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By Rock and Pool on an Austral Shore, and Other Stories by Louis Becke

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_A Cruise in the South Seas_


The traveller who makes a hurried trip in an excursion steamer through
the Cook, Society, Samoan, or Tongan Islands has but little opportunity
of seeing anything of the social life of the natives, or getting either
fishing or shooting; for it is but rarely that the vessel remains for
more than forty-eight hours at any of the ports visited. Personally, if
I wanted to have an enjoyable cruise among the various island groups in
the South Pacific I should avoid the "excursion" steamer as I would the
plague. In the first place, one sees next to nothing for his passage
money if he fatuously takes a ticket in either Sydney or New Zealand for
"a round trip to Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, and back." Certainly, he will
enjoy the sea voyage, for in the Australasian winter months the weather
in the South Seas is never very hot, and cloudless skies and a smooth
sea may almost be relied upon from April until the end of July. At such
places as Nukualofa, the little capital of the Tonga Islands, an
excursion steamer will remain for perhaps forty hours; at Apia, in
Samoa, forty-eight hours; and at Papeite, the capital of the French
island of Tahiti, forty-eight hours. At the two latter places the
traveller will be charmed by the lovely scenery, and disgusted by the
squalid appearance of the natives; for within the last ten years great
changes have occurred, and the native communities inhabiting the island
ports, such as Apia and Papeite, have degenerated into the veriest
loafers, spongers, and thieves. The appearance of a strange European in
any of the environs of Apia is the signal for an onslaught of beggars of
all ages and both sexes, who will pester his life out for tobacco; if he
says he does not smoke, they say a sixpence will do as well. If he
refuses he is pretty sure to be insulted by some half-naked ruffian, and
will be glad to get back to the ship or to the refuge of an hotel. And
yet, away from the contaminating influences of the town the white
stranger will meet with politeness and respect wherever he
goes--particularly if he is an Englishman--and will at once note the
pleasing difference in the manners of the natives. Yet it must now be
remembered that Samoa--with the exception of the beautiful island of
Tutuila--is German territory, and German officials are none too effusive
to Englishmen or Americans--in Samoa.

But if any one wants to spend an enjoyable time in the South Seas let
him avoid the "excursion ship" and go there in a trading steamer. There
are several of these now sailing out of Australasian ports, and there is
a choice of groups to visit. If a four months' voyage is not too long, a
passage may be obtained in a small, but fairly fast and comfortable
boat of 600 tons sailing from Sydney, which visits over forty islands in
her cruise from Niue or Savage Island, ten days' steam from Sydney, to
Jaluit in the Marshall Islands. But this particular cruise I would not
recommend to any one in search of a variety of beautiful scenery, for
nearly all of the islands visited are of the one type--low-lying sandy
atolls, densely verdured with coco-palms, and very monotonous from their
sameness of appearance. Their inhabitants, however, are widely different
in manners, customs, and general mode of life. To the ethnologist such a
cruise among the Ellice, Gilbert, and Marshall Islands would no doubt be
full of interest; but to the traveller in search of either beautiful
scenery or sport (except fishing) they would be disappointing.

Let us suppose that the intending traveller desires to make a stay of
some two or three months in the Samoan Group. He can reach there easily
enough from Sydney or Auckland by steamer once a month, either by one of
the Union Steamship Company's regular traders or by one of the San
Francisco mail boats. From Sydney the voyage occupies eight days, from
Auckland five. The outfit required for a three or four months' stay is
not a large one--light clothing can be bought almost as cheaply in Samoa
as in Sydney, a couple of guns with plenty of ammunition (for cartridges
are shockingly dear in the Islands), a large and varied assortment of
deep-sea tackle, a rod for fresh-water or reef fishing, and a good
waterproof and rugs for camping out, as the early mornings are sometimes
very chilly. And there is one other thing that is worth while taking,
even though it may cost from L30 to L50 or so in Sydney--a good
secondhand boat, with two suits of sails. Thus provided the sportsman
can sail all along the coasts of Savaii and Upolu, and be practically
independent of the local storekeepers. To hire a boat is very expensive,
and to travel in native craft is horribly uncomfortable, and risky as
well. And such a boat can always be sold again for at least its cost.

A stay of two or three days, or at most a week, in Apia is quite long
enough, and the stranger will get all the information he requires about
the outlying districts from the Consuls or any of the old white
residents. Such provisions as are needed--tea, sugar, flour, biscuits,
tinned or other meats, &c.--can be had at fairly cheap rates; but a
large stock should be taken, for, besides the keep of the native crew
of, say, four men, it must always be borne in mind that a white visitor
is expected to return the hospitality he receives from the native chiefs
by making a present, and the Samoans are particularly susceptible to the
charms of tinned meats, sardines, salmon, and _falaoa_ (bread or
biscuit). That such a return should be made is only just and natural,
though I am sorry to say that very often it is not. Then, again, it is
very easy to stow away in the trade box in the boat eight or ten pieces
of good print, cut off in pieces of six fathoms (which is enough to make
a woman's gown), about 30 lbs. of twist negrohead tobacco (twenty to
thirty sticks to the pound), half a gross of lucifer matches, and such
things as cotton, scissors, combs, &c., and powder, caps, and a bag of
No. 3 shot for pigeon shooting. Now, this seems a lot of articles for a
man to take on a short Samoan _malaga_ (journey), but it is not, and for
the L50 which it may cost for such an outfit (exclusive of the boat and
crew's wages) the traveller will see more of the people and their mode
of life, be more hospitably received, and spend a pleasanter time than
if he were cruising about in a 1,000-ton yacht. The wages or boatmen and
native sailors in Samoa are usually $15.00 per month, but many will
gladly go on a _malaga_ (the general acceptance of the word is a
pleasure trip) for much less, for there is but little work, and much
eating and drinking. But, as sailors, the Samoans are a wretched lot,
and the local living Savage Islanders, as the natives of Niue Island are
called, are far better, especially if there is any wind or a beat to
windward in a heavy sea. These Savage Island "boys" can always be
obtained in Apia. They are good seamen and very willing to work; but
they have to be fed entirely by their white employer, for the Samoans
seldom make a present of food to a crew of Niue boys, for whom they
profess a contempt and designate _au puaa_--_i.e._, pigs.

The Samoan Group consists of five islands, trending from west by north
to east by south. The two largest are Upolu and Savaii. Tutuila, and the
Manua Group of three islands are too far to the windward to attempt in a
small boat against the south-east trades. And it would take quite three
months to visit the principal villages on the two large islands, staying
a few days at each place.

The best plan is to make to windward along the coast of Upolu after
leaving Apia. A large boat cannot be taken all the way inside the reef,
owing to the many coral patches which, at low tide, render this course
impracticable. The first place of any importance is Saluafata, fifteen
miles from Apia (I must mention that Apia is in the centre of Upolu, and
on the north side), then Falifa|, an exquisitely pretty place, and
then Fa|goloa Bay and village, eight miles further on. This is the
deepest indentation in Samoa, except the famous Pa|go Pa|go Harbour
on Tutuila, and the scenery is very beautiful. After leaving Fa|goloa,
the open sea has to be taken, for there is now no barrier reef for ten
miles, where it begins at Samusu village, to the towns of Aleipata and
Lepa|, two of the best in the group, and inhabited by cleanly and
hospitable people. This is the weather point of Upolu, and after leaving
Lepa| the boat has a clear run of over sixty miles before the glorious
trades to the lee end of the island--that is, unless a stay is made at
the populous towns of Falealilli, Sa|fata, Lafa|ga, and Falelatai,
on the southern coast. The scenery along this part of the island is
enchanting, but sudden squalls at night-time are sometimes frequent,
from December to March, and 'tis always advisable to run into a port at

Two miles off the lee end of Upolu is the low-lying island of Manono,
which is, however, enclosed in the Upolu barrier reef. It is only about
three miles in circumference, exceedingly fertile, and is the most
important place in the group, owing to the political influence wielded
by the chiefly families who have always made it their home. A mile from
Manono, and in the centre of the deep strait separating Upolu from
Savaii, is a curiously picturesque spot, an island named Apolima.[17] It
is an extinct crater, but has a narrow passage on the north side, and is
inhabited by about fifty people, who are delighted to see any _papalagi_
(foreigner) who is venturesome enough to make a landing there.

Savaii is distant about ten miles from Upolu. Its coast is for the most
part _itu papa_--i.e., iron bound--but there are five populous towns
there--Palaulae, Salealua, Asaua, Matautu, and Safune. After making the
round of Savaii, the boat has to make back to Manono, and then can
proceed inside the reef all the way to Apia, making stoppages at the
many minor villages which stud the shore at intervals of every few

These _malaga_ by boat along the coast or from one island to another are
much in favour with many of the white residents of Samoa, who find their
life in Apia very monotonous. European ladies frequently accompany their
husbands, and sometimes quite a large party is made up. More than
five-and-twenty years ago, when the writer was gaining his first
experiences of Samoan life, it was his good fortune to be one of such a
party, and a right merry time he had of it among the natives; for in
those days, although there was party warfare occasionally, the group
was free from the savage hatreds and dissensions--largely fomented by
the interference and intrigues of unscrupulous traders and incapable
officials--which for the past ten or twelve years have made it

In travelling in Samoa one need not always rely upon native hospitality.
Though most of the white traders at the outlying villages nowadays make
nothing beyond a scanty living, they are as a rule very hospitable and
pleased to see and entertain white visitors as well as their poor means
will allow, and in nine cases out of ten would feel hurt if they were
ignored and the native teacher's house visited first; for between the
average trader and the native teacher there is always a natural and yet
reasonable jealousy. And here let me say a word in praise of the Samoan
teacher--in Samoa. Away from his native land, in charge of a mission
station in another part of Polynesia or Melanesia, he is too often
pompous and overbearing alike to his flock and to the white trader. Here
he is far from the control and supervision of the white missionaries,
who only visit him twice in the year, and consequently he thinks himself
a man of vast importance. But in Samoa his superiors are prompt to curb
any inclination he may evince to ride the high horse over his flock or
interfere with any matter not strictly connected with his charge. So, in
Samoa, the native teacher is generally a good fellow, the soul of
hospitality, and anxious to entertain any chance white visitor; and
although the Samoans are not bigoted ranters like the Tongans or
Fijians, and the teachers have not anything like the undue and improper
influence over the people possessed by the native ministers in Tonga or
Fiji, to needlessly offend one would be resented by the villagers and
make the visitor's stay anything but pleasant. As for the white
missionaries in Samoa, all I need say of them is that they are
gentlemen, and that the words "Mission House" are synonymous in most
cases with warm welcome to the traveller.

Travelling inland in Savaii or crossing Upolu from north to south, or
_vice-versa,_ is very delightful, though one misses much of the lovely
scenery that unfolds itself in a panorama-like manner when sailing along
the coast. One journey that can easily be accomplished in a day is that
from Apia to Safata. Carriers are easily obtainable, and some splendid
pigeon shooting can be had an hour or two after leaving Apia till within
a few miles of Safata. Pigeons are about the only game to be had in
Samoa, though the _manutagi_, or ring-dove, is very plentiful, but one
hardly likes to shoot such dear little creatures. Occasionally one may
get a wild duck or two and some fearful-looking wild fowls--the progeny
of the domestic fowl. Wild pigs are not now plentiful in Upolu though
they are in Savaii, but they are exceedingly difficult to shoot and the
country they frequent is fearfully rough. In some of the streams there
are some very good fish, running up to 2 lbs. or 3 lbs. They bite
eagerly at the _ula_ or freshwater prawn, and are excellent eating; and
yet, strange to say, very few of the white residents in the group even
know of their existence. This applies also to deep-sea fishing; for
although the deep water outside the reefs and the passages leading into
the harbours teem with splendid fish, the residents of Apia are content
to buy the wretched things brought to them by women who capture them in
nets in the shallow water inside the reef. Once, during my stay on
Manono, a young Manhiki half-caste and myself went out in our boat about
a mile from the land, and in thirty fathoms of water caught in an hour
three large-scaled fish of the groper species. These fish, though once
familiar enough to the people of the island, are now never fished for,
and our appearance with our prizes caused quite an excitement in the
village, everyone thronging around us to look. And yet there are two or
three varieties of groper--many of them weighing 50 lbs. or 60
lbs.--which can be caught anywhere on the Samoan coast; but the Samoan
of the present day has sadly degenerated, and, except bonito catching,
deep-sea fishing is one of the lost arts. But at almost any place in the
group, except Apia, great quantities of fish are caught inside the reefs
by nets, and one may always be sure of getting a splendid mullet of some
sort for either breakfast or supper.

Let us suppose that a party of Europeans have arrived at a village, and
are the guests of the chief and people generally. Food is at once
brought to them, even before any visits of ceremony are paid, for the
news of the coming of a party of travellers has doubtless been brought
to the village the previous day by a messenger from the last
stopping-place. The repast provided may be simple, but will be ample,
baked pork most likely being the _piece de resistance,_ with roast
fowl, baked pigeons, breadfruit (if in season), and yams or taro, with a
plentiful supply of young drinking-coconuts. (Should the host be the
local teacher, some deplorable tea and a loaf of terrible bread are sure
to be produced.) This preliminary meal finished, the formalities begin
by a visit from the chief and his _tulafale,_ or "talking-man,"
accompanied by the leading citizens. The talking-man then makes a
speech, welcoming the guests, and is by no means sparing of "buttery"
phrases which indicate the intense delight, &c., of the inhabitants of
the village at having the honoured privilege of entertaining such noble
and distinguished visitors, &c. A suitable reply is made by the guests
(through an interpreter, if no one among them can speak Samoan), and
then follows a ceremonious brewing and drinking of kava. This is a most
important function in Samoa, and to the stranger unaccustomed to the
manner of making the beverage, the ordeal of drinking it is an
exceedingly trying one. It is prepared as follows: The dried kava root
is cut up in thin slices and handed to a number of young women, who
masticate it and then deposit it in a large wooden _tanoa_, or bowl.
Water is then added in sufficient quantity till the _tanoa_ is
half-filled with a thin yellowish-green liquid, which is carefully
strained by a thick "swab" of the beaten bark of the _fau_-tree. This
straining operation is performed only by a very experienced lady, and is
watched in respectful silence. Then the drink is handed round in a
polished bowl of coconut-shell. But for a full description of all the
details of a kava-drinking, let me commend my readers to the best and
most charming book ever written on South Sea life, "South Sea Bubbles,"
by the late Earl of Pembroke and Dr. Kingsley. Nowadays, however, many
Samoan households, out of deference to European tastes, have the kava
root grated instead of being chewed.

The kava-drinking over, all stiffness and formality disappears for the
time, and the visitors are surrounded by the villagers, eager to learn
the latest news from Apia, and from the world abroad. The discussion of
political matters always has a strong attraction for Samoans, who are
anxious to learn the state of affairs in Europe, and their knowledge and
shrewdness is surprising. Should there be any white ladies present, the
brown ones make much of them. The Samoans are a fine, handsome race, and
the faces and figures of many of the young women are very attractive;
but the practice of cutting off their long, flowing black hair, and
allowing it to grow in a short, stiff "frizz" is all too common, and
detracts very much from an otherwise handsome and graceful appearance,
especially when the hair is coated with lime in order to change its
colour to red. Many of the men, particularly those of chiefly rank, are
of magnificent stature and proportions, and their walk and carriage are
in consonance.

An announcement that the visitors intend to go pigeon shooting is warmly
applauded, and each white man is at once provided with a guide, for,
unless he has had experience of the Samoan forest, he will return with
an empty bag, as, however plentiful the birds may be, their habit of
hiding in the branches of the lofty _tamanu_ and _masa'oi_-trees render
them difficult of detection. The natives themselves are very good shots,
and very rarely fail to bring down a bird, even when nothing more than a
scarlet leg or a blue-grey feather is visible. The guns they use are
very common, cheap German affairs, but are specially made for Samoa,
being very small bored and long in the barrel. The best time is in the
early morning and towards the cool of the evening, when the birds are
feeding on _masa'oi_ and other berries; during the heat of the day they
seldom leave their perches, though their deep crooning note may be heard
everywhere. In the mountainous interiors of Upolu and Savaii there is
but little undergrowth; the ground is carpeted with a thick layer of
leaves, dry on the top, but rain and dew-soaked beneath, and simply to
breathe the sweet, cool mountain air is delightful. At certain times of
the year the birds are very fat, and I have very often seen them
literally burst when striking the ground after being shot in high trees.
Their flavour is delicious, especially if they are hung for a day. I may
here remark that, in New Britain, precisely the same species of pigeon
is very often quite uneatable through feeding upon Chili berries, which
in that island grow in profusion. In shooting in a Samoan forest one has
nothing to fear from venomous reptiles, for, although there are two or
three kinds of snakes, they are rarely ever seen and quite harmless.
Scorpions and centipedes--the latter often six inches in length--there
are in plenty, but these detestable vermin are more common in European
habitations than in the bush. At the same time, mosquitoes are a
terrible annoyance anywhere in the vicinity of water, and delight in
attacking the tender skin of the stranger. Then, again, beware of
scratching any exposed part of the skin, for, unless it is quickly
covered by plaister or otherwise attended to, an irritating sore, which
may take months to heal, will often result.

There are, during the visit of a travelling party to a Samoan town, no
fixed times for meals. You are expected to eat much and often. During
the day there will be continuous arrivals of people bringing baskets of
provisions as presents, which are formally presented--with a speech. The
speech has to be responded to, and the bringers of the presents treated
politely, as long as they remain, and they remain until their
curiosity--and avarice--is satisfied. A return present must be sent on
the following day; for although Samoans designate every present of food
or anything else made to a party of visitors as an "alofa"--_i.e.,_ a
gift of love--this is but a hollow conventionalism, it being the
time-honoured custom of the country to always give a _quid pro quo_ for
whatever has been received. Yet it must not be imagined that they are a
selfish people; if the recipients of an "alofa" of food are too poor to
respond otherwise than by a profusion of thanks, the donors of the
"alofa" are satisfied--it would be a disgrace for their village to be
spoken of as having treated guests meanly.

After evening service--conducted on week-days in each house by the head
of the family--another meal is served. Then either lamps or a fire of
coconut-shells is lit, and there is a great making of _sului_, or
cigarettes of strong tobacco rolled in dry banana leaf, and there is
much merry jostling and shoving among the young lads and girls for a
seat on the matted floor, to hear the white people talk. A dance is sure
to be suggested, and presently the _fale po-ula,_ or dance-house, is lit
up in preparation, as the dancers, male and female, hurry away to adorn
themselves. Much has been said about the impropriety of Samoa dancing by
travellers who have only witnessed the degrading and indecent
exhibitions, given on a large scale by the loafing class of natives who
inhabit Apia and its immediate vicinity. The natives are an adaptive
race, and suit their manners to their company, and there are always
numbers of sponging men and _paumotu_ (beach-women) ready to pander to
the tastes of low whites who are willing to witness a lewd dance. But in
most villages, situated away from the contaminating influences of the
principal port, a native _siva_, or dance, is well worth witnessing, and
the accompanying singing is very melodious. It is, however, true, that
on important occasions, such as the marriage of a great chief, &c., that
the dancing, decorous enough in the earlier stages of the evening,
degenerates under the influence of excitement into an exhibition that
provokes sorrow and disgust. And yet, curiously enough, the dancers at
these times are not low class, common people, but young men and women
of high lineage, who, led by the _taupo_, or maid of the village, cast
aside all restraint and modesty. In many of the dances the costumes are
exceedingly pretty, the men wearing aprons made of the yellow and
scarlet leaves of the _ti_ or dracoena plant, with head-dresses formed
of pieces of iridescent pearl-shell, intermixed with silver coins and
scarlet and amber beads, and the hair of both sexes is profusely adorned
with the scarlet flowers of the hibiscus, while from their necks depend
large strings of _sea-sea, masa'oi,_ and other brightly-coloured and
sweet-smelling berries. Of late years the Tahitian fashion of wearing
thick wreaths of orange or lemon blossoms has come into vogue.

Before concluding these remarks upon Samoa, I must mention that the
climate is very healthy for the greater part of the year; but in the
rainy season, December to March, the heat is intense, and sickness is
often prevalent, especially in Apia. Still fever, such as is met with in
the New Hebrides and the Solomon Group, "the grave of the white man in
the South Seas," is unknown, and one may sleep in the open air with
impunity. Before setting out from Apia the services of a competent
interpreter should be secured--a man who thoroughly understands the
Samoan _customs_ as well as the language. Plenty of reliable half-castes
can always be found, any one of whom would be glad to engage for a very
moderate payment. Too often the pleasures of such a trip as I have
described have been marred by the interpreter's lack of tact and
knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of the inhabitants of the various
districts and villages. The mere fact of a man being able to speak the
language fairly well is not the all in all; for the Samoans are a highly
sensitive people, and the omission by the interpreter of a chief's
titles, &c., when the guests are responding through him to an address of
welcome, would be considered "shockingly bad form."

But the reader must not imagine that the Samoan Group is the only one in
the South Pacific where an enjoyable holiday may be spent. The French
possession of the Society Islands, of which the pretty town Papeite, in
the noble island of Tahiti, is the capital, rivals, if not exceeds,
Samoa in the magnificence of its scenery, and the natives are a highly
intelligent race of Malayo-Polynesians who, despite their being citizens
of the French Republic, never forget that they were redeemed from
savagery by Englishmen, and a _taata Peretane_ (Englishman) is an
ever-welcome guest to them. The facilities for visiting the different
islands of the Society Group are very good, for there is quite a fleet
of native and European-owned vessels constantly cruising throughout the
archipelago. To cross the island of Tahiti from its south-east to its
north-west point is one of the most delightful trips imaginable. Then
again, the Hervey or Cook's Group, which consist of the fertile islands
of Mangaia, Rarotonga, Atui, Aitutaki, and Mauki, are well worth
visiting. The people speak a language similar to that of Tahiti, and
they are a fine, hospitable race, albeit a little over-civilised. Both
of these groups can be reached from Auckland by sailing vessels, but
not direct from Sydney. As for the lonely islands of the North Pacific,
they are too far afield for any one to visit but the trader or the
traveller to whom time is nothing.

* * * * *


1: Literally, "clear crony."

2: Port.

3: Happiness.

4: A libertine, profligate.

5: My love to you, Pakia; are you well?

6: White foreigners.

7: Frank.

8: Small-pox.

9: An accordion.

10: Idler, gad about--a Samoan expression.

11: German.

12: The Tokelau and Ellice Islanders are much amused at the white man's
method of hauling in a heavy fish hand _over_ hand. This to them is
"_faka fafine_"--i.e., like a woman.

13: Cayse.

14: NOTE BY THE PUBLISHER.--This incident is related by the author in
"By Reef and Palm" under the title of "The Rangers of the Tia Kau."

15: PUBLISHER'S NOTE.--This Alan Strickland is the "Allan" who has so
frequently figured in the author's other tales of South Sea life,
notably in the works entitled "By Reef and Palm" and "The Ebbing of
the Tide."

16: Councillors.

17: _Apo! lima_! "Be quick with your hand!" The passage is narrow and
dangerous, even for canoes, and the steersman, as he watches the
rolling surf, calls out _Apo, lau lima_! to his crew--an expression
synonymous to our nautical, "Pull like the devil!"

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