Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/87

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63
MOUNTAIN BANANAS.

uncultivated crops of nourishing bananas and wild yams. For that matter, I suspect it is really quite as fatiguing to climb the steep mountains in search of wild vegetables as it would be to grow them in gardens—probably a good deal more so—for the beautiful mountain-plantain, which is the staple article of food, grows in all the most inaccessible valleys and clefts of the rock. As you look up the steep hill-side, so richly clothed with vegetation, the most prominent forms are these large handsome leaves, with their huge cluster of fruit growing upright from the centre, but to reach them you may have to climb a couple of thousand feet—and such climbing! A man would need to be in very robust health who could face such a walk to fetch his family food. For my own part, I should prefer to sacrifice the romance, and plod steadily at my yam-garden.

These mountain-plantains are the only branch of the family which carry their fruit upright in that proud fashion; all other sorts hang drooping below the leaves, like gigantic bunches of yellow grapes; and the native legend tells how, long ago, all the banana tribe held their fruit upright, but that in an evil hour they quarrelled with the mountain-plantain, and were defeated,—hence they have ever since hung their head in shame.

In heathen days the Samoans seem to have been greatly averse to unnecessary work, and even the art of making cloth of the paper-mulberry fibre was one which their indolence long prevented them from acquiring, though they greatly admired that which their Tahitian teachers made for them. Now, however, they appear fairly industrious, and the women particularly so—those of the highest rank priding themselves on being the most skilful weavers of fans, mats, and baskets, and in making the strongest fibre-cloth. The chief men also are willing to do their full share of whatever work is going on, whether house-building, fishing, working on the plantation, or preparing the oven and heating the stones to cook the family dinner.

Now all the chief men wear very handsome cloth, thicker and more glossy than that made in Fiji, though less artistic in design. Fifty years ago the regular dress of all the men was merely a girdle