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In the South Seas by Robert Louis Stevenson

Part 3 out of 5

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At length the mate himself despaired, scrambled on board again from
his unrestful perch, and announced that we had missed our
destination. He was the only man of practice in these waters, our
sole pilot, shipped for that end at Tai-o-hae. If he declared we
had missed Takaroa, it was not for us to quarrel with the fact,
but, if we could, to explain it. We had certainly run down our
southing. Our canted wake upon the sea and our somewhat drunken-
looking course upon the chart both testified with no less certainty
to an impetuous westward current. We had no choice but to conclude
we were again set down to leeward; and the best we could do was to
bring the Casco to the wind, keep a good watch, and expect morning.

I slept that night, as was then my somewhat dangerous practice, on
deck upon the cockpit bench. A stir at last awoke me, to see all
the eastern heaven dyed with faint orange, the binnacle lamp
already dulled against the brightness of the day, and the steersman
leaning eagerly across the wheel. 'There it is, sir!' he cried,
and pointed in the very eyeball of the dawn. For awhile I could
see nothing but the bluish ruins of the morning bank, which lay far
along the horizon, like melting icebergs. Then the sun rose,
pierced a gap in these debris of vapours, and displayed an
inconsiderable islet, flat as a plate upon the sea, and spiked with
palms of disproportioned altitude.

So far, so good. Here was certainly an atoll; and we were
certainly got among the archipelago. But which? And where? The
isle was too small for either Takaroa: in all our neighbourhood,
indeed, there was none so inconsiderable, save only Tikei; and
Tikei, one of Roggewein's so-called Pernicious Islands, seemed
beside the question. At that rate, instead of drifting to the
west, we must have fetched up thirty miles to windward. And how
about the current? It had been setting us down, by observation,
all these days: by the deflection of our wake, it should be
setting us down that moment. When had it stopped? When had it
begun again? and what kind of torrent was that which had swept us
eastward in the interval? To these questions, so typical of
navigation in that range of isles, I have no answer. Such were at
least the facts; Tikei our island turned out to be; and it was our
first experience of the dangerous archipelago, to make our landfall
thirty miles out.

The sight of Tikei, thrown direct against the splendour of the
morning, robbed of all its colour, and deformed with
disproportioned trees like bristles on a broom, had scarce prepared
us to be much in love with atolls. Later the same day we saw under
more fit conditions the island of Taiaro. Lost in the Sea is
possibly the meaning of the name. And it was so we saw it; lost in
blue sea and sky: a ring of white beach, green underwood, and
tossing palms, gem-like in colour; of a fairy, of a heavenly
prettiness. The surf ran all around it, white as snow, and broke
at one point, far to seaward, on what seems an uncharted reef.
There was no smoke, no sign of man; indeed, the isle is not
inhabited, only visited at intervals. And yet a trader (Mr. Narii
Salmon) was watching from the shore and wondering at the unexpected
ship. I have spent since then long months upon low islands; I know
the tedium of their undistinguished days; I know the burden of
their diet. With whatever envy we may have looked from the deck on
these green coverts, it was with a tenfold greater that Mr. Salmon
and his comrades saw us steer, in our trim ship, to seaward.

The night fell lovely in the extreme. After the moon went down,
the heaven was a thing to wonder at for stars. And as I lay in the
cockpit and looked upon the steersman I was haunted by Emerson's

'And the lone seaman all the night
Sails astonished among stars.'

By this glittering and imperfect brightness, about four bells in
the first watch we made our third atoll, Raraka. The low line of
the isle lay straight along the sky; so that I was at first
reminded of a towpath, and we seemed to be mounting some engineered
and navigable stream. Presently a red star appeared, about the
height and brightness of a danger signal, and with that my simile
was changed; we seemed rather to skirt the embankment of a railway,
and the eye began to look instinctively for the telegraph-posts,
and the ear to expect the coming of a train. Here and there, but
rarely, faint tree-tops broke the level. And the sound of the surf
accompanied us, now in a drowsy monotone, now with a menacing

The isle lay nearly east and west, barring our advance on Fakarava.
We must, therefore, hug the coast until we gained the western end,
where, through a passage eight miles wide, we might sail southward
between Raraka and the next isle, Kauehi. We had the wind free, a
lightish air; but clouds of an inky blackness were beginning to
arise, and at times it lightened--without thunder. Something, I
know not what, continually set us up upon the island. We lay more
and more to the nor'ard; and you would have thought the shore
copied our manoeuvre and outsailed us. Once and twice Raraka headed
us again--again, in the sea fashion, the quite innocent steersman
was abused--and again the Casco kept away. Had I been called on,
with no more light than that of our experience, to draw the
configuration of that island, I should have shown a series of bow-
window promontories, each overlapping the other to the nor'ard, and
the trend of the land from the south-east to the north-west, and
behold, on the chart it lay near east and west in a straight line.

We had but just repeated our manoeuvre and kept away--for not more
than five minutes the railway embankment had been lost to view and
the surf to hearing--when I was aware of land again, not only on
the weather bow, but dead ahead. I played the part of the
judicious landsman, holding my peace till the last moment; and
presently my mariners perceived it for themselves.

'Land ahead!' said the steersman.

'By God, it's Kauehi!' cried the mate.

And so it was. And with that I began to be sorry for
cartographers. We were scarce doing three and a half; and they
asked me to believe that (in five minutes) we had dropped an
island, passed eight miles of open water, and run almost high and
dry upon the next. But my captain was more sorry for himself to be
afloat in such a labyrinth; laid the Casco to, with the log line up
and down, and sat on the stern rail and watched it till the
morning. He had enough of night in the Paumotus.

By daylight on the 9th we began to skirt Kauehi, and had now an
opportunity to see near at hand the geography of atolls. Here and
there, where it was high, the farther side loomed up; here and
there the near side dipped entirely and showed a broad path of
water into the lagoon; here and there both sides were equally
abased, and we could look right through the discontinuous ring to
the sea horizon on the south. Conceive, on a vast scale, the
submerged hoop of the duck-hunter, trimmed with green rushes to
conceal his head--water within, water without--you have the image
of the perfect atoll. Conceive one that has been partly plucked of
its rush fringe; you have the atoll of Kauehi. And for either
shore of it at closer quarters, conceive the line of some old Roman
highway traversing a wet morass, and here sunk out of view and
there re-arising, crowned with a green tuft of thicket; only
instead of the stagnant waters of a marsh, the live ocean now
boiled against, now buried the frail barrier. Last night's
impression in the dark was thus confirmed by day, and not
corrected. We sailed indeed by a mere causeway in the sea, of
nature's handiwork, yet of no greater magnitude than many of the
works of man.

The isle was uninhabited; it was all green brush and white sand,
set in transcendently blue water; even the coco-palms were rare,
though some of these completed the bright harmony of colour by
hanging out a fan of golden yellow. For long there was no sign of
life beyond the vegetable, and no sound but the continuous grumble
of the surf. In silence and desertion these fair shores slipped
past, and were submerged and rose again with clumps of thicket from
the sea. And then a bird or two appeared, hovering and crying;
swiftly these became more numerous, and presently, looking ahead,
we were aware of a vast effervescence of winged life. In this
place the annular isle was mostly under water, carrying here and
there on its submerged line a wooded islet. Over one of these the
birds hung and flew with an incredible density like that of gnats
or hiving bees; the mass flashed white and black, and heaved and
quivered, and the screaming of the creatures rose over the voice of
the surf in a shrill clattering whirr. As you descend some inland
valley a not dissimilar sound announces the nearness of a mill and
pouring river. Some stragglers, as I said, came to meet our
approach; a few still hung about the ship as we departed. The
crying died away, the last pair of wings was left behind, and once
more the low shores of Kauehi streamed past our eyes in silence
like a picture. I supposed at the time that the birds lived, like
ants or citizens, concentred where we saw them. I have been told
since (I know not if correctly) that the whole isle, or much of it,
is similarly peopled; and that the effervescence at a single spot
would be the mark of a boat's crew of egg-hunters from one of the
neighbouring inhabited atolls. So that here at Kauehi, as the day
before at Taiaro, the Casco sailed by under the fire of unsuspected
eyes. And one thing is surely true, that even on these ribbons of
land an army might lie hid and no passing mariner divine its


By a little before noon we were running down the coast of our
destination, Fakarava: the air very light, the sea near smooth;
though still we were accompanied by a continuous murmur from the
beach, like the sound of a distant train. The isle is of a huge
longitude, the enclosed lagoon thirty miles by ten or twelve, and
the coral tow-path, which they call the land, some eighty or ninety
miles by (possibly) one furlong. That part by which we sailed was
all raised; the underwood excellently green, the topping wood of
coco-palms continuous--a mark, if I had known it, of man's
intervention. For once more, and once more unconsciously, we were
within hail of fellow-creatures, and that vacant beach was but a
pistol-shot from the capital city of the archipelago. But the life
of an atoll, unless it be enclosed, passes wholly on the shores of
the lagoon; it is there the villages are seated, there the canoes
ply and are drawn up; and the beach of the ocean is a place
accursed and deserted, the fit scene only for wizardry and
shipwreck, and in the native belief a haunting ground of murderous

By and by we might perceive a breach in the low barrier; the woods
ceased; a glittering point ran into the sea, tipped with an emerald
shoal the mark of entrance. As we drew near we met a little run of
sea--the private sea of the lagoon having there its origin and end,
and here, in the jaws of the gateway, trying vain conclusions with
the more majestic heave of the Pacific. The Casco scarce avowed a
shock; but there are times and circumstances when these harbour
mouths of inland basins vomit floods, deflecting, burying, and
dismasting ships. For, conceive a lagoon perfectly sealed but in
the one point, and that of merely navigable width; conceive the
tide and wind to have heaped for hours together in that coral fold
a superfluity of waters, and the tide to change and the wind fall--
the open sluice of some great reservoirs at home will give an image
of the unstemmable effluxion.

We were scarce well headed for the pass before all heads were
craned over the rail. For the water, shoaling under our board,
became changed in a moment to surprising hues of blue and grey; and
in its transparency the coral branched and blossomed, and the fish
of the inland sea cruised visibly below us, stained and striped,
and even beaked like parrots. I have paid in my time to view many
curiosities; never one so curious as that first sight over the
ship's rail in the lagoon of Fakarava. But let not the reader be
deceived with hope. I have since entered, I suppose, some dozen
atolls in different parts of the Pacific, and the experience has
never been repeated. That exquisite hue and transparency of
submarine day, and these shoals of rainbow fish, have not
enraptured me again.

Before we could raise our eyes from that engaging spectacle the
schooner had slipped betwixt the pierheads of the reef, and was
already quite committed to the sea within. The containing shores
are so little erected, and the lagoon itself is so great, that, for
the more part, it seemed to extend without a check to the horizon.
Here and there, indeed, where the reef carried an inlet, like a
signet-ring upon a finger, there would be a pencilling of palms;
here and there, the green wall of wood ran solid for a length of
miles; and on the port hand, under the highest grove of trees, a
few houses sparkled white--Rotoava, the metropolitan settlement of
the Paumotus. Hither we beat in three tacks, and came to an anchor
close in shore, in the first smooth water since we had left San
Francisco, five fathoms deep, where a man might look overboard all
day at the vanishing cable, the coral patches, and the many-
coloured fish.

Fakarava was chosen to be the seat of Government from nautical
considerations only. It is eccentrically situate; the productions,
even for a low island, poor; the population neither many nor--for
Low Islanders--industrious. But the lagoon has two good passages,
one to leeward, one to windward, so that in all states of the wind
it can be left and entered, and this advantage, for a government of
scattered islands, was decisive. A pier of coral, landing-stairs,
a harbour light upon a staff and pillar, and two spacious
Government bungalows in a handsome fence, give to the northern end
of Rotoava a great air of consequence. This is confirmed on the
one hand by an empty prison, on the other by a gendarmerie pasted
over with hand-bills in Tahitian, land-law notices from Papeete,
and republican sentiments from Paris, signed (a little after date)
'Jules Grevy, Perihidente.' Quite at the far end a belfried
Catholic chapel concludes the town; and between, on a smooth floor
of white coral sand and under the breezy canopy of coco-palms, the
houses of the natives stand irregularly scattered, now close on the
lagoon for the sake of the breeze, now back under the palms for
love of shadow.

Not a soul was to be seen. But for the thunder of the surf on the
far side, it seemed you might have heard a pin drop anywhere about
that capital city. There was something thrilling in the unexpected
silence, something yet more so in the unexpected sound. Here
before us a sea reached to the horizon, rippling like an inland
mere; and behold! close at our back another sea assaulted with
assiduous fury the reverse of the position. At night the lantern
was run up and lit a vacant pier. In one house lights were seen
and voices heard, where the population (I was told) sat playing
cards. A little beyond, from deep in the darkness of the palm-
grove, we saw the glow and smelt the aromatic odour of a coal of
cocoa-nut husk, a relic of the evening kitchen. Crickets sang;
some shrill thing whistled in a tuft of weeds; and the mosquito
hummed and stung. There was no other trace that night of man,
bird, or insect in the isle. The moon, now three days old, and as
yet but a silver crescent on a still visible sphere, shone through
the palm canopy with vigorous and scattered lights. The alleys
where we walked were smoothed and weeded like a boulevard; here and
there were plants set out; here and there dusky cottages clustered
in the shadow, some with verandahs. A public garden by night, a
rich and fashionable watering-place in a by-season, offer sights
and vistas not dissimilar. And still, on the one side, stretched
the lapping mere, and from the other the deep sea still growled in
the night. But it was most of all on board, in the dead hours,
when I had been better sleeping, that the spell of Fakarava seized
and held me. The moon was down. The harbour lantern and two of
the greater planets drew vari-coloured wakes on the lagoon. From
shore the cheerful watch-cry of cocks rang out at intervals above
the organ-point of surf. And the thought of this depopulated
capital, this protracted thread of annular island with its crest of
coco-palms and fringe of breakers, and that tranquil inland sea
that stretched before me till it touched the stars, ran in my head
for hours with delight.

So long as I stayed upon that isle these thoughts were constant. I
lay down to sleep, and woke again with an unblunted sense of my
surroundings. I was never weary of calling up the image of that
narrow causeway, on which I had my dwelling, lying coiled like a
serpent, tail to mouth, in the outrageous ocean, and I was never
weary of passing--a mere quarter-deck parade--from the one side to
the other, from the shady, habitable shores of the lagoon to the
blinding desert and uproarious breakers of the opposite beach. The
sense of insecurity in such a thread of residence is more than
fanciful. Hurricanes and tidal waves over-leap these humble
obstacles; Oceanus remembers his strength, and, where houses stood
and palms flourished, shakes his white beard again over the barren
coral. Fakarava itself has suffered; the trees immediately beyond
my house were all of recent replantation; and Anaa is only now
recovered from a heavier stroke. I knew one who was then dwelling
in the isle. He told me that he and two ship captains walked to
the sea beach. There for a while they viewed the oncoming
breakers, till one of the captains clapped suddenly his hand before
his eyes and cried aloud that he could endure no longer to behold
them. This was in the afternoon; in the dark hours of the night
the sea burst upon the island like a flood; the settlement was
razed all but the church and presbytery; and, when day returned,
the survivors saw themselves clinging in an abattis of uprooted
coco-palms and ruined houses.

Danger is but a small consideration. But men are more nicely
sensible of a discomfort; and the atoll is a discomfortable home.
There are some, and these probably ancient, where a deep soil has
formed and the most valuable fruit-trees prosper. I have walked in
one, with equal admiration and surprise, through a forest of huge
breadfruits, eating bananas and stumbling among taro as I went.
This was in the atoll of Namorik in the Marshall group, and stands
alone in my experience. To give the opposite extreme, which is yet
far more near the average, I will describe the soil and productions
of Fakarava. The surface of that narrow strip is for the more part
of broken coral lime-stone, like volcanic clinkers, and
excruciating to the naked foot; in some atolls, I believe, not in
Fakarava, it gives a fine metallic ring when struck. Here and
there you come upon a bank of sand, exceeding fine and white, and
these parts are the least productive. The plants (such as they
are) spring from and love the broken coral, whence they grow with
that wonderful verdancy that makes the beauty of the atoll from the
sea. The coco-palm in particular luxuriates in that stern solum,
striking down his roots to the brackish, percolated water, and
bearing his green head in the wind with every evidence of health
and pleasure. And yet even the coco-palm must be helped in infancy
with some extraneous nutriment, and through much of the low
archipelago there is planted with each nut a piece of ship's
biscuit and a rusty nail. The pandanus comes next in importance,
being also a food tree; and he, too, does bravely. A green bush
called miki runs everywhere; occasionally a purao is seen; and
there are several useless weeds. According to M. Cuzent, the whole
number of plants on an atoll such as Fakarava will scarce exceed,
even if it reaches to, one score. Not a blade of grass appears;
not a grain of humus, save when a sack or two has been imported to
make the semblance of a garden; such gardens as bloom in cities on
the window-sill. Insect life is sometimes dense; a cloud o'
mosquitoes, and, what is far worse, a plague of flies blackening
our food, has sometimes driven us from a meal on Apemama; and even
in Fakarava the mosquitoes were a pest. The land crab may be seen
scuttling to his hole, and at night the rats besiege the houses and
the artificial gardens. The crab is good eating; possibly so is
the rat; I have not tried. Pandanus fruit is made, in the
Gilberts, into an agreeable sweetmeat, such as a man may trifle
with at the end of a long dinner; for a substantial meal I have no
use for it. The rest of the food-supply, in a destitute atoll such
as Fakarava, can be summed up in the favourite jest of the
archipelago--cocoa-nut beefsteak. Cocoa-nut green, cocoa-nut ripe,
cocoa-nut germinated; cocoa-nut to eat and cocoa-nut to drink;
cocoa-nut raw and cooked, cocoa-nut hot and cold--such is the bill
of fare. And some of the entrees are no doubt delicious. The
germinated nut, cooked in the shell and eaten with a spoon, forms a
good pudding; cocoa-nut milk--the expressed juice of a ripe nut,
not the water of a green one--goes well in coffee, and is a
valuable adjunct in cookery through the South Seas; and cocoa-nut
salad, if you be a millionaire, and can afford to eat the value of
a field of corn for your dessert, is a dish to be remembered with
affection. But when all is done there is a sameness, and the
Israelites of the low islands murmur at their manna.

The reader may think I have forgot the sea. The two beaches do
certainly abound in life, and they are strangely different. In the
lagoon the water shallows slowly on a bottom of the fine slimy
sand, dotted with clumps of growing coral. Then comes a strip of
tidal beach on which the ripples lap. In the coral clumps the
great holy-water clam (Tridacna) grows plentifully; a little deeper
lie the beds of the pearl-oyster and sail the resplendent fish that
charmed us at our entrance; and these are all more or less
vigorously coloured. But the other shells are white like lime, or
faintly tinted with a little pink, the palest possible display;
many of them dead besides, and badly rolled. On the ocean side, on
the mounds of the steep beach, over all the width of the reef right
out to where the surf is bursting, in every cranny, under every
scattered fragment of the coral, an incredible plenty of marine
life displays the most wonderful variety and brilliancy of hues.
The reef itself has no passage of colour but is imitated by some
shell. Purple and red and white, and green and yellow, pied and
striped and clouded, the living shells wear in every combination
the livery of the dead reef--if the reef be dead--so that the eye
is continually baffled and the collector continually deceived. I
have taken shells for stones and stones for shells, the one as
often as the other. A prevailing character of the coral is to be
dotted with small spots of red, and it is wonderful how many
varieties of shell have adopted the same fashion and donned the
disguise of the red spot. A shell I had found in plenty in the
Marquesas I found here also unchanged in all things else, but there
were the red spots. A lively little crab wore the same markings.
The case of the hermit or soldier crab was more conclusive, being
the result of conscious choice. This nasty little wrecker,
scavenger, and squatter has learned the value of a spotted house;
so it be of the right colour he will choose the smallest shard,
tuck himself in a mere corner of a broken whorl, and go about the
world half naked; but I never found him in this imperfect armour
unless it was marked with the red spot.

Some two hundred yards distant is the beach of the lagoon. Collect
the shells from each, set them side by side, and you would suppose
they came from different hemispheres; the one so pale, the other so
brilliant; the one prevalently white, the other of a score of hues,
and infected with the scarlet spot like a disease. This seems the
more strange, since the hermit crabs pass and repass the island,
and I have met them by the Residency well, which is about central,
journeying either way. Without doubt many of the shells in the
lagoon are dead. But why are they dead? Without doubt the living
shells have a very different background set for imitation. But why
are these so different? We are only on the threshold of the

Either beach, I have said, abounds with life. On the sea-side and
in certain atolls this profusion of vitality is even shocking: the
rock under foot is mined with it. I have broken off--notably in
Funafuti and Arorai--great lumps of ancient weathered rock that
rang under my blows like iron, and the fracture has been full of
pendent worms as long as my hand, as thick as a child's finger, of
a slightly pinkish white, and set as close as three or even four to
the square inch. Even in the lagoon, where certain shell-fish seem
to sicken, others (it is notorious) prosper exceedingly and make
the riches of these islands. Fish, too, abound; the lagoon is a
closed fish-pond, such as might rejoice the fancy of an abbot;
sharks swarm there, and chiefly round the passages, to feast upon
this plenty, and you would suppose that man had only to prepare his
angle. Alas! it is not so. Of these painted fish that came in
hordes about the entering Casco, some bore poisonous spines, and
others were poisonous if eaten. The stranger must refrain, or take
his chance of painful and dangerous sickness. The native, on his
own isle, is a safe guide; transplant him to the next, and he is
helpless as yourself. For it is a question both of time and place.
A fish caught in a lagoon may be deadly; the same fish caught the
same day at sea, and only a few hundred yards without the passage,
will be wholesome eating: in a neighbouring isle perhaps the case
will be reversed; and perhaps a fortnight later you shall be able
to eat of them indifferently from within and from without.
According to the natives, these bewildering vicissitudes are ruled
by the movement of the heavenly bodies. The beautiful planet Venus
plays a great part in all island tales and customs; and among other
functions, some of them more awful, she regulates the season of
good fish. With Venus in one phase, as we had her, certain fish
were poisonous in the lagoon: with Venus in another, the same fish
was harmless and a valued article of diet. White men explain these
changes by the phases of the coral.

It adds a last touch of horror to the thought of this precarious
annular gangway in the sea, that even what there is of it is not of
honest rock, but organic, part alive, part putrescent; even the
clean sea and the bright fish about it poisoned, the most stubborn
boulder burrowed in by worms, the lightest dust venomous as an
apothecary's drugs.


Never populous, it was yet by a chapter of accidents that I found
the island so deserted that no sound of human life diversified the
hours; that we walked in that trim public garden of a town, among
closed houses, without even a lodging-bill in a window to prove
some tenancy in the back quarters; and, when we visited the
Government bungalow, that Mr. Donat, acting Vice-Resident, greeted
us alone, and entertained us with cocoa-nut punches in the Sessions
Hall and seat of judgment of that widespread archipelago, our
glasses standing arrayed with summonses and census returns. The
unpopularity of a late Vice-Resident had begun the movement of
exodus, his native employes resigning court appointments and
retiring each to his own coco-patch in the remoter districts of the
isle. Upon the back of that, the Governor in Papeete issued a
decree: All land in the Paumotus must be defined and registered by
a certain date. Now, the folk of the archipelago are half nomadic;
a man can scarce be said to belong to a particular atoll; he
belongs to several, perhaps holds a stake and counts cousinship in
half a score; and the inhabitants of Rotoava in particular, man,
woman, and child, and from the gendarme to the Mormon prophet and
the schoolmaster, owned--I was going to say land--owned at least
coral blocks and growing coco-palms in some adjacent isle.
Thither--from the gendarme to the babe in arms, the pastor followed
by his flock, the schoolmaster carrying along with him his
scholars, and the scholars with their books and slates--they had
taken ship some two days previous to our arrival, and were all now
engaged disputing boundaries. Fancy overhears the shrillness of
their disputation mingle with the surf and scatter sea-fowl. It
was admirable to observe the completeness of their flight, like
that of hibernating birds; nothing left but empty houses, like old
nests to be reoccupied in spring; and even the harmless necessary
dominie borne with them in their transmigration. Fifty odd set
out, and only seven, I was informed, remained. But when I made a
feast on board the Casco, more than seven, and nearer seven times
seven, appeared to be my guests. Whence they appeared, how they
were summoned, whither they vanished when the feast was eaten, I
have no guess. In view of Low Island tales, and that awful
frequentation which makes men avoid the seaward beaches of an
atoll, some two score of those that ate with us may have returned,
for the occasion, from the kingdom of the dead.

It was this solitude that put it in our minds to hire a house, and
become, for the time being, indwellers of the isle--a practice I
have ever since, when it was possible, adhered to. Mr. Donat
placed us, with that intent, under the convoy of one Taniera
Mahinui, who combined the incongruous characters of catechist and
convict. The reader may smile, but I affirm he was well qualified
for either part. For that of convict, first of all, by a good
substantial felony, such as in all lands casts the perpetrator in
chains and dungeons. Taniera was a man of birth--the chief a while
ago, as he loved to tell, of a district in Anaa of 800 souls. In
an evil hour it occurred to the authorities in Papeete to charge
the chiefs with the collection of the taxes. It is a question if
much were collected; it is certain that nothing was handed on; and
Taniera, who had distinguished himself by a visit to Papeete and
some high living in restaurants, was chosen for the scapegoat. The
reader must understand that not Taniera but the authorities in
Papeete were first in fault. The charge imposed was
disproportioned. I have not yet heard of any Polynesian capable of
such a burden; honest and upright Hawaiians--one in particular, who
was admired even by the whites as an inflexible magistrate--have
stumbled in the narrow path of the trustee. And Taniera, when the
pinch came, scorned to denounce accomplices; others had shared the
spoil, he bore the penalty alone. He was condemned in five years.
The period, when I had the pleasure of his friendship, was not yet
expired; he still drew prison rations, the sole and not unwelcome
reminder of his chains, and, I believe, looked forward to the date
of his enfranchisement with mere alarm. For he had no sense of
shame in the position; complained of nothing but the defective
table of his place of exile; regretted nothing but the fowls and
eggs and fish of his own more favoured island. And as for his
parishioners, they did not think one hair the less of him. A
schoolboy, mulcted in ten thousand lines of Greek and dwelling
sequestered in the dormitories, enjoys unabated consideration from
his fellows. So with Taniera: a marked man, not a dishonoured;
having fallen under the lash of the unthinkable gods; a Job,
perhaps, or say a Taniera in the den of lions. Songs are likely
made and sung about this saintly Robin Hood. On the other hand, he
was even highly qualified for his office in the Church; being by
nature a grave, considerate, and kindly man; his face rugged and
serious, his smile bright; the master of several trades, a builder
both of boats and houses; endowed with a fine pulpit voice; endowed
besides with such a gift of eloquence that at the grave of the late
chief of Fakarava he set all the assistants weeping. I never met a
man of a mind more ecclesiastical; he loved to dispute and to
inform himself of doctrine and the history of sects; and when I
showed him the cuts in a volume of Chambers's Encyclopaedia--except
for one of an ape--reserved his whole enthusiasm for cardinals'
hats, censers, candlesticks, and cathedrals. Methought when he
looked upon the cardinal's hat a voice said low in his ear: 'Your
foot is on the ladder.'

Under the guidance of Taniera we were soon installed in what I
believe to have been the best-appointed private house in Fakarava.
It stood just beyond the church in an oblong patch of cultivation.
More than three hundred sacks of soil were imported from Tahiti for
the Residency garden; and this must shortly be renewed, for the
earth blows away, sinks in crevices of the coral, and is sought for
at last in vain. I know not how much earth had gone to the garden
of my villa; some at least, for an alley of prosperous bananas ran
to the gate, and over the rest of the enclosure, which was covered
with the usual clinker-like fragments of smashed coral, not only
coco-palms and mikis but also fig-trees flourished, all of a
delicious greenness. Of course there was no blade of grass. In
front a picket fence divided us from the white road, the palm-
fringed margin of the lagoon, and the lagoon itself, reflecting
clouds by day and stars by night. At the back, a bulwark of
uncemented coral enclosed us from the narrow belt of bush and the
nigh ocean beach where the seas thundered, the roar and wash of
them still humming in the chambers of the house.

This itself was of one story, verandahed front and back. It
contained three rooms, three sewing-machines, three sea-chests,
chairs, tables, a pair of beds, a cradle, a double-barrelled gun, a
pair of enlarged coloured photographs, a pair of coloured prints
after Wilkie and Mulready, and a French lithograph with the legend:
'Le brigade du General Lepasset brulant son drapeau devant Metz.'
Under the stilts of the house a stove was rusting, till we drew it
forth and put it in commission. Not far off was the burrow in the
coral whence we supplied ourselves with brackish water. There was
live stock, besides, on the estate--cocks and hens and a brace of
ill-regulated cats, whom Taniera came every morning with the sun to
feed on grated cocoa-nut. His voice was our regular reveille,
ringing pleasantly about the garden: 'Pooty--pooty--poo--poo--

Far as we were from the public offices, the nearness of the chapel
made our situation what is called eligible in advertisements, and
gave us a side look on some native life. Every morning, as soon as
he had fed the fowls, Taniera set the bell agoing in the small
belfry; and the faithful, who were not very numerous, gathered to
prayers. I was once present: it was the Lord's day, and seven
females and eight males composed the congregation. A woman played
precentor, starting with a longish note; the catechist joined in
upon the second bar; and then the faithful in a body. Some had
printed hymn-books which they followed; some of the rest filled up
with 'eh--eh--eh,' the Paumotuan tol-de-rol. After the hymn, we
had an antiphonal prayer or two; and then Taniera rose from the
front bench, where he had been sitting in his catechist's robes,
passed within the altar-rails, opened his Tahitian Bible, and began
to preach from notes. I understood one word--the name of God; but
the preacher managed his voice with taste, used rare and expressive
gestures, and made a strong impression of sincerity. The plain
service, the vernacular Bible, the hymn-tunes mostly on an English
pattern--'God save the Queen,' I was informed, a special
favourite,--all, save some paper flowers upon the altar, seemed not
merely but austerely Protestant. It is thus the Catholics have met
their low island proselytes half-way.

Taniera had the keys of our house; it was with him I made my
bargain, if that could be called a bargain in which all was
remitted to my generosity; it was he who fed the cats and poultry,
he who came to call and pick a meal with us like an acknowledged
friend; and we long fondly supposed he was our landlord. This
belief was not to bear the test of experience; and, as my chapter
has to relate, no certainty succeeded it.

We passed some days of airless quiet and great heat; shell-
gatherers were warned from the ocean beach, where sunstroke waited
them from ten till four; the highest palm hung motionless, there
was no voice audible but that of the sea on the far side. At last,
about four of a certain afternoon, long cat's-paws flawed the face
of the lagoon; and presently in the tree-tops there awoke the
grateful bustle of the trades, and all the houses and alleys of the
island were fanned out. To more than one enchanted ship, that had
lain long becalmed in view of the green shore, the wind brought
deliverance; and by daylight on the morrow a schooner and two
cutters lay moored in the port of Rotoava. Not only in the outer
sea, but in the lagoon itself, a certain traffic woke with the
reviving breeze; and among the rest one Francois, a half-blood, set
sail with the first light in his own half-decked cutter. He had
held before a court appointment; being, I believe, the Residency
sweeper-out. Trouble arising with the unpopular Vice-Resident, he
had thrown his honours down, and fled to the far parts of the atoll
to plant cabbages--or at least coco-palms. Thence he was now
driven by such need as even a Cincinnatus must acknowledge, and
fared for the capital city, the seat of his late functions, to
exchange half a ton of copra for necessary flour. And here, for a
while, the story leaves to tell of his voyaging.

It must tell, instead, of our house, where, toward seven at night,
the catechist came suddenly in with his pleased air of being
welcome; armed besides with a considerable bunch of keys. These he
proceeded to try on the sea-chests, drawing each in turn from its
place against the wall. Heads of strangers appeared in the doorway
and volunteered suggestions. All in vain. Either they were the
wrong keys or the wrong boxes, or the wrong man was trying them.
For a little Taniera fumed and fretted; then had recourse to the
more summary method of the hatchet; one of the chests was broken
open, and an armful of clothing, male and female, baled out and
handed to the strangers on the verandah.

These were Francois, his wife, and their child. About eight a.m.,
in the midst of the lagoon, their cutter had capsized in jibbing.
They got her righted, and though she was still full of water put
the child on board. The mainsail had been carried away, but the
jib still drew her sluggishly along, and Francois and the woman
swam astern and worked the rudder with their hands. The cold was
cruel; the fatigue, as time went on, became excessive; and in that
preserve of sharks, fear hunted them. Again and again, Francois,
the half-breed, would have desisted and gone down; but the woman,
whole blood of an amphibious race, still supported him with
cheerful words. I am reminded of a woman of Hawaii who swam with
her husband, I dare not say how many miles, in a high sea, and came
ashore at last with his dead body in her arms. It was about five
in the evening, after nine hours' swimming, that Francois and his
wife reached land at Rotoava. The gallant fight was won, and
instantly the more childish side of native character appears. They
had supped, and told and retold their story, dripping as they came;
the flesh of the woman, whom Mrs. Stevenson helped to shift, was
cold as stone; and Francois, having changed to a dry cotton shirt
and trousers, passed the remainder of the evening on my floor and
between open doorways, in a thorough draught. Yet Francois, the
son of a French father, speaks excellent French himself and seems

It was our first idea that the catechist, true to his evangelical
vocation, was clothing the naked from his superfluity. Then it
came out that Francois was but dealing with his own. The clothes
were his, so was the chest, so was the house. Francois was in fact
the landlord. Yet you observe he had hung back on the verandah
while Taniera tried his 'prentice hand upon the locks: and even
now, when his true character appeared, the only use he made of the
estate was to leave the clothes of his family drying on the fence.
Taniera was still the friend of the house, still fed the poultry,
still came about us on his daily visits, Francois, during the
remainder of his stay, holding bashfully aloof. And there was
stranger matter. Since Francois had lost the whole load of his
cutter, the half ton of copra, an axe, bowls, knives, and clothes--
since he had in a manner to begin the world again, and his
necessary flour was not yet bought or paid for--I proposed to
advance him what he needed on the rent. To my enduring amazement
he refused, and the reason he gave--if that can be called a reason
which but darkens counsel--was that Taniera was his friend. His
friend, you observe; not his creditor. I inquired into that, and
was assured that Taniera, an exile in a strange isle, might
possibly be in debt himself, but certainly was no man's creditor.

Very early one morning we were awakened by a bustling presence in
the yard, and found our camp had been surprised by a tall, lean old
native lady, dressed in what were obviously widow's weeds. You
could see at a glance she was a notable woman, a housewife, sternly
practical, alive with energy, and with fine possibilities of
temper. Indeed, there was nothing native about her but the skin;
and the type abounds, and is everywhere respected, nearer home. It
did us good to see her scour the grounds, examining the plants and
chickens; watering, feeding, trimming them; taking angry, purpose-
like possession. When she neared the house our sympathy abated;
when she came to the broken chest I wished I were elsewhere. We
had scarce a word in common; but her whole lean body spoke for her
with indignant eloquence. 'My chest!' it cried, with a stress on
the possessive. 'My chest--broken open! This is a fine state of
things!' I hastened to lay the blame where it belonged--on
Francois and his wife--and found I had made things worse instead of
better. She repeated the names at first with incredulity, then
with despair. A while she seemed stunned, next fell to
disembowelling the box, piling the goods on the floor, and visibly
computing the extent of Francois's ravages; and presently after she
was observed in high speech with Taniera, who seemed to hang an ear
like one reproved.

Here, then, by all known marks, should be my land-lady at last;
here was every character of the proprietor fully developed. Should
I not approach her on the still depending question of my rent? I
carried the point to an adviser. 'Nonsense!' he cried. 'That's
the old woman, the mother. It doesn't belong to her. I believe
that's the man the house belongs to,' and he pointed to one of the
coloured photographs on the wall. On this I gave up all desire of
understanding; and when the time came for me to leave, in the
judgment-hall of the archipelago, and with the awful countenance of
the acting Governor, I duly paid my rent to Taniera. He was
satisfied, and so was I. But what had he to do with it? Mr.
Donat, acting magistrate and a man of kindred blood, could throw no
light upon the mystery; a plain private person, with a taste for
letters, cannot be expected to do more.


The most careless reader must have remarked a change of air since
the Marquesas. The house, crowded with effects, the bustling
housewife counting her possessions, the serious, indoctrinated
island pastor, the long fight for life in the lagoon: here are
traits of a new world. I read in a pamphlet (I will not give the
author's name) that the Marquesan especially resembles the
Paumotuan. I should take the two races, though so near in
neighbourhood, to be extremes of Polynesian diversity. The
Marquesan is certainly the most beautiful of human races, and one
of the tallest--the Paumotuan averaging a good inch shorter, and
not even handsome; the Marquesan open-handed, inert, insensible to
religion, childishly self-indulgent--the Paumotuan greedy, hardy,
enterprising, a religious disputant, and with a trace of the
ascetic character.

Yet a few years ago, and the people of the archipelago were crafty
savages. Their isles might be called sirens' isles, not merely
from the attraction they exerted on the passing mariner, but from
the perils that awaited him on shore. Even to this day, in certain
outlying islands, danger lingers; and the civilized Paumotuan
dreads to land and hesitates to accost his backward brother. But,
except in these, to-day the peril is a memory. When our generation
were yet in the cradle and playroom it was still a living fact.
Between 1830 and 1840, Hao, for instance, was a place of the most
dangerous approach, where ships were seized and crews kidnapped.
As late as 1856, the schooner Sarah Ann sailed from Papeete and was
seen no more. She had women on board, and children, the captain's
wife, a nursemaid, a baby, and the two young sons of a Captain
Steven on their way to the mainland for schooling. All were
supposed to have perished in a squall. A year later, the captain
of the Julia, coasting along the island variously called Bligh,
Lagoon, and Tematangi saw armed natives follow the course of his
schooner, clad in many-coloured stuffs. Suspicion was at once
aroused; the mother of the lost children was profuse of money; and
one expedition having found the place deserted, and returned
content with firing a few shots, she raised and herself accompanied
another. None appeared to greet or to oppose them; they roamed a
while among abandoned huts and empty thickets; then formed two
parties and set forth to beat, from end to end, the pandanus jungle
of the island. One man remained alone by the landing-place--Teina,
a chief of Anaa, leader of the armed natives who made the strength
of the expedition. Now that his comrades were departed this way
and that, on their laborious exploration, the silence fell
profound; and this silence was the ruin of the islanders. A sound
of stones rattling caught the ear of Teina. He looked, thinking to
perceive a crab, and saw instead the brown hand of a human being
issue from a fissure in the ground. A shout recalled the search
parties and announced their doom to the buried caitiffs. In the
cave below, sixteen were found crouching among human bones and
singular and horrid curiosities. One was a head of golden hair,
supposed to be a relic of the captain's wife; another was half of
the body of a European child, sun-dried and stuck upon a stick,
doubtless with some design of wizardry.

The Paumotuan is eager to be rich. He saves, grudges, buries
money, fears not work. For a dollar each, two natives passed the
hours of daylight cleaning our ship's copper. It was strange to
see them so indefatigable and so much at ease in the water--working
at times with their pipes lighted, the smoker at times submerged
and only the glowing bowl above the surface; it was stranger still
to think they were next congeners to the incapable Marquesan. But
the Paumotuan not only saves, grudges, and works, he steals
besides; or, to be more precise, he swindles. He will never deny a
debt, he only flees his creditor. He is always keen for an
advance; so soon as he has fingered it he disappears. He knows
your ship; so soon as it nears one island, he is off to another.
You may think you know his name; he has already changed it.
Pursuit in that infinity of isles were fruitless. The result can
be given in a nutshell. It has been actually proposed in a
Government report to secure debts by taking a photograph of the
debtor; and the other day in Papeete credits on the Paumotus to the
amount of sixteen thousand pounds were sold for less than forty--
quatre cent mille francs pour moins de mille francs. Even so, the
purchase was thought hazardous; and only the man who made it and
who had special opportunities could have dared to give so much.

The Paumotuan is sincerely attached to those of his own blood and
household. A touching affection sometimes unites wife and husband.
Their children, while they are alive, completely rule them; after
they are dead, their bones or their mummies are often jealously
preserved and carried from atoll to atoll in the wanderings of the
family. I was told there were many houses in Fakarava with the
mummy of a child locked in a sea-chest; after I heard it, I would
glance a little jealously at those by my own bed; in that cupboard,
also, it was possible there was a tiny skeleton.

The race seems in a fair way to survive. From fifteen islands,
whose rolls I had occasion to consult, I found a proportion of 59
births to 47 deaths for 1887. Dropping three out of the fifteen,
there remained for the other twelve the comfortable ratio of 50
births to 32 deaths. Long habits of hardship and activity
doubtless explain the contrast with Marquesan figures. But the
Paumotuan displays, besides, a certain concern for health and the
rudiments of a sanitary discipline. Public talk with these free-
spoken people plays the part of the Contagious Diseases Act; in-
comers to fresh islands anxiously inquire if all be well; and
syphilis, when contracted, is successfully treated with indigenous
herbs. Like their neighbours of Tahiti, from whom they have
perhaps imbibed the error, they regard leprosy with comparative
indifference, elephantiasis with disproportionate fear. But,
unlike indeed to the Tahitian, their alarm puts on the guise of
self-defence. Any one stricken with this painful and ugly malady
is confined to the ends of villages, denied the use of paths and
highways, and condemned to transport himself between his house and
coco-patch by water only, his very footprint being held infectious.
Fe'efe'e, being a creature of marshes and the sequel of malarial
fever, is not original in atolls. On the single isle of Makatea,
where the lagoon is now a marsh, the disease has made a home. Many
suffer; they are excluded (if Mr. Wilmot be right) from much of the
comfort of society; and it is believed they take a secret
vengeance. The defections of the sick are considered highly
poisonous. Early in the morning, it is narrated, aged and
malicious persons creep into the sleeping village, and stealthily
make water at the doors of the houses of young men. Thus they
propagate disease; thus they breathe on and obliterate comeliness
and health, the objects of their envy. Whether horrid fact or more
abominable legend, it equally depicts that something bitter and
energetic which distinguishes Paumotuan man.

The archipelago is divided between two main religions, Catholic and
Mormon. They front each other proudly with a false air of
permanence; yet are but shapes, their membership in a perpetual
flux. The Mormon attends mass with devotion: the Catholic sits
attentive at a Mormon sermon, and to-morrow each may have
transferred allegiance. One man had been a pillar of the Church of
Rome for fifteen years; his wife dying, he decided that must be a
poor religion that could not save a man his wife, and turned
Mormon. According to one informant, Catholicism was the more
fashionable in health, but on the approach of sickness it was
judged prudent to secede. As a Mormon, there were five chances out
of six you might recover; as a Catholic, your hopes were small; and
this opinion is perhaps founded on the comfortable rite of unction.

We all know what Catholics are, whether in the Paumotus or at home.
But the Paumotuan Mormon seemed a phenomenon apart. He marries but
the one wife, uses the Protestant Bible, observes Protestant forms
of worship, forbids the use of liquor and tobacco, practises adult
baptism by immersion, and after every public sin, rechristens the
backslider. I advised with Mahinui, whom I found well informed in
the history of the American Mormons, and he declared against the
least connection. 'Pour moi,' said he, with a fine charity, 'les
Mormons ici un petit Catholiques.' Some months later I had an
opportunity to consult an orthodox fellow-countryman, an old
dissenting Highlander, long settled in Tahiti, but still breathing
of the heather of Tiree. 'Why do they call themselves Mormons?' I
asked. 'My dear, and that is my question!' he exclaimed. 'For by
all that I can hear of their doctrine, I have nothing to say
against it, and their life, it is above reproach.' And for all
that, Mormons they are, but of the earlier sowing: the so-called
Josephites, the followers of Joseph Smith, the opponents of Brigham

Grant, then, the Mormons to be Mormons. Fresh points at once
arise: What are the Israelites? and what the Kanitus? For a long
while back the sect had been divided into Mormons proper and so-
called Israelites, I never could hear why. A few years since there
came a visiting missionary of the name of Williams, who made an
excellent collection, and retired, leaving fresh disruption
imminent. Something irregular (as I was told) in his way of
'opening the service' had raised partisans and enemies; the church
was once more rent asunder; and a new sect, the Kanitu, issued from
the division. Since then Kanitus and Israelites, like the
Cameronians and the United Presbyterians, have made common cause;
and the ecclesiastical history of the Paumotus is, for the moment,
uneventful. There will be more doing before long, and these isles
bid fair to be the Scotland of the South. Two things I could never
learn. The nature of the innovations of the Rev. Mr. Williams none
would tell me, and of the meaning of the name Kanitu none had a
guess. It was not Tahitian, it was not Marquesan; it formed no
part of that ancient speech of the Paumotus, now passing swiftly
into obsolescence. One man, a priest, God bless him! said it was
the Latin for a little dog. I have found it since as the name of a
god in New Guinea; it must be a bolder man than I who should hint
at a connection. Here, then, is a singular thing: a brand-new
sect, arising by popular acclamation, and a nonsense word invented
for its name.

The design of mystery seems obvious, and according to a very
intelligent observer, Mr. Magee of Mangareva, this element of the
mysterious is a chief attraction of the Mormon Church. It enjoys
some of the status of Freemasonry at home, and there is for the
convert some of the exhilaration of adventure. Other attractions
are certainly conjoined. Perpetual rebaptism, leading to a
succession of baptismal feasts, is found, both from the social and
the spiritual side, a pleasing feature. More important is the fact
that all the faithful enjoy office; perhaps more important still,
the strictness of the discipline. 'The veto on liquor,' said Mr.
Magee, 'brings them plenty members.' There is no doubt these
islanders are fond of drink, and no doubt they refrain from the
indulgence; a bout on a feast-day, for instance, may be followed by
a week or a month of rigorous sobriety. Mr. Wilmot attributes this
to Paumotuan frugality and the love of hoarding; it goes far
deeper. I have mentioned that I made a feast on board the Casco.
To wash down ship's bread and jam, each guest was given the choice
of rum or syrup, and out of the whole number only one man voted--in
a defiant tone, and amid shouts of mirth--for 'Trum'! This was in
public. I had the meanness to repeat the experiment, whenever I
had a chance, within the four walls of my house; and three at
least, who had refused at the festival, greedily drank rum behind a
door. But there were others thoroughly consistent. I said the
virtues of the race were bourgeois and puritan; and how bourgeois
is this! how puritanic! how Scottish! and how Yankee!--the
temptation, the resistance, the public hypocritical conformity, the
Pharisees, the Holy Willies, and the true disciples. With such a
people the popularity of an ascetic Church appears legitimate; in
these strict rules, in this perpetual supervision, the weak find
their advantage, the strong a certain pleasure; and the doctrine of
rebaptism, a clean bill and a fresh start, will comfort many
staggering professors.

There is yet another sect, or what is called a sect--no doubt
improperly--that of the Whistlers. Duncan Cameron, so clear in
favour of the Mormons, was no less loud in condemnation of the
Whistlers. Yet I do not know; I still fancy there is some
connection, perhaps fortuitous, probably disavowed. Here at least
are some doings in the house of an Israelite clergyman (or prophet)
in the island of Anaa, of which I am equally sure that Duncan would
disclaim and the Whistlers hail them for an imitation of their own.
My informant, a Tahitian and a Catholic, occupied one part of the
house; the prophet and his family lived in the other. Night after
night the Mormons, in the one end, held their evening sacrifice of
song; night after night, in the other, the wife of the Tahitian lay
awake and listened to their singing with amazement. At length she
could contain herself no longer, woke her husband, and asked him
what he heard. 'I hear several persons singing hymns,' said he.
'Yes,' she returned, 'but listen again! Do you not hear something
supernatural?' His attention thus directed, he was aware of a
strange buzzing voice--and yet he declared it was beautiful--which
justly accompanied the singers. The next day he made inquiries.
'It is a spirit,' said the prophet, with entire simplicity, 'which
has lately made a practice of joining us at family worship.' It
did not appear the thing was visible, and like other spirits raised
nearer home in these degenerate days, it was rudely ignorant, at
first could only buzz, and had only learned of late to bear a part
correctly in the music.

The performances of the Whistlers are more business-like. Their
meetings are held publicly with open doors, all being 'cordially
invited to attend.' The faithful sit about the room--according to
one informant, singing hymns; according to another, now singing and
now whistling; the leader, the wizard--let me rather say, the
medium--sits in the midst, enveloped in a sheet and silent; and
presently, from just above his head, or sometimes from the midst of
the roof, an aerial whistling proceeds, appalling to the
inexperienced. This, it appears, is the language of the dead; its
purport is taken down progressively by one of the experts, writing,
I was told, 'as fast as a telegraph operator'; and the
communications are at last made public. They are of the baldest
triviality; a schooner is, perhaps, announced, some idle gossip
reported of a neighbour, or if the spirit shall have been called to
consultation on a case of sickness, a remedy may be suggested. One
of these, immersion in scalding water, not long ago proved fatal to
the patient. The whole business is very dreary, very silly, and
very European; it has none of the picturesque qualities of similar
conjurations in New Zealand; it seems to possess no kernel of
possible sense, like some that I shall describe among the Gilbert
islanders. Yet I was told that many hardy, intelligent natives
were inveterate Whistlers. 'Like Mahinui?' I asked, willing to
have a standard; and I was told 'Yes.' Why should I wonder? Men
more enlightened than my convict-catechist sit down at home to
follies equally sterile and dull.

The medium is sometimes female. It was a woman, for instance, who
introduced these practices on the north coast of Taiarapu, to the
scandal of her own connections, her brother-in-law in particular
declaring she was drunk. But what shocked Tahiti might seem fit
enough in the Paumotus, the more so as certain women there possess,
by the gift of nature, singular and useful powers. They say they
are honest, well-intentioned ladies, some of them embarrassed by
their weird inheritance. And indeed the trouble caused by this
endowment is so great, and the protection afforded so
infinitesimally small, that I hesitate whether to call it a gift or
a hereditary curse. You may rob this lady's coco-patch, steal her
canoes, burn down her house, and slay her family scatheless; but
one thing you must not do: you must not lay a hand upon her
sleeping-mat, or your belly will swell, and you can only be cured
by the lady or her husband. Here is the report of an eye-witness,
Tasmanian born, educated, a man who has made money--certainly no
fool. In 1886 he was present in a house on Makatea, where two lads
began to skylark on the mats, and were (I think) ejected.
Instantly after, their bellies began to swell; pains took hold on
them; all manner of island remedies were exhibited in vain, and
rubbing only magnified their sufferings. The man of the house was
called, explained the nature of the visitation, and prepared the
cure. A cocoa-nut was husked, filled with herbs, and with all the
ceremonies of a launch, and the utterance of spells in the
Paumotuan language, committed to the sea. From that moment the
pains began to grow more easy and the swelling to subside. The
reader may stare. I can assure him, if he moved much among old
residents of the archipelago, he would be driven to admit one thing
of two--either that there is something in the swollen bellies or
nothing in the evidence of man.

I have not met these gifted ladies; but I had an experience of my
own, for I have played, for one night only, the part of the
whistling spirit. It had been blowing wearily all day, but with
the fall of night the wind abated, and the moon, which was then
full, rolled in a clear sky. We went southward down the island on
the side of the lagoon, walking through long-drawn forest aisles of
palm, and on a floor of snowy sand. No life was abroad, nor sound
of life; till in a clear part of the isle we spied the embers of a
fire, and not far off, in a dark house, heard natives talking
softly. To sit without a light, even in company, and under cover,
is for a Paumotuan a somewhat hazardous extreme. The whole scene--
the strong moonlight and crude shadows on the sand, the scattered
coals, the sound of the low voices from the house, and the lap of
the lagoon along the beach--put me (I know not how) on thoughts of
superstition. I was barefoot, I observed my steps were noiseless,
and drawing near to the dark house, but keeping well in shadow,
began to whistle. 'The Heaving of the Lead' was my air--no very
tragic piece. With the first note the conversation and all
movement ceased; silence accompanied me while I continued; and when
I passed that way on my return I found the lamp was lighted in the
house, but the tongues were still mute. All night, as I now think,
the wretches shivered and were silent. For indeed, I had no guess
at the time at the nature and magnitude of the terrors I inflicted,
or with what grisly images the notes of that old song had peopled
the dark house.


No, I had no guess of these men's terrors. Yet I had received ere
that a hint, if I had understood; and the occasion was a funeral.

A little apart in the main avenue of Rotoava, in a low hut of
leaves that opened on a small enclosure, like a pigsty on a pen, an
old man dwelt solitary with his aged wife. Perhaps they were too
old to migrate with the others; perhaps they were too poor, and had
no possessions to dispute. At least they had remained behind; and
it thus befell that they were invited to my feast. I dare say it
was quite a piece of politics in the pigsty whether to come or not
to come, and the husband long swithered between curiosity and age,
till curiosity conquered, and they came, and in the midst of that
last merrymaking death tapped him on the shoulder. For some days,
when the sky was bright and the wind cool, his mat would be spread
in the main highway of the village, and he was to be seen lying
there inert, a mere handful of a man, his wife inertly seated by
his head. They seemed to have outgrown alike our needs and
faculties; they neither spoke nor listened; they suffered us to
pass without a glance; the wife did not fan, she seemed not to
attend upon her husband, and the two poor antiques sat juxtaposed
under the high canopy of palms, the human tragedy reduced to its
bare elements, a sight beyond pathos, stirring a thrill of
curiosity. And yet there was one touch of the pathetic haunted me:
that so much youth and expectation should have run in these starved
veins, and the man should have squandered all his lees of life on a
pleasure party.

On the morning of 17th September the sufferer died, and, time
pressing, he was buried the same day at four. The cemetery lies to
seaward behind Government House; broken coral, like so much road-
metal, forms the surface; a few wooden crosses, a few
inconsiderable upright stones, designate graves; a mortared wall,
high enough to lean on, rings it about; a clustering shrub
surrounds it with pale leaves. Here was the grave dug that
morning, doubtless by uneasy diggers, to the sound of the nigh sea
and the cries of sea-birds; meanwhile the dead man waited in his
house, and the widow and another aged woman leaned on the fence
before the door, no speech upon their lips, no speculation in their

Sharp at the hour the procession was in march, the coffin wrapped
in white and carried by four bearers; mourners behind--not many,
for not many remained in Rotoava, and not many in black, for these
were poor; the men in straw hats, white coats, and blue trousers or
the gorgeous parti-coloured pariu, the Tahitian kilt; the women,
with a few exceptions, brightly habited. Far in the rear came the
widow, painfully carrying the dead man's mat; a creature aged
beyond humanity, to the likeness of some missing link.

The dead man had been a Mormon; but the Mormon clergyman was gone
with the rest to wrangle over boundaries in the adjacent isle, and
a layman took his office. Standing at the head of the open grave,
in a white coat and blue pariu, his Tahitian Bible in his hand and
one eye bound with a red handkerchief, he read solemnly that
chapter in Job which has been read and heard over the bones of so
many of our fathers, and with a good voice offered up two prayers.
The wind and the surf bore a burthen. By the cemetery gate a
mother in crimson suckled an infant rolled in blue. In the midst
the widow sat upon the ground and polished one of the coffin-
stretchers with a piece of coral; a little later she had turned her
back to the grave and was playing with a leaf. Did she understand?
God knows. The officiant paused a moment, stooped, and gathered
and threw reverently on the coffin a handful of rattling coral.
Dust to dust: but the grains of this dust were gross like
cherries, and the true dust that was to follow sat near by, still
cohering (as by a miracle) in the tragic semblance of a female ape.

So far, Mormon or not, it was a Christian funeral. The well-known
passage had been read from Job, the prayers had been rehearsed, the
grave was filled, the mourners straggled homeward. With a little
coarser grain of covering earth, a little nearer outcry of the sea,
a stronger glare of sunlight on the rude enclosure, and some
incongruous colours of attire, the well-remembered form had been

By rights it should have been otherwise. The mat should have been
buried with its owner; but, the family being poor, it was thriftily
reserved for a fresh service. The widow should have flung herself
upon the grave and raised the voice of official grief, the
neighbours have chimed in, and the narrow isle rung for a space
with lamentation. But the widow was old; perhaps she had
forgotten, perhaps never understood, and she played like a child
with leaves and coffin-stretchers. In all ways my guest was buried
with maimed rites. Strange to think that his last conscious
pleasure was the Casco and my feast; strange to think that he had
limped there, an old child, looking for some new good. And the
good thing, rest, had been allotted him.

But though the widow had neglected much, there was one part she
must not utterly neglect. She came away with the dispersing
funeral; but the dead man's mat was left behind upon the grave, and
I learned that by set of sun she must return to sleep there. This
vigil is imperative. From sundown till the rising of the morning
star the Paumotuan must hold his watch above the ashes of his
kindred. Many friends, if the dead have been a man of mark, will
keep the watchers company; they will be well supplied with
coverings against the weather; I believe they bring food, and the
rite is persevered in for two weeks. Our poor survivor, if,
indeed, she properly survived, had little to cover, and few to sit
with her; on the night of the funeral a strong squall chased her
from her place of watch; for days the weather held uncertain and
outrageous; and ere seven nights were up she had desisted, and
returned to sleep in her low roof. That she should be at the pains
of returning for so short a visit to a solitary house, that this
borderer of the grave should fear a little wind and a wet blanket,
filled me at the time with musings. I could not say she was
indifferent; she was so far beyond me in experience that the court
of my criticism waived jurisdiction; but I forged excuses, telling
myself she had perhaps little to lament, perhaps suffered much,
perhaps understood nothing. And lo! in the whole affair there was
no question whether of tenderness or piety, and the sturdy return
of this old remnant was a mark either of uncommon sense or of
uncommon fortitude.

Yet one thing had occurred that partly set me on the trail. I have
said the funeral passed much as at home. But when all was over,
when we were trooping in decent silence from the graveyard gate and
down the path to the settlement, a sudden inbreak of a different
spirit startled and perhaps dismayed us. Two people walked not far
apart in our procession: my friend Mr. Donat--Donat-Rimarau:
'Donat the much-handed'--acting Vice-Resident, present ruler of the
archipelago, by far the man of chief importance on the scene, but
known besides for one of an unshakable good temper; and a certain
comely, strapping young Paumotuan woman, the comeliest on the isle,
not (let us hope) the bravest or the most polite. Of a sudden, ere
yet the grave silence of the funeral was broken, she made a leap at
the Resident, with pointed finger, shrieked a few words, and fell
back again with a laughter, not a natural mirth. 'What did she say
to you?' I asked. 'She did not speak to ME,' said Donat, a shade
perturbed; 'she spoke to the ghost of the dead man.' And the
purport of her speech was this: 'See there! Donat will be a fine
feast for you to-night.'

'M. Donat called it a jest,' I wrote at the time in my diary. 'It
seemed to me more in the nature of a terrified conjuration, as
though she would divert the ghost's attention from herself. A
cannibal race may well have cannibal phantoms.' The guesses of the
traveller appear foredoomed to be erroneous; yet in these I was
precisely right. The woman had stood by in terror at the funeral,
being then in a dread spot, the graveyard. She looked on in terror
to the coming night, with that ogre, a new spirit, loosed upon the
isle. And the words she had cried in Donat's face were indeed a
terrified conjuration, basely to shield herself, basely to dedicate
another in her stead. One thing is to be said in her excuse.
Doubtless she partly chose Donat because he was a man of great
good-nature, but partly, too, because he was a man of the half-
caste. For I believe all natives regard white blood as a kind of
talisman against the powers of hell. In no other way can they
explain the unpunished recklessness of Europeans.


WITH my superstitious friend, the islander, I fear I am not wholly
frank, often leading the way with stories of my own, and being
always a grave and sometimes an excited hearer. But the deceit is
scarce mortal, since I am as pleased to hear as he to tell, as
pleased with the story as he with the belief; and, besides, it is
entirely needful. For it is scarce possible to exaggerate the
extent and empire of his superstitions; they mould his life, they
colour his thinking; and when he does not speak to me of ghosts,
and gods, and devils, he is playing the dissembler and talking only
with his lips. With thoughts so different, one must indulge the
other; and I would rather that I should indulge his superstition
than he my incredulity. Of one thing, besides, I may be sure: Let
me indulge it as I please, I shall not hear the whole; for he is
already on his guard with me, and the amount of the lore is

I will give but a few instances at random, chiefly from my own
doorstep in Upolu, during the past month (October 1890). One of my
workmen was sent the other day to the banana patch, there to dig;
this is a hollow of the mountain, buried in woods, out of all sight
and cry of mankind; and long before dusk Lafaele was back again
beside the cook-house with embarrassed looks; he dared not longer
stay alone, he was afraid of 'spirits in the bush.' It seems these
are the souls of the unburied dead, haunting where they fell, and
wearing woodland shapes of pig, or bird, or insect; the bush is
full of them, they seem to eat nothing, slay solitary wanderers
apparently in spite, and at times, in human form, go down to
villages and consort with the inhabitants undetected. So much I
learned a day or so after, walking in the bush with a very
intelligent youth, a native. It was a little before noon; a grey
day and squally; and perhaps I had spoken lightly. A dark squall
burst on the side of the mountain; the woods shook and cried; the
dead leaves rose from the ground in clouds, like butterflies; and
my companion came suddenly to a full stop. He was afraid, he said,
of the trees falling; but as soon as I had changed the subject of
our talk he proceeded with alacrity. A day or two before a
messenger came up the mountain from Apia with a letter; I was in
the bush, he must await my return, then wait till I had answered:
and before I was done his voice sounded shrill with terror of the
coming night and the long forest road. These are the commons.
Take the chiefs. There has been a great coming and going of signs
and omens in our group. One river ran down blood; red eels were
captured in another; an unknown fish was thrown upon the coast, an
ominous word found written on its scales. So far we might be
reading in a monkish chronicle; now we come on a fresh note, at
once modern and Polynesian. The gods of Upolu and Savaii, our two
chief islands, contended recently at cricket. Since then they are
at war. Sounds of battle are heard to roll along the coast. A
woman saw a man swim from the high seas and plunge direct into the
bush; he was no man of that neighbourhood; and it was known he was
one of the gods, speeding to a council. Most perspicuous of all, a
missionary on Savaii, who is also a medical man, was disturbed late
in the night by knocking; it was no hour for the dispensary, but at
length he woke his servant and sent him to inquire; the servant,
looking from a window, beheld crowds of persons, all with grievous
wounds, lopped limbs, broken heads, and bleeding bullet-holes; but
when the door was opened all had disappeared. They were gods from
the field of battle. Now these reports have certainly
significance; it is not hard to trace them to political grumblers
or to read in them a threat of coming trouble; from that merely
human side I found them ominous myself. But it was the spiritual
side of their significance that was discussed in secret council by
my rulers. I shall best depict this mingled habit of the
Polynesian mind by two connected instances. I once lived in a
village, the name of which I do not mean to tell. The chief and
his sister were persons perfectly intelligent: gentlefolk, apt of
speech. The sister was very religious, a great church-goer, one
that used to reprove me if I stayed away; I found afterwards that
she privately worshipped a shark. The chief himself was somewhat
of a freethinker; at the least, a latitudinarian: he was a man,
besides, filled with European knowledge and accomplishments; of an
impassive, ironical habit; and I should as soon have expected
superstition in Mr. Herbert Spencer. Hear the sequel. I had
discovered by unmistakable signs that they buried too shallow in
the village graveyard, and I took my friend, as the responsible
authority, to task. 'There is something wrong about your
graveyard,' said I, 'which you must attend to, or it may have very
bad results.' 'Something wrong? What is it?' he asked, with an
emotion that surprised me. 'If you care to go along there any
evening about nine o'clock you can see for yourself,' said I. He
stepped backward. 'A ghost!' he cried.

In short, in the whole field of the South Seas, there is not one to
blame another. Half blood and whole, pious and debauched,
intelligent and dull, all men believe in ghosts, all men combine
with their recent Christianity fear of and a lingering faith in the
old island deities. So, in Europe, the gods of Olympus slowly
dwindled into village bogies; so to-day, the theological Highlander
sneaks from under the eye of the Free Church divine to lay an
offering by a sacred well.

I try to deal with the whole matter here because of a particular
quality in Paumotuan superstitions. It is true I heard them told
by a man with a genius for such narrations. Close about our
evening lamp, within sound of the island surf, we hung on his
words, thrilling. The reader, in far other scenes, must listen
close for the faint echo.

This bundle of weird stories sprang from the burial and the woman's
selfish conjuration. I was dissatisfied with what I heard, harped
upon questions, and struck at last this vein of metal. It is from
sundown to about four in the morning that the kinsfolk camp upon
the grave; and these are the hours of the spirits' wanderings. At
any time of the night--it may be earlier, it may be later--a sound
is to be heard below, which is the noise of his liberation; at four
sharp, another and a louder marks the instant of the re-
imprisonment; between-whiles, he goes his malignant rounds. 'Did
you ever see an evil spirit?' was once asked of a Paumotuan.
'Once.' 'Under what form?' 'It was in the form of a crane.' 'And
how did you know that crane to be a spirit?' was asked. 'I will
tell you,' he answered; and this was the purport of his
inconclusive narrative. His father had been dead nearly a
fortnight; others had wearied of the watch; and as the sun was
setting, he found himself by the grave alone. It was not yet dark,
rather the hour of the afterglow, when he was aware of a snow-white
crane upon the coral mound; presently more cranes came, some white,
some black; then the cranes vanished, and he saw in their place a
white cat, to which there was silently joined a great company of
cats of every hue conceivable; then these also disappeared, and he
was left astonished.

This was an anodyne appearance. Take instead the experience of
Rua-a-mariterangi on the isle of Katiu. He had a need for some
pandanus, and crossed the isle to the sea-beach, where it chiefly
flourishes. The day was still, and Rua was surprised to hear a
crashing sound among the thickets, and then the fall of a
considerable tree. Here must be some one building a canoe; and he
entered the margin of the wood to find and pass the time of day
with this chance neighbour. The crashing sounded more at hand; and
then he was aware of something drawing swiftly near among the tree-
tops. It swung by its heels downward, like an ape, so that its
hands were free for murder; it depended safely by the slightest
twigs; the speed of its coming was incredible; and soon Rua
recognised it for a corpse, horrible with age, its bowels hanging
as it came. Prayer was the weapon of Christian in the Valley of
the Shadow, and it is to prayer that Rua-a-mariterangi attributes
his escape. No merely human expedition had availed.

This demon was plainly from the grave; yet you will observe he was
abroad by day. And inconsistent as it may seem with the hours of
the night watch and the many references to the rising of the
morning star, it is no singular exception. I could never find a
case of another who had seen this ghost, diurnal and arboreal in
its habits; but others have heard the fall of the tree, which seems
the signal of its coming. Mr. Donat was once pearling on the
uninhabited isle of Haraiki. It was a day without a breath of
wind, such as alternate in the archipelago with days of
contumelious breezes. The divers were in the midst of the lagoon
upon their employment; the cook, a boy of ten, was over his pots in
the camp. Thus were all souls accounted for except a single native
who accompanied Donat into the wood in quest of sea-fowls' eggs.
In a moment, out of the stillness, came the sound of the fall of a
great tree. Donat would have passed on to find the cause. 'No,'
cried his companion, 'that was no tree. It was something NOT
RIGHT. Let us go back to camp.' Next Sunday the divers were
turned on, all that part of the isle was thoroughly examined, and
sure enough no tree had fallen. A little later Mr. Donat saw one
of his divers flee from a similar sound, in similar unaffected
panic, on the same isle. But neither would explain, and it was not
till afterwards, when he met with Rua, that he learned the occasion
of their terrors.

But whether by day or night, the purpose of the dead in these
abhorred activities is still the same. In Samoa, my informant had
no idea of the food of the bush spirits; no such ambiguity would
exist in the mind of a Paumotuan. In that hungry archipelago,
living and dead must alike toil for nutriment; and the race having
been cannibal in the past, the spirits are so still. When the
living ate the dead, horrified nocturnal imagination drew the
shocking inference that the dead might eat the living. Doubtless
they slay men, doubtless even mutilate them, in mere malice.
Marquesan spirits sometimes tear out the eyes of travellers; but
even that may be more practical than appears, for the eye is a
cannibal dainty. And certainly the root-idea of the dead, at least
in the far eastern islands, is to prowl for food. It was as a
dainty morsel for a meal that the woman denounced Donat at the
funeral. There are spirits besides who prey in particular not on
the bodies but on the souls of the dead. The point is clearly made
in a Tahitian story. A child fell sick, grew swiftly worse, and at
last showed signs of death. The mother hastened to the house of a
sorcerer, who lived hard by. 'You are yet in time,' said he; 'a
spirit has just run past my door carrying the soul of your child
wrapped in the leaf of a purao; but I have a spirit stronger and
swifter who will run him down ere he has time to eat it.' Wrapped
in a leaf: like other things edible and corruptible.

Or take an experience of Mr. Donat's on the island of Anaa. It was
a night of a high wind, with violent squalls; his child was very
sick, and the father, though he had gone to bed, lay wakeful,
hearkening to the gale. All at once a fowl was violently dashed on
the house wall. Supposing he had forgot to put it in shelter with
the rest, Donat arose, found the bird (a cock) lying on the
verandah, and put it in the hen-house, the door of which he
securely fastened. Fifteen minutes later the business was
repeated, only this time, as it was being dashed against the wall,
the bird crew. Again Donat replaced it, examining the hen-house
thoroughly and finding it quite perfect; as he was so engaged the
wind puffed out his light, and he must grope back to the door a
good deal shaken. Yet a third time the bird was dashed upon the
wall; a third time Donat set it, now near dead, beside its mates;
and he was scarce returned before there came a rush, like that of a
furious strong man, against the door, and a whistle as loud as that
of a railway engine rang about the house. The sceptical reader may
here detect the finger of the tempest; but the women gave up all
for lost and clustered on the beds lamenting. Nothing followed,
and I must suppose the gale somewhat abated, for presently after a
chief came visiting. He was a bold man to be abroad so late, but
doubtless carried a bright lantern. And he was certainly a man of
counsel, for as soon as he heard the details of these disturbances
he was in a position to explain their nature. 'Your child,' said
he, 'must certainly die. This is the evil spirit of our island who
lies in wait to eat the spirits of the newly dead.' And then he
went on to expatiate on the strangeness of the spirit's conduct.
He was not usually, he explained, so open of assault, but sat
silent on the house-top waiting, in the guise of a bird, while
within the people tended the dying and bewailed the dead, and had
no thought of peril. But when the day came and the doors were
opened, and men began to go abroad, blood-stains on the wall
betrayed the tragedy.

This is the quality I admire in Paumotuan legend. In Tahiti the
spirit-eater is said to assume a vesture which has much more of
pomp, but how much less of horror. It has been seen by all sorts
and conditions, native and foreign; only the last insist it is a
meteor. My authority was not so sure. He was riding with his wife
about two in the morning; both were near asleep, and the horses not
much better. It was a brilliant and still night, and the road
wound over a mountain, near by a deserted marae (old Tahitian
temple). All at once the appearance passed above them: a form of
light; the head round and greenish; the body long, red, and with a
focus of yet redder brilliancy about the midst. A buzzing hoot
accompanied its passage; it flew direct out of one marae, and
direct for another down the mountain side. And this, as my
informant argued, is suggestive. For why should a mere meteor
frequent the altars of abominable gods? The horses, I should say,
were equally dismayed with their riders. Now I am not dismayed at
all--not even agreeably. Give me rather the bird upon the house-
top and the morning blood-gouts on the wall.

But the dead are not exclusive in their diet. They carry with them
to the grave, in particular, the Polynesian taste for fish, and
enter at times with the living into a partnership in fishery. Rua-
a-mariterangi is again my authority; I feel it diminishes the
credit of the fact, but how it builds up the image of this
inveterate ghost-seer! He belongs to the miserably poor island of
Taenga, yet his father's house was always well supplied. As Rua
grew up he was called at last to go a-fishing with this fortunate
parent. They rowed the lagoon at dusk, to an unlikely place, and
the lay down in the stern, and the father began vainly to cast his
line over the bows. It is to be supposed that Rua slept; and when
he awoke there was the figure of another beside his father, and his
father was pulling in the fish hand over hand. 'Who is that man,
father?' Rua asked. 'It is none of your business,' said the
father; and Rua supposed the stranger had swum off to them from
shore. Night after night they fared into the lagoon, often to the
most unlikely places; night after night the stranger would suddenly
be seen on board, and as suddenly be missed; and morning after
morning the canoe returned laden with fish. 'My father is a very
lucky man,' thought Rua. At last, one fine day, there came first
one boat party and then another, who must be entertained; father
and son put off later than usual into the lagoon; and before the
canoe was landed it was four o'clock, and the morning star was
close on the horizon. Then the stranger appeared seized with some
distress; turned about, showing for the first time his face, which
was that of one long dead, with shining eyes; stared into the east,
set the tips of his fingers to his mouth like one a-cold, uttered a
strange, shuddering sound between a whistle and a moan--a thing to
freeze the blood; and, the day-star just rising from the sea, he
suddenly was not. Then Rua understood why his father prospered,
why his fishes rotted early in the day, and why some were always
carried to the cemetery and laid upon the graves. My informant is
a man not certainly averse to superstition, but he keeps his head,
and takes a certain superior interest, which I may be allowed to
call scientific. The last point reminding him of some parallel
practice in Tahiti, he asked Rua if the fish were left, or carried
home again after a formal dedication. It appears old Mariterangi
practised both methods; sometimes treating his shadowy partner to a
mere oblation, sometimes honestly leaving his fish to rot upon the

It is plain we have in Europe stories of a similar complexion; and
the Polynesian varua ino or aitu o le vao is clearly the near
kinsman of the Transylvanian vampire. Here is a tale in which the
kinship appears broadly marked. On the atoll of Penrhyn, then
still partly savage, a certain chief was long the salutary terror
of the natives. He died, he was buried; and his late neighbours
had scarce tasted the delights of licence ere his ghost appeared
about the village. Fear seized upon all; a council was held of the
chief men and sorcerers; and with the approval of the Rarotongan
missionary, who was as frightened as the rest, and in the presence
of several whites--my friend Mr. Ben Hird being one--the grave was
opened, deepened until water came, and the body re-interred face
down. The still recent staking of suicides in England and the
decapitation of vampires in the east of Europe form close

So in Samoa only the spirits of the unburied awake fear. During
the late war many fell in the bush; their bodies, sometimes
headless, were brought back by native pastors and interred; but
this (I know not why) was insufficient, and the spirit still
lingered on the theatre of death. When peace returned a singular
scene was enacted in many places, and chiefly round the high gorges
of Lotoanuu, where the struggle was long centred and the loss had
been severe. Kinswomen of the dead came carrying a mat or sheet
and guided by survivors of the fight. The place of death was
earnestly sought out; the sheet was spread upon the ground; and the
women, moved with pious anxiety, sat about and watched it. If any
living thing alighted it was twice brushed away; upon the third
coming it was known to be the spirit of the dead, was folded in,
carried home and buried beside the body; and the aitu rested. The
rite was practised beyond doubt in simple piety; the repose of the
soul was its object: its motive, reverent affection. The present
king disowns indeed all knowledge of a dangerous aitu; he declares
the souls of the unburied were only wanderers in limbo, lacking an
entrance to the proper country of the dead, unhappy, nowise
hurtful. And this severely classic opinion doubtless represents
the views of the enlightened. But the flight of my Lafaele marks
the grosser terrors of the ignorant.

This belief in the exorcising efficacy of funeral rites perhaps
explains a fact, otherwise amazing, that no Polynesian seems at all
to share our European horror of human bones and mummies. Of the
first they made their cherished ornaments; they preserved them in
houses or in mortuary caves; and the watchers of royal sepulchres
dwelt with their children among the bones of generations. The
mummy, even in the making, was as little feared. In the Marquesas,
on the extreme coast, it was made by the household with continual
unction and exposure to the sun; in the Carolines, upon the
farthest west, it is still cured in the smoke of the family hearth.
Head-hunting, besides, still lives around my doorstep in Samoa.
And not ten years ago, in the Gilberts, the widow must disinter,
cleanse, polish, and thenceforth carry about her, by day and night,
the head of her dead husband. In all these cases we may suppose
the process, whether of cleansing or drying, to have fully
exorcised the aitu.

But the Paumotuan belief is more obscure. Here the man is duly
buried, and he has to be watched. He is duly watched, and the
spirit goes abroad in spite of watches. Indeed, it is not the
purpose of the vigils to prevent these wanderings; only to mollify
by polite attention the inveterate malignity of the dead. Neglect
(it is supposed) may irritate and thus invite his visits, and the
aged and weakly sometimes balance risks and stay at home. Observe,
it is the dead man's kindred and next friends who thus deprecate
his fury with nocturnal watchings. Even the placatory vigil is
held perilous, except in company, and a boy was pointed out to me
in Rotoava, because he had watched alone by his own father. Not
the ties of the dead, nor yet their proved character, affect the
issue. A late Resident, who died in Fakarava of sunstroke, was
beloved in life and is still remembered with affection; none the
less his spirit went about the island clothed with terrors, and the
neighbourhood of Government House was still avoided after dark. We
may sum up the cheerful doctrine thus: All men become vampires,
and the vampire spares none. And here we come face to face with a
tempting inconsistency. For the whistling spirits are notoriously
clannish; I understood them to wait upon and to enlighten kinsfolk
only, and that the medium was always of the race of the
communicating spirit. Here, then, we have the bonds of the family,
on the one hand, severed at the hour of death; on the other,
helpfully persisting.

The child's soul in the Tahitian tale was wrapped in leaves. It is
the spirits of the newly dead that are the dainty. When they are
slain, the house is stained with blood. Rua's dead fisherman was
decomposed; so--and horribly--was his arboreal demon. The spirit,
then, is a thing material; and it is by the material ensigns of
corruption that he is distinguished from the living man. This
opinion is widespread, adds a gross terror to the more ugly
Polynesian tales, and sometimes defaces the more engaging with a
painful and incongruous touch. I will give two examples
sufficiently wide apart, one from Tahiti, one from Samoa.

And first from Tahiti. A man went to visit the husband of his
sister, then some time dead. In her life the sister had been
dainty in the island fashion, and went always adorned with a
coronet of flowers. In the midst of the night the brother awoke
and was aware of a heavenly fragrance going to and fro in the dark
house. The lamp I must suppose to have burned out; no Tahitian
would have lain down without one lighted. A while he lay wondering
and delighted; then called upon the rest. 'Do none of you smell
flowers?' he asked. 'O,' said his brother-in-law, 'we are used to
that here.' The next morning these two men went walking, and the
widower confessed that his dead wife came about the house
continually, and that he had even seen her. She was shaped and
dressed and crowned with flowers as in her lifetime; only she moved
a few inches above the earth with a very easy progress, and flitted
dryshod above the surface of the river. And now comes my point:
It was always in a back view that she appeared; and these brothers-
in-law, debating the affair, agreed that this was to conceal the
inroads of corruption.

Now for the Samoan story. I owe it to the kindness of Dr. F. Otto
Sierich, whose collection of folk-tales I expect with a high degree
of interest. A man in Manu'a was married to two wives and had no
issue. He went to Savaii, married there a third, and was more
fortunate. When his wife was near her time he remembered he was in
a strange island, like a poor man; and when his child was born he
must be shamed for lack of gifts. It was in vain his wife
dissuaded him. He returned to his father in Manu'a seeking help;
and with what he could get he set off in the night to re-embark.
Now his wives heard of his coming; they were incensed that he did
not stay to visit them; and on the beach, by his canoe, intercepted
and slew him. Now the third wife lay asleep in Savaii;--her babe
was born and slept by her side; and she was awakened by the spirit
of her husband. 'Get up,' he said, 'my father is sick in Manu'a
and we must go to visit him.' 'It is well,' said she; 'take you
the child, while I carry its mats.' 'I cannot carry the child,'
said the spirit; 'I am too cold from the sea.' When they were got
on board the canoe the wife smelt carrion. 'How is this?' she
said. 'What have you in the canoe that I should smell carrion?'
'It is nothing in the canoe,' said the spirit. 'It is the land-
wind blowing down the mountains, where some beast lies dead.' It
appears it was still night when they reached Manu'a--the swiftest
passage on record--and as they entered the reef the bale-fires
burned in the village. Again she asked him to carry the child; but
now he need no more dissemble. 'I cannot carry your child,' said
he, 'for I am dead, and the fires you see are burning for my

The curious may learn in Dr. Sierich's book the unexpected sequel
of the tale. Here is enough for my purpose. Though the man was
but new dead, the ghost was already putrefied, as though
putrefaction were the mark and of the essence of a spirit. The
vigil on the Paumotuan grave does not extend beyond two weeks, and
they told me this period was thought to coincide with that of the
resolution of the body. The ghost always marked with decay--the
danger seemingly ending with the process of dissolution--here is
tempting matter for the theorist. But it will not do. The lady of
the flowers had been long dead, and her spirit was still supposed
to bear the brand of perishability. The Resident had been more
than a fortnight buried, and his vampire was still supposed to go
the rounds.

Of the lost state of the dead, from the lurid Mangaian legend, in
which infernal deities hocus and destroy the souls of all, to the
various submarine and aerial limbos where the dead feast, float
idle, or resume the occupations of their life on earth, it would be
wearisome to tell. One story I give, for it is singular in itself,
is well-known in Tahiti, and has this of interest, that it is post-
Christian, dating indeed from but a few years back. A princess of
the reigning house died; was transported to the neighbouring isle
of Raiatea; fell there under the empire of a spirit who condemned
her to climb coco-palms all day and bring him the nuts; was found
after some time in this miserable servitude by a second spirit, one
of her own house; and by him, upon her lamentations, reconveyed to
Tahiti, where she found her body still waked, but already swollen
with the approaches of corruption. It is a lively point in the
tale that, on the sight of this dishonoured tabernacle, the
princess prayed she might continue to be numbered with the dead.
But it seems it was too late, her spirit was replaced by the least
dignified of entrances, and her startled family beheld the body
move. The seemingly purgatorial labours, the helpful kindred
spirit, and the horror of the princess at the sight of her tainted
body, are all points to be remarked.

The truth is, the tales are not necessarily consistent in
themselves; and they are further darkened for the stranger by an
ambiguity of language. Ghosts, vampires, spirits, and gods are all
confounded. And yet I seem to perceive that (with exceptions)
those whom we would count gods were less maleficent. Permanent
spirits haunt and do murder in corners of Samoa; but those
legitimate gods of Upolu and Savaii, whose wars and cricketings of
late convulsed society, I did not gather to be dreaded, or not with
a like fear. The spirit of Aana that ate souls is certainly a
fearsome inmate; but the high gods, even of the archipelago, seem
helpful. Mahinui--from whom our convict-catechist had been named--
the spirit of the sea, like a Proteus endowed with endless avatars,
came to the assistance of the shipwrecked and carried them ashore
in the guise of a ray fish. The same divinity bore priests from
isle to isle about the archipelago, and by his aid, within the
century, persons have been seen to fly. The tutelar deity of each
isle is likewise helpful, and by a particular form of wedge-shaped
cloud on the horizon announces the coming of a ship.

To one who conceives of these atolls, so narrow, so barren, so
beset with sea, here would seem a superfluity of ghostly denizens.
And yet there are more. In the various brackish pools and ponds,
beautiful women with long red hair are seen to rise and bathe; only
(timid as mice) on the first sound of feet upon the coral they dive
again for ever. They are known to be healthy and harmless living
people, dwellers of an underworld; and the same fancy is current in
Tahiti, where also they have the hair red. Tetea is the Tahitian
name; the Paumotuan, Mokurea.



At Honolulu we had said farewell to the Casco and to Captain Otis,
and our next adventure was made in changed conditions. Passage was
taken for myself, my wife, Mr. Osbourne, and my China boy, Ah Fu,
on a pigmy trading schooner, the Equator, Captain Dennis Reid; and
on a certain bright June day in 1889, adorned in the Hawaiian
fashion with the garlands of departure, we drew out of port and
bore with a fair wind for Micronesia.

The whole extent of the South Seas is a desert of ships; more
especially that part where we were now to sail. No post runs in
these islands; communication is by accident; where you may have
designed to go is one thing, where you shall be able to arrive
another. It was my hope, for instance, to have reached the
Carolines, and returned to the light of day by way of Manila and
the China ports; and it was in Samoa that we were destined to re-
appear and be once more refreshed with the sight of mountains.
Since the sunset faded from the peaks of Oahu six months had
intervened, and we had seen no spot of earth so high as an ordinary
cottage. Our path had been still on the flat sea, our dwellings
upon unerected coral, our diet from the pickle-tub or out of tins;
I had learned to welcome shark's flesh for a variety; and a
mountain, an onion, an Irish potato or a beef-steak, had been long
lost to sense and dear to aspiration.

The two chief places of our stay, Butaritari and Apemama, lie near
the line; the latter within thirty miles. Both enjoy a superb
ocean climate, days of blinding sun and bracing wind, nights of a
heavenly brightness. Both are somewhat wider than Fakarava,
measuring perhaps (at the widest) a quarter of a mile from beach to
beach. In both, a coarse kind of taro thrives; its culture is a
chief business of the natives, and the consequent mounds and
ditches make miniature scenery and amuse the eye. In all else they
show the customary features of an atoll: the low horizon, the
expanse of the lagoon, the sedge-like rim of palm-tops, the
sameness and smallness of the land, the hugely superior size and
interest of sea and sky. Life on such islands is in many points
like life on shipboard. The atoll, like the ship, is soon taken
for granted; and the islanders, like the ship's crew, become soon
the centre of attention. The isles are populous, independent,
seats of kinglets, recently civilised, little visited. In the last
decade many changes have crept in; women no longer go unclothed
till marriage; the widow no longer sleeps at night and goes abroad
by day with the skull of her dead husband; and, fire-arms being
introduced, the spear and the shark-tooth sword are sold for
curiosities. Ten years ago all these things and practices were to
be seen in use; yet ten years more, and the old society will have
entirely vanished. We came in a happy moment to see its
institutions still erect and (in Apemama) scarce decayed.

Populous and independent--warrens of men, ruled over with some
rustic pomp--such was the first and still the recurring impression
of these tiny lands. As we stood across the lagoon for the town of
Butaritari, a stretch of the low shore was seen to be crowded with
the brown roofs of houses; those of the palace and king's summer
parlour (which are of corrugated iron) glittered near one end
conspicuously bright; the royal colours flew hard by on a tall
flagstaff; in front, on an artificial islet, the gaol played the
part of a martello. Even upon this first and distant view, the
place had scarce the air of what it truly was, a village; rather of
that which it was also, a petty metropolis, a city rustic and yet

The lagoon is shoal. The tide being out, we waded for some quarter
of a mile in tepid shallows, and stepped ashore at last into a
flagrant stagnancy of sun and heat. The lee side of a line island
after noon is indeed a breathless place; on the ocean beach the
trade will be still blowing, boisterous and cool; out in the lagoon
it will be blowing also, speeding the canoes; but the screen of
bush completely intercepts it from the shore, and sleep and silence
and companies of mosquitoes brood upon the towns.

We may thus be said to have taken Butaritari by surprise. A few
inhabitants were still abroad in the north end, at which we landed.
As we advanced, we were soon done with encounter, and seemed to
explore a city of the dead. Only, between the posts of open
houses, we could see the townsfolk stretched in the siesta,
sometimes a family together veiled in a mosquito-net, sometimes a
single sleeper on a platform like a corpse on a bier.

The houses were of all dimensions, from those of toys to those of
churches. Some might hold a battalion, some were so minute they
could scarce receive a pair of lovers; only in the playroom, when
the toys are mingled, do we meet such incongruities of scale. Many
were open sheds; some took the form of roofed stages; others were
walled and the walls pierced with little windows. A few were
perched on piles in the lagoon; the rest stood at random on a
green, through which the roadway made a ribbon of sand, or along
the embankments of a sheet of water like a shallow dock. One and
all were the creatures of a single tree; palm-tree wood and palm-
tree leaf their materials; no nail had been driven, no hammer
sounded, in their building, and they were held together by lashings
of palm-tree sinnet.

In the midst of the thoroughfare, the church stands like an island,
a lofty and dim house with rows of windows; a rich tracery of
framing sustains the roof; and through the door at either end the
street shows in a vista. The proportions of the place, in such
surroundings, and built of such materials, appeared august; and we
threaded the nave with a sentiment befitting visitors in a
cathedral. Benches run along either side. In the midst, on a
crazy dais, two chairs stand ready for the king and queen when they
shall choose to worship; over their heads a hoop, apparently from a
hogshead, depends by a strip of red cotton; and the hoop (which
hangs askew) is dressed with streamers of the same material, red
and white.

This was our first advertisement of the royal dignity, and
presently we stood before its seat and centre. The palace is built
of imported wood upon a European plan; the roof of corrugated iron,
the yard enclosed with walls, the gate surmounted by a sort of
lych-house. It cannot be called spacious; a labourer in the States
is sometimes more commodiously lodged; but when we had the chance
to see it within, we found it was enriched (beyond all island
expectation) with coloured advertisements and cuts from the
illustrated papers. Even before the gate some of the treasures of
the crown stand public: a bell of a good magnitude, two pieces of
cannon, and a single shell. The bell cannot be rung nor the guns
fired; they are curiosities, proofs of wealth, a part of the parade
of the royalty, and stand to be admired like statues in a square.
A straight gut of water like a canal runs almost to the palace
door; the containing quay-walls excellently built of coral; over
against the mouth, by what seems an effect of landscape art, the
martello-like islet of the gaol breaks the lagoon. Vassal chiefs
with tribute, neighbour monarchs come a-roving, might here sail in,
view with surprise these extensive public works, and be awed by
these mouths of silent cannon. It was impossible to see the place
and not to fancy it designed for pageantry. But the elaborate
theatre then stood empty; the royal house deserted, its doors and
windows gaping; the whole quarter of the town immersed in silence.
On the opposite bank of the canal, on a roofed stage, an ancient
gentleman slept publicly, sole visible inhabitant; and beyond on
the lagoon a canoe spread a striped lateen, the sole thing moving.

The canal is formed on the south by a pier or causeway with a
parapet. At the far end the parapet stops, and the quay expands
into an oblong peninsula in the lagoon, the breathing-place and
summer parlour of the king. The midst is occupied by an open house
or permanent marquee--called here a maniapa, or, as the word is now
pronounced, a maniap'--at the lowest estimation forty feet by
sixty. The iron roof, lofty but exceedingly low-browed, so that a
woman must stoop to enter, is supported externally on pillars of
coral, within by a frame of wood. The floor is of broken coral,
divided in aisles by the uprights of the frame; the house far
enough from shore to catch the breeze, which enters freely and
disperses the mosquitoes; and under the low eaves the sun is seen
to glitter and the waves to dance on the lagoon.

It was now some while since we had met any but slumberers; and when
we had wandered down the pier and stumbled at last into this bright
shed, we were surprised to find it occupied by a society of wakeful
people, some twenty souls in all, the court and guardsmen of
Butaritari. The court ladies were busy making mats; the guardsmen
yawned and sprawled. Half a dozen rifles lay on a rock and a
cutlass was leaned against a pillar: the armoury of these drowsy
musketeers. At the far end, a little closed house of wood
displayed some tinsel curtains, and proved, upon examination, to be
a privy on the European model. In front of this, upon some mats,
lolled Tebureimoa, the king; behind him, on the panels of the
house, two crossed rifles represented fasces. He wore pyjamas
which sorrowfully misbecame his bulk; his nose was hooked and
cruel, his body overcome with sodden corpulence, his eye timorous
and dull: he seemed at once oppressed with drowsiness and held
awake by apprehension: a pepper rajah muddled with opium, and
listening for the march of a Dutch army, looks perhaps not
otherwise. We were to grow better acquainted, and first and last I
had the same impression; he seemed always drowsy, yet always to
hearken and start; and, whether from remorse or fear, there is no
doubt he seeks a refuge in the abuse of drugs.

The rajah displayed no sign of interest in our coming. But the
queen, who sat beside him in a purple sacque, was more accessible;
and there was present an interpreter so willing that his volubility
became at last the cause of our departure. He had greeted us upon
our entrance:- 'That is the honourable King, and I am his
interpreter,' he had said, with more stateliness than truth. For
he held no appointment in the court, seemed extremely ill-
acquainted with the island language, and was present, like
ourselves, upon a visit of civility. Mr. Williams was his name:
an American darkey, runaway ship's cook, and bar-keeper at The Land
we Live in tavern, Butaritari. I never knew a man who had more
words in his command or less truth to communicate; neither the
gloom of the monarch, nor my own efforts to be distant, could in
the least abash him; and when the scene closed, the darkey was left

The town still slumbered, or had but just begun to turn and stretch
itself; it was still plunged in heat and silence. So much the more
vivid was the impression that we carried away of the house upon the
islet, the Micronesian Saul wakeful amid his guards, and his
unmelodious David, Mr. Williams, chattering through the drowsy


The kingdom of Tebureimoa includes two islands, Great and Little
Makin; some two thousand subjects pay him tribute, and two semi-
independent chieftains do him qualified homage. The importance of
the office is measured by the man; he may be a nobody, he may be
absolute; and both extremes have been exemplified within the memory
of residents.

On the death of king Tetimararoa, Tebureimoa's father, Nakaeia, the
eldest son, succeeded. He was a fellow of huge physical strength,
masterful, violent, with a certain barbaric thrift and some
intelligence of men and business. Alone in his islands, it was he
who dealt and profited; he was the planter and the merchant; and
his subjects toiled for his behoof in servitude. When they wrought
long and well their taskmaster declared a holiday, and supplied and
shared a general debauch. The scale of his providing was at times
magnificent; six hundred dollars' worth of gin and brandy was set
forth at once; the narrow land resounded with the noise of revelry:
and it was a common thing to see the subjects (staggering
themselves) parade their drunken sovereign on the fore-hatch of a
wrecked vessel, king and commons howling and singing as they went.
At a word from Nakaeia's mouth the revel ended; Makin became once
more an isle of slaves and of teetotalers; and on the morrow all
the population must be on the roads or in the taro-patches toiling
under his bloodshot eye.

The fear of Nakaeia filled the land. No regularity of justice was
affected; there was no trial, there were no officers of the law; it
seems there was but one penalty, the capital; and daylight assault
and midnight murder were the forms of process. The king himself
would play the executioner: and his blows were dealt by stealth,
and with the help and countenance of none but his own wives. These
were his oarswomen; one that caught a crab, he slew incontinently
with the tiller; thus disciplined, they pulled him by night to the
scene of his vengeance, which he would then execute alone and
return well-pleased with his connubial crew. The inmates of the
harem held a station hard for us to conceive. Beasts of draught,
and driven by the fear of death, they were yet implicitly trusted
with their sovereign's life; they were still wives and queens, and
it was supposed that no man should behold their faces. They killed
by the sight like basilisks; a chance view of one of those
boatwomen was a crime to be wiped out with blood. In the days of
Nakaeia the palace was beset with some tall coco-palms which
commanded the enclosure. It chanced one evening, while Nakaeia sat
below at supper with his wives, that the owner of the grove was in
a tree-top drawing palm-tree wine; it chanced that he looked down,
and the king at the same moment looking up, their eyes encountered.
Instant flight preserved the involuntary criminal. But during the
remainder of that reign he must lurk and be hid by friends in
remote parts of the isle; Nakaeia hunted him without remission,
although still in vain; and the palms, accessories to the fact,
were ruthlessly cut down. Such was the ideal of wifely purity in
an isle where nubile virgins went naked as in paradise. And yet
scandal found its way into Nakaeia's well-guarded harem. He was at
that time the owner of a schooner, which he used for a pleasure-
house, lodging on board as she lay anchored; and thither one day he
summoned a new wife. She was one that had been sealed to him; that
is to say (I presume), that he was married to her sister, for the
husband of an elder sister has the call of the cadets. She would
be arrayed for the occasion; she would come scented, garlanded,
decked with fine mats and family jewels, for marriage, as her
friends supposed; for death, as she well knew. 'Tell me the man's
name, and I will spare you,' said Nakaeia. But the girl was
staunch; she held her peace, saved her lover and the queens
strangled her between the mats.

Nakaeia was feared; it does not appear that he was hated. Deeds
that smell to us of murder wore to his subjects the reverend face
of justice; his orgies made him popular; natives to this day recall
with respect the firmness of his government; and even the whites,
whom he long opposed and kept at arm's-length, give him the name
(in the canonical South Sea phrase) of 'a perfect gentleman when

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