sermon forget;
Much delighted were they,
But preferred the old way."
I meet a sorcerer--Power over fire--The mystery of the fiery
furnace--The scene in the forest--Walking over the white hot
stones--Origin of the rite.
Walking to the neighboring district of Pueu with Raiere to see the
beauties of the shore, we met a cart coming toward Tautira, and one of
the two natives in it attracted my interest. He was very tall and broad
and proud of carriage, old, but still unbroken in form or feature,
and with a look of unconformity that marked him for a rebel. Against
what? I wondered. Walt Whitman had that look, and so had Lincoln;
and Thomas Paine, who more than any Englishman aided the American
Revolution. Mysticism was in this man's eyes, which did not gaze at
the things about him, but were blinds to a secret soul.
Raiere exchanged a few words with the driver of the cart, and as they
continued on toward Tautira, he said to me in a very serious voice:
"He is a tahua, a sorcerer, who will enact the Umuti, the walking
over the fiery oven. He is from Raiatea and very noted. Ten years ago,
Papa Ita of Raiatea was here, but there has been no Umuti since."
"What brings him here now?" I asked. "Who pays him?"
Raiere answered quickly:
"Aue! he does not ask for money, but he must live, and we all will
give a little. It is good to see the Umuti again."
"But, Raiere, my friend," I protested, "you are a Christian, and only
a day ago ate the breadfruit at the communion service. Fire-walking
is etene; it is a heathen rite."
"Aita!" replied the youth. "No, it is in the Bible, and was taught
by Te Atua, the great God. The three boys in Babulonia were saved
from death by Atua teaching them the way of the Umuti."
"Where will the Umuti be?" I inquired. "I must see it."
"By the old tii up the Aataroa valley, on Saturday night."
That was five days off, and it could not come soon enough for me. I was
eager for this strangest, most inexplicable survival of ancient magic,
the apparent only failure of the natural law that fire will burn human
flesh. I had seen it in Hawaii and in other countries, and had not
reached any satisfying explanation of its seeming reversal of all
other experience. I knew that fire-walking as a part of the racial
or national worship of a god of fire, had existed and persisted in
many far separated parts of the world.
Babylon, Egypt, India, Malaysia, North America, Japan, and scattered
Maoris from Hawaii to New Zealand all had religious ceremonies in
which the gaining and showing of power over fire was a miracle seen and
believed in by priests and laity. Modern saints and quasi-scientists
had claims to similar achievements. Dr. Dozous said he saw Bernadette,
the seeress of Lourdes, hold her hands in a flame for fifteen
minutes without pain or mark, he timing the incident exactly by
his watch. Daniel Dunglas Home, the famous Scottish spiritist, was
certified by Sir William Crookes and Andrew Lang to handle red-hot
coals in his hands, and could convey to others the same immunity. Lang
tells of a friend of his, a clergyman, whose hand was badly blistered
by a coal Home put in his palm, Home attributing the accident to the
churchman's unbelieving state of mind. Crookes, the distinguished
physicist, took into his laboratory handkerchiefs in which Home had
wrapped live coals, and found them "unburned, unscorched, and not
prepared to resist fire."
The scene of the Umuti was an hour's walk up the glen of Aataroa,
which began at our swimming-place. On Thursday Choti, T'yonni, and
I accompanied Raiere to the place of the tii, where the preparations
for the sorcery were beginning. We went through a continuous forest
of many kinds of trees, a vast, climbing coppice, in which all
the riches of the Tahitian earth were mingled with growths from
abroad. Oranges and lemons, which had sprung decades before from
seeds strewn carelessly, had become giant trees of their kinds; and
the lianas and parasites, guava, lantana, and a hundred species of
ferns and orchids, with myriad mosses, covered every foot of soil,
or stretched upon the trunks and limbs, so that exquisite tapestries
garlanded the trees and hung like green and gold draperies between
them. Mape-trees prevailed, immense, weirdly shaped, often appalling
in their curious buttresses, their limbs writhing as if in torture,
suggestive of the old fetishism that had endowed them with spirits
which suffered and spoke. Utterly uninhabited or forsaken, there was
a bare trail through this wood, which, led by Raiere, we followed,
wading the Aataroa River twice, and I arriving with my mind deeply
impressed by the esoteric suggestiveness of the scene.
On a level spot, under five ponderous mape-trees, eight or ten men
of Tautira and of Pueu and Afaahiti were completing the oven. They
had dug a pit twenty-five feet long, eighteen wide, and five deep,
with straight sides. It had been done with exactitude at the direction
of the tahua, who was staying alone in a hut near by. The earth from
the pit formed a rampart about it, but was leveled to not more than a
foot's height. At the bottom of the umu had been laid fagots of purau-
and guava-wood, and on them huge trunks of the tropical chestnut,
the mape. On the trunks were laid basaltic rocks, or lumps of lava,
boulders, and the stones about, as big as a man's head. The oven was
completed for the lighting.
To the north stood a giant phallus of stone, buried in the earth,
but protruding six feet, and inclined toward the north. It was a
foot in diameter, and was carved au naturel as the Maori lingam and
yoni throughout Polynesia, and in India, where doubtless the cult
originated. Before the break-down of their culture, this stone had
been sprinkled with water, or anointed with cocoanut-oil, and covered
with a black cloth, as in Hawaii. The Greeks called their similar god,
Priapus, the Black-Cloaked.
A trench had been made on the west side of the pit from which to ignite
the fuel, a torch lit by fire struck from wood by friction. I did
not see the lighting, which occurred Friday morning, thirty-six hours
before the ceremony. The ordinance was set for eight o'clock. I swam
in the river at five on Saturday, and lay down in my bird cage to be
thoroughly rested for the night. It was not easy to fall asleep. There
was a thicket of pandanus near my house, the many legs of the curious
trees set in the sand of the upper beach, and these trees were favorite
resort of the mina birds, which were as familiar with me as children
of a family, and in many cases impudent beyond belief. They were the
size of crows, and had bronzed wings, lined with white; but their
most conspicuous color was a flaring yellow, which dyed their feet and
their beaks and encircled their bold eyes like canary-colored rims of
spectacles. Their usual voice was a hoarse croak that a raven might
disavow, but they also emitted a disturbing rattle and a whistle,
according to their moods. They were thieves, as I have said, but one
was more audacious than the others. He would come into my open house
at daybreak, and perch on my body, and awaken me pecking at imaginary
ticks. He picked up a small compass by its chain and flew away with it.
This particular wretch had learned to speak a little, and would say,
"Ia ora na oe!" sharply, but with a decided grackle accent. Despite
the irritating cacophony of the mina, I must have slept more than
an hour; for when I was suddenly awakened, the sun was almost lost
behind the hills. The talking mina was dancing on my bare stomach
and calling out his human vocabulary.
I sprang up, my tormentor uttering a raucous screech as I tossed
him away. While I hastily cooked my supper, the colors of the hiding
sun spread over the sky in entrancing variety. I could not see the
west, but to the northeast were rifts of blood-red clouds edged with
gold over a lake of pearly hue, and to the right of it a bank of
smoke. Against this was a single cocoa on the edge of the promontory,
a banner my eye always sought as the day ended. Rising a hundred feet
or more, the curving staff upheld a dozen dark fronds, which nodded
in the evening breeze.
There was the slightest chill in the air, unusual there, so that I put
on shirt and trousers of thin silk and tennis shoes for my walk, and
with a lantern set out for the tii. Along the road were my neighbors,
the whole village streaming toward the goblin wood. Mahine and Maraa,
two girls of my acquaintance, unmarried and the merriest in Tautira,
joined me. They adorned me with a wreath of ferns and luminous,
flower-shaped fungus from the trees, living plants, the taria iore,
or rat's-ear, which shone like haloes above our faces. The girls
wore pink gowns, which they pulled to their waists as we forded the
streams. Mahine had a mouth-organ on which she played. We sang and
danced, and the tossing torches stirred the shadows of the black
wold, and brought out in shifting glimpses the ominous shapes of the
monstrous trees. With all our gaiety, I had only to utter a loud
"Aue!" and the natives rushed together for protection against the
unseen; not of the physical, but of the dark abode of Po. In this
lonely wilderness they thought that tupapaus, the ghosts of the
departed, must have their assembly, and deep in their hearts was a
deadly fear of these revenants.
When we approached the umu, I felt the heat fifty feet away. The
pit was a mass of glowing stones, and half a dozen men whom I knew
were spreading them as evenly as possible, turning them with long
poles. Each, as it was moved, disclosed its lower surface crimson
red and turning white. The flames leaped up from the wood between
About the oven, forty feet away, the people of the villages who had
gathered, stood or squatted, and solemnly awaited the ritual. The
tahua, Tufetufetu, was still in a tiny hut that had been erected for
him, and at prayer. A deacon of the church went to him, and informed
him that the umu was ready, and he came slowly toward us. He wore
a white pareu of the ancient tapa, and a white tiputa, a poncho of
the same beaten-bark fabrics. His head was crowned with ti-leaves,
and in his hand he had a wand of the same. He was in the dim light
a vision of the necromancer of medieval books.
He halted three steps from the fiery furnace, and chanted in Tahitian:
O spirits who put fire in the oven, slack the fire!
O worm of black earth,
O worm of bright earth, fresh water, sea water, heat of the oven, red
of the oven, support the feet of the walkers, and fan away the fire!
O Cold Beings, let us pass over the middle of the oven!
O Great Woman, who puts the fire in the heavens, hold still the leaf
that fans the fire!
Let thy children go on the oven for a little while!
Mother of the first footstep!
Mother of the second footstep!
Mother of the third footstep!
Mother of the fourth footstep!
Mother of the fifth footstep!
Mother of the sixth footstep!
Mother of the seventh footstep!
Mother of the eighth footstep!
Mother of the ninth footstep!
Mother of the tenth footstep!
O Great Woman, who puts the fire in the heavens, all is hidden!
Then, his body erect, his eyes toward the stars, augustly, and without
hesitation or choice of footprints, the tahu walked upon the umu. His
body was naked except for the tapa, which extended from his shoulders
to his knees. The heat radiated from the stones, and sitting on the
ground I saw the quivering of the beams just above the oven.
Tufetufetu traversed the entire length of the umu with no single
flinching of his muscles or flutter of his eyelids to betray pain or
fear. He raised his wand when he reached the end, and, turning slowly,
retraced his steps.
The spectators, who had held their breaths, heaved deep sighs, but
no word was spoken as the tahua signed all to follow him in another
journey over the white-hot rocks. All but a few, their number obscured
in the darkness, ranged themselves in a line behind him, and with
masses of ti-leaves in their hands, and some with girdles hastily
made, barefooted they marched over the path he took again. When
the cortege had passed once, the priest said, "Fariu! Return!" and,
their eyes fixed on vacancy, six times the throng were led by him
forward and back over the umu. A woman who looked down and stumbled,
left the ranks, and cried out that her leg was burned. She had an
injury that was weeks in curing.
At a sign from Tufetufetu, the people left the proximity of the pit,
and while he retired to his hut, several men threw split trunks of
banana-trees on the stones. A dense column of white smoke arose, and
its acrid odor closed my eyes for a moment. When I opened them, my
friends of our village were placing the prepared carcasses of pigs on
the banana-trunks, with yams, ti-roots and taro. All these were covered
with hibiscus and breadfruit leaves and the earth of the rampart, which
was heaped on to retain the heat, and steam the meat and vegetables.
I examined the feet and legs of Raiere and the two girls I had come
with, and even the delicate hairs of their calves had not been singed
by their fiery promenade.
Meanwhile all disposed themselves at ease. The solemnity of the Umuti
fell from them. Accordions, mouth-organs, and jews'-harps began to
play, and fragments of chants and himenes to sound. Laughter and
banter filled the forest as they squatted or lay down to wait for
the feast. I did not stay. The Umuti had put me out of humor for
fun and food. I lit my flambeau and plodded through the mape-wood
in a brown study, in my ears the fading strains of the arearea,
and in my brain a feeling of oneness with the eerie presences of
the silent wilderness. I was with Meshack, Shadrach, and Abednego
in their glorious trial in Nebuchadnezzar's barbaric court. I was
among the tepees of the Red Indians of North America when they leaped
unscathed through the roaring blaze of the sacred fire, and trod the
burning stones and embers in their dances before the Great Spirit.
The Umuti was not all new to me. Long ago, when I lived in Hawaii,
Papa Ita had come there from Tahiti. His umu was in the devastated
area of Chinatown, a district of Honolulu destroyed by a conflagration
purposely begun to erase two blocks of houses in which bubonic plague
recurred, and which, unchecked, caused a loss of millions of dollars.
The pit was elliptical, nine feet deep, and about twenty-four feet
long. Wood was piled in it, and rocks from the dismantled Kaumakapili
church. The fire burned until the stones became red and then white,
and they, too, were turned with long poles to make the heat even. I
inspected the heating process several times. At the hour advertised in
the American and native papers, in an enclosure built for the occasion,
with seats about the pit, the mystery was enacted. The setting was
superb, the flaming furnace of heathenism in the shadow of the lonely
ruin of the Christian edifice. Papa Ita appeared garbed in white tapa,
with a wonderful head-dress of the sacred ti-leaves and a belt of the
same. The spectators were of all nations, including many Hawaiians. The
deposed queen, Liliuokalani, was a most interested witness.
Papa Ita looked neither to the right nor left, but striking the ground
thrice with a wand of ti, he raised his voice in invocation and walked
upon the stones. He reached the other end, paused and returned. Several
times he did this and when photographers rushed to make a picture,
he posed calmly in the center of the pit, and then, with all the air
of a priest who has celebrated a rite of approved merit, he retired
with dignity. As he departed from the inclosure, the natives crowded
about him, fearfully, as viewed the Israelites the safety of Daniel
emerging from the lions' den. Did I not see the former queen lift the
hem of his tapa and bow over it? It was night, the lights sputtered,
and I was awed by the success of the incantation. A minute after
Papa Ita had gone, I threw a newspaper upon the path he had trod,
and it withered into ashes. The heat seared my face. The doctors,
five or six of them, Americans and English, resident in Honolulu,
shrugged their shoulders. They had examined Papa Ita's feet before the
ceremony and afterward. The flesh was not burned, but, well--What? I
confess I do not know. A thermometer held over the umu of Papa Ita
at a height of six feet registered 282 degrees Fahrenheit.
There could be no negation of the extreme heat of the oven of
Tufetufetu. I had tested it for myself. No precaution was taken by
the walkers. I knew most of them intimately. There was no fraud,
no ointment or oil or other application to the feet, and all had not
the same thickness of sole. At Raratonga, near Tahiti, the British
resident, Colonel Gudgeon, and three other Englishmen had followed
the tahua as my neighbors had here. The official said that though his
feet were tender, his own sensations were of light electric shocks
at the moment and afterward. Dr. William Craig, who disobeyed the
tahua and looked behind, was badly burned, and was an invalid for
a long time, though Dr. George Craig and Mr. Goodwin met with no
harm. The resident half an hour after his passage tossed a branch on
the stones, and it caught fire. In Fiji, Lady Thurston with a long
stick laid her handkerchief on the shoulder of one of the walkers,
and when withdrawn in a few seconds it was scorched through. A cloth
thrown on the stones was burned before the last man had gone by.
What was the secret of the miracle I had witnessed? How was it that
in all the Orient, and formerly in America, this power over fire was
known and practised, and that it was interwoven with the strongest and
oldest emotions of the races? That from the Chaldea of millenniums ago
to the Tautira of to-day, the ceremonial was virtually the same? Our
own boys and girls who in the fall leaped over the bonfire of burning
leaves were unpremeditatedly imitating in a playful manner and with
risk what their forefathers had done religiously.
In Raiatea, the chief Tetuanui informed me, the membership of the
Protestant church of Uturoa walked on the umu, and embarrassed the
missionaries, who had taught them, as the Tautirans were taught,
that the Umuti was a pagan sacrament.
In some islands it was called vilavilairevo, and in Fiji the oven
was lovu. According to legend, the people of Sawau, Fiji, were drawn
together to hear their history chanted by the orero, when he demanded
presents from all. Each, in the brave way of Viti, tried to outdo
the other in generosity, and Tui N'Kualita promised an eel that he
had seen at Na Moliwai. Dredre, the orero, said he was satisfied,
and began his tale. It was midnight when he finished. He looked for
his present at an early hour next morning.
Tui N'Kualita had gone to Na Moliwai to hunt for the eel, and there,
as he sank his arms in the eel's hole, he found it a piece of tapa
that he knew to be the dress of a child. Tui N'Kualita shouted:
"Ah! Ah! this must be the cave of children. But that doesn't matter
to me. Child, god, or new kind of man, I'll make you my gift."
He kept on angling with his hand in the hole, and caught hold of a
man's hand. The man leaped back and broke his grasp, and cried:
"Tui N'Kualita, spare my life and I will be your wargod. My name is
Tui N'Kualita answered him:
"I am of a valiant people, and I vanquish all my enemies. I have no
need of you."
The man in the eel's hole called out to him again:
"Let me be your god of property."
"No," said Tui N'Kualita; "the tapa I got from the god Kadavu is
"Well, then, let me be your god of navigation."
"I'm a farmer. Breadfruit is enough for me."
"Let me be your god of love, and you will enjoy all the women of Bega."
"No, I've got enough women. I'm not a big chief. I'll tell you:
you be my gift to the orero."
"Very well; and let me have another word. When you have a lot of ti
at Sawau, we will go to cook it, and will appear safe and sound."
Next morning Tui N'Kualita built a big oven. Tui Namoliwai appeared
and signed to him to follow.
"Maybe you are fooling me, and will kill me," said Tui N'Kualita.
"What? Am I going to give you death in exchange for my life? Come!"
Tui N'Kualita obeyed, and walked on the lovu. The stones were cool
under his feet. He told Tui Namoliwai then that he was free to go,
and the latter promised him that he and his descendants should always
march upon the lovu with impunity.
When I returned to my bird cage at Tautira, I sat down and considered
at length all these facts and fancies. I believed in an all inclusive
nature; that the Will or Rule of God which made a star hundreds of
millions of times larger than the planet I had my body on, that took
care of billions of suns, worlds, planets, comets, and the beings upon
them, was not concerned in tricks of spiritism or materializations
at the whim of mediums or tahuas. But I had in my travels in many
countries seen inscrutable facts, and to me this was one. Nobody knew
what was the cause of the inaction of the fire in the lovu or umu. It
was not a secret held by anybody, or a deception.
One might believe that the stones arrive at a condition of heat
which the experienced sorcerers know to be harmless. One might
conceive that the emotion of the walkers produces a perspiration
sufficient to prevent injury during the brief time of exposure; or
that the sweat and oily secretions of the skin aided by dust picked
up during the journey on the oven was a shield; or that the walkers
were hypnotized by the tahua, or exalted by their daring experiment,
so that they did not feel the heat. Even this theory might not account
for the failure to find the faintest burn or scorch upon those who
fulfilled the injunction of the sorcerers.
The people of Tautira, from Ori-a-Ori to Matatini, had the fullest
confidence that Tufetufetu had shown them a miracle, and that it was
not evil; but to the American and European missionaries the Umuti
was deviltry, the magic of Simon Magus and his successors, This was
shown clearly in the statement of Deacon Taumihau of Raiatea, which
I give in Tahitian and English:
E parau teie te umu a Tupua.
Teie te huru a taua ohipa ra.
Tapuhia te vahie e toru etaeta i te aano. E fatahia taua umu ra i te
mahana matamua e faautahia i te ofai inia iho i taua umu ra, eiaha
ra te ofai no pia iho i te marae, no te mea te marae ra te faaea raa
no te varua ino oia te arii no te po.
E i te po matamua no taua umu ra e haere te mau tahua ora no te ao
nei oia Tupua e te mau pipi i Pihaiho i taua umu r ae hio te mau
varua taata no te po e haere ratou inia iho taavari ai; ia ore i puai
E ei taua po ra, e haere ai hoe taata e hio i te rau Ti, ia i te oia
i te rau Ti i te hauti raa mai te hauti ie te matai rahi ra, te o
reira te raoere Ti e ofati mai, e tau mau rauti ra te afai hia i te
mahana e haere ai te taata na roto i taua umu ra e i te hora maha i
te popoi na e tutui hia'i taua umu ra.
Ia ama taua umu ra, e ia puai roa te ama raa ei reira te tahua parau.
Atu ai i te taata pihei te umu, ia oti taua umu ra i te pihei, haere
aturaa tupua i te hiti o te umu a parau tana a haere ai i reira.
Teie tana parau: E na taata e tia i te hiti ote umu nei, pirae uri
e pirae tea. E tu'u atu i te nu'u Atua ia haere i te umu.
Ei reira Tupua parau ai: E te pape e a haere! E te miti e a haere!
Tairi hia'tura te rauti i te hiti o te umu raparau faahou, atura te
tahua. Te Vahine tahura'i e po'ia te tu'u raa ia o te avae iroto i
te umu, ei reira toa te mau taata i hinaaro i te haere na roto i te
umu ra e haere. Ai na muri iho eiaha ra te hoe taata e fariu imuri;
te taata hopea ra te tuo i te tahua e fariu; na fariu ia, mai te
mea e tuo te taata i ropu e fariu, tau roa te taata i ropu e fariu,
pau roa te taata i te auahi; na reira toa ia haere no te aano o te umu.
Te i te huru o taua ohipa ra, e ohipa tiaporo te tumu ia i taua ohipa
a Tupua ra.
E vahine varua ino teie tona ioa o te Vahine tahura'i. O pirae uri,
o pirae tea, i ore ratou ia parau hia.
Aita e faufaa i taua ohipa ra. Eiaha Roa'tu orua a rave i taua ohipa
ra i te fenua Papa'a na e ama te taata i te anahi, no te mea e ere
i te ohipa mau, e ohipa varua ino no te po te reira te huru o taua
ohipa a Tupua ra.
Tereira te mau havi rii i roa'a mai ia'u no tau a ohipa ra. Tirara.
This is the word of the oven of Tupua.
This is the way he did that thing. He cut three fathoms of wood. The
oven was three fathoms long and three wide. Heap up the wood the
first day, and carry by sea the stones for the oven.
Do not take the stones of the marae, for the marae receives the evil
spirits, the spirit of the god of the night.
The first night of the ceremony, the sorcerers of Raiatea, Tupua and
his kind, march around the oven. They seek the spirits of the men of
the night, and they go about the oven, but they do not light the fire.
That same night one goes to find the sacred leaves of the ti. He
takes the leaves that float in the wind; those called raoere ti,
and which are used as medicine. He gathers the leaves and carries
them to the oven.
The fire is lighted at four of the morning. When the fire is burning
brightly, and the oven is very hot, the sorcerer gives his assistants
charge of the fire, and instructs them as to their duties.
When the flames are down, Tupua approached the oven, and before
walking upon it, he pronounced the following prayer.
"O men about the oven! Piraeuri and Piraetea! Let us join the army
of the gods in the furnace!"
Then, said Tupua:
"O water, go in the fire! O sea water, go in the fire!"
Waving the ti leaves on the border of the oven, Tupua said:
"O Woman who puts the fire in the heaven and in the clouds, permit
us to go on foot over the oven!"
Then those who wish to, pass onto the oven, one after another. If
but one falls all will be burned. The last must watch the sorcerer,
to return when he makes the sign.
That is the way this deed, the deed of the devil, is done by Tupua.
The woman called Vahine tahura'i is an evil spirit.
Concerning Piraeuri and Piritea, Tupua would better not have spoken,
as it was a useless prayer.
Do not introduce the sorcery in the land of the whites!
Do not carry there this custom of lighting the oven!
It is the work of an evil spirit of the night; this act of Tupua.
For that reason I have said little of him in my story. I have spoken.
--Taumihau, The Man.
Farewell to Tautira--My good-bye feast--Back at the Tiare--A talk with
Lovaina--The Cercle Bougainville--Death of David--My visit to the
cemetery--Off for the Marquesas.
The smell of the burning wood of the Umuti was hardly out of my
nostrils before my day of leaving Tautira came. I had long wanted to
visit the Marquesas Islands, and the first communication I had from
Papeete in nearly three months was from the owners of the schooner
Fetia Taiao, notifying me that that vessel, commanded by Captain
William Pincher, would sail for the archipelago in a few days,
"crew and weather willing." I was eager for the adventure, to voyage
to the valley of Typee, where Herman Melville had lived with Fayaway
and Kori-Kori, where Captain Porter had erected the American flag a
century before, and where cannibalism and tattooing had reached their
most artistic development. But to sever the tie with Tautira was
saddening. Mataiea and the tribe of Tetuanui had won my affections,
but at Tautira I had become a Tahitian. I had lived in every way as
if bred in the island, and had fallen so in love with the people and
the mode of life, the peace and simplicity of the place, that only
the already formed resolution to visit all the seas about stirred me
The village united to say good-by to me at a feast which was
spread in the greenwood of the Greek god along the shore of the
lagoon. T'yonni and Choti, the student and the painter, were foremost
in the preparations of the amuraa ma, and many houses supplied the
extensive, soft mats which were put on the sward for the table,
while the ladies laid the cloth of banana leaves down their center,
and adorned it with flowers.
Ori-a-Ori sat at the head and I beside him. His venerable countenance
bore a smile of delight in being in such jovial company, and he
answered the quips and drank the toasts as if a youth. I was leaving
early in the afternoon, and the banquet was begun before midday. We
had hardly reached the dessert when the accordions burst into the
allegro airs of the adapted songs of America and Europe. Between them
speeches of friendship were addressed to me by the chief and others,
and I sorrowfully replied. Choti gave the key-note to our mutual
regrets at my leaving by quoting the letter in Tahitian written by
Ori-a-Ori to Rui at Honolulu long ago:
I make you to know my great affection. At the hour when you left us,
I was filled with tears; my wife, Rui Telime, also, and all of my
household. When you embarked I felt a great sorrow. It is for this that
I went up on the road, and you looked from that ship, and I looked
at you on the ship with great grief until you had raised the anchor
and hoisted the sails. When the ship started I ran along the beach to
see you still; and when you were on the open sea I cried out to you,
"Farewell, Louis"; and when I was coming back to my house I seemed to
hear your voice crying, "Rui, farewell." Afterwards I watched the ship
as long as I could until the night fell; and when it was dark I said
to myself, "If I had wings I should fly to the ship to meet you, and to
sleep amongst you, so that I might be able to come back to shore and to
tell to Rui Telime, 'I have slept upon the ship of Teriitera.'" After
that we passed that night in the impatience of grief. Towards eight
o'clock I seemed to hear your voice, "Teriitera--Rui--here is the hour
for putter and tiro (cheese and syrup)." I did not sleep that night,
thinking continually of you, my very dear friend, until the morning;
being then still awake, I went to see Tapina Tutu on her bed, and
alas, she was not there. Afterwards I looked into your rooms; they did
not please me as they used to do. I did not hear your voice saying,
"Hail, Rui"; I thought then that you had gone, and that you had left
me. Rising up, I went to the beach to see your ship, and I could not
see it. I wept, then, until the night, telling myself continually,
"Teriitera returns into his own country and leaves his dear Rui
in grief, so that I suffer for him, and weep for him." I will not
forget you in my memory. Here is the thought: I desire to meet you
again. It is my dear Teriitera makes the only riches I desire in
this world. It is your eyes that I desire to see again. It must be
that your body and my body shall eat together at one table: there is
what would make my heart content. But now we are separated. May God
be with you all. May His word and His mercy go with you, so that you
may be well and we also, according to the words of Paul.
The chief listened throughout the message with his eyes empty of us,
conjuring a vision of the Rui who so far back had won his heart;
and when Choti had concluded, Ori-a-Ori lifted his glass, and said,
"Rui e Maru!" coupling me in his affection with the dim figure of
his sweet guest of the late eighties.
The last toast was to my return.
"You have eaten the fei in Tahiti nei, and you will come back,"
Raiere drove me in his cart to Taravao, where I had arranged for
an automobile to meet me. At Mataiea I was clasped to the bosom of
Haamoura, and spent a few minutes with the Chevalier Tetuanui. They
could not understand us cold-blooded whites, who go long distances
from loved ones. My contemplated journey to the Marquesas Islands
was to them a foolish and dangerous labor for no good reason.
The trip to Papeete from Mataiea by motor-car took only an hour and
a half, and I was in another world, on the camphorwood chest at the
Tiare hotel, by five o'clock.
"Mais, Brien, you long time go district!" exclaimed Lovaina. "What
you do so long no see you? I think may be you love one country vahine!"
She rubbed my back, and said that Lying Bill, who had been at the
Tiare for luncheon, hoped to sail in two days. McHenry was to go
with us as a passenger on the schooner. Everybody knew everybody's
business. Lovaina suddenly bethought herself of a richer morsel of
gossip. She struck her forehead.
"My God! how long you been? You not meet that rich uncle of David
from America? You not hear about that turribil thing?"
She was on the point of beginning her narrative when the telephone
rang, and she was called away. I knew I would catch the before-dinner
groups at the Cercle Bougainville, and walked there, waving my hand or
speaking to a dozen acquaintances on the route. I climbed the steep
stairs, and at the first table saw Fung Wah, a Chinese immigrant
importer and pearl merchant, with Lying Bill, McHenry, Hallman, and
Landers, the latter only recently back from Auckland. I was immediately
aware of the sad contrast with Tautira. The club-room looked mean
and tawdry after so many weeks among the cocoas and breadfruits; the
floor, tables, and chairs ugly compared with the grass, the puraus,
the roses, and the gardenias, the endearing environment of that
lovely village. The white men before me had as hard, unsympathetic
faces as the Asiatic, who was reputed to deal in opium as well as
men and women and jewels.
Yet their welcoming shout of fellowship was pleasant, despite a
note of derision for my staying so long away from the fleshpots of
Papeete. Pincher and McHenry were themselves lately arrived, but
evidently had learned of my absence from Lovaina.
"What did you do? Buy a vanilla plantation?" asked McHenry.
"Vanilla, hell!" said Hallman, whose harp had one string, "he's been
having his pick of country produce."
Lying Bill said:
"Well, you'd better pack your chest for the northern islands to-morrow
if you're goin' with the Fetia Taiao. We'11 be off for Atuona and
Hallman's tribe of cannibals nex' mornin'."
I sat down and quaffed a Doctor Funk, and then inquired idly:
"David!" said Hallman. "For God's sake! don't dig into any graves!"
"'E's a proper ghoul, 'e is," Lying Bill said sarcastically. "'E
thinks you're a mejum!"
They all stared at me as if I were crazy, and I felt myself in an
atmosphere of mystery, in which I had broached a distasteful subject. I
wondered what it could be, but determined to know at all hazards,
reckoning on no fine feelings to hurt.
"What is the secret?" I asked. "I've been away a few months, and
haven't heard the news. Has David run off with Miri or Caroline?"
Was this what Lovaina was bursting with?
They all remained quiet, until McHenry, with an oath, blurted out:
"What the hell's the good of all this bloody silence? He's been away
and don't know." Then turning to me, he slapped me on the shoulder
"We'll have a drink on you, O'Brien! David blew his brains out on
Llewellyn's doorstep just after we left for the Marquesas. Joseph,
bring one all around!"
As if at his word Llewellyn came up the stairs. His countenance
was blacker than usual, his eyes more than half closed under their
clouds of brows. His shoulders drooped, and he thumped his stick
on the floor of the club as he came toward us. I felt certain that
he detected something in the air--a sudden cessation of talk or
a strained attitude on our part. He drooped heavily into a chair,
and banged his stick on his chair-leg.
"Joseph," he called, "give me a Doctor Funk. Quick! No, make it
Our own drinks were coming by now, and as the steward stirred about,
Llewellyn for the first time saw me.
"Hello! Where did you come from? I thought you had gone back to
"I've been past the isthmus," I replied, "and I haven't seen a
soul or heard a word in that time. What's this terrible thing about
Llewellyn's arm jerked convulsively toward his body and knocked his
glass from the table.
"Joseph, for God's sake, bring me a drink! Bring me a double absinthe!"
Joseph fetched the drink hurriedly, and stopped to pick up the
"Mon dieu!" snapped Llewellyn, "you can do that afterward. Clear out!"
Then he turned to me, and his eyes contracted into mere black gleams
as he asked:
"Are you like all these others? By God! I was passing the opium den
here a few minutes ago, and I heard Hip Sing say something like that:
What have I to do with David? Was I responsible for his death? Any
man can come to your front door and kill himself. He was a friend
of mine. I didn't see much of him before he died; I was busy with
Llewellyn swept us with an inclusive glance.
"Now you fellows have got to stop bringing up this David matter when
I come in here, or I'll quit this club."
Hallman answered him, spitefully:
"For Heaven's sake, Llewellyn, I never heard a living soul mention
David before, except at first, when there was so much curiosity. You're
Fung Wah sat there, his small, astute eyes, in a saffron face,
fixed alternately upon the speakers, with an appraising grimace but
half-veiled. And as he sipped his grenadine syrup and soda water, he
admired his three-inch thumbnail, the token of his rise from the estate
of a half-naked coolie in Quan-tung to equality with these Taipans,
the whites of Tahiti. He may or may not have known what rumors there
were, but wanting the good-will of all influential residents in his
widening scheme for money-making, he tried to soften the asperities
of the interchange:
"Wa'ss mallah, Mis' Le'llyn?" he asked. "Ev'ybody fliend fo'
you. Nobody makee tlouble fo' you 'bout Davie. My think 'm dlinkee
too muchee, too muchee vahine, maybe play cart, losee too muchee
flanc. He thlinkee mo' bettah finish."
The words of Fung Wah were poison in the ears of Llewellyn. He leaned
forward and, raising his forefinger, pointed it at the Chinese.
"Aue! You hold your damned yellow mouth!" he said huskily. "I'll
get out of the islands if you people keep up this any longer. I'm
sick of it all. That old liar Morton has made my good name black in
Tahiti. Everybody knows the Llewellyns. God damn him! I ought to have
killed him when he threatened me in the Tiare!"
He took my untouched glass of Dr. Funk, and gulped the mixture,
nervously. Then he stood up unsteadily.
"I don't get any sleep," he said, as if to himself, wearily. "I'm
going to my shop and lie down."
He moved heavily down the stairs, and we breathed relief.
"Too muchee Pernoud!" Fung Wah commented.
"No, Fung Wah, you've sized 'im wrong," answered Lying Bill. "'E's
seein' things. 'E's put enough absint' down his throat, but 'he's
proper used to that. Let's take the matter up, an' consider it like ol'
Raoul, the lawyer, did when Murray killed the gendarme at Areu. David's
a young kid, an' wild, an' without any good home like you an 'me 've
got, an' runnin' round the Barbary Coast in Frisco, with those bloody
vampires there. 'Is uncle, Morton, is afraid 'e'll get the 'abit,
and wants to sen' 'im pretty far. Well, 'e remembers 'e was in Tahiti
forty years before, an' 'e been dealin' in a way in vanilla with ol'
Llewellyn's 'ouse 'ere. So 'e makes arrangements to put ten thousan'
dollars in with our friend that 's jus' gone out, and buy the kid
a interest in the business. Down comes David, and Llewellyn takes a
shine to 'im, an' soon they're thick as thieves. I see it all between
voyages. It's the cinema, the prize-fight, the upaupa, the women, an'
the bloody booze, day an' night. The vanilla business goes to hell
or to Fung Wah or some other Chink. David blows in all 'is bleedin'
capital, 'e busts in 'is 'ealth, an' may be, 'e's afraid o' somepin'
worse. 'E gets a bloody funk, an' goes to Llewellyn's desk an' gets
the gun. Then 'e writes a letter to 'is uncle in Frisco, an' goin'
out on the step, 'e blows out 'is brains. I'm on the schooner, so I
can't get any blame."
Captain Pincher lit his pipe, and the glasses were refilled.
McHenry attempted to pick up the thread of the tragedy, and began:
"Me, too, I'm with Bill drivin' the Fetia for Nuka-Hiva when David
croaks himself. I drank as much as he did ashore, and I 'm no slouch
with the vahines; but I can hold my booze, I can."
Lying Bill, with his drink down, and his pipe smoking, resumed,
with no attention to McHenry, and a withering glance at Fung Wah,
who was bored and walked over to the wall to glance at the barometer.
"Well, there's David dead on the doorstep,--'e probably shot 'imself
about midnight,--and Llewellyn comes rollin' in a couple o' hours
later, an' stumbles over 'is bloody corpse. 'E's tired, but 'e gets a
lantern, an' sees the kid there, like a bleedin' wreck on the reef. It
fair knocks 'im out, an' 'e sits down on the same step, an' when the
kanaka comes in the mornin' to sweep up, 'e fin's the two o' them."
Landers broke in:
"Blow me! I'd 'a' hated to been that poor kanaka! But Doctor Cassiou,
the coroner, said it was suicide all right. Llewellyn's in the clear."
"Of course, 'e 's in the clear, an' proper right," said Pincher,
irritatedly. "But when the letter's mailed to ol' Morton in Frisco,
'e comes down on the nex' steamer, an' carries a gun to kill Llewellyn,
an' tells everybody 'at Llewellyn dragged his nephew to 'ell, an'
M'seer Lontane takes 'is gun away when Llewellyn meets 'im in Lovaina's
porch, an' 'e pulls the gun, an' the Dummy stops 'im, and Llewellyn
grabs a knife off the table. Why, there's some reason for 'im comin'
in 'ere like a bloody queer un an' abusin' us."
"Hell! that's all over!" said Hallman. "I'll tell you, Llewellyn's
always been sour. That's what that dam' German university highfalutin'
education does for you. It takes the guts out of you. I know. I never
had any of it. I'm a business man, by God! and I'm not crammed full
of Dago and other rot. All the Davids in the world could croak on my
doorstep, and if the police couldn't get me for it, I'd worry. I--"
"Belay there!" Lying Bill shouted at Hallman. "You don't know
Llewellyn like I do. How about the tupapau, the bloody ghosts? You
forget that Llewellyn's a quarter Kanaka, an' born 'ere. All that
German university stuff ain't no good against the tupapau. Suppose
you were part Kanaka, an' the kid 'ad done what 'e did? I've seen
some things myself in these waters. That's what's eatin' Llewellyn,
an', believe me, it's goin' to kill 'im if he don't bloody well drink
'imself dead, first. I've seen too many Kanakas go that way when the
tahua got the tupapau after them. Llewellyn remembers what Lovaina said
ol' man Morton hollered when M'seer Lontane took the gun away from him
at the Tiare. 'All right!' hollered the uncle. 'All right! I'll leave
it to God!' The ol' boy loved that kid. 'E told Lovaina 'at 'is whole
bloody family was drowned when the Rio Janeiro went down off Mile Rock
in Frisco bay. The kid was 'is sister's only child, an' 'is uncle left
a thousand francs with the American consul for a proper tombstone on
'is grave in the cemetery. The ol' gent worshipped that kid."
Our session was over, the dinner hour having come; but Hallman had
his final say:
"If Llewellyn 's got the tupapau horrors, for God's sake! let him
stay away from the club. It's got so I hate to see him come in here,
looking like a death's head. He spoils my drink. I'd rather be in
the Marquesas with old Hemeury Francois, who is dyin' by inches of
the spell Mohuto 's put on him. They're alike, these Kanakas; they're
afraid of God and the devil, their own and the dam' missionary outfit,
too. They've got them coming and going. No wonder they're getting so
scarce you can't get any work done."
The next day was all preparation. I would be gone several months,
the usual time for the voyage of a trading schooner to the Marquesas
and return to Papeete. I had no bother about clothes, as I was to
be in the same climate, and in less formal circles even than in
Tahiti. But I desired to carry with me a type-writer, and mine was
out of order. There was no tinker of skill in Papeete, and I had
about given up hope of repairs, when Lovaina said:
"May be that eye doctor do you. He married one of those girl whose
father before ran away with that English ship and Tahiti girls to
Pitcairn Island, and get los' there till all chil'ren grow up big. He
has little house on rue de Petit Pologne."
I found on that street in a cottage an American vendor of spectacles,
who by some chance of propinquity had married a descendant of a
mutineer of the Bounty. I surrendered my machine to him while I talked
with his wife, whose ancestors, one English, the other Tahitian, had
sailed away from here generations ago, after the crew had possessed
themselves of the British warship Bounty, and cast their officers
adrift at sea. She was a resident of Norfolk Island, and I wished I
had time to hear the full story of her life. But before we had come
to more than platitudes, the eye doctor had repaired the type-writer,
and called his wife to other duties.
We had a going-away dinner at the Tiare hotel, Landers, Polonsky,
McHenry, Hallman, Schlyter, the tailor, and Lieutenant L'Hermier des
Plantes, a French army surgeon who was sailing on the Fetia Taiao to
the Marquesas to be acting governor there. Lovaina would not join
us, but after we had eaten an excellent dinner, she came in while
we drank her health. Llewellyn had been asked, but did not appear,
and McHenry said he was "very low" at five o'clock when he passed him
on the rue de Rivoli. Lying Bill preferred to spend his last evening
ashore with his native wife, or else wished to avoid the chance of
a headache on the morrow.
We drank our last toasts at midnight, and I was averse to arising
when called at six by Atupu for the early breakfast and the last
disposition of my affairs. By nine o'clock I had put my baggage on
board the schooner, Lovaina taking me in her carriage, driven by the
Dummy. Vava was excited and puzzled by my return from the country,
and my sudden departure for the sea. While Lovaina stayed in the
garden of the Annexe, gathering a garland of roses for my hat, the
Dummy endeavored to narrate to me the tragedy of David. His own part
in preventing Morton from shooting, Vava showed in vivid pantomime
with a fervor that would have made a moving-picture actor's fame; and
when he indicated Morton's abandonment of revenge, though the Dummy
could have no knowledge of his words, he gestured with a dignity that
conveyed all the meaning of Lying Bill's relation of the incident. In
the expression and motion of the dramatic mute the aged uncle had
the sublimity of Lear. For Vava, in a mask and an attitude, by some
cryptic understanding encompassed the resignation and appeal to Deity.
Lovaina had left me on the deck of the Fetia Taiao, as Captain Pincher
said that it would be an hour or two before he sailed. His crew
was having a few extra upaupas in the Cocoanut House. I sat on the
rail with Vava's dumb-show uppermost in my mind, and a strong desire
came to me to see the grave of David, and the tombstone erected by
his frenzied kinsman. I strolled up the Broom road to the Annexe,
and past Madame Fanny's restaurant to the garden of the Banque de
l'Indo-Chine, and continued westward to the cemetery.
It was a lonely spot, that acre of God in these South Seas, for the
resting-place of one who had been so alive as that young American. The
hours of our last wassail, the bowl of velvet, and my waking by the
Pool of Psyche with the mahu and the Dummy beside me, were painted
on my brain.
"There, but for the grace of God, goes John Wesley," said the exhorter
when he saw a murderer on the way to the gallows.
Some such dismal thought assailed me as the lofty exotic cypress in
the center of the Golgotha met my eye; the tree of the dead over all
the world. I halted to view the expanse of mausoleums and foliage. The
rich had built small houses or pagodas to roof their loved from the
torrential rains, and, from my distance, only these buildings and the
trees could be seen; but as I was about to cross the road to enter
the gate, a figure approached. I drew back, for, of all men, it was
Llewellyn. He seemed to walk an accustomed course, observing none
of the surroundings, and with his head down, and his stick touching
the ground like the staff of a blind man. He turned in the entrance
and moved up the winding path until he came to a grave. There he
stood a few seconds irresolutely, and then stooped beside the white
stone. He leaned over, and appeared to read the inscription. Instantly
he turned, and started almost to run, but halted after a few paces,
and returned to the stone. I saw him put his hand to his forehead,
cover his eyes, and then he took off his hat and dropped upon his
knees, and bent nearly to the rounded earth. When he stood up again,
he kept the hat in his left hand, and, his cane tapping hard upon
the soil, came through the gate, and passed me, unseeing. There was
a look of terror on his face that affected me deeply.
I crossed the road behind him, and walked swiftly to the grave. My time
was short. There I perceived that the tombstone had just been raised,
for the tools of the cemetery keeper were near by. On a plain, white
slab of marble was the name, Morton David, and the date; and below
these, an inscription:
Vengeance Is Mine
I Will Repay.
This was what had frozen that look upon the face of Llewellyn. The
tupaupa that should haunt him was this inscription. The old uncle
who had loved the dead man had well left it to God.
I hurried away and back to the schooner. Lovaina was sitting in
her shabby surrey under the flamboyants, the Dummy at the horse's
head. Lying Bill was giving orders for raising his bow anchor, and
the loosening of the shore lines. McHenry and Lieutenant L'Hermier
des Plantes shouted to me to come aboard. Lovaina hugged me to her
capacious bosom, the Dummy stroked my back a moment, and I was off
for the cannibal isles.
A letter from Fragrance of the Jasmine, to Frederick O'Brien, at
"Ia ora na oe! Maru:
"Great sorrow has come to Tahiti. The people die by thousands from a
devil sickness, the grippe, or influenza. It came from your country
as we were rejoicing for the peace in France. The Navua brought it,
and for weeks we have died. Tati is dead. Tetuanui is dead. They cannot
lay the corpses in the graves, they fall so fast. There are no people
to help. The dogs and pigs have eaten them as they slept their last
sleep in their gardens. Now the corpses are burning in great trenches,
and drunken white sailors with scared faces burn them, and drive the
dead wagons crosswise in the streets. The burning of our loved ones is
affrighting, and the old people who are not dead are in terrible fear
of the flames. It is like the savages of the Marquesas in olden times.
"Your dear friend Lovaina was the first to die of the hotahota, as
some call this sickness. Lovaina had a bad cough. The man who looks
after the engines of the Navua went to see her, and she kissed him on
the cheek. Then the good doctor of Papeete who visits the ships was
called to see her. Maru, could that doctor have brought the hotahota
to Lovaina? She was dead in a little while.
"Lovaina had good fortune all her life, for, being the first one
to die, she was buried as we have always buried our people. All of
Tahiti that was not ill walked with her coffin. Oh, Maru, I wept for
Lovaina. Vava, whom you whites call the Dummy, is dead, too. When
Lovaina was taken to the cemetery, Vava drove her old chaise with her
children in it; and then, Maru, he was seen again only by a Tahitian
who had gone to bathe in the lagoon because the fever was burning
him. You know how Vava always took the old horse of Lovaina at sunset
to swim in front of the Annexe. This man who was ill said that he
saw Vava ride the horse into the sea, and straight out toward the
reef. Vava signed farewell to the man with the fever. The man stayed
in the lagoon to cool his body until the sun was below Moorea, and
your friend, the Dummy, did not return. Maru, we loved dear Lovaina,
but to Vava she was mother and God.
"It is strange, Maru, the way of things in the world. The lepers who
are confined towards Arue were forgotten, and as nobody went near them,
the hotahota passed them by.
"I cannot write more. O Maru, come back to aid us. It is a long time
since those happy days when we walked in the Valley of Fautaua.
"Ia ora na i te Atua!
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