Page:The Boy Travellers in Australasia.djvu/91
ORIGIN OF THE MERMAID MYTH.
the chief would previously tabu certain articles of food, and thus insure an abundance on the day of the festival. Violation of certain kinds of tabu was punished with death; other and smaller violations had various penalties affixed, and they generally included sacrifices or presents to the gods, or the payment of fines to the chiefs.
"Well, here in the Marquesas, among other prohibitions, it was tabu for a woman to enter a canoe or boat. Men had a monopoly of all paddling and sailing, and the only sea-voyage a woman could make was by swimming. I have read about women in the South Seas swimming out to ships anchored a long distance from shore, and never understood till now how it was. It is no wonder that sailors used to mistake these Marquesan nymphs for mermaids as they dashed through the waves with their long black hair trailing behind them in the water."
EASTER ISLAND HOUSE AND CHILDREN.
Fred's account of what they saw in the Marquesas pauses abruptly at this point. Perhaps he was interrupted by just such a scene as he describes in the last sentence, but he could hardly fall into the old error of the sailors. The women of the Marquesas are fine swimmers, but no better, perhaps, than those of the Feejee, Samoan, and other tropical or semi-tropical groups.