Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/361

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327
SACRED TEMPLE TREES

smote their breasts, their heads, even their faces. One of these useful implements formed part of a girl's bridal trousseau, that she might be ready to take her part in whatever scene of sorrow or of joy might present itself. For, strange to say, the same ceremonies were observed, though in a less excessive degree, to mark great happiness; and the safe return of a member of the family, or his escape from danger, was, and still is, marked by the shedding of what might be mistaken for bitter tears. Happily, however, the horrible custom of cutting and bruising one's own flesh is a thing of the past; and friends no longer express sympathy with the bereaved by giving them strips of tappa saturated in the blood thus voluntarily shed, to be preserved as precious memorials of affection!

The one pleasant feature connected with the marais, as with so many forms of heathen worship, was the beautiful grove of old trees which surrounded them. Different tribes adopted special trees as clan badges, and planted these round their family shrines. Thus some were overshadowed by huge banyan-trees, others by the noble tamanu, or native mahogany; and others, again, were distinguished from afar by the gorgeous blossoms of the coral-tree[1], which dripped its blood-red petals on the altars below it. This beautiful tree is almost imperishable; but unluckily it shared in the fate of too many of those sacred temple trees, which were ruthlessly cut down by the early converts, in their iconoclastic zeal. Now the mournful casuarina (the noko-noko of Fiji), with its dark hair-like drooping needles, is almost the only distinctive foliage which marks the resting-place of the dead.

We lingered at this weird and horribly suggestive spot till the evening, and as we rode back to Haapiti, the crags and pinnacles towered in purple majesty against a background of luminous gold, and one divided ray from the setting sun threaded the eye of the great rock-needle. Later, when the moon had risen, we went to the village to see the native minister, who is going to Papeete tomorrow, and has agreed to give me a passage in his boat. We are to start early, so I must now have a sleep. Besides, the mosquitoes

  1. Erythrina corallodendrum.