Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/214

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effective. Apparently each table had a series of white marble centre-vases, which, on close inspection, proved to be graduated lumps of the thick fleshy banana-stalk. In these were arranged all manner of artificial flowers, made of coloured leaves, or of the glossy white arrowroot fibre, or bamboo fibre, which are used in making wreaths and hats; and from some there floated a silvery plume of the lightest silky film, like fairy ribbons. This is the snowy reva-reva, extracted from the interior of young cocoa-palm leaves—a difficult operation, requiring the neatest hand and long practice. As yet, I cannot produce more than a few inches unbroken. The worker keeps a split stick, stuck in the ground beside her, and into its cleft fastens one end of each ribbon as she peels it, otherwise the faintest breath of air would blow it away. It is the loveliest gossamer you can imagine.

At the end of the feast Tamatoa gave the example of adorning his own hat and those of his neighbours with these lovely plumes, and all the pretty arrowroot and bamboo flowers. Then we adjourned to the grassy shore, and watched the clear full moon rise from the calm sea, while the glee-singers sang their soft beautiful choruses. A few men and one or two women began the same hideous dance with which they had favoured the company in the forenoon, but they met with small encouragement, and the singers carried the day—or rather the night.

I wish it were possible for me to describe Tahitian himènes so as to give you the faintest shadow of an idea of their fascination. But the thing is utterly impossible. Nothing you have ever heard in any other country bears the slightest resemblance to these wild exquisite glees, faultless in time and harmony, though apparently each singer introduces any variations that occur to him or her.

The musicians sit on the grass—or the mats, as the case may be,—in two divisions, arranged in rows so as to form two squares. A space is left between these where the "conductor," should there chance to be one, walks up and down, directing the choruses. But very often there is no leader, and apparently all sing according to their own sweet will. One voice commences: it may be an old native tune, with genuine native words (the meaning of which we