Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/339

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NATIVE BOOKS.

press. Crowds besieged the printing-office day and night, to watch the progress of setting up the types,—the king himself preparing the first alphabet. His delight when the first sheet was struck off, equalled that of his people; and all felt that it was a marked day in the history of Tahiti, when her king, with his own hands, printed the first page of the first book published in the South Sea Isles.

The binding of the volumes was the next interest. The supply of millboard was small; but again the fibre of the paper-mulberry was turned to account, several layers being pressed together to form a stiff pasteboard, which was then coloured with the purple dye obtained from the mountain-plantain; or else thin wooden boards were used, and covered with the skin of whatever animal could be procured,—goat, cat, or dog: and the new art of tanning was among the earliest industries of the isle.

Hitherto all books circulated in the isles had been distributed gratuitously, but it was deemed wiser for every reason, henceforth to exact a small payment in cocoa-nut oil, which was the article most easily obtained by the people. So great was their anxiety to purchase the books, that there were sometimes as many as thirty or forty canoes drawn up on the beach, having come from different remote villages, and having each brought several persons, whose sole object was to procure the precious volume, not only for themselves, but for others. Some who were thus commissioned, were the bearers of huge bundles of green plantain-leaves, each rolled up like a parchment scroll, and being, in fact, a written order for a copy of the book, payment for which was sent in the form of a bamboo measure filled with oil. Many of these messengers waited for several weeks ere the copies could be supplied; and some of the more urgent refused to leave the mission premises till the books were delivered to them, lest other men should slip in before them and carry off the coveted treasures.

When we consider that teachers were so few, and worshippers so numerous, and that many large congregations assembled in the chapels they had built for Christian prayer, firmly believing that He in whose name they had met, was there present; yet having