Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/223

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195
THE AREOIS SECT.

Tahitians have apparently no notion of dancing, except this Upa-upa, which for many years was discountenanced by the chiefs, in their first anxiety to put away every trace of heathenism. But under French influence it has been revived; and though the more respectable natives consider it an objectionable exhibition, and one in which few care to join, a certain number of dancers crop up at every village where we halt: their position, however, appears to be no higher than that of strolling jugglers at English fairs.

In heathen days the Upa-upa was the distinguishing dance of an atrocious sect called the Areois—religious fanatics and libertines of the vilest order, who were held in reverent awe by the people, and allowed every sort of privilege. They travelled from village to village in very large companies, sometimes filling from fifty to eighty canoes. Whenever they landed great sacrifices were offered to the gods; and for so long as they chose to remain in one place, they were the honoured guests of the chief, and had to be provided for by the villagers, whom they entertained by acting pantomimes and reciting legends of the very unholy gods, singing songs in their honour, wrestling, gesticulating, and dancing, till they worked themselves up to a pitch of frenzy which was considered religious, and the night was spent in wild orgies. Their full dress on these occasions generally consisted only of a little scarlet and black dye; the seeds of the vermilion-plant and charcoal furnishing the materials. At other times they wore kilts of the yellow dracæna and wreaths of scarlet Barringtonia.

They were divided into distinct classes, distinguished by the manner in which they were tattooed. The lowest class had merely a circle round the ankle; the next had one stripe on the left side; the third was marked on each shoulder; the fourth on both sides, round the body; the fifth was tattooed from the fingers to the shoulders, and the leaders were adorned with stockings of the same. The imprinting of these indelible class-marks was part of a religious festival, at which great offerings of food and goods were presented to the gods, and to these their servants, and on this one occasion women, were allowed freely to partake of the feast, and to eat of the meat which had been offered in sacrifice,