Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/161

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137
VENERABLE MATS.

renowned relic was nothing but a strip of rotten old matting, about three yards long and four inches wide, which was always attached to the war-canoe of the highest chief when he went forth to battle. Now an impious voice suggested that this venerated rag should be thrown in the fire, but a burst of disapprobation silenced this cruel suggestion. However, all agreed that Papo must be exterminated; so as drowning was a less horrible death than burning, they resolved to launch a new canoe, in which a number of high chiefs should row out to sea, and, having fastened Papo to a heavy stone, should commit him to the deep. They had actually started on this errand, with great ceremony, when the teachers hurried after them in another canoe, to beg that the old war-god might be presented to Mr Williams. The chiefs were immensely relieved by the suggestion; and the venerable strip of matting is now to be seen in the museum of the London Mission.

I cannot solve the mystery of this Samoan reverence for certain ancient mats; but I well remember our astonishment, when the Samoan chiefs came to Fiji to consult Sir Arthur Gordon on the question of British protection, to see with what infinite solemnity these fine stately men presented him with a very dirty and exceedingly unfragrant and tattered old mat, which, I believe, was to be offered to her Majesty Queenie Vikatoria, but has, I think, found an asylum in the British Museum. What makes this so very strange is, that the mats worn by the Samoan chiefs and ladies are beautifully fine and glossy, of most delicate straw-colour, and edged with handsome grass-fringe.

Whatever may have been the origin of this form of antiquarian lunacy, its existence is an unmistakable reality. The Samoan chief treasures the dirty and ragged old mat of some revered ancestor as a British regiment does the tattered colours which find their honoured rest in some grey sanctuary. The old mat, which from generation to generation has been jealously guarded by his clan, is his patent of nobility, and the title-deed which, proves his right to broad acres. Some of these strips of dirty old matting, which no rag-man would pick off a dust-heap, are known throughout the group by special names. There is one, which is known to be upwards of 200 years