Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/391

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357
PROTECTION OF NUT-CROP.

be on the isle of Kaukura, which seems to have been the centre of the cyclone, and consequently suffered most. He had passed this island a few days previously in the Marion, but the sea had been too heavy to allow of so large a vessel venturing to approach. Business compelling him to return, he did so in the May, a smaller craft. Both vessels belong to Mrs Brander, and are named after her daughters.

Like the generality of the Paumotus, Kaukura consists of a circular group of low flat islets, either detached or connected by a reef, thus forming an atoll enclosing a calm sea-lagoon; the whole being protected from the outer ocean by an encircling reef. An existence more calm and peaceful than that of the dwellers in these coral-girt isles can scarcely be conceived; and a storm such as that which has devastated the group, is of such rare occurrence as to be little dreaded in the chances of daily life. Eighty years are said to have elapsed since the last hurricane occurred in these latitudes. Considering that many of these islets are not three feet above the water-level,—that ten feet is considered high ground, and fifteen is about the maximum elevation,—you can understand how appalling is the danger caused by any eccentricity of tide.

As cocoa-nuts are the chief produce of the group, and indeed the sole property of many families, it is customary to protect the interests of each member of the community from all danger of poaching on the part of his neighbour, by laying a taboo on the whole crop until a given day. I suppose I need scarcely tell you what is meant by this ceremony, which, under slightly varied names (tabu in New Zealand, tambu in Fiji, tapu in Samoa, and kapu in Hawaii), is common throughout the Pacific, and implies that something has been reserved or rendered sacred by order of the chief. In olden days the multitudinous forms of taboo were to all these islanders a heavy burden, weighing grievously upon them in every phase of life; and the infringement of the most arbitrary rule thus imposed was generally punished by death. Even now a formerly declared taboo carries such weight, and appeals so forcibly to the superstitions of the people, that it is almost invariably respected.

Thus in the matter of the cocoa-nut crop not a nut from the