Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/88

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

of leaves—a simple form of dress, but one which was never dispensed with, as in many of the Papuan group; indeed, one of the most humiliating punishments in heathen days was to compel a culprit to walk naked through the village, or so to sit for hours in some public place. To this day a leafy girdle is considered essential as a bathing-dress—the long dracæna leaves being those most in favour. They are so arranged as to overlap one another like the folds of a kilt; and as they vary in colour, from brilliant gold to richest crimson or brightest green, the effect produced is as gay as any tartan. This is the favourite liku, or kilt, in Fiji even now.

But on great occasions in olden days, as at the present time, the chiefs, and their wives and daughters, wore very fine mats of the most delicate cream colour. They are made two or three yards square, and are as soft and flexible as cloth. The best are made from the leaves of the pandanus, scraped till there remains only a fibre thin as paper; but the bark of the dwarf hybiscus also yields an excellent fibre for weaving mats. Their manufacture is a high art. It is exclusively women's work, but is one in which few excel, and is very tedious,—the labour of several months being expended on a mat which, when finished, may be worth about ten dollars.

The strong paper-like cloth commonly worn, is much less troublesome to manufacture. There are several plants from which a good cloth-making fibre is obtained. One of them is the magnificent giant arum, the leaves of which often measure from 5 to 6 feet in length, by 4 in width. Its root is large in proportion—truly a potato for a giant. How you would delight in the cosy brown cottages whose thatched roofs just peep out from among such leaves as these. You do realise that you are in the tropics when you see gigantic caladium or quaint papawas, splendid bananas with leaves 6 or 8 feet long, and tufts of tall maize or sugar-cane 15 to 20 feet high, growing luxuriantly at every cottage-door.

To-day we passed through several villages, and were everywhere greeted with the kindly salutation Ole Alofa (i.e., "Great Love "). We were invited to enter many houses; and though our scanty