Popular Science Monthly/Volume 87/September 1915/A History of Fiji III
|A HISTORY OF FIJI|
By Dr. ALFRED GOLDSBOROUGH MAYER
OF all established customs in Fiji the most odious was cannibalism, yet it was always tabu for women and the lower classes, and the custom was extensively practised only by the chiefs and warriors. It is possible that in Fiji it was primitively a religious rite and did not originate in time of famine, or through motives of mere revenge. Instead of an animal, they sacrificed the best they had to the gods, and as the flesh of the animal was eaten by the chiefs, so was the flesh of man. Indeed, an old myth asserts that once there was no cannibalism in Fiji, and even when it was most prevalent there was always a party opposed to it, maintaining that it caused various skin diseases. At the town of Nakelo on the Rewa river, it was tabu to eat human flesh.
We incline, however, to the belief that the Fijians were cannibals simply because they enjoyed the taste of human flesh, for I have met with no dissent to the opinion that of all meat it is the most palatable, and it is evident that the custom could not have survived a decade had mere religion prompted its continuance. The fact appears to be that, in common with other privileges, the chiefs and priests had succeeded in monopolizing its pleasures through the agency of the tabu, for among savages the priesthood is quick to defer to the desires of those in power. In prehistoric times the natives had but little animal food, apart from the fish of the reefs and the snakes of the mountains, for pigs, ducks and chickens were introduced only recently. When man attempts to live upon a vegetable diet, even though it be varied by fish, an insatiate craving for animal food comes over him, he "Kalau's," as the natives say, and it is an interesting fact that cannibalism is almost unknown among peoples whose meat-supply has always been abundant and varied. Once it be acquired, this longing for human flesh remains a temptation haunting its possessor. Well does one remember the vim of a wild Marquesan dance. It was near midnight and the flickering glare of the bonfire cut into the blackness of the surrounding forest. An old chief, standing by the embers, led the chant, while his tribesmen, with hands joined, danced furiously around him. Translated into English, the burden of their song was "I have eaten your father, your mother, your brother, now I intend to eat you! whoo!! hack!!!"—in a bestial shriek that rang back in echoes from the cliffs. Then, one by one, at unexpected times and from unforeseen recesses, the maidens of the tribe emerged from the dark aisles among the trees; their graceful bodies glistening where the fire-light glinted upon the cocoanut oil that covered their shapely limbs. Gay flowers stood out among the riot of their flowing locks, and like elfin things they flitted with tremulous arms outstretched until they stood fully revealed in the red glare, only to flutter silently backward and vanish. In days gone by that darkness concealed from view a gruesome meal.
Basil Thomson points out the fact that in Fiji the practise increased greatly just before the coming of white men, as had that of human sacrifice among the Aztecs a few years before the arrival of Cortez. With the sudden increase in the power of the great chiefs, it began to lose its religious significance and an acknowledged appetite for cannibal meat was boastfully proclaimed. Thus Tanoa, Ra Undre-undre, Tui Kilakila, and others were cannibals because they enjoyed the taste of man, but not all Fijians liked human flesh, even as terrapin is not enjoyed by all white men.
The most hideous features of cannibalism were the fiendish tortures, Vaka-totogana, connected with it wherein the victims were gradually dismembered and their noses, tongues, arms, or legs cooked and eaten before their eyes, pieces of their own flesh being offered to them in derision. Even if the missionaries had accomplished nothing else, their success in abolishing cannibalism would have sanctified their labors. Let nothing blind us to an appreciation of the undaunted courage and unexcelled devotion to their faith displayed by these unselfish men and women, who, actuated by high and simple motives, left homes and friends, and labored cheerfully through long years over the seemingly hopeless task of bringing the light of a happier day to the barbarians of Fiji.
People who had died a natural death were rarely or never eaten, and only those killed in battle, captured, or wrecked "with salt water in their eyes," were offered to the gods and roasted. The dead, if killed in battle and buried, they would disinter even after the tenth day when the body could not be lifted entire from the grave and was therefore torn apart and made into puddings. Every one agrees that decomposition did not deter their appetite for human flesh, any more than it impairs our own taste for game, yet all other meat was discarded by the Fijians as by us upon the least indication of dissolution.
Among old Fijian chiefs whom I knew between 1897-1899, none expressed the slightest abhorrence of cannibalism, and some were frank enough to state that were European influences removed they would at once renew the practise. To the Fijian no revenge is assuaged until you have eaten your enemy, but the deepest contempt for a fallen foe was indicated by roasting and then refusing to devour the body.
One of the best descriptions of a cannibal feast is that given by Jackson in Erskine's voyage published in 1853; and the Rev. Thomas William in his work upon "Fiji and the Fijians" describes the rites in detail, having often observed them.
The canoes when approaching the shore would indicate that human prey was on board by striking the water at intervals with a pole. Seeing the splashes, the natives gathered in a howling mob along the shore, the women breaking into a wild, lascivious dance. The victims were seized by the arms and dragged to the temple, their captors chanting the cannibal song:
Yari au malua. Yari au malua.
Drag me gently. Drag me gently.
Oi au na saro ni nomu vanua.
For I am the champion of thy land.
Yi mudokia! Yi mudokia! Yi mudokia!
Give thanks! Give thanks! Give thanks!
Ki Dama le!
Sharp-edged strips of bamboo served as knives for the butcher, and after being roasted or steamed, the flesh was eaten by means of a wooden fork, each high chief having one of these which it was tabu for any one but himself to touch.
Cannibalism was dreaded by the lower classes for they were forbidden to participate in the feasts, and were themselves most frequently the victims of these orgies. Thus when the missionaries succeeded in developing even in a rudimentary form the force of "public opinion" the practice was suppressed far more easily than had been anticipated, for it was a rite maintained by the aristocracy and the priests and had become a terrible engine of despotism.
Another institution which appears to have been practised from time immemorial in Fiji was polygamy. The great majority of Fijians were not polygamous, however, for only the highest chiefs could afford to maintain more than one wife, and even those of most exalted rank rarely had more than ten wives. There is reason to suppose that the number of women has always been less than that of men in Fiji, owing to the greater care devoted to the rearing of warriors.
A man of the middle classes rarely married before the age of twenty-five, at which time his mother chose a wife from among the daughters of his maternal uncle (his orthogamous cousins, veidavolani). One quarter of all Fijian marriages are still of this character, and they produce healthy offspring.
Men of the lowest class frequently remained bachelors throughout life, and all unmarried females of the peasantry were disposed of by the chief of the tribe. In Mbau this match-making chief was next in rank to the vunivalu, Thakombau. It is evident that Basil Thomson is right when he says that the abandonment of polygamy could have had no serious influence upon the vitality of the race, for it affected too few.
It is a common mistake to assume that social anarchy is the rule in primitive communities; for the reverse is true, and savage races are the ones par excellence most dominated by established forms, their system of life remaining unchanged for generation after generation. This is illustrated most clearly in an interesting paper by Lord Amherst of Hackney and Basil Thomson published by the Hakluyt Society of London in 1901, which shows that, since their discovery in 1568, the customs of the Solomon islanders have remained absolutely unaltered, until crushed under the rule of white men.
Among these fixed customs of savage tribes, some are actually better than our own. Thus in Fiji prostitution was checked as effectively as any mere system could prevent it. This was accomplished by obliging all the unmarried men to sleep each night in a special house, the Mbure-ni-sa, or men's house, while the virgins were kept at home with their parents.
Indeed, the use of the Mbure-ni-sa was even extended, under certain conditions, to the married men. There were no milk-producing animals in Fiji, and the food of the natives is still so deficient in animal proteids that it can hardly afford sufficient nourishment for healthy growth until the child is nearly four years old. Accordingly, when a child was born, husband and wife separated; she going to live for a year with her mother's relatives, and he to sleep for the following two or three years in the Mbure with the unmarried men. Thus throughout the suckling period the risk of a new conception was avoided, and the full strength of the mother was preserved to nourish her infant.
Unhappily, the Europeans saw fit to break up this system, maintaining that it interfered with family life and was destructive of mutual affection. The tabu having thus been abolished, conceptions often occur within a year following the birth of a child, and the mother's milk is rendered inefficient as a means of nourishment, while at the same time the drain upon her strength is so great that the unborn child may not properly develop. Thus the new system has increased the birth-rate, but at the same time produces weak, sickly infants whose death-rate is far greater than in former times. This indeed is one of the most potent causes of the decrease of the Fijian population, espcially as the married women now attempt to escape the strain of these exhausting pregnancies by resorting to abortion, a practise which has increased in recent years to the serious impairment of the vitality of the race.
Moreover, the abolition of the Mbure-ni-sa has brought about a too sudden and promiscuous commingling of the young men and women, and the commission appointed by the British government to inquire into the causes which are producing the decline of the Fijian population has decided that sexual depravity has increased since the abandonment of heathenism, for licentiousness formerly kept down by the chief's club is now merely forbidden.
Seeman states that the natives were shocked when he told them that English women frequently bore children at intervals of a year apart, and upon reflection they decided this accounted for there being so many "shrimps" (small men) among Europeans.
In common with some other primitive races, the Fijians looked frankly upon those problems of sexual relations which we attempt to ignore or to cloak under a mantle of secrecy, too often pernicious to the welfare of our race. The average European is too apt to be horrified when he hears a spade called by its simplest name, and to his mind morality implies an unnatural hypocrisy respecting the physiological facts of life. He forgets that acts and words are in themselves innocent unless their intention be otherwise, and in many matters of this sort the missionary has unfortunately made cowards and liars of his converts, and it is undoubtedly true that the influence of civilization in the Pacific has tended to increase rather than diminish all forms of clandestine sexual depravity.
I have heard competent and unprejudiced observers state that the Fijians were fully as affectionate in heathen times as at present. Family affection fortunately springs from nature itself and is not a product of our system of life, however cultured or barbarous. One sees the naked women of Australia, whose bodies are covered with self-inflicted scars, gaze rapturously upon their children and exhibit maternal love as truly as could any European mother, and even Wilkes, who refers to the Fijians as "the most barbarous and savage race now existing upon the globe," states that he saw "engaged couples walking affectionately arm-in-arm as with us."
One of the saddest, because the most apparent change that has affected the lives of the Pacific islanders is the needless decay of their arts. War, and the ceremonies and obligations of religion once provided the major motive for the maintenance and development of varied crafts. In fact, the intent of practically every piece of decorative work was either to propitiate the gods and tribal spirits, or to frighten a real or imaginary enemy. Nor is this peculiar to savage tribes, for all the complex ornaments which adorn the yokes of horses in Naples are "evil eye" charms which have come down almost unaltered from Roman times.
The missionary soon saw that most of his so-called converts had only added the white man's god to those of their ancestors. In order, therefore, to obliterate old beliefs, he discouraged the making of all "symbols of heathenism," and, as these were displayed in almost every implement, art fell at once under the awe-inspiring ban of his displeasure.
Yet the decline of native art was to some degree inevitable even if the missionaries had attempted to foster and preserve it, for it perished chiefly because of its inadaptability, and the absence of a market for its wares. The cheapest calico is softer and more enduring than the best of tapa, the coarsest canvas sail is superior to that woven of pandanus leaves, the beautiful adze of polished stone fails wholly when placed in competition with even the "trade hatchet."
Yet in each group there was at least some native art which, had it been cared for by the whites, might have been preserved so that in a more or less modified form it might have furnished a permanent and progressively important means of livelihood to the natives, and thus have become a means of maintaining their racial entity and self-respect.
Art was the highest expression of their intellectual life, an absorbing field for their ambition, a means of gratifying their instinct for the beautiful, and a record of their history and their conception of the universe. It meant far more to them than it does to us with our widely varied interests, and to this the European was blind when he permitted its destruction.
All over the south seas in proportion as white men have become dominant native arts have withered. Once the canoe was built of separate pieces skilfully calked and lashed together, and its outrigger was a marvel of flexibility and strength. Yet everywhere it degenerates into a crudely hollowed log, crossed by two rough sticks to which the outrigger is rigidly tied. The house, once shapely in form and carefully thatched, degenerates into a mere shack, and every carved bowl, paddle and implement becomes rude, ugly and misshapen. All care in manufacture degenerates, and in proportion does the light of their intellectual life fade out. A hopeless apathy, a listless lack of interest in all around them overcomes their dulled minds and their lives, like those of prisoners, are no longer worth the while of living, for hope can not flower within the stifle of the cold gray walls of bigotry's.
Pleasures and sports suffer as do the arts. The surf-board riders of Hawaii are now rarely seen, dances and songs are being constantly suppressed, and many happy things that once filled their minds with joy, and were beautiful in their eyes, have vanished never to be theirs again. But one resource is left to their idle minds, and clandestine immorality saps their strength. As the Government Commission in Fiji reports
premature civilization, mental apathy and lack of ambition under the new conditions are among the most important causes of the decline of the population.
This carefully selected commission was appointed by the British government in Fiji to inquire into the causes of the decrease in the native population, and after long investigation the conclusions of the commissioners were published by the Colony in 1896. It is probable that in 1859 there were about 200,000 natives; in 1868, 170,000; in 1871, 140,000; in 1881 there were 114,700 and in 1891, 105,800 while in
Illustrating the Decline in the Native Population of the Fiji Islands from 1859 to 1911.
1901 the population had still further declined to 94,400, and the males outnumbered the females in the proportion of 8 to 7. In 1911 there were but 87,096 natives, and if the decline continues at its present rate the last Fijian must die before another century has passed.
The commission decides that children have ceased to be useful, and whereas in old days they strengthened the tribe in war, they now suffer neglect. The birth rate is higher than that of England yet only 11/20 of the children survive to be one year old. Another cause is said to be the general want of vitality due to the effects of past epidemics, such as the "wasting sickness" in 1797, the dysentery of 1803 and the measles of 1875. One is, however, inclined to believe that no permanent evil effects could be produced as a result of these physiological disasters. No matter how severe the epidemic, those who are physically the best are the most apt to survive and become the progenitors of successive generations, and thus the race might even be improved through natural selection. There is no evidence tending to prove that the black death
of the fourteenth century or the plague in London in the time of Charles II. resulted in any permanent physical deterioration of the races they affected. The Fijians may be a vanishing people, but in physical appearance they remain superior as of old, and their superb stature and mental attainments appear not to have declined even though the race as a whole be dying.
There is, however, one cardinal evil in the Fijian situation and that is the severe strain of child-raising which falls upon the women in a country wherein the proper food for the maintenance of lactation has not yet been produced in sufficient quantity. The children, being thus in a peculiar sense dependent upon their mothers, will be profoundly affected by any conditions which produce injury to the women of the tribe.
Yaws, dysentery and whooping cough are now primary causes of the decline of population. Among minor causes the committee mentions the abolition of polygamy; for under monogamy the mother must not only tend her child, but gather the food and cultivate the soil, whereas in polygamous days these latter duties were taken over by the other wives during the early period of the infant's life.
The report makes it clear that the decline is due chiefly to the high death rate of children, and also that we must proceed very slowly and sympathetically, using as little force as possible, in the introduction of civilization. The old socialism must gradually be replaced by a certain measure of individualism, and the warrior's ambitions must give place to those of the craftsman. Hygiene as a subject of primary importance must be taught not only in the schools, but chiefly by example, upon the plan of the college settlement, by teachers living in so far as possible as the natives themselves now live, thus slowly changing the habits of life of those around them, and indeed these teachers should themselves be natives of the most enlightened type, and maintained in government employ.
A most interesting sociological experiment has been conducted by the British in their government of the Fijians. It is one of the very few instances wherein altruism is the key-note in the rule of the strong over the weak, and its maintenance through all these years in the face of much discouragement and expense is an honor to Great Britain, in the pride of which all the world may share—it is a rare triumph of idealism over selfishness.
As Mr. Allardyce, then colonial secretary, said to me:
We came here not as conquerors but through invitation, and the best we have to give is none too good for these people who have entrusted their destiny to our care.
Indeed, if the South Sea Islanders are now to be saved new interests and new arts must be developed by them, and new ambitions other than the withered remnants of the old must be created. Industrial schools are sadly needed in the Pacific, and the dawn of the first real progress will appear when men like Booker Washington arise among the natives of Fiji. The establishment of non-sectarian manual training schools such as his, in so far as possible under native teachers and supported by native efforts, might soon revolutionize their whole system of life, and change them from well-behaved captives into purposeful men and women.
The missionaries now conduct nearly all the schools in Fiji, and it is much to their credit that illiteracy is almost as rare as in Germany, all the present generation being able to read and write their own language. These schools are fundamentally good, but the natives should be taught not only how to pray, but also how to labor and to live. The missionaries would doubtless welcome an opportunity to extend the scope of native education, but the expense of establishing trade schools is too great for their resources and the project demands government aid. That the return to the state would ultimately far more than repay the outlay can not be doubted, for even the non-altruistic Dutch well know the profit accruing to Java and hence to themselves through the establishment of agricultural schools for natives.
Every indication of an initiative among the Fijians in the direction of craft-development should be wisely encouraged instead of being, as at present, smothered under the cloak of a paternalism that obliterates error only by crushing endeavor.
It may be confidently hoped that the British government which has labored so persistently and at such constant expense to develop Fiji "for the Fijians" and not for the surfeit of those who would selfishly exploit the natives, will take this final step and render it possible for the natives to raise themselves to a position of self-dependence. This was, indeed, the confessed intention of certain high officials of the colony whom I enjoyed the pleasure of meeting when in Fiji. So consistent have the English been in their effort actually to civilize and elevate the Fijians that their policy has been pursued for years despite financial loss and the frequent protests of the whites, as is evidenced by the steady decline of the white population from 2,750 in 1871 to 2,036 in 1891, since which time it has slowly risen, becoming 3,707 in 1911. The public debt in 1910 was £104,115 and the native taxes amounted only to about £16,000, the principal source of revenue being derived from customs receipts which were £129,552, the latter being, of course, an indirect tax upon the colony itself.
Since 1874, settlers have been discouraged from employing Fijians upon their plantations, for the native population was rapidly being enslaved by the whites. In order to supply the necessary labor, Hindoo coolies from Calcutta were imported, but it seems unfortunate that these usually remained in Fiji after the expiration of their terms of service and there are now 40,300 in the group. They are a clannish, industrious, bigoted race whom the Fijians despise and with whom they do not mingle. Indeed, there are far more half-breds between the whites and Fijians than between Fijians and Hindoos.
Although all native arts have suffered and some have wholly disappeared in Fiji, the introduction of European methods has been slower in this group than elsewhere in the Pacific. Spears and clubs and other implements of war are no longer made unless, indeed, it be to sell to tourists, and the dancing masks and wigs of former days have disappeared, along with the cannibal forks. Once the natives took great pride in their war-clubs, and a man's rank was indicated by the fashion of his club and his manner of carrying it, only chiefs being permitted to bear it over the shoulder as we would a gun. The handle was notched whenever the club had served to kill a man, and such a weapon was called a "ngandro" to distinguish it from common clubs. Indeed the more famous clubs were given individual names, a certain chief being the proud possessor of one called "the giver of rest." Elaborately carved, and built up, spears of iron-wood ten or fifteen feet long were common, and were sometimes tipped with the spine of the sting-ray, which upon breaking within the wound caused certain death. In the distant villages among the mountains of the large islands, spears and clubs were still to be seen in the houses in 1899, but from more accessible places they have long since disappeared to crowd the shelves of our museums. Everywhere the natives of the coasts have yielded, and more or less conformed to the white man's customs, but only a few miles inland, isolated by the dense forests or walled in by mountains, they were in 1900 almost as in heathen times. Yet even in these remote places the natives are not wholly separated from the world, for news is carried rapidly by word of mouth, and Wilkes speaks of a case in which a message was transmitted 20 miles through a forested country in less than six hours.
The pursuit of war was once the chief concern of the Fijians, and was often conducted in a very ceremonious fashion. An offended chief thrust sticks into the ground and removed them only when appeased. If war was determined upon a herald was sent to the village of the enemy to announce the fact. As is universal with primitive people, the mustering of the army was the occasion for much extravagant boasting, and their faces were painted red or half red and half black. Miss Gordon Cumming gives a striking description of the wild war-dance and the boasts of the warriors who assembled at the call of Sir Arthur Gordon to take part in the war against the cannibal tribes of the Singatoka River in the mountains. "This is only a musket" cried one warrior "but I carry it." By contrast the men from Mbau came up in stately fashion, their spokesman saying "This is Mbau, that is enough."
The towns were often fortified with wooden stockades or stone walls, and were sometimes surrounded by moats. There are no records of protracted sieges, for the attacking party never could carry sufficient food to enable them to remain long before the walls of the besieged. They depended almost wholly upon treachery, ambushes or sudden and unexpected assaults; and to kill a woman or a child or even a pig was considered a creditable feat, as when Thakombau's warriors returned to Mbau boasting, "We have killed seven of the enemy's pigs and two women." Before the introduction of firearms, it is probable that native warfare caused but little loss of life, for fear kept the combatants skulking at a fairly safe distance from one another.
Wilkes, who himself made war upon the natives of Malolo after they had killed Lieutenant Underwood and Midshipman Henry, describes their martial customs at great length and should be read by those interested in the matter.
The cruelties practised when a town was overcome were unspeakable, and on the island of Wakaia the chief and all within his village threw themselves over a high cliff to be dashed to death rather than surrender.
Fijian warfare, like that of cannibalism, is indeed a sordid subject. Not a single struggle waged by any tribe was for the establishment of a worthy principle. Lust for murder, the capture of women, revenge for real, or more often imaginary, insults were the actuating motives of all native wars. There is in the language no word expressing disapprobation for the killing of a human being. Indeed, no matter how brutal, treacherous or cowardly the murder of man, woman or child the murderer immediately gained the proud title of koroi, which insured to him a good position among the spirits of the world to come, and permitted him to blacken his face and chest with a peculiar warpaint. Murder was thus an open sesame to social distinction and religious well-being.
The Fijians are courageous in the sense that all men are brave when wrought up to the point of action, and when facing a situation they understand. Their first sight of a horse, however, drove even the doughtiest warriors to take refuge in the trees, and when upon a dark night Wilkes came to anchor off the coast and set off rockets, the silence of the shore broke into a long shriek of terror, village after village catching the contagion of the fright. Even to-day the white man inspires a mysterious lurking fear, and in the mountain villages and in parts rarely visited by Europeans, the women and little children shrink and run at your approach, and even the men seem somewhat "stage struck." To their minds we must be past masters of witchcraft.
Indeed, in common with all beliefs and practises which may be securely hidden from the eyes of Europeans, witchcraft still survives in Fiji, as it does among the lower classes of Europe and America. The natives are fond of the "occult" and several miracles are still performed. Thus at the village of Nandawa, on Koro island, an old man stands upon a high rock and calls to the sea-turtles, shouting in Fijian, Come! Come! We are tired of waiting! upon which several turtles appear swimming toward the shore. It is highly probable that these are regularly fed and are thus always ready for the "miracle" when strangers visit the town. Koro, by the way, is the island to which the souls of all dead pigs were supposed to go to their .
At the village of Rukua on Mbenga a curious miracle play is enacted. Near the town there is a circular pit about twenty feet in diameter, the bottom of which is lined with brown-colored volcanic stones, a ring of large flat ones lying near the edge around the bottom of the depression. The pit is filled with dry sticks and a fire is maintained until the stones are red hot. Then the embers are brushed away, and out of the forest there comes a procession of young men gaily adorned with garlands of flowers and well polished with cocoanut oil. They chant as they tread slowly and deliberately over the hot stones, and then vanish into the woods, apparently uninjured; upon which pigs and vegetables are placed upon the stones and are covered with leaves and earth, and a thoroughly cooked feast is soon ready for both guests and performers. Professor Langley witnessed a similar exhibition in the Society Islands, and discovered that the radiation from the surface of the volcanic stones is very great, while the stones themselves are poor conductors of heat, thus the surface soon cools while enough heat still remains within to serve in cooking the feast. The natives can not be induced to walk over limestone, which is a good conductor and poor radiator, the surface thus remaining hot. However, the great thickness of the skin upon the sole of their unshod feet accounts in some measure for their ability to perform this "miracle." In all respects natural sole leather is superior to that provided by the "leather trust."
A pleasing art which still survives, but is doomed to extinction, is the making and decorating of tapa, or masi, as it is called in Fiji, where it is still used for screens in houses, and for various decorative purposes. Women alone take part in the manufacture of tapa. They carefully cultivate the paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), and, when about six feet high, the young trees are cut down, and the bark peeled off and soaked in water. The outer skin is then scraped off with a sharp-edged shell, and the soft fibrous inner bark is ready for beating, although it may be kept indefinitely before this process is begun. For beating, the strips of bark must be thoroughly water-soaked and soft, and two are placed one over the other upon a flattened log and beaten with a rectangular mallet, iki, having three of its flat sides grooved and one plane. Each pair of strips of an inch in original width may thus be beaten out into a thin sheet of felted fibers nine inches wide, although the length is reduced. Separate sheets are then welded together by beating, the overlapping edges being first glued with a paste made from arrowroot boiled in water, this welding being so cleverly done that it is almost impossible to tell where the pieces overlie one another. The sheet is then spread upon the grass and exposed to the sun to bleach. These sheets may be very large, one we measured being 160 feet long and 12 feet wide, but Williams mentions a sheet 180 yards long!
After being bleached, they produce a pattern upon the tapa with a brown dye derived from the Aleurites triloba, the dull color of which is relieved at intervals by large black circular spots, thus by contrast giving a bright and effective pattern. This process of decorating is described in detail by Thomas Williams in his most interesting work upon "Fiji and the Fijians." Strips of bamboo are placed in the form of the design upon a flat surface, or the design is carved in relief in a board. Then the tapa is stretched over the template and the cloth rubbed with the dye, whereupon the color adheres to all raised places and fails to appear in the hollows, and a "printed" pattern is produced. So characteristic are the checquered patterns of the tapas of the several islands that the locality of each piece can be determined upon the most casual inspection. The black and white tapas of Taviuni are most effective, and those of Lakemba probably the most artistic made in the group. It seems strange that although these tapas have for ages been printed in designs, little or no meaning was associated with the details of the pattern. There were, however, certain appropriate patterns for weddings and other ceremonies, and the flags of the various classes of warriors were more or less distinctive. Thus at Rewa the banner of the king's or high chief's party was white with four or five vertical black stripes at one end, that of the vunivalu or general had horizontal stripes, and that of the land owners was plain white. Yet the tapa flags never became tribal emblems, on the one hand, or personal coats-of-arms, on the other, but remained merely class badges, and thus no precise symbolism was associated with the designs.
In groups other than Fiji the inner bark of the bread-fruit tree, and of the yellow hibiscus Paritium tiliaceum are used in making tapa. Yellow turmeric, bone charcoal, brilliant red and rich brown dyes, are displayed upon tapas of the Pacific.
The art must surely disappear, for Manchester is now printing calicos in the patterns of the native tapas and these are being sold to the islanders, who prefer them to designs of their own making. In some groups traders have brought in anilin dyes which the natives call "missionary colors," the word "missionary" being applied to almost any newly introduced thing. Thus is an ancient and primitive art being debased, and another means of employment must disappear from native life. At the time of the author's visits the beating of the ikis(mallets) was the most characteristic sound in a Fijian village, but in a few more years this too must go the way of many another activity which once engrossed the attention and stimulated the imagination of the natives.
Tapa in Fiji was once used for the white turbans of the chiefs and the simple waist band or malo worn by all men. In the case of chiefs the ends of the waist cloth formed long streamers, those of king Tanoa being so long that they trailed upon the ground. When yaqona was served, all chiefs removed their turbans, excepting only the Roko Tui of Mbau who was regarded as being a human personification of a god.
The women never wore tapa, but were clothed in the simple liku or waist band of hibiscus bark or grasses which is still worn among the mountain tribes, although along the coast the Europeans have abolished both it and the malo, obliging all to wear a waist-cloth of calico. In some respects they were a modest people before these changes were effected, and fortunately for the natives their new rulers did not oblige them to don more clothing. In other parts of the Pacific the missionaries have forced the natives to wear European garments, far too hot for tropical climates. Such clothes are so expensive that few or none of the natives can afford to own more than one suit, and this soon becomes a filthy menace to health. Tuberculosis stalks in when European clothes appear, and all unprejudiced observers will agree that the most diseased and immoral races now in the Pacific are those who have been obliged to wear the most clothing.
Their own clothes permitted the natives to bathe freely, but the whites now demand that the natives shall don special bathing suits or at least enter the water clothed in some European garments. This practically forces them either to abstain from their health-giving sport of former times or to swim fully clothed, as they now do in Hawaii. These cold wet clothes are a cause of influenza leading to tuberculosis, and everywhere the natives are less cleanly as Christians than they were as heathens.
In former times the Fijians took great pride in the arrangement of their hair, and a wide range of individual taste was permitted in this respect, as may be seen in the illustrations given by Williams in his "Fiji and the Fijians," or the colored plate published in the narrative of the voyage of the Challenger. Usually they trained the hair to grow into a huge thick mop standing out on all sides fully eight inches from the head, and sometimes as much as 62 inches in circumference. In order to effect this, the hair was saturated with oil mixed with charcoal and then dyed so that blue, white, brilliant red, black or parti-colored mops were in fashion. The high chiefs had barbers whose sole duty was to care for the hair of their masters, and whose hands were tabu from feeding themselves so that others had to provide them with food and drink. Such a barber might not remove a cigarette from his mouth or hold it in his hands and was thus obliged to twist a twig around it in order to avoid the weed's coming in contact with his hands. Curiously enough, barbers might work in their gardens, but were not permitted to use their hands in eating their own vegetables. Probably no savage race devoted more care to hair and beards than did the Fijians. They are very rarely bald, and indeed this was considered to be a great disfigurement, and the defect was concealed by a wig. To preserve these unwieldy mops of hair, the natives were obliged to sleep upon a wooden pillow which was placed under the neck and held the head four or five inches above the floor.
To the European, all customs are apt to be classed as "bad" in proportion as they differ from those of his own race, but it should be said that in Fiji the missionaries have been more conservative and displayed far more sympathy and sense in their reforms than elsewhere in the Pacific. Nevertheless, all forms of really active exercises or keen enjoyment have a somewhat wicked appearance to a certain type of religious mind, and unhappily the mediocre man is the one who is apt to rule in deciding the fate of such affairs. They too often fail to see that when an old custom is to be abolished something should be devised to take its place. Thus their vandalism of bigotry has resulted in destroying or hindering the open practise of nearly all the old arts and amusements; and almost nothing but hymns and prayers and a cheerless sabbath resembling that of Puritan days in old New England have been given to the natives in exchange for all they have been forced to surrender.
The Fijians once took great delight in their club dances, but these have now been repressed and have lost much of their former animation. In one of these festivities which we witnessed the men leaped frantically in perfect unison,their clubs and throwing them from hand to hand, often shielding their eyes with one hand as if searching for a hidden or distant enemy. At regular intervals they shouted Wa hoo! in a fierce yell that could have been heard at a distance of a quarter of a mile, while all the village crowded in a square around the dancers, beating log drums, clapping hands and chanting something which sounded like "Somo seri rangi tu Somo seri somo," over and over again. Often the meanings of words used in their songs are unknown to the natives of modern times. Wilkes gives an excellent description of a club-dance in which the best dancers were mimicked by a clown covered from head to foot with green and dried leaves, and wearing a mask half orange and half black.
The milder mekes (songs with gestures) are wisely encouraged by the missionaries, and these are still a source of constant amusement to the natives. Fiji has not yet been suppressed into a realm of sullen silence as have too many parts of the Pacific.
There is a fascination in the elemental force of the word-pictures in these songs. We stifle in the heavy air of the dull and ominous calm. Then comes the rising roar of the onrush and our hearts go out to the frail canoes struggling so bravely in a maddened sea, and the pathos of life and death is there when the hot sun glares down once more, and the ripples glint unheedingly around the silent floating thing over which the sea-birds scream.
(To be continued.)
- Williams was by far the most assiduous and accurate observer of Fijian customs, and it is to be regretted that his manuscript was edited and "repressed" by a Mr. Rowe of London who had never visited Fiji.
- Report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the causes of the decline of the native population. Published by the Colony of Fiji, Suva, 1896, pp. v ＋ 130.
- Should the natives continue to decline at the rate which has pertained since 1881 they must become extinct in the year 2004.
- Within recent years the medical department under the able leadership of Doctor G. W. A. Lynch has been enabled to take measures which appear to have reduced this infant mortality so that nearly 78 per cent, of the children survive the first year.