Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/276

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

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