Popular Science Monthly/Volume 87/July 1915/A History of Fiji II
|A HISTORY OF FIJI, II|
THE CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON
UPON the death of old Tanoa, his son Thakombau (evil to Mbau) became Vunivalu. He was an ambitious, energetic, crafty and intelligent man, but the problems of government were becoming yearly more complex in Fiji.
Missionaries had entered the group in 1835, and although Tanoa did not permit them to live in Mbau or to attempt to make converts of his subjects, other chiefs welcomed them, for they brought valuable presents and increased the importance of those among whom they lived. Gradually other white men had come to Fiji. At first mere degenerates or deserters from vessels who lived as did the natives themselves, but afterwards men of more ambition and intelligence gathered to the shores of these distant islands, and assumed a leading part in affairs. The missionary influence was beginning to be felt, for converts were being made among the lower orders of the population, and the power of the native priests, and with it that of the chiefs was weakening.
Vainly did Thakombau rail against the advance of civilization, for the hated power of the Mbau chief, founded as it was upon terrorism, was doomed. One after another defeats came to the war parties of Thakombau, and so reduced was he at last that, the missionaries being the sole power left to whom he could appeal for aid, he was forced in 1854 to profess Christianity, and cannibal feasts were known no more at Mbau. It was a great triumph for the missionaries, the result of nineteen years of unremitting toil amid constant dangers and surroundings unspeakable in horror.
That Thakombau's conversion was forced upon him as a matter of expediency is evident, for in a speech he called upon the gods of Fiji, saying that he still respected them as of old, but that the time had come when he must add the white man's god to those of his ancestors.
In the days of his power he had owned a fleet of more than a hundred war canoes, manned by a thousand warriors. 15,000 subjects acknowledged him as king, and in addition half of Fiji paid him tribute or admitted his supremacy, and he had boasted that the cannibal ovens of Mbau never grew cold. He had more than fifty wives, and he himself knew not how many children, and when but a child he had wantonly murdered one of his playmates; yet he had but to declare himself a Christian and hundreds of his subjects followed the chief's example as Fijian custom demanded. Indeed, even to-day whenever a high chief stumbles and falls all in his neighborhood must tumble like checkers in a row, and, if he takes medicine, his subjects clamor for some of the same sort.
We must not assume that all or even that most of the Fijians were hypocrites in thus following their chief. For years the zealous spirit of the missionaries had been at work among them and they had gained the hearts of many of the poor and downtrodden, especially of the women, upon whom the tyranny of savage days fell with a heavy hand. It was the high chief and the warrior classes who had most to lose through the levelling democracy of Christianity which denied their divine right to rule through tabu, abolished their polygamy, discouraged war, prohibited cannibalism and in every way lessened their authority and rendered ridiculous the proud traditions of their caste. While the high chief remained unconverted, the missionary's lot was happy in that he well could be the kind and simple friend of the distressed and the brotherly adviser of the troubled, but with the conversion his temporal power became paramount, for it was impossible for him to escape the difficult double role of leader in secular as well as religious affairs, and thus the simple-minded lover of mankind was suddenly exalted into the position of the vicar of the terrible god of the white man whose favor was hard to win and whose punishments were eternal.
It is but fair to the missionaries to recognize that their temporal tower was at the outset forced upon them, and that the mistakes which they have at times fallen into are those which overshadow the spiritual function of the clergy in all states wherein the government has fallen under the domination of the priesthood.
It was indeed fortunate for Fiji that the missionaries had been obliged to labor for nineteen long and almost hopeless years, and to endeavor in every way to understand and endear themselves to the people before any of the important chiefs had yielded to their teaching.
Everywhere in the Pacific where missionary success was quickly and easily attained, results more or less disastrous to the natives had followed. Despite many notable and glorious exceptions such as Chalmers of Papua, the old type of missionary was too often predisposed to regard all customs not his own as "heathen," hence pernicious. Thus if his success was immediate, as in Hawaii, his well-meant zeal impelled him too quickly to overthrow old customs and at once to force upon his converts a semblance of the habits of his own stratum of European society.
In this connection it should, however, be said that the blame for most of the bigotry, which has been all too evident, especially in former times, should fall but lightly if at all upon the field worker who, living among the natives, comes to love them as his friends and at least deals with them as individuals; but the fault lies chiefly with the home boards, who, not realizing the paramount importance of local conditions in treating with primitive peoples, have attempted to enforce almost the same set of regulations from Greenland's icy mountains to Africa's coral strand.
The missionary, whether he would or no, is forbidden to conduct marriages between heathen and Christians, and too often one party to the contract must enter upon it with a lie upon his or her lips. The hypocrisy and espionage which results from sharing with the informer, or the chief, the fines derived from those who smoke, or swear, or work upon a Sunday, may well be imagined, and moreover, altogether too large a share of the earned wealth of the natives is demanded from them, the revenues of the church in certain groups being decidedly larger than the taxes collected by the civil government.
Yet let us not blind ourselves to an appreciation of the fundamental good the missions have accomplished, for whether Christianity be true or false, the natives must live under the rule of a people actuated by its motives and its faith, and are thus through its acquisition inestimably better fitted to resist the evil that preys upon them with the advent of "civilization."
In Fiji, however, the natives had become thoroughly known to the missionaries before the great conversion of 1854, and many old customs were thus permitted to remain which would have been suppressed had the missionary, and the political party which inevitably springs up around him, came more quickly into power.
The power of the missionary, after the great chiefs cast in their lot with him, is indeed terrible for good or evil, and in Tonga and later in Fiji he connived at the arming of the natives in order to conquer "converts." As the struggling priest of a great religion the missionary inspires all respect, but as the crafty politician or bigoted inquisitor his actions become correspondingly reprehensible. Too often in those early days of missionary endeavor he seemed satisfied with a mere semblance of order and religion for this was the period in which faith rather than good works was deemed essential. To the natives he too often remained one of a foreign race—a wizard, terrible, mysterious and implacable. Happily, a change has come over the thought of the world, and the conditions we describe are not those of to-day.
Henceforth Thakombau was to remain nominally king in Fiji, but the real power was vested in the white men who had settled upon his shores. He had escaped the retribution of native revenge only to struggle hopelessly in the net of commercialism and diplomacy. It was a sad and disappointing period between the time of the conversion in 1854 and the annexation to Great Britain in 1874. Soon after Thakombau "lotued" in 1854, a powerful faction in Mbau rebelled and fled to Rewa where they arrayed themselves under the banner of the great chief Ratu Quara or Tui Dreketi (the Hungry Woman or the Long Fellow), a famous warrior and an implacable enemy of Thakombau who threatened to destroy Mbau and to kill and eat its king in revenge for the burning of Rewa in 1847. At one time only a single Tongan and a missionary guarded Thakombau in his house at Mbau, but, at this critical juncture, an American ship under Captain Dunn arrived and, aided by the missionaries, Thakombau and his party were enabled to purchase guns and ammunition. Rewa might still have conquered, however, had it not been that Ratu Quara died of dysentery in January, 1855.
Indeed, as the Reverend Mr. Waterhouse states, the people of Mbau grew to hate Christianity after Thakombau had professed it to be his religion. The Fijians had a highly developed system of constitutional government, which varied somewhat with the locality, but was nowhere an absolute despotism. In fact the influence of unprincipled white men and the introduction of firearms led to conquests which had done more to exalt the power of a few chiefs and to develop the worst excrescences of the social and religious system of Fiji than had any other factor.
At Mbau there were two high chiefs, the head priest of Roko Tui (the reverenced king) who was above all in rank and was held in religious veneration but took no part in war or political affairs; and the Vunivalu (root of war), the executive head of the tribe. Upon the death of the Vunivalu, his successor was elected from among his relatives by the land-owners and chiefs of the tribe, and should he fail to carry out their policy they refused to provide him with food.
After white men came and the lust for conquest overpowered all else at Mbau, their ancestral veneration for the Roko Tui declined, and the Vunivalu became correspondingly more powerful. Thus Thakombau was not the Mikado but the Tycoon of his people.
But to return to the historic narrative: King George Tubou of Tonga, the most powerful Christian convert in the Pacific, came to the aid of Thakombau in 1855, and for the moment reestablished his supremacy, but at the same time he acquired a knowledge of Thakombau's weakness, and became convinced that a Tongan conquest of Fiji was possible.
For generations the Tongans had been in the habit of sailing to Lakemba, Kambara, and other islands of the Lau group in Fiji, where the forests afforded large trees for the making of canoes. A year or more would be employed in canoe building, and thus the newcomers had learned Fijian customs and acquired an interest in the political affairs of the islands. Finally they began to overrun and conquer the Fijians and were the cause of much disorder and distress.
In about 1848 a powerful rebellion headed by Maafu the cousin of the Christian king broke out in Tonga, but was suppressed by George Tubou. Maafu, its leader, was exiled to Fiji and it was intimated to him that if he desired a kingdom it was his to conquer.
Of the highest Tongan birth, young, ambitious, of superb physique, energetic and in every sense a leader among men of action, Maafu came to Fiji and at once became the ruler of all Tongans in the group.
His policy was to assist the weaker Fijian chiefs at war with stronger enemies, and then the combined Tongan and Fijian army having been victorious, he would turn upon his erstwhile allies and overpower them. Thus he gained a foothold at Vanua Mbalavu and from this as a base he proceeded to conquer the Fijis. As Seeman says in his account of his Government Mission to Fiji:
Famine and poverty stalked in his wake, yet wherever he went there was a Tongan "teacher" by his side; and, as Seeman says,
There is a strange silence in missionary accounts respecting Maafu, for not once does his name appear in Calvert's "Missionary Labors among the Cannibals" published in 1870, yet he added hundreds of "converts" to their flocks, and the Tongans and missionaries remained upon the best of terms; and only after the treacherous and brutal torture and massacre of prisoners at Natakala and Naduri were the missionaries forced by outraged public opinion to wash their hands of Maafu and join weakly in the protest against Tongan cruelty. It seems almost incomprehensible that this sad and revolting abuse of power should have been exhibited by the missionaries in the part they took in conniving at native warfare in Tonga Tahiti, and Fiji in order that their reports to the home mission might "glow with the glorious story of conversions."
By 1858 there were but two great chiefs left in Fiji, Maafu and Thakombau, and the two powers were face to face. Doubtless the missionaries would have had their own way more readily with Maafu, for when they had suggested to Thakombau the abolition of the old system and the establishment of a "constitutional monarchy," he had answered "I was born a chief and a chief I will die." Nevertheless he was finally forced into yielding to the demands of the white men. Thus Maafu "the Christian" would doubtless have conquered Mbau and become king of all Fiji had not Thakombau in 1858 signed a deed of cession granting his possessions to Great Britain. The British consul, William Pritchard, Esq., and a warship came to his aid, and Maafu was checked; and although the negotiations with England came to nought, the increasing immigration of Europeans to Fiji made native warfare more and more infrequent. Maafu had to content himself with only a partial realization of his ambition and in 1882 he died a disappointed man. Had he commenced his operations five years sooner, he would have become the conquerer of Fiji. It was the hand of Great Britain, not that of the missionaries, that had checked his blood stained career.
The affair which caused Thakombau most serious trouble appears to have been one of those extortions which have been so frequently perpetrated by a "civilized" upon a simple people. On July 4, 1849, the residence of a whiter trader named Williams, then serving as United States consul in Fiji, was burned and the natives stole some of the furniture and stores while the house was in flames. Thakombau does not appear to have been personally responsible for the firing of the house, but the natives of Mbau in which the incident occurred were subject to him, and Williams demanded from Thakombau about $3,000 as indemnity. Upon the king's refusing to pay, the consul's demands were gradually increased and other claimants appeared, so that finally, having secured the cooperation of the United States government, the sum of $45,000 was demanded. Utterly unable to meet this "indemnity," harassed at home, and threatened from abroad, it seemed to simple Thakombau an intervention of Providenece when certain money-lenders from Australia offered to pay the claim of the United States in consideration of the deeding to them of 200,000 acres of the best land in Fiji. It may well be imagined that only for a brief moment was his kingly head allowed to rest in peace. Poor Thakombau, and with him all Fiji, had indeed fallen "into the hands of the Jews," and it was a happy moment when, on October 10, 1874, he signed a document which read, "We, King of Fiji, together with other high chiefs of Fiji, hereby give our country, Fiji, unreservedy to her Britannic Majesty, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. And we trust and repose fully in her that she will rule Fiji justly and affectionately, that we may continue to live in peace and prosperity." Never was the confidence of a poor and degraded people better requited by a rich and civilized one, for a strong, and generous hand had come to rule in Fiji and the light of a happier day dawned upon the oppressed. Sir Arthur Gordon (afterwards Lord Stanmore) was the first British governor. He had witnessed the cruelties of the disastrous native war in New Zealand, and knew full well how difficult it is to graft a European civilization upon a Polynesian stock. Fortunately there were high-principled men to whom he could turn for advice, and he did well in seeking the councils of Mr. John Thurston, long a resident in Fiji.
The annual poll tax of £1 per man and 4s. per woman which Thakombau's government had imposed was working ruin and death in Fiji. It was impossible for the natives to earn so large a sum, but the white planters eagerly paid the taxes and then "indentured" the wretched creatures, who were forced to work upon the plantations of their white masters at a wage so low that they toiled for 280 days in the year simply to repay the tax which the planter had paid to the government. Thus were the Fijians being entrapped into a bitter and unnatural bondage more merciless than the orgies of the worst period of cannibal days.
But Sir Arthur Gordon and Mr. Thurston soon tore loose the shackles of the slaves, despite the angry protests and threats of the whites in Fiji. Their plan was that each district be obliged to maintain a garden of copra, cotton, candle-nuts, tobacco, coffee or other produce, or to supplement this by the manufacture of mats or other articles of trade, and at the end of each year the products were to be sold under government supervision to the highest bidder and any money received over and above that of the district tax was to be returned to the district itself and divided among the taxpayers. This simple plan, which closely accords with their ancient manner of raising tribute, has encouraged industry among the natives, shielded them from the avarice of traders, secured to them their lands, and each year produced a sum considerably in excess of the taxes.
Excellent as this plan was, it remained deficient in one important respect, for the government made no effort to establish manual-training schools wherein old crafts might be improved and new ones developed. Education in Fiji has been confined to religion and the "three K's," and inspiring as it is to witness the son of a cannibal extracting cube roots and solving quadratic equations, one inclines to the opinion that the prodigy's future life would be better assured of a career of useful service to the world and of happiness to himself had he been taught to be a good carpenter, mason, farmer or decorator. It is certainly unfortunate that, having ingeniously created a market for the products of Fijian labor, the English failed to improve the earning capacity of the natives, thus losing an unique opportunity to stimulate an interest in the useful arts that might soon have obliterated the apathy of the downcast race.
Mr. Thurston, the originator of the new system of taxation, had come to Fiji as a common sailor before the mast, but he lived to be Governor of Fiji from 1888 to 1896, and died as Sir John Thurston, universally beloved by the race for whose uplifting he had contended so courageously and well, and thus in Fiji there live to-day the happiest, the most law-abiding and potentially the most nearly civilized natives in the Pacific. It is one of the very few instances wherein a powerful and enlightened race have studied and toiled through many unrequited years to lift to a happier level a poor and barbarous people.
There is no longer in Fiji that painful contrast of which Wilkes complained between the beauty of the island scenery and the character of the inhabitants, for consistently in all respects the archipelago is now one of the fairest spots within the tropic world.
Nowhere in the Pacific did old customs change more slowly under European rule than in Fiji, for it has been the consistent policy of the British government to leave unaltered all that was good in the manners of old days.
The villages are almost as they were before the white man came, only the log stockades and the encircling moats have disappeared during the long years of peace, and the houses are no longer perched upon the summits of ærie cliffs, but now cluster along the river-banks or under the cocoa palms of the seashore. The high-peaked Mbures or temples, once such a picturesque feature, have fallen into decay with the advent of Christianity, although one thinks they might well have been preserved, enlarged and converted into Christian churches, for the tasteful sennit patterns which adorned their beams and rafters would have made the chapel the most attractive house in the village instead of being, as it too often is, a cheerless barn-like structure, ill-proportioned without and barren within.
The better types of native houses are set upon artificial embankments of stones and earth, sometimes twenty feet high, as in the valley of the Rewa River, where floods may be expected. The framework is of tree fern or cocoanut logs, ingeniously lashed together, and the sides and roof are covered with a thick thatch of wild cane, or cocoanut leaves spread over ferns. The roof is quite thin at the peak, but is fully a foot and a half thick at the eaves, where it projects slightly, and is cut off squarely, presenting a very neat appearance. The ground-plan of the house is usually rectangular, not oval at its ends, as in Tahiti, and the peaked roof has a long ridge-pole which projects several feet beyond the eaves and, if the residence be that of a chief, is thickly studded with white Cypræa cowrie shells, and sometimes other cowrie shells are strung upon ropes of cocoanut fiber sennit and hung pendant from the projecting ridge-pole. There are no windows, but several openings serve as doors and may in time of rain be closed with mats. The floor is covered with several layers of pendamu mats, and a raised dais at one end of the single room serves as a bed and may be screened by mosquito-proof curtains of masi (tapa). A rectangular earth-covered depression serves for the fireplace and the smoke escapes as best it may, the smoldering embers imparting always a pleasant aroma to the air.
In speaking of everything Fijian, we must remember that the peoples of the Ra, or western islands of the Archipelago, and of the mountains, are of purer Papuan stock and are more primitive than those of the Vititonga race of the Lau group and the eastern coasts of the large island. Accordingly, the houses differ in different places, being smaller, more crudely and flimsily made among the Papuan than among the Vititonga tribes. Also in the western parts of the large islands and in the Ra islands, the chiefs are not so highly respected as among tribes whose blood has been mingled with the aristocratic Polynesian. At Mbau, the Roko Tui was almost god-like in native estimation, whereas in the mountains of Vita Levu the chief was only the leading councilor of the tribe, and labored in the fields in common with his subjects. Indeed the Mbau chiefs looked down upon those of the western part of Viti Levu, calling them Kai-si (peasants).
If the house were that of a high chief, as at Mbau or Rewa, the roof-beams were wrapped with interlacing strands of cocoanut fiber sennit, displaying a pattern in rich browns, black and yellow, so pleasingly contrasted that one is forced to regret that work of such high artistic merit should be suffered to remain in a house as inflammable as a haystack. Yet these houses withstand a hurricane far better than do the hideous corrugated-iron-roofed structures of Europeans.
Several old wooden basins, yaqona bowls, are hung upon the wall, their naturally dark wood coated with pearly blue where many a brewing of the drink has stained them. Carved war-clubs and long elaborately decorated spears may be seen suspended from the beams, and as the eye becomes accustomed to the dim light one beholds such treasures as a sperm whale's tooth strung as were old-fashioned powder horns upon a rope of cocoanut fiber and polished through repeated rubbings with cocoanut oil until its surface is as brown as tinted meerschaum. A few fly-brushes, pandamus fans for awakening the fire, a huge ceremonial war-fan of palm-leaf, some wooden food bowls, and crude cooking pots of fire-baked clay, and a clock that never goes, complete the list of the furniture. Yet one thing of painful memory one would fain have overlooked—the universal pillow. This consists of a block of wood or stick of bamboo supported upon legs so that it stands horizontally four or five inches above the floor. In old days when the hair was most elaborately dressed and trained into a huge mop, this pillow was doubtless a necessity, but in this shaven and shorn period of such an instrument of torture might well be dispensed with, although by the native it is still regarded as the acme of luxury.
Housekeeping is simple in happy Fiji, where all is charmingly clean, and thick layers of soft mats invite repose upon the floor. Indeed the natives sleep much by day, for at night there is apt to be a "meke," wherein the maidens of the village, adorned in garlands of flowers and well polished with cocoanut oil, sing far into the small hours, keeping time to their chants by graceful gestures. This, together with the dull beating of the wooden drum, drives all hope of sleep away, but it is to be preferred to the "silent" nights when rats and mice scamper ceaselessly over the floor, contesting their supremacy with an occasional centipede or land crab. Yes, one must live a life of leisure and sleep by day in Fiji.
The largest edifice in the village is called the "stranger's house" for it is here that guests are entertained and fed by the community under orders from the chief. At Mbau the old stranger's house has stood for generations, dating far back into cannibal times, and within its walls the first Christian service was held in 1854. It is about 125 feet long and 40 feet wide, being exceeded in length only by the stranger's house at Rewa.
Carpenters are a highly respected caste in Fiji, and canoe and house building are occupations fit to engage the activities of chiefs. When one desires a house, a whale's tooth or other suitable gift should be presented to the chief, who then engages the carpenters, who in turn may command the services of more than two hundred assistants, all of whom labor so efficiently that in from one to three weeks the house is erected and ready for company. In the South Seas things are done in communal fashion and village labors, such as house building, canoe making, and the gathering of crops are occasions for songs and dances and all manner of merriment and feasting.
There is much of interest in Mbau, for although the ovens have long ago grown cold, yet the great foundation stones of the old temple of the war god (Na Vatani Tawake) still remain in the center of the village, and in 1898 one could still see the sacred tree upon whose boughs were hung the genital organs of victims who had been sacrificed to the Fijian Mars.
Close by the side of the foundation of the old temple a sharp-edged column of basalt is set upright within the ground. This is the stone to which victims were dragged by their arms and upon which their heads were dashed. Fragments of human teeth might still be found by digging at the base of this stone, and in many a house in Mbau there were sail needles made from leg-bones of the victims. There was another execution stone which was axe-shaped and thrust upright into the ground near the foot of the hill; but this now serves as the baptismal font, and is set within the church. The ovens in which victims were cooked upon the hillside lay near this stone, as were also the great hollow log-drums, the "publishers of war" whose rolling beat the cannibal call in old days, and one of which now serves to summon worshippers to church.
An interesting trophy of old days was the anchor of the French brig Aimable Josephine which now lies close to the side of the foundation of the temple. This vessel was treacherously cut off at Mbau on the night of July 19, 1834, her captain and most of the crew being murdered. Native wars were waged over the possession of this trophy, the final resting place of which is Mbau.
The corner posts of the house of old Tanoa were still to be seen, and when natives pass these in the night they pluck green leaves and cast them upon the earth, for beneath the ground by the side of each post and embracing it with his arms there stands the skeleton of a victim who was buried alive.
The abutment of the sea wall of Mbau with its made-land, and docks built of large flat stones, is a remarkable example of native engineering, being surpassed only by the canal of the Rewans near Nakelo. Huge canoes, some of them with bows studded with white Cypræa shells, lie stranded here and there. The native houses are scattered over the made-land and along the gentle slope at the base of the hill, leaving the summit barren as of old, although here overlooking the city stands the residence of the Methodist missionary, and the graves of Tanoa and of Thakombau, the latter of whom died in 1883.
But exceeding all in interest was Ratu Epele Nailatikau, high chief of Fiji, son and successor of king Thakombau. Unreconciled to the presence of the white man, his memories harked far back to old days and beams covered with woven sennit, and in its treasures of old days, when his family were great and all-powerful in Fiji. Yet, though shorn of power, no king could have been treated with more respect by those around him than was he.
His house in Mbau was a small one, in no way differing from those of the lesser chiefs, excepting in the richness of its Taviuni tapa screens, and beams covered with woven sennit, and in its treasures of old days; the most notable of which was a well-oiled elephant's tusk beautifully browned and polished, which had lain upon the floor since the days of old Tanoa, who once prized it as the largest piece of "coin" in the world. Only the highest chiefs were permitted to enter his house, and even these dropped their titles and crouched silently against the wall awaiting his invitation ere they spoke.
In his every expression and gesture there was a stately consciousness of his high-born ancestry.Although over sixty years of age, his finely muscular body still stood erect, with its dark bronze skin softened and smoothed through many a cocoanut-oil massage. Upon ceremonial occasions he blackened his
face and covered his hair with lime. The little finger of his right hand had been severed at the first joint as an indication of mourning upon the death of his grandfather Tanoa.
He was every inch a king seated in his chair with the noblest of his race crouching silently around him. Whenever he smoked a cigar he condescendingly nodded to some high chief who crawled humbly toward him on hands and knees, delighted at the honor of "finishing the butt."
When he dined, a clean new mat was unrolled upon the floor, and then men and women came crawling in on hands and knees, bearing food for the god-like one, who sat tailor-fashion upon the floor. No commoner ate in the presence of the king, and least of all would the women of his household have presumed to such familiarity. The menu of one dinner at which the author was a guest consisted in an excellent fish chowder served in cocoanut bowls, and yams placed upon four-legged wooden platters, all scrupulously clean and cooked to tempt the palate of the most fastidious epicure. Our plates were banana leaves, and fingers served in lieu of knives and forks. Cups, etc., used by the king are tabu and must not be used by others. The courtiers remained silent while the meal was in progress, only softly clapping hands when the king addressed any of their number. After dinner a bowl of water was placed before the king and the natives again clapped respectfully while he washed his hands.
Even before the advent of the white man, cooking was a high art in Fiji. In fact, these natives had little to learn from us in this direction. Their pottery enabled them to boil or steam their food, and in addition they made use of the oven. This, consists in a stone-lined pit within which a wood fire is made. Then, when the stones have become red hot the embers are raked away and the food; pigs, fish, vegetables, etc., are placed within the oven, having previously been wrapped in Tahitian chestnut or bread-fruit leaves, or in the case of man in the leaves of Solanum anthropophagorum, a plant allied to the potato. The food is then covered thickly with juicy green leaves which in turn are blanketed with earth. After a few hours all within the oven becomes so thoroughly baked that the ribs of pigs may be torn off and the flesh eaten as in America we do corn upon the cob.
Canoes laden with tribute (lala), for Ratu Epele were constantly arriving at Mbau. These offerings varied with the tribe, for each was charged to bring certain things. Thus one canoe might be laden with great bundles of yams, another with husked cocoanuts tied into bunches, or with yaqona root, turtles, masi, mats, etc. The greatest care was taken in the preparation of the tribute, and, in fact, the natives invariably gave the best they had.
Those who brought tribute carried it humbly to the door of the king's house and crouched close to the wall outside, softly and pleadingly clapping with their hands. Hearing the plaintive sound two chiefs of the king's household, who had hitherto been sitting motionless as statues within the room, moved to one and the other side of the door. The head of a pig, a large bunch of cocoanuts, or a turtle would then be timidly thrust part way within the opening, and a tremulous voice outside would beg that his majesty, their great and gracious lord, would condescend to accept as tribute so mean and unworthy an offering as their poverty forced them to present, trusting that in his greatness he would continue to protect and show them favor. When the voice ceased, the two chiefs at the door would critically inspect the proffered specimen of tribute, calling attention to its faults as well as to its qualities, and if its acceptance was recommended, all the chiefs who had been crouching sphinx-like against the wall within the house would show signs of life and majestically clapping their hands murmur "A! woi! woi! woi!! A tabua levu!" (a wonderfully large whale's tooth!). Upon which the king himself usually spoke a few words and the tribute was formally accepted. So abundant was this tribute that great heaps of taro, yams, cocoanuts or turtles were nearly always to be seen upon the village green of Mbau.
In the old days, wars were waged over the slightest inattention to this matter of tribute. The island of Maliki was charged to provide turtles for Tanoa, but one day they presumed themselves to eat one of the turtles they had caught; hearing of which Tanoa sent a fleet of war canoes, and every man and woman on Maliki was killed, the children being captured in order that the boys of Mbau might club them to death and thus earn their titles of Koroi (killers of men).
The old king spoke not a word of English, but he was fond of reminiscence. He remembered the Peacock of the Wilkes expedition, being then a boy of about 8 years. He also spoke admiringly of Professor Moseley, of the Challenger, and seemed saddened when told that he was dead.
The freedom with which he volunteered to discourse upon events of cannibal times was surprising. He said that one day when he was a little boy he had entered the house of Tanoa during the dinner hour, and his grandfather, who always loved him, had given him the tongue of the Mbakola (man-to-be-eaten) and its taste was vinaka (good). After this he "often dined with his grandfather," who "had a new man nearly every day." Wilkes states that the Fijians esteemed women more highly than men, but Ratu Epele declared that the best of meat were old, lean men "whose flesh was red and whose fat was yellow," and whose taste was "like pork with bananas." Women, he declared, were "covered with a layer of fat" and white men he had been told were salty or flavored strongly with tobacco. In old days in Fiji, the highest praise one could bestow upon a dish was to liken it to a cooked man. When in Fiji, I several times overheard the remark "were it not for the English I would eat you," and in quarrelling the commonest slur is to call an antagonist (Mbakola) a man to be eaten. Our abhorrence of cannibalism, which is after all a sentimental matter in so far as the mere eating is concerned, was not shared by the old Fijians of experience, for "men are good; indeed the best of all meat," and as Ratu Epele once said "he never met a man without thinking how he would taste."
Some Fijian names for food are curious; thus bula-na-kau signifies beef, for when Captain Eagleston brought the two original cattle to Fiji he told the natives that the animals were a "bull and a cow."
Ratu Epele delighted to play at draughts with a tawny-haired albino chief whose light skin was profusely bespeckled with brown blotches and whose eyes were dull blue. This chief's function seemed to be solely that of a messenger and draught player, and invariably the games were won by the king, for no matter how great an advantage the albino might win, he "committed suicide" at the last by placing all his pieces at the mercy of his lord and master.
Ratu Epele, the most interesting chief in the Pacific, died in 1901, and with him there passed away the last champion of the old in Fiji. Born of the highest rank and to a life of war and action, fate had robbed him of his birthright and left him but dreams and memories. Like the lingering spark of a fire that can never burn again, this spirit of old cannibal days faded into oblivion. His son, the Honorable Ratu Kadavu Levu, who succeeded him as Roko Tui Tailevu, has been carefully educated under British auspices, and is a member of the Legislative council.
The cleanliness of Fijian houses is remarkable, indeed in heathen times they were far more careful in this respect than at present, for the least offal of any description, even a hair, might be used by an enemy to bewitch its originator. Even to-day the fear of witchcraft, Ndrau-ni-kau, is very real in Fiji. In order to bring ill-fortune to your enemy, you have but to discover something which he has cast off and burn it wrapped in the proper leaves, reciting certain spells. Or you may bury a cocoanut beneath his hearth, or slowly melt the wax from his image thus causing your victims lingering decline and death. The missionaries have made every effort to destroy this belief, but unfortunately they do not seek to replace it by a more wholesome understanding of the nature of filth-diseases, and thus as faith in witchcraft declines certain bodily ills increase.
In common with other south-sea islanders, the Fijians were a ceremonious people and every important affair of life was ordered in accordance with a rigid etiquette which unhappily in many instances is falling into neglect before the levelling influence of the white man's law.
Thus in the old days, the yaqona (kava of Samoa) was drunk by chiefs alone, and then only upon ceremonial occasions, but now all may partake of it and the excess thus engendered is one of the minor causes of the decline of the population. Wilkes, and also Williams, in his work on Fiji and the Fijians, describes the ceremony at Somo somo where it was most elaborate. Early in the morning the herald stood in front of the chief's house and shouted yaqona ei ava, and all within hearing responded in a shriek Mama (prepare it). Then the chiefs and priests gathered within the king's house, while all others remained at home until the king had drunk his yaqona. Pieces of the root of the Macropiper methysticum were distributed among the young men, who must previously have rinsed their mouths and whose teeth must be perfect. The chewed root having been deposited in the form of relatively dry pellets in the bottom of the bowl, the herald announces to the king "Sir with respect the yaqona is collected." The king replies "Loba" (wring it). The bowl is then placed before the chief, who skilfully encloses the chewed fragments of root within fibers of hibiscus or cocoanut husks and finally wrings the fluid through this sieve, thus removing from the bowl all pieces of chewed root, and leaving within it a milky-yellow brew. While the straining is progressing, the priest chants a prayer in which the company finally joins. The first cocoanut cup is always handed to the king, who pours out a few drops as a libation to the gods and then drinks while the assembled company sing, Ma-nai-di-na. La-ba-si-ye: a ta-mai ye: ai-na-ce-a-toka: Wo-ya! yi! yi! yi!, finishing with a clapping of hands and a wild shout which is passed from house to house to the uttermost limits of the village. After the king, the company is served in the order of rank until all have partaken. In old times, it is said that yaqona was grated in Fiji, but that the Tongans introduced the method of chewing. Having tried it, I must confess that the chewed root is less unpleasant in flavor than the grated, but at best it resembles a combination of quinine and camphor and is certainly an acquired taste. When drunk to excess, it temporarily paralyzes the arms and legs, at the same time exciting the brain. Thus violent quarrels are apt to occur at yaqona bouts, but the combatants are unable to injure each other. When the chief falls into a stupor the wives of the other participants carry their protesting husbands home. A dull headache upon awaking is the penalty for this over-indulgence, but the evil effects are slight in comparison with those resulting from alcoholic excesses.
The British government has, however, prevented alcoholism among the natives; for each Fijian who desires to imbibe must annually obtain a license which he is obliged to exhibit whenever he purchases a drink at any public bar, and if arrested for drunkenness his license is confiscated, not to be renewed, and moreover the bartender is heavily fined if he be detected in selling drinks to natives who possess no license.
The Fijians of to-day are more orderly and sober than, and quite as contented as are any peoples of European ancestry, and illiteracy is rarer in Fiji than in Massachusetts. You were safer even fifteen years ago in any part of Fiji, although your host knew how you tasted, than you could be in the streets of any civilized city. It is clear that in disposition the Fijians are not unlike ourselves, and only in their time-honored customs were they barbarous. Indeed the lowest human beings are not in the far-off wilds of Africa, Australia or New Guinea, but among the degenerates of our own great cities. Nor are there any characteristics of the savage, be he ever so low, which are not retained in an appreciable degree by the most cultured among us.
Yet in one important respect the savage of to-day appears to differ from civilized man. Civilized races are progressive and their systems of thought and life are changing, but the savage prefers to remain fixed in the culture of a long past age, which, conserved by the inertia of custom and sanctified by religion, holds him helpless in its inexorable grasp. Imagination rules the world, and the world to the savage is dominated by a nightmare of tradition.
It is not that there are no individuals of progressive tendencies among primitive tribes, but the careers of their Luthers and Galileos are apt to be short and to end in tragedy. Indeed, only three hundred years ago our own leaders of progress struggled at the risk of their lives against the prejudices of their contemporaries. Even with us every effort of progress engenders a counteracting force in the community which tends to check its growth and to preserve the present status, accepting the acknowledged evil of to-day to preserve the even tenor of our way, for fear of the new is akin to the superstitious dread of the unknown. Whether the race be savage or civilized depends chiefly upon the nature of the customs that are handed down as patterns upon which to mold life. and thought. The more ancient the triumph of the conservatives the more primitive the culture which is conserved, and the more likely is it to be crude and barbarous. A wonderful instance of fixity of custom is afforded by the race which in the ice-age lived in the caverns in the valleys of the Dordogne and the Vezere in central France. Their skull measurements indicate that certain of these cave-dwellers were Esquimo and their implements and works of art are the same as those of the Esquimo of the Arctic regions of to-day, who have thus remained unchanged throughout unknown thousands of years, unaffected by their great journey northward following the edge of the retreating ice.
Among all races religion is the most potent power to maintain tradition, and for the savage religion enters into every act and thought. To him as to the ancient Greeks everything is a personification of some spirit—everything is somebody. The waterfall is such, for can you not hear the laughter of the nymph, the clouds are spirits for they come and go as only gods may do, and every beast and bird and plant and stone is but the embodiment of a ghost or tribal hero.
Yet it is probable that no savage has ever been more under the dominion of a world of omens and portents than was Louis XI, and even to-day the breaking of a mirror, or the number thirteen, or a stumble while crossing a threshold, remains of significance to many of us. All matters of sentiment and credulity are closely wrapped up in this entanglement of superstition; it is hard to divorce ourselves from the idea that moving machines have life and disposition. We must perforce associate sublimity and grandeur with the inert rock-mass of the Alps, and the great trees under which we played as children are sentient beings to our imagination, and our hearts ache as for the loss of life-long friends when we find them fallen to the woodman's axe. A cold heartless world it indeed would be were we not illogical and therefore "savage" in our sentiments and loves.
Upon analysis we find that lack of sympathy for the savage and ignorance of his tradition blinds our judgment and causes us to regard as ridiculous in him things which we consider to be quite natural in ourselves. The cleverness of the Yankee who sold wooden nutmegs is quite amusing, but the Japanese who counterfeits an American trademark is criminal.
There is within us Europeans an inbred contempt for all that is alien, and this trait, being the dominant characteristic of Christian peoples, has enabled us through aggressive intolerance to impress our customs upon all other races without ourselves being influenced by the cultures we have overawed into a semblance of our own.
In strange and possibly ominous contrast with ourselves, the Japanese have for ages been keen to discover the good things of alien cultures and quick to accept them as their own, while we must remain all but unmoved by the example of their ennobling patriotism and mastery of self, the happy simplicity of their family life, their respect for worthy ancestors, their modesty, and their inbred grace of deportment; and as for their exquisite art we chiefly relegate it to our museums, and their fine chivalric code, the bushido, remains all but untranslated into our language, much less has it entered into our thought.
The savage may know nothing of our classics, and little of that which we call science, yet go with him into the deep woods and his knowledge of the uses of every plant and tree and rock around him and his acquaintance with the habits of the animals are a subject for constant wonder to his civilized companion. In other words, his knowledge differs from ours in kind rather than in breadth or depth. His children are carefully and laboriously trained in the arts of war and the chase, and above all in the complex ceremonial of the manners of the tribe, and few among us can excel in memory the priests of old Samoa, who could sing of the ancestors of Malietoa, missing never a name among the hundreds back to the far-off God Savea whence this kingly race came down.
One may display as much intelligence in tracking a kangaroo through the Australian bush as in solving a problem in algebra, and among ourselves it is often a matter of surprise to discover that men laboring in our factories are often as gifted as are the leaders of abstract thought within our universities. In fact the more we know of any class or race of men the deeper our sympathy, the less our antagonism, and the higher our respect for their endeavors. When we say we "can not understand" the Japanese we signify that we have not taken the trouble to study their tradition.
It is a common belief that the savage is more cruel than we, and indeed we commonly think of him as enraged and of ourselves in passive mood. Child-like he surely is, and his cruelties when incensed are as inexcusable as the destruction of Louvain or the firing of Sepoys from the guns, but are they more shocking than the lynching or burning of negroes at the stake, events so common in America that even the sensational newspapers regard them as subjects of minor interest.Clearly, despite our mighty institutions of freedom, efficient systems of public education and the devotion of thousands of our leaders to ideals of highest culture, there remain savages among us. Mere centuries of civilization combat the æons of the brute. Within each and every one of us, suppressed perhaps but always seeking to stalk forth, there lurk the dark lusts of the animal, the haunting spirit of our gorilla ancestry. The foundations of our whole temple of culture are sunken deep in the mire of barbarism. It is this fundamental fact which deceives us into the impression that a few decades of contact with men of our own race will suffice to civilize the savage. True they soon learn to simulate the manners and customs of their masters, but the imitation is a hollow counterfeit, no more indicative of enlightenment than is the good behavior of caged convicts a guaranty of high mindedness. To achieve civilization a race must conquer itself, each individual must master the savage within him. Cultured man has never yet civilized a primitive race. Under our domination the savage dies, or becomes a parasite or peon.
- Assumed the waist-cloth which the missionaries obliged all converts to wear.
- See William T. Pritchard, 1866; Polynesian reminiscences, pp. 225-234. London.
- Recently some of the districts have been permitted, subject to consent of the Governor, to pay their tax in money.
- Long pig, "Vuaka-mbalavu," applied to designate cooked man, is not grammatical Fijian, but is derived from a joke of the inveterate old cannibal Tanoa.