Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/199

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

was reversible—being black on one side and red on the other, and varnished with vegetable gum to enrich the colour.

Some wore this handsome material as a cloak—falling from the shoulders in flowing drapery, very becoming to a stately chief. Others wore it as a tiputa or tippet, which resembled the poncho of South America—being simply a long piece of cloth, with a hole cut in the centre, through which to pass the head, the garment falling over the back and chest and reaching to the knees. Sometimes this tiputa was beautifully ornamented; and often it was made of curiously knotted fibre—generally that of the hybiscus, from which fine fishing-nets were also made. Those who could afford such luxury wore head-dresses made of the long tail-feathers of the graceful tropic bird; and the poorest wore gay flowers. But these were discarded in favour of regular English hats, and the scarlet feathers were used as trimming for shabby black coats. Proud was the man who became possessed of a pair of trousers, to be displayed alternately on legs or arms! In short, the spirit of innovation was attended with the usual hideous incongruities.

Instead of the big European boats of the present day, with nothing distinctive except the form of their quaint triangular sail, there were formerly fleets of canoes of every size up to 100 feet in length, with grotesque carving on the raised stern and prow, and flags and streamers of native cloth. They carried large sails of yellow matting, made from the long leaves of the screw-pine,[1] which was much lighter than the canvas of civilisation, but also much less durable. Here again the picturesque element has suffered. In those days there were war canoes and chiefs' canoes, single canoes, and double canoes—like Siamese twins; and in every fleet there was always a sacred canoe, that the presence of the tribal god might not be lacking.

The gods of Tahiti seem to have been simple enough: some were in the form of a large bird, others were merely a hollow cylinder ornamented with bright feathers. The blue shark was deified, and had temples erected in his honour, and a special priesthood; he was chiefly worshipped by fishermen, though few whose

  1. Pandanus.