A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War/Chapter 17
VAIN REGRETS—SOME ACCOUNT OF THE MARQUESAS AND THE TAUMOTU GROUPS.
Papeete, November, 11th.
I am certainly very glad that my good friends here supplied the moral courage which I failed to find, and so enabled me to repent at the eleventh hour. I do rejoice in the sense of repose, knowing that for at least two months I may now explore the many scenes of enchantment which lie on every side, without a thought of hurry.
Yet even this joy is not unmixed. I do find it very hard to be truly philosophical, and not to cry over spilt milk, when I think of the delightful cruise to the Marquesas and Paumotus, which would so admirably have filled up this first fortnight, had I only been able to decide three days earlier.
But it was not till the hospitable ship had sailed, that I found leisure soberly to think the matter over, and to realise how very rare and precious a chance I had so idiotically thrown away. When your eyes are satiated with grand scenery, and each lovely group of isles seems only to differ from the last in its degree of special beauty, you are apt to think that really you have seen enough, and may as well pause and be satisfied with all the exquisite pictures which crowd before your memory. So, when these most kind friends urged me to accompany them on this expedition, I was so absorbed in working up some of the innumerable sketches made on the last trip, that I never took time to think out the subject in all its bearings, and to see how impossible it would be for me to reach Honolulu by sailing-ship, see all the wonders of the Sandwich Isles, and then return to New Zealand or Sydney before Christmas, as I had proposed doing.
Neither did I at all realise how very few travellers have ever seen the Marquesas, and how very little is known about them by the general public, beyond the bare facts of their having been discovered by the Spaniards in 1595, and by them named after the Marquesas de Mendoza, the Viceroy of Peru.
They then seem to have been forgotten till about the year 1777, when they were visited by Captain Cook, who has recorded his admiration of their loveliness, and declared that the inhabitants were the finest race he had seen, "in fine shape and regular features perhaps surpassing all other nations," "as fair as some Europeans, and much tattooed." He found fine harbours, from twenty to thirty fathoms deep, close inshore, with clear sandy bottom; good store of wood and water; and at first the natives seemed inclined to receive the strangers kindly, but became less cordial on further acquaintance.
Soon afterwards the London Mission endeavoured to establish a station in the group, but found the people such savage cannibals, that the position was untenable, and they were forced to abandon it. From that time forward we have only an occasional record of some American man-of-war having touched there, invariably confirming Cook's account of the beauty of the people and of the isles.
In 1837 the French sent out an exploring expedition commanded by D'Urville, whose somewhat remarkable official orders were, "d'apprivoiser les hommes, et de rendre les femmes un peu plus sauvages!"
The result of his report was, that the French decided on establishing themselves in the Marquesas, the Society, and the Paumotu Isles. Accordingly, in 1842, an expedition sailed from Brest to effect this purpose, its destination being a secret known only to its commander. The Marquesas were selected as the best centre of operations. A squadron of four heavy frigates and three corvettes, commanded by Rear-Admiral Du Petit Thouars, accordingly astonished the natives by suddenly appearing in the lovely harbour of Taiohae, on the island of Nukuheva; and very soon these simple folk learned the full meaning of the gay tricoloured flags and bristling broadsides.
The ostensible pretext for this invasion was that of reinstating Mowanna, the friendly chief of Nukuheva, in what the French thought proper to assume as his ancestral right—namely, that of ruling over the whole group of twelve isles, each of which had hitherto considered itself as a distinct world, subdivided into many antagonistic kingdoms. However, a puppet-king was the pretext required, and Mowanna furnished it, and was rewarded with regal honours and a gorgeous military uniform, rich with gold lace and embroidery.
Of course he and his tribe of Nukuhevans were vastly delighted, perceiving that they had gained omnipotent allies; and when five hundred troops were landed in full uniform, and daily drilled by resplendent officers, their admiration knew no bounds. They recollected how, when in 1814, the U.S. frigate Essex, commanded by Captain Porter, had refitted at Nukuheva, she had lent them a considerable force of sailors and marines, to assist their own body of 2000 men in attacking a neighbouring tribe. The latter had offered a desperate resistance, and repulsed the allied forces, who, however, consoled themselves by burning every village they could reach, thus giving the inhabitants good cause to hate the white men's ships.
Now, with the aid of these warlike French troops, the Nukuhevans thought themselves sure of victory, with the prospect of retaining the supremacy. But when fortifications were commenced, and the troops surrounded their camps with solid works of defence, making it evident that the occupation was to be a permanent one, a feeling of detestation, mingled with fear of the invaders, gradually increased, and was certainly not lessened by several sharp encounters, in one of which, 150 natives are said to have been slain. However, the reign of might prevailed, and the tricolour has floated over the Marquesas unchallenged from that time to the present.
This appropriation of the Marquesas was immediately followed by that of the Society Isles, whither the admiral proceeded in the Reine Blanche frigate, leaving the rest of the squadron at the Marquesas. He anchored in the harbour of Papeete, and sent a message to Queen Pomare to the effect that, unless she immediately agreed to pay somewhere about 30,000 dollars as an indemnity for alleged insults to the French flag, he would bombard the defenceless town.
The said insults were very much like those offered by the lamb to the wolf in the old fable, the pretext raked up being simply that Queen Pomare and all her people, having already become stanch Christians, according to the teaching of the London Mission, had positively refused to allow certain French priests to settle in the isles, and found a Roman Catholic Mission, with a view to proselytising. These proving obstinate in their determination to remain, had, with all due honour, been conveyed on board a vessel about to sail for some distant port, with a sensible recommendation to pursue their calling on some of the many isles which were still heathen.
The French admiral now insisted that, in addition to paying the indemnity demanded, the people of Tahiti should, at their own expense, erect a Roman Catholic church in every district where they had built one for their congregational worship.
The unhappy queen, terrified lest the arrogant Du Petit Thouars should commence bombarding her helpless capital, yet utterly incapable of complying with his unjust demands, fled by night in a canoe to the isle of Moorea, knowing that no decisive action could be taken in her absence. Her best friend and adviser throughout these troubles was the British consul, Mr Pritchard. The admiral, perceiving this, caused him to be arrested and imprisoned. After being kept for ten days in solitary confinement, he was put on board an English vessel out at sea, and forcibly sent away from the islands without a trial or investigation of any kind.
On his arrival in England the British Government naturally demanded an explanation of such proceedings. M. Guizot replied that the French authorities at Tahiti found they could make no progress there because of Mr Pritchard's great influence with the queen—in other words, his determination, if possible, to see fair play. The French Government, therefore, approved the action of its officials, but promised to indemnify Mr Pritchard for what they themselves described as his illegal imprisonment and pecuniary losses. We have, however, Mr Pritchard's own authority for the fact that, in the year 1880, he had never received one single sou of the promised indemnity; and England apparently considered it the part of wisdom, if not of honour, to let the subject drop.
So the French pirates (for certainly in all this matter they acted as such) compelled the poor queen and her chiefs to yield to their demands. Some, indeed, strove to make a brave stand, and drive the invaders from their shores; but what could these unarmed warriors do against artillery? They retreated to their mountain fastnesses, but French troops pursued them thither, built scientific forts, and remained masters of the position. The good, sensible queen, who had proved herself so wise a ruler of a happy and peaceful people up to this terrible November 1843, was now declared incompetent to govern. The French Protectorate was established, and the Reine Blanche having saluted the Protectorate flag, desired the queen and chiefs to do likewise—an order which they were unable to obey, till the admiral politely offered to lend the necessary gunpowder! Thus was this buccaneering expedition carried out, and France established as ruler in the three groups—the Marquesas, the Paumotus, and the Society Isles. It was a South Sea version of
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;"—
but in this case the lamb found no deliverer.
This bare historical outline was literally all I knew about the Marquesas Isles, and I doubt whether you or any one else in England knows much more.
Now that through my ignorance I have thrown away such a chance of visiting them, and also the Paumotus, I am told on all sides that they are the loveliest group in the Pacific, ideal in their beauty—embodied poems; and so I am fuming over my own folly, and telling myself that a traveller who could let slip such a golden opportunity must have reached second childhood, and is no longer fit to wander at large. I try to be philosophical, and not fret over the irrevocable; but of all the scattered leaves that I have yet suffered to float past me on that "stream that never returneth," none has aggravated me so sorely as this. I am assured on all hands that I should have received a genial welcome from the French governor and Madame and their little society, and that the expedition would have been in every respect exceptionally delightful.
As it is, I can only gather a few faint visions of the lovely isles by stringing together such particulars as I can learn respecting them. To begin with, "Les isles Marquises" comprise twelve volcanic isles, thrown, up in wildly irregular black crags, the central range of the larger isles towering to a height of 5000 feet, while in many places inaccessible crags rise perpendicular from the sea, but are so exquisitely draped with parasitic plants as to
resemble a succession of green waterfalls. Not that true waterfalls are lacking. On the contrary, the mountains are furrowed with deep ravines, in each one of which flows a sparkling river of clearest water, fed by countless cascades, which fall from high cliffs, and, uniting in the upper valleys, leap in rushing cataracts over the sheer precipices, by which alone they may reach the lower levels.
Six of these islands are inhabited—namely, Nukuheva, Hivaoa (commonly called Dominica), Tetuhiva, Tahuata, Uapou, and Uahuna. Of these, the principal are Nukuheva and Dominica.
The former is about 17 miles in length by 12 in breadth—the latter 20 by 7. The population of the group, which a few years ago was roughly estimated at from 15,000 to 20,000, does not now exceed 5000, of whom 3000 are the inhabitants of Dominique. On all the other islands the population was decimated about fifteen years ago by the so-called Peruvian labour trade—in other words, remorseless kidnappers. Smallpox was also introduced by foreign ships, and, as in all new countries where it breaks out for the first time, swept the isles like a consuming fire, leaving to this day the trace of its awful ravages.
It broke out in the year 1863, and quickly spread throughout the group. On the isle of Nukuheva it raged with frightful virulence, and carried off a great multitude. José, a Peruvian convert who had found his way to the Marquesas, and established himself as an evangelist, devoted himself with untiring patience and zeal to the care of the sick, whose panic-stricken friends forsook them, and left him alone to tend that terrible company of miserable sufferers. Single-handed, he buried the dead; but, thanks to his self-devotion, many recovered, and by his good influence were won from their gross cannibalism and heathenism to the faith he so nobly taught them by its practice. But just then the French authorities sold all that district to Stewart & Co., a company of English and French merchants, who converted it into cotton and coffee plantations, and José was ordered to leave!
The new-comers took possession of lands wellnigh depopulated by the terrible smallpox. Silence and desolation brooded over the rich and beautiful valleys, where bread-fruit, cocoa-palms, guavas, papaws, and all manner of tropical fruits ripened unheeded, for there were none to gather them.
Thus where a few years ago the natives could be counted by thousands, there are now only scattered villages, thinly peopled.
Happily the ravages of constant intertribal wars are held in check by the presence of the French. In former days the Marquesans were fierce cannibals, and the inhabitants of each lovely valley waged war to the death against all other tribes.
The almost inaccessible mountain-ridges rise from the sea-level, somewhat in the general form of a great star-fish, the space between the arms being filled by verdant and most fertile valleys, where all manner of fruit-trees grow luxuriantly, and where the different tribes live, each in its own territory, and well shielded by its natural position from all incursions of its neighbours. For each valley is thus enclosed by abrupt precipitous crags, several hundred feet in height, over which leap cool sparkling rivulets, bringing abundant moisture to irrigate the yam and taro crops, the sugar-cane, cotton, and all the rich herbage which flourishes beneath the dense foliage of bread-fruit and bananas.
Embowered in this green paradise are homes built of the yellow bamboo, whose feathery foliage waves so gracefully in every direction. The houses are thatched with palmetto-leaves, sun-bleached to a dazzling whiteness. They resemble the Tahitian native houses, but are built on oblong platforms of raised stones, such as those which form the foundation of Fijian houses, and which are a necessary protection against the damp of these isles, whose excessive verdure tells of a heavy rainfall. The chief wealth of the people lies in their pigs, which were introduced by the Spaniards, who consequently were venerated as gods. Cats and rats are also foreign importations. The group has literally no indigenous mammalia, and indeed very few birds.
In former years the women manufactured native cloth, as in the other groups, but now a considerable amount of gay calico lends colour to brighten the scene. Here, however, as in other countries, the French prove themselves bad colonists. In most respects the Protectorate is merely nominal, and nothing in the way of improvement flourishes.
As I before mentioned, the first attempt of the London Mission to establish a footing here failed signally.
In 1797, two Englishmen—Messrs Crook and Harris—were sent out to try and establish a footing in the Marquesas. Harris found his heart fail at the dangers and horrors of the position, so he returned at once to Tahiti. Mr Crook worked alone for a year, and then returned to England in search of helpers. He does not seem to have resumed his dangerous post for some years, and then merely visited the group. Meanwhile Tahitian converts were sent out as teachers, but without much success, so they returned to Tahiti. Others took up the work, and also failed to maintain their ground.
In 1833, three American missionaries left the Sandwich Isles, accompanied by their wives, and contrived to endure eight months in Nukuheva, endeavouring to tame and Christianise its brutal savages; but they also had to give up the attempt.
In 1834, a fresh party of English missionaries renewed the effort, and struggled on till about 1840, when the London Mission finally abandoned the field.
But in 1853, a Marquesan chief, Matanui, came to the Sandwich Isles in a whale-ship, and requested that teachers should be sent to his people. Thereupon Mr Bicknell, an Englishman, accompanied by four Hawaiian teachers and their wives, agreed to return with him to his island, Fatuhiva. Five days after they arrived, a French brig anchored there, bringing a Catholic priest, who demanded that they should be at once sent away, and declared that the Marquesas belonged to France, and that no English teacher would be tolerated. This statement was at once denied by the chiefs, who refused to dismiss their teachers, though they by no means yielded implicit obedience to their lessons, or even treated them with uniform kindness. Nevertheless the Hawaiian teachers have held their ground, and though discouraged and oppressed, they have continued to work silently but steadily, training native teachers from among their converts, establishing boarding schools, whereby to separate their scholars from evil influence at home, organising churches, and, in short, doing all in their power to advance the good cause.
It was felt that a great step had been gained when the oppressive system of tabu had received its first blow by many of the high chiefs coming to a feast at the mission, in company with their wives, as heretofore it had been forbidden for father, mother, or grown-up child to eat one with another—all had to feed apart; and the same senseless prohibitions extended in endless ramifications through all actions of life. Now the system of tabu has fallen into neglect, and the Hawaiian Mission has gained ground, notwithstanding much hindrance from the opposition and interference of the Roman Catholic priests.
Nevertheless, to all intents and purposes, the majority of the people are still savages, and the present mission of the Seignelay is to inquire into recent cases of alleged cannibalism, said to have occurred in the interior of Dominica, where the hill-tribes and fisher-tribes still live at constant enmity. It is said to be the most fertile island in the group, and to have the largest population.
The French governor is supported by sundry officials, and a detachment of about sixty soldiers, a dozen gens d'armes, and a few native police.
The Catholic Mission consists of a bishop, with a considerable number of priests, and a sisterhood like those on Tonga, Samoa, and Tahiti. The priests work hard, but apparently with small result. It is whispered that the presence of a large number of very irreligious white men has a highly demoralising influence on the natives—as we can well understand; and even the French Government, which took such a lively interest in the introduction of Catholicism to Tahiti, seems to take none in the progress of the mission in the Marquesas.
In the matter of stone and mortar a good deal has been done, well-built churches having been erected in all the principal valleys, in the proportion of one church to every 150 inhabitants. Unfortunately, however, the people show small disposition to adopt any form of Christianity. The queen Viakehu and a few of her household are devout Catholics; and a little flock, who profess to be Christians, rally round each of the missionaries, but the majority continue heathen, with a deeply rooted belief in their old superstitions. I have just received a photograph of one of the Marquesan stone idols, with two of its worshippers. It is singularly hideous, and the head is crowned with a circular cap-stone, resembling on a small scale the crowns of Easter Island.
But if the Catholic Mission has hitherto failed in its ostensible work, it has at least given the natives a good example of industry; for every available inch of ground within reach of the mission is under most careful cultivation, and is made to grow excellent cotton.
Though the Marquesans are too idle to do any sort of planting beyond what is actually necessary for the cultivation of their gardens, the example set by the mission has been followed by various settlers. Foremost among these is Captain Hart, a man of great energy, who has done much to advance the trading interest
of the islands, and who on one of his plantations employs forty Chinamen, and about sixty natives of the Gilbert Islands—for here, as in all other places where white men endeavour to cultivate the land, they find it necessary to employ labourers imported from other isles, as they cannot extract the same amount of work from men living on their native soil.
Hitherto only about a hundred Chinese, and as many Gilbert Islanders, have been imported, and cotton is the only article grown expressly for exportation. Of course where cocoa-palms are so abundant, a considerable amount of coppra is to be obtained; but the natives have unfortunately been instructed in the art of making palm-rum, and trees which have been tapped for this purpose rarely recover their full strength as nut-producers. Happily, in this matter, self-interest leads the colonists to support the missionaries in their endeavours to dissuade the people from thus misusing the palm-trees; but, on the other hand, foreign traders are too ready to supply more fiery stimulants, and drunkenness prevails to a grievous extent.
Nearly all these isles supply one indigenous article of commerce—namely, a kind of fungus, which is much appreciated in China. It looks like dried-up leather, but is not unpalatable when stewed or served in soup. A considerable amount of this is obtained in most of the Marquesan valleys.
Of colonists, properly so called, there are very few. About fifty white men are scattered throughout the isles. Of these, some trade; others cultivate the soil; while a few wander aimlessly from bay to bay, island to island, living upon whatever the natives like to give them: they are either too lazy to work, or too dishonest to find employment. These men include waifs from all nationalities, including Scotch, English, Irish, American, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Although a French colony, there are only three or four French subjects who can be classed as colonists; but here, as elsewhere, the frugal and diligent Chinaman seems likely to take firm root.
Nukuheva bay (where the Seignelay is probably now anchored) is described as surpassingly lovely. It is a perfect harbour, with very deep water, and forms a horse-shoe about nine miles in circumference, ending in two lofty and abrupt headlands. The entrance is very narrow, barely half a mile across, and is guarded on each side by small conical isles, rising about 500 feet above the sea. All round the harbour the greenest of low hills swell in gentle undulations, while behind these rise majestic mountains, whence steep rocky ridges trend seaward, dividing the vast amphitheatre into several distinct valleys, which, narrowing as they ascend, become deep, romantic glens. Here and there snowy cascades, gleaming through the rich verdure, tell where the precipitous crags close in the valleys. Some of these barrier-cliffs rise perpendicularly, to a height of perhaps 1500 feet. So rich is the growth of parasitical plants, which cling to every crevice, that these mighty rugged crags appear only to be green walls surmounted by black basaltic pinnacles and cones, beyond which tower the blue peaks of some of the higher ridges, which occupy the whole centre of the isle, rising to a height of about 4000 feet.
There are in these sheltered vales many old men who, in all their long lives, have never set foot out of their own little boundary. Those vine-clad cliffs have hemmed them in, and the mountain wilderness beyond has offered no inducement to roving. No fruit, no game; only the certainty of excessive toil for no reward, and the possibility of wandering unintentionally within the territory of some other tribe, ever on the watch to slay any imprudent straggler.
The lives of the women have been even more circumscribed, owing to an extraordinary law of tabu, which prohibits a female from setting foot in a canoe; consequently her farthest voyage is regulated by her powers of swimming; and so, when a foreign vessel arrives in port, and the Marquesan nymphs wish to inspect it more closely, they can only do so by swimming. Small wonder if sailors, perceiving those fair-skinned beauties, with their tresses of long black hair floating around them, suppose their visitors to be a company of mermaids! From all accounts many of these girls are really beautiful. In stature they are somewhat diminutive, whereas the men average over six feet. As in Tahiti and other tropical climates, the constitution ripens at a very early age, so that mere children may be seen playing with their own babies instead of dolls. Happily the responsibilities of housekeeping do not weigh heavily in these isles, where nature is so generous, the climate so genial, and food so abundant.
I am told that the bread-fruit tree in particular flourishes in the Marquesas to an extent unknown elsewhere, and grows to an enormous size—the ripe fruit, either freshly gathered or in its manufactured form of poi, forming the staple food of the isles.
The Marquesans have the same love of flowers as their neighbours, and the girls vie one with another in producing the loveliest garlands, bracelets, and anklets, sometimes of blossoms and leaves intertwined, but more often of single flowers, plucked from their calyx and strung together on a thin fibre of tappa, while snowy buds take the place of pearl ear-rings. The fragrant white blossoms of a large tree are those most in favour.
But the permanent adornment is that of tattooing, which the Marquesans have brought to greater perfection than any other South Sea Islanders, except perhaps the Maoris of New Zealand, their very fair skin affording a tempting parchment for the artist's work. The patterns are quaint, and very elaborately worked out in every conceivable variety of curve. Some of the older men are thus decorated from head to foot. Even the face is not spared, a favourite pattern being a strongly marked triangle, the base sweeping across the lips from ear to ear, whence the other lines ascend, crossing both eyelids, to meet on the shaven crown. Other men prefer three broad stripes carried straight across the face,—one across the eyes, a second across the nose, a third sweeping across the mouth from ear to ear. A really well-tattooed man is a sort of walking volume of illustrated natural history, so numerous may be the strange creatures of earth, sea, and air, delineated on his much-enduring skin,—birds and butterflies, fishes and crabs, lizards and snakes, octopi and star-fish, flowers and fruits, all traced in delicate blue lines on a most silky, olive-coloured surface. Those who go in for artistic unity of design sometimes have the stem of some graceful tree traced along the spine, while the spreading branches extend on either shoulder and droop down the sides, and delicately traced vines twine spirally round arms and legs, birds and insects appearing among the leaves.
I have been told that in one of the beautiful valleys lying farther round the isle than Nukuheva harbour there are Cyclopean remains, somewhat suggestive of the tombs of the Toui Tongas which we saw in the Friendly Isles. Among the dense groves which clothe the base of the mountain lie a series of vast terraces, each about a hundred yards long by twenty wide, and disposed one above another on the mountain-side, like gigantic steps. They are built of oblong blocks of stone, some of which are fifteen feet long by five or six wide. Though perfectly smooth, they bear no mark of any tool, and are laid without cement. Huge trees have taken root in the crevices, and their interlacing boughs now form a dense canopy above this monument of a forgotten race, concerning which the Marquesans themselves have no tradition. So impenetrable is the growth of vines in that green wilderness, that a stranger might pass the spot—nay, actually cross the terraces by the native track—without observing them. It is another of the mysteries of the stone age.
But, on a much smaller scale, there exist in the Marquesas marais similar to those of Tahiti, which have been the temples and the tombs of the present inhabitants ever since they knew their own history,—and even these are sufficiently large to make one marvel how they could have been erected by a race ignorant of all mechanical arts, and owning only such rude stone implements. Beside the marais there are a vast number of very old stone foundations, similar to those on which the houses are invariably raised, probably telling of a diminished population. The man who, in the present day, wishes to build himself a bamboo house, can therefore appropriate one of these ready-made foundations, and laid the hardest part of his house-building already accomplished.
I cannot learn that there is any trace of active volcanic agency now existing in the Marquesas, though in some districts sulphur-springs and mineral waters of various kinds have been found.
On the island of Hiva-oa (or Dominica), in the valley of Ta-oa, about one mile and a half from the beach, and about 300 feet above the level of the sea, there is a hole two inches in diameter, from which, when the sea is rough, there rises a strongly sulphurous steam, accompanied by a loud noise, like the steam-pipe of a steamer. When the water is smooth there is only a slight noise and no steam, only a strong smell of sulphur.
My attention has just been called to an exceedingly interesting letter from the Rev. Titus Coan, which appeared ten years ago in a Hawaiian paper. He had just returned to Honolulu after visiting the Marquesas in the little mission-ship Morning Star. He speaks of the foreign settlement at Taiohae or Nukuheva, as having been allowed to fall into great disrepair. The jetty, the forts, the arsenal, the fine road sweeping round the head of the bay—in fact, all the former works and improvements of the French—are fast going to decay, and only a few hundred natives, in place of the thousands of a few years earlier.
He was most courteously received by the French bishop, who gave him much information about the people, and spoke hopefully of progress made on the north-west isles of the group, though the pagan tribes on the windward isles, especially on Dominica and Magdalena, were still wild and defiant.
Mr Coan then visited the convent, where the French Sisters devote their lives to the training of Marquesan girls. About sixty girls board in the large airy house, their ages ranging from four to sixteen—happy, healthy-looking girls, lovingly taught by gentle, highly educated French ladies, and everything done to make their lives so cheery, that there may be no hankering for heathen pleasures. Of these girls, Mr Coan remarks that he has rarely seen more perfect specimens of physical organisation, brighter faces, or more active minds, than among the Marquesan children, many of whom are beautiful, bright, and blithesome.
A corresponding school for boys is established, under a French secular teacher.
Though the settlement of Taiohae cannot be reckoned as very "go-ahead," it certainly sounds as if it might be a singularly attractive resting-place—the houses smothered in luxuriant foliage, both indigenous and exotic, ornamental and fruit-bearing; banyan, iron-wood, candle-nut, hybiscus, palms, bread-fruit, orange, citron, lemon, guava, South Sea chestnut, and ever so many other trees, all growing in richest beauty; and every rock and pinnacle is carpeted with mosses and grasses, or festooned with tropical vines. The precipitous crags all around are so thickly clothed, that they suggest green velvet draperies striped with lines of molten silver; these are merry cascades, falling from sources 3000 feet above the valley, and forming three large streams, which dash among rocky boulders on their seaward way.
But Mr Coan seems to award the palm of beauty to the valley of Atuona on Isle Hiva-oa. He says it is a broad, deep valley, umbrageous and peaceful, and watered by a limpid, babbling stream. The trees are magnificent, and the vines run riot in their luxuriance. The great rampart of rocks rising in the background is the highest point of all the islands, and it is usually wreathed with clouds. "The broken hills form columns, spurs, pinnacles, coves, and sharp lateral ribs. Some are round, some angular, some stratified, some laminated, some truncated, some pointed. They lie in all positions—horizontal, tilted, vertical—with heaps of scoria revealing their igneous origin. Rock is piled on rock, hill upon hill, ridge upon ridge, mountain upon mountain—serried, castellated, turreted, . . . forming masses of confused harmony, defying all the art of the limner, the pen-and-ink painter, and the descriptive powers of man."
Now I do hope you sympathise in my ever-increasing regret at having missed my chance of visiting so marvellous a scene of beauty!
The climate, too, must be delightful. It is soft and balmy, and the dense foliage affords such constant shade that even the rays of a tropical sun can only trickle through in bright gleams, while the cooling sea-breeze seems never to fail. Severe storms are rare, and hurricanes unknown in the group. In short, the climate is equable, mild, and wellnigh perfect.
The mission party sailed from one beautiful isle to another, to visit the teachers already established, and to bring them fresh helpers. They landed on Uahuna, which, like the other isles, is high, broken, and precipitous. Their arrival was an unexpected joy to the good Laioha and his wife Ewa, who had been settled here about a year previously, and already had made a considerable impression on the people. Laioha blew a loud blast on a horn; and its echoes, reaching the villages nestled among precipices far up the valley, soon brought together about fifty wild men and women—some of whom had already made considerable progress in reading and writing.
At Paumau about a hundred people assembled under the trees, on the beautiful shore. Many carried spears and war-clubs, whaling-spades or shark-spears. Some had the head shaven all over; some in zones and belts, vertical or horizontal; some on one side, some on the other; some with a tuft of hair on the crown, some on the forehead, some on the occiput, and some hanging over the right or the left ear. And thus it was with the tattooing. The wildest taste and most fantastic and capricious figures were displayed upon the face, arms, legs, and over the whole body. Children are not tattooed; females but little, consequently they look like another and a milder race of beings.
To this strange crowd Mr Coan and his friends endeavoured to explain some of the simplest doctrines of Christianity. One old warrior, heavily tattooed, and with closely shaven head, who carried a large green leaf to shade his eyes, was witty and sceptical, and brought up many objections to the new creed. But presently he confessed that it was good, and bade Mr Coan speak also to his chief. The latter, on hearing of a heaven in which there was neither fighting nor hunger, remarked that "it would be a good place for cowards and lazy folk, who are afraid to fight, and too indolent to climb cocoa-palms or bread-fruit trees." His repartees excited laughter in the crowd; but after a while, he, like the old warrior, declared that it was good, and that he would forsake heathenism.
Pressing the hand of his new white friend, he said, "Kaoha oe"—"Love to thee." He became serious and earnest, and listened with fixed interest to all the words then spoken; and the meeting only dispersed when darkness overshadowed the land. A fine old lady of eighty, one of the early converts (who at her baptism had added the name of Eve to her own native name of Hipa-Hipa), was brought forward by her friends, and clasping Mr Coan's hands, placed them on her own silvery head, as she welcomed him for his work's sake.
The mission-ship next proceeded to Hakahekau, on Isle Uapou, to carry needful supplies to the Rev. S. Kauwealoha, who has laboured for several years among its beautiful valleys and wild cannibal inhabitants. He is described as a man of great energy and activity, both physical and intellectual, with a large and generous heart, ever ready to put head, heart, and hand to any work which will help others, or advance the cause of Christ. His talents are versatile. He can work in wood, iron, stone, and mortar; can build a good house; construct, rig, row, and sail a boat; or act as pilot in all the harbours of the group. He will work bareheaded and barefooted, and can swim and dive in the surf like a porpoise. He is very intelligent, speaks and reads English tolerably, and, by getting hold of an occasional newspaper, he manages to keep up with the current news of the age. As a missionary he is earnest in prayer, energetic in preaching, and firm in principle, and foreigners and natives alike respect him.
While the vessel was landing its stores, its passengers explored scenery of indescribable loveliness. Passing through a valley rich with luxuriant vegetation, they reached a point three miles in the interior, where they commanded a general view of the sublime landscape. "Within a vast amphitheatre of rugged hills, which send down their serrated spurs to the shore, buttressed by bold and lofty precipices, are eight remarkable cones, 200 to 300 feet high, and 50 to 100 feet in diameter, standing as everlasting columns against the sky, giving to the whole the character of a castellated fortress. The fantastic forms produced by the force of ancient volcanic fires, by the abrading action of winds, rain, and chemical agencies on these isles, are amazing."
Passing on to Isle Futuiva, the vessel anchored in Hanavave Bay, embowered in magnificent hills, with towering rocks like lofty minarets guarding its entrance. Mr Coan says the scene was so grand as to be almost overpowering. He rowed for some miles along the wonderful coast, which he believes to be almost without an equal in nature. Rocky cliffs, towering domes, and lofty precipices, rent, grooved, and fluted, everywhere charmed the eye; and from these bold heights, sometimes of 2000 feet, silvery cascades leaped to the sea.
Here and there shaded dells opened along the rocky shore. Small valleys filled with fruit-bearing trees, and murmuring with living waters, appeared as if by enchantment. But all were desolate, for fierce bloody war had slain the inhabitants, or driven them from these Edens of beauty.
For the tribes of Hanavave Bay have waged ceaseless war with those of Omoa, and the latter seem of late years to have had the best of it.
At Omoa (which is separated from Hanavave by dividing ridges of inaccessible crags and precipices), the Hawaiian teachers assembled to meet Mr Coan and his friends. The party consisted of the Rev. S. Kauwealoha, the Rev. J. Kekela, the Rev. A. Kaukau, the Rev. T. W. Kaiwi, the Rev. Z. Hapuku, and Mr T. W. Laioha. The names are characteristic. So is the fact of the Rev. Z. Hapuku going out to meet the ship, by diving through raging surf in which no boat could live, that he might pilot the vessel to another bay, where the boats found a landing-place on a smooth sand-beach; and the visitors were led to the mission-house by an avenue, cut like a long tunnel, through the hybiscus and cotton shrubs.
At Omoa a large proportion of the native converts had assembled for church services. About seventy persons were present. In the morning a new pastor was ordained to the work of the ministry. In the afternoon seventeen adults and two children were baptised, and afterwards the Holy Communion was administered to about forty communicants, nearly all of whom had but a few years, or even months, previously, been reclaimed from heathenism and wild cannibal orgies.
The schools of Omoa were examined on the following day, and about seventy scholars were found under tuition, of whom fifty-four could read, and many had made some progress in arithmetic and geography.
As if in special contrast to this meeting of the Christians, the heathen Marquesans were engaged in some curious ceremonies, in honour of a celebrated prophetess who had died six weeks previously. Her name was Kauakamikihei. They had built a house for her, 12 feet wide by 24 long, and 48 feet high. On the top of this house they placed a target of white native cloth (there called kapa), and supposed to represent the moon. At this the men fired their muskets, and shouts of triumph greeted the lucky shots.
Afterwards a great company of tattooed savages rushed to the shore, with wild shouts, carrying a sacred canoe, which was covered with a broad flat frame of bamboo, on which was erected a small round house, covered with mats. In this were placed a live pig, a dog, and a cock, also some bread-fruit, cocoa-nuts, and a bowl of poi. The canoe was much ornamented, and rigged with mast, and sail of kapa. With much shouting it was launched, and pushed by bold swimmers through the roaring surf into the open sea, where they left it and returned to shore. The canoe drifted slowly out of the bay, but struck on the northern headland, where it was in danger of being dashed to pieces on the rocks, when a native ran round the harbour and once more shoved off the frail bark, which sailed out to sea with its living freight. This ceremony was a final offering to the god whom the dead prophetess or priestess had served, and closed the season of koina or tabu, which had lasted six weeks, during which all manner of servile work or vain recreation were alike forbidden.
From these frequent allusions to heavy surf breaking on the shore, you may infer that the coral barrier-reef is wanting on most of the Marquesan isles. The fact is, that in many cases, these volcanic crags rise so precipitously, from so great a depth, that the diligent corals have failed to gain a resting-place, and so the sea dashes on the shore with unabated violence.
Strangely in contrast with these picturesque volcanic isles, is that other group over which, also, I grieve as over a lost inheritance.
The Paumotus (i.e., cloud of islands)—or, as we used to call it, the Low or Dangerous Archipelago—is a cluster of eighty very flat coral-isles, most of which are of the nature of atolls, some shaped like a horse-shoe, others so nearly circular that only small canoes can enter the calm lagoon which occupies the centre; and some are perfect rings, having no visible connection whatever with the ocean, which, nevertheless, finds a subterranean passage through which the waters rush in a strong current as the tides rise and fall. Such lagoons as these are generally encircled by a belt of swamp, which can only be crossed by laying down pathways of long branches; these act in the same way as huge Canadian snow-shoes, and enable the light-footed natives to pass in safety across the treacherous green surface to the margin of the lake, where they keep small canoes in which to paddle about in search of eels and shrimps, and various kinds of fish. The water-supply is generally deficient, and only by sinking wells in the coral-sand can even brackish water be obtained. There are, however, exceptions to this rule, and some isles have good springs. But at best, the people depend greatly on their cocoa-nuts for drink even more than for food, and happily this supply rarely fails them. The coral-bed supplies neither soil nor water sufficient to raise any regular crops. Here and there a sort of caladium with edible root grows wild, but yams or taro are only known as imported luxuries. Forest-trees and scrub, however, contrive to find a living, and form a dense growth over most of the isles; and here and there clumps of carefully cultivated bananas, orange-trees, or bread-fruit, tell of a richer and deeper soil, probably accumulated with patient toil. Fig-trees and limes also flourish.
Some of the lagoon-reefs have a diameter of about forty miles, and only rise above the water in small isles, forming a dotted circle.
I believe it is generally supposed that such coral-rings as these have in many cases been the encircling reef formed round some volcanic isle, which has gradually subsided, whereas the reef-building corals have continually risen higher and higher, so as to remain in the shallow water, in which alone they can live, and thus in course of ages the condition of things becomes reversed. The once fertile isle disappears beneath the ocean, whereas the coral-reef, rising to just below high-water mark, gradually accumulates shells and sea-weeds; the sea deposits drift of all sorts, and, little by little, a soil is formed which becomes fertile, and presently cocoa-nuts drift from far-away isles, and weeds of many sorts are carried by the birds, or float on the currents, and so the isle becomes fertile—a ring instinct with life, rising perpendicularly from the deep sea on the outer side, and very often on the inner side also.
Where this is the case, and the inner lagoon appears as fathomless as the outer sea, it is supposed that the atoll has been formed on the rim of a sunken crater, colonies of living corals having settled on its surface so soon as it subsided below high-water mark. This theory seems the more probable, from the manner in which you find these circular coral-isles densely clustered in certain localities, and none in other groups, just as in some regions we find innumerable extinct craters covering the whole surface of the land, and can readily imagine that should such a district subside, each cup-like crater might soon be covered with corals.
As in some craters the lava-flow has rent a gap near the summit whereby to escape, and in other craters it has found for itself a subterranean passage, leaving the upper crust unbroken, so in these atolls, some are perfect rings, and the tides ebb and flow within the lagoons by submarine channels, while others have an open passage, deep enough for a ship to sail into the inner lake.
The principal island in the Paumotu group is that of Manga Reva, a cluster of five isles, all within one encircling reef. The main isle is a basaltic mass, rising 2000 feet above the sea-level. It is the most fertile of the group, and is the headquarters of the French bishop and his clergy. The Paumotus have a population of about 5000 persons, the majority of whom are Roman Catholics. They are a fine independent race, and in old days were accounted brave warriors.
Now a large number make their living by diving for the great pearl shell-oysters, which are found in many of the lagoons at a depth of from ten to twenty fathoms, attached to the coral-rock by a strong byssus—i.e., a bunch of silky golden-brown filaments, which the diver cuts with his knife, and so secures his prize. This silken cable is attached to the muscle of the fish itself, and passes through an aperture at the hinge. An expert diver can remain under water for about three minutes. In some of the isles women are accounted the most skilful divers, especially in deep water, where the largest shells are found, some actually measuring eighteen inches across—such beautiful great shields of gleaming mother-of-pearl.
The pearls themselves are not very abundant, and are generally found in the less perfect shells, the inmates of which are either sickly or have inadvertently admitted grains of coral-sand, which they have been unable to eject. But sometimes the large healthy shells contain one beautiful perfect pearl, not lodged in the muscle in the ordinary way, but lying loose in the shell; and though it is certain that many are lost through carelessness, a considerable number have taken high rank among the noted pearls of the civilised world. I believe that those composing the Empress Eugénie's splendid necklace were collected in the Paumotus, and that Queen Victoria's pearl, which is valued at £6000, was also found there. In heathen days all the best pearls were treasured in the idol temples, and some of the early adventurers are known to have made a very lucrative business by exchanging cheap muskets for bags of pearls. The same disease or discomfort which produces these lovely gems often takes a form less valued, but still very beautiful—large distorted pearly lumps, often the size of two joints of the little finger, and assuming all manner of quaint forms, sometimes resembling a human hand. I have seen some which had been set as pins and brooches, which I thought very attractive.
These, however, like the pearls themselves, are the accidental prizes of the divers. The regular article of traffic is the shell itself, which the traders buy from the natives at an average of £15 per ton, and sell in London at an average of over £100. They calculate that by hiring divers and working the beds themselves, the shell can be raised at less than £6 per ton. In former years the annual harvest of Paumotu pearl-shell was immensely in excess of the present supply, which is said not to average above 200 tons—the natural result of allowing the beds no time to recruit. Doubtless there are vast beds untouched, at lower levels, where the divers do not care to venture; and it is supposed that the outer face of the barrier-reef is probably one vast oyster-bed, but the bravest divers dare not venture to attempt work beneath the awful breakers.
Certain it is, that the colonies in the lagoons are annually replenished by myriads of infant pearl-oysters, which have been spawned in the deep sea, and which, in the months of December and March, may be seen floating in with the rising tide; tiny glittering shells, a quarter or a half inch in diameter, like fairy coins. Once in those calm waters, the young oysters apparently have no wish again to seek the stormy outer seas, for they are never seen floating out with the retiring tide. It takes seven years for an oyster to attain maturity, so only those which settle in deep water have a chance of reaching a ripe age.
Strange to say, these creatures, which appear to be so immovably attached to their coral-rock, are proved to be migratory. Not only do the closely packed young oysters detach their silken cables and move off in search of more roomy quarters, but even the heavy grown-up shells sometimes travel from one shelf in the coral to another, probably in search of better feeding-grounds. They are singularly capricious in the selection of their homes; in one lagoon they are abundant, and perhaps in the very next not an oyster is to be found: and no attempt to raise artificial beds, even by transporting masses of rock covered with young shells, has ever succeeded, although the surroundings are apparently identical in every respect. Of course they will not settle anywhere near sand, which, by any disturbing cause, might enter their shells, and cause them as much inconvenience as do the innumerable tiny red crabs,—uninvited guests, which take up their quarters in the oyster-shells, to the great aggravation of the helpless owners.
The lagoons in which these fisheries are carried on are indescribably lovely: marine gardens, in which every detail of beauty is enhanced by being seen through the clearest crystal waters, which lend a glamour as of a magic glass to everything seen through them, whether sea-weed or shell, zoophyte or coral, gliding snake or rainbow-coloured fish. Here and there are patches of pure white coral-sand, which serve to reveal the exquisite colour of the aqua-marine water; while the golden sea-weeds appear purple, and the corals seem to vary in hue, according to the depth at which they lie beneath the surface. It is all illusion, for the flowers of the sea are always disappointing when gathered. But there on the coral-ledges lie the great oysters and many other shells, including the huge clam, which is accounted excellent food. The pearl-oyster is only eaten in times of scarcity, as it is very coarse and unpalatable, though not unwholesome.
Diving for clams generally falls to the share of the women; and many a one has met her doom from getting nipped by the ponderous dentated shell, and so held prisoner in the depths, never to rise again. I heard several horrible stories on this subject in Fiji, and here new ones are added to the list. Quite recently a poor fellow fishing on one of the Paumotu atolls dived to the bottom of the lagoon, feeling for pearl-oysters, when he unluckily slipped the fingers of his left hand into a gaping clam-shell, which instantly closed and held him as if in a vice. The shell lay in a hole in the coral, so that it was impossible to reach the byssus by which it was moored in that safe harbour; the wretched man, in agony of mind and of body, severed his own fingers with his knife, and rose to the surface, having indeed escaped drowning, but being maimed for life. There have been other cases when a diver, thus imprisoned, has with greater deliberation contrived to insert his knife into the shell, and so force it open sufficiently to release his other hand.
In gathering clams, the aim of the diver is to stab the gaping mollusc with a sharp-pointed stake, and then with his knife cut the silky filaments by which it adheres to the rock, after which he slips both hands below the huge shell, and endeavours to raise it;—no easy matter, considering what ponderous monsters many of the clams are—a single shell making an admirable bath for a child, pure as white marble, and highly polished by nature. In many Roman Catholic churches these large shells are used for holy water. The smaller clams, such as are generally used for food, are often picked up on the reef in basket-loads; and many a careless child has playfully thrust its little fingers into a gaping shell, an invasion promptly resented by the owner. Happily the scream of agony generally brings some friends to the rescue: and strong as is the armour of the poor besieged clam, it offers one weak point to the enemy—namely, the cavity through which the byssus passes; a skilful stab through this aperture causes the inmate to relax its hold, and so the child is released—but many a finger is lost in this manner. The multitude of these shell-fish annually consumed on all the isles is something incredible, and the supply is apparently inexhaustible. It is not generally known that these shells also occasionally yield very valuable and lustrous pearls of peculiar brilliancy.
But the treasury of the sea, which lies safe beyond the reach of covetous human beings, is that clean coral-sand which glimmers far below the coral-caves where the oysters congregate, and to which, for untold ages, have dropped the pearls which fell from the gaping shell, when the seven-year-old oyster, having lived his appointed time, melted away in his native brine, and let go the treasures he could no longer clasp. What a dream of delight, even in fancy, to gather up those
"Pale glistening pearls and rainbow-coloured shells,
Bright things that gleam unrecked of and in vain"!
I suppose the water-babies of these seas look upon pearls as we used to look on John o' Groats—probably with less reverence, as being so much more common; and perhaps they are right, for the one was only a disease, and the other a wondrously contrived little home.
One valuable creature which loves the white coral-sand as cordially as the pearl-oyster dreads it, is the black bêche-de-mer, a very important item in the harvest of these seas, and one which affords a living to a multitude of white men and brown. There are four different sorts, of which the black is the largest. It resembles a gigantic leech, and grows to a length of about thirty inches. It is a gregarious animal, and is found in companies of brother-slugs wherever the water is clearest and most perfect peace prevails. It is supposed to be blind, and its movements are so slow as to be imperceptible. It has a red cousin, which seems to enjoy tumult and noise as much as the black kind loves calm. Its favourite home is on the outer edge of the coral-reef, where the mighty breakers are for ever raging.
The bêche-de-mer fishers have on the whole rather a pleasant sort of gipsy life. Having chartered a small vessel, they engage a set of natives, both men and women, to work with them for so many moons; and as it is just the sort of occupation which comes natural to these men, they generally have a cheery time of it. They anchor at some favourable spot, probably a desert island, and build a cluster of palm-leaf huts for themselves, another in which to smoke, and so cure the fish and slugs, and to act as storehouse. However rude may be their own shelter, the fish-houses must be made water-tight, lest the heavy rains should beat through, and destroy the precious store.
The men carry with them a store of yams and cocoa-nuts, and trust to their luck for a daily fish supply, which rarely, if ever, fails, and has the charm of considerable variety, including most of the finny tribes, turtles and their eggs, clams, cockles, and other shell-fish—occasionally sea-birds' eggs are added to the feast. Whatever is caught is supposed to go to be handed over to the native overseer for equal division, that none may hunger. So when the day's work is done, a delicious bathe is followed by a cheery supper, and then the men lie round bright wood-fires, indulging in never-ending talk or songs, or else dancing quaint savage mékés in the moonlight.
Every morning they start at early dawn armed with long many-pronged forks, to collect the treasures brought in by the tide. If the sea is calm they go to the outer edge of the reef, in search of the red bêche-de-mer, which love the sea-foam; but when the surf comes thundering in with mad violence, then the fishers have a quiet day with the black slugs; for these they must dive perhaps to a depth of twelve fathoms.
As I once before mentioned to you, these creatures eject a fluid which blisters the skin most painfully; so instead of carrying them in a basket, it is customary for the fisher to have a miniature canoe which he can drag over the reef by means of a rope, or float on the calm lagoon, should he have occasion to dive; into this canoe he throws all treasure-trove, and when it is full, empties it into one of the larger boats. Noonday is the most favourable hour for the diver, as the sun's vertical rays then most clearly illumine the submarine depths where he seeks his game.
When a fair supply has been secured, the fishers return to the settlement. Sometimes they busy themselves on the way by cleaning the slugs, which is done by cutting them open with a sharp knife, so as to let the dangerous blistering fluid and intestines fall into the sea. But the more cautious men defer this process till they reach the shore, when they pop the live animals into a boiling caldron, and therein stir them diligently for some minutes, after which they can clean them with greater safety to themselves. They are then transferred to another caldron and stewed for half an hour, after which they are taken to the drying-house, whence they reappear like bits of dry leather, and require to be soaked for several days previous to use.
It is necessary to cook the Holothuria as quickly as possible, because so soon as they are dead they become a gelatinous mass like treacle, with a very bad smell, and all adhere together, so that no use can be made of them. So if caldrons are lacking, native ovens are at once prepared: a hole is dug in the earth, and a fire kindled, whereby stones are thoroughly heated, and on these the slugs are laid, and covered with green leaves and old matting, and earth over all. Thus they are steamed for an hour, till they are dried up and shrivelled, after which each is stretched open with little bits of stick, and laid on the drying stages in the smoking-house, over a fire of green wood, which produces a dense smoke. This must be kept up for three days, after which this leathery and uninviting delicacy is packed in palm-leaf baskets ready for the China market. But it must from time to time be spread in the scorching sun to dry it more thoroughly, as any lingering moisture will inevitably reveal itself on the long journey, and the produce of many a month's hard labour has thus been rendered worthless.
I do not think that bêche-de-mer soup ever finds much favour with Europeans, but I have eaten it myself with much satisfaction, which is far more than I can say for turtle in any form, as prepared in the Pacific. Turtle-steaks sound well, but I cannot say they are nice. I think they are generally cut from turtle which have been roasted whole in native ovens. I believe the scientific cook invariably lays the turtle on its back, that the precious green fat and oil may not be lost; and the prudent housekeeper preserves the surplus of a feast-day, by cutting up slices of turtle-steak, which she stores in cocoa-nut shells, pouring in liquid fat, and tying a heated banana-leaf over the shell, in lieu of hermetically sealing these potted meats. As a good large turtle weighs fully 400 lb. (and some are occasionally captured weighing from 600 to 700 lb.), you can understand that a chief may very well allow himself to store up a portion for the morrow, without depriving his followers of their fair share.
But if turtle-meat is unpleasant, still more so, to my uneducated taste, are turtle-eggs, several hundred of which are sometimes found inside a large mother turtle. But they are generally discovered carefully buried in the sand well above high-water mark. They are quite round and leathery, resembling small white tennis-balls. In the breeding season, the female turtle leaves her mate beyond the barrier-reef, and she comes ashore, alone, at high tide, generally selecting the full moon. Having chosen a suitable spot for her nest, she scratches a large hole in the sand, in the middle of which she digs a funnel, two or three feet in depth, and therein proceeds to lay about a hundred eggs, after which she carefully covers them over with sand, and smooths away all trace of her visit. Then she returns to the reef and there waits for the next high tide, when she rejoins her mate. For some reason best known to herself, she generally returns ashore either on the ninth or eighteenth night—a fact well known to the natives, who scan the beach eagerly for the broad track left on the smooth white sand by this midnight visitor.
When poor Mrs Turtle becomes aware of the presence of her natural foe, man, she generally tries to hide, and will lie motionless for hours; but should this hope prove vain, she makes for the sea at railway speed, her flippers acting as paddles, by which she jerks herself along. Should her foe outstrip her in the race, he contrives to turn her over, when she lies on her back more helpless than even a fat sheep in the like predicament.
I daresay that to all of you, in England, the accounts of these South Sea groups sound so much alike, that you can scarcely sympathise with my repining over the omission of a few. But each has its own distinctive peculiarities, which you only realise by living in it for a while, and making friends with its inhabitants.
Therefore I fear that these "lines left out" will remain to me a lifelong regret. They have all the pain that attaches to "truth seen too late," which is the crown of woe.
I only hope that you will profit by my sad experience, and that should you ever have a chance of seeing the Marquesas and the Paumotus, you will not let it slip. But such luck as visiting a French colony in a French man-of-war does not often present itself!
- We can scarcely describe this proceeding as the thin end of the wedge, but it was obvious from the beginning that the assumption of the Protectorate was merely a cloak for forcibly taking possession of these gems of the Pacific. The cloak was finally thrown aside in June 1880, when King Pomare V. was persuaded by the commandant to cede the nominal sovereignty of the isles to those who had so long held its reality, and to accept a life-pension of 12,000 dollars a-year, which he might enjoy in peace in his own fashion, and so escape from the continual tutoring, which made his kingly rank a wearisome burden, devoid of all honour.
The annexation of Tahiti was formally proclaimed in Papeete on 24th March 1881, and was made the occasion of a brilliant festival, such as the light-hearted crowds are ever ready to welcome. Great were the official rejoicings. From every ship in the harbour, and every corner of the town, floated the tricolour, which likewise adorned the raven tresses of the women and the button-holes of the men. Great was the noise of big guns, and the amount of powder expended on salutes. An imposing column of all branches of the service—sailors and marines, marine artillery, with their guns, infantry, and gendarmes—marched round the town, headed by the band: "A Tahiti, comme en France, on aime à voir passer nos soldats," says the 'Messager de Tahiti.' So the lovely town was en fête. Every himène chorus had arrived from every corner of the isles, making the whole air musical. Thousands of natives, all in their brightest, freshest dresses, kept up incessant movement in the clear sunlight or cool shade. Everywhere games and feasting were the order of the day. In the governor's beautiful gardens, a brilliant banquet for upwards of a hundred persons was served in a great tent, all as graceful as the combined taste of France and Tahiti could make it. Then followed a lovely garden festival, just such as that described by "The Earl and the Doctor," a gay ball for the leading inhabitants, while "the people" danced no less joyously on the green, outside the sacred precincts. Games, music, dancing, and feasting, with a night of brilliant illuminations and fireworks,—all these, combined with lovely surroundings and perfect weather, made the great official festival of Tahiti a day which the French naval officers very naturally consider one to be remembered for ever, but which, perchance, may have caused some of the older inhabitants an angry and bitter pang, for the independence of their country thus lost for ever.
- Immediately after the declaration of the annexation of the Society Isles, comes the news that the French have also annexed the Gambier Isles, which lie to the south-west, in the direction of Pitcairn's Isle. Our Gallic friends have thus secured a very admirable semicircle of the four finest groups in the Eastern Pacific. Here they can now consolidate their strength, and await the influx of commerce which must of necessity pass through this cordon, when M. Lesseps shall have opened the Panama Canal for the traffic of the world.
Here French ships will touch on their way to and from the Loyalty Isles and Cochin-China; while ships of all nations, plying between Europe and Australasia, will necessarily pass the same way, and contribute their quota to the wealth of the French Pacific.
The Gambier Islands have been gradually prepared for their adoption by France, the Catholic Mission having there ruled supreme for some twenty years.
Till quite recently, the Bible has been a prohibited book, but now, of the few remaining natives, a large proportion are learning to read Tahitian, in order to be able to study the Scriptures for themselves; and the Protestant Mission in Tahiti has responded to this desire, by sending copies of the New Testament for gratuitous distribution in the group. From one cause or another, however, a very small number of natives now exist, the islands having become well nigh depopulated.
- Although the French have had possession of the group for so many years, the natives of some of the islands have never been really in subjection to the authorities until last year, when Admiral Bergasse du Petit Thouars visited the group, and with the aid of volunteers, natives of Tahiti, and of the friendly isles of Marquesas, succeeded in disarming and bringing into subjection the hostile tribes, and that without firing a shot.
The admiral himself headed the troops across the mountains from village to village, arriving one night on the coast about midnight, having been conducted by natives who knew the passes: these passes were lighted up by the electric light from the frigate, which was anchored in the bay. The French took 600 muskets from the natives of the two islands, Hiva-oa and Fatuhiva. They say that the natives are really not a bad sort of people, but their curse, like that of all the islands, is "drink." This, and the conduct of unprincipled foreigners, has been the real cause of all the trouble.
I affix a note which I copy from the 'Messager de Tahiti' for 30th of July 1880, which is all that has appeared in the paper on the subject:—
"Le Contre-Amiral commandant en chef le corps expéditionnaire aux Marquises, témoigne aux volontaires Tahitiens, aux volontaires Marquisiens, aux militaires de toutes armes, ainsi qu'aux marins qui ont pris part à l'expédition des Marquises, toute sa satisfaction.
"Grâce à leur esprit militaire, à leur dévouement et à leur discipline, l'île de Hiva-oa et celle de Fatuhiva ont été rapidement soumises et désarmés, et la paix régne partout aux Marquises."
- Sun-dried nut, exported for the manufacture of oil.
- Holothuroides. Chinese name, Tripang.