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THE KEY OF THE PANAMA CANAL. 101
necessary gunpowder Thus was this buccaneering expedition carried out, and France established as ruler in the three groups—the Marquesas, the Paumotus, and the Society Isles." It was a South Sea version of
“The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,
but in this case the lamb found no deliverer.
the order of the day. In the governor's beautiful gardens, a brilliant banquet for upwards of a hundred persons was served in a great tent, all as graceful as the combined taste of France and Tahiti could make it. Then followed a lovely garden festival, just such as that described by “The Earl and the Doctor,” a gay ball for the leading inhabitants, while “the people” danced no less joyously on the green, outside the sacred precincts. Games, music, dancing, and feasting, with a night of brilliant illuminations and fireworks,—all these, combined with lovely surroundings and perfect weather, made the great official festival of Tahiti a day which the French naval officers very naturally consider one to be remembered for ever, but which, perchance, may have caused some of the older inhabitants an angry and bitter pang, for the independence of their country thus lost for ever. * Immediately after the declaration of the annexation of the Society Isles, comes the news that the French have also annexed the Gambier Isles, which lie to the south-west, in the direction of Pitcairn's Isle. Our Gallic friends have thus secured a very admirable semicircle of the four finest groups in the Eastern Pacific. Here they can now consolidate their strength, and await the influx of commerce which must of necessity pass through this cordon, when M. Lesseps shall have opened the Panama Canal for the traffic of the world. Here French ships will touch on their way to and from the Loyalty Isles and Cochin-China; while ships of all nations, plying between Europe and Australasia, will necessarily pass the same way, and contribute their quota to the wealth of the French Pacific. The Gambier Islands have been gradually prepared for their adoption by France, the Catholic Mission having there ruled supreme for some twenty years.
This bare historical outline was literally all I knew about the Marquesas Isles, and I doubt whether you or any one else in England knows much more.
Now that through my ignorance I have thrown away such a chance of visiting them, and also the Paumotus, I am told on all sides that they are the loveliest group in the Pacific, ideal in their beauty —embodied poems; and so I am fuming over my own folly, and telling myself that a traveller who could let slip such a golden opportunity must have reached second childhood, and is no longer fit to wander at large. I try to be philosophical, and not fret over the irrevocable; but of all the scattered leaves that I have yet suffered to float past me on that “stream that never returneth,” none has aggravated me so sorely as this. I am assured on all hands that I should have received a genial welcome from the French governor and Madame and their little society, and that the expedition would have been in every respect exceptionally delightful.
Till quite recently, the Bible has been a prohibited book, but now, of the few remaining natives, a large proportion are learning to read Tahitian, in order to be able to study the Scriptures for themselves; and the Protestant Mission in Tahiti has responded to this desire, by sending copies of the New Testament for gratuitous distribution in the group. From one cause or another, however, a very small number of natives now exist, the islands having become wellnigh depopulated.
THE MARQUESAS ISLES. 103
As it is, I can only gather a few faint visions of the lovely isles by stringing together such particulars as I can learn respecting them. To begin with, “Les isles Marquises” comprise twelve volcanic isles, thrown up in wildly irregular black crags, the central range of the larger isles towering to a height of 5000 feet, while in many places inaccessible crags rise perpendicular from the sea, but are so exquisitely draped with parasitic plants as to resemble a succession of green waterfalls. Not that true waterfalls are lacking. On the contrary, the mountains are furrowed with deep ravines, in each one of which flows a sparkling river of clearest water, fed by countless cascades, which fall from high cliffs, and, uniting in the upper valleys, leap in rushing cataracts over the sheer precipices, by which alone they may reach the lower levels.
Six of these islands are inhabited — namely, Nukuheva, Hiva-oa (commonly called Dominica), Tetuhiva, Tahuata, Uapou, and Uahuna. Of these, the principal are Nukuheva and Dominica.
The former is about 17 miles in length by 12 in breadth—the latter 20 by 7. The population of the group, which a few years ago was roughly estimated at from 15,000 to 20,000, does not now exceed 5000, of whom 3000 are the inhabitants of Dominique. On all the other islands the population was decimated about fifteen years ago by the
so-called Peruvian labour trade—in other words, remorseless kidnappers. Smallpox was also introduced by foreign ships, and, as in all new countries where it breaks out for the first time, swept the isles like a consuming fire, leaving to this day the trace of its awful ravages. It broke out in the year 1863, and quickly spread throughout the group. On the isle of Nukuheva it raged with frightful virulence, and carried off a great multitude. José, a Pervuian convert who had found his way to the Marquesas, and established himself as an evangelist, devoted himself with untiring patience and zeal to the care of the sick, whose panic-stricken friends forsook them, and left him alone to tend that terrible company of miserable sufferers. Single-handed, he buried the dead; but, thanks to his self-devotion, many recovered, and by his good influence were won from their gross cannibalism and heathenism to the faith he so nobly taught them by its practice. But just then the French authorities sold all that district to Stewart & Co., a company of English and French merchants, who converted it into cotton and coffee plantations, and José was ordered to leave l The new-comers took possession of lands wellnigh depopulated by the terrible smallpox. Silence and desolation brooded over the rich and beautiful
RAVAGES OF SMALLPOX. 105
valleys, where bread-fruit, cocoa-palms, guavas, papaws, and all manner of tropical fruits ripened unheeded, for there were none to gather them. Thus where a few years ago the natives could be counted by thousands, there are now only scattered villages, thinly peopled. Happily the ravages of constant intertribal wars are held in check by the presence of the French. In former days the Marquesans were fierce cannibals, and the inhabitants of each lovely valley waged war to the death against all other tribes. The almost inaccessible mountain-ridges rise from the sea-level, somewhat in the general form of a great star-fish, the space between the arms being filled by verdant and most fertile valleys, where all manner of fruit-trees grow luxuriantly, and where the different tribes live, each in its own territory, and well shielded by its natural position from all incursions of its neighbours. For each valley is thus enclosed by abrupt precipitous crags, several hundred feet in height, over which leap cool sparkling rivulets, bringing abundant moisture to irrigate the yam and taro crops, the sugar-cane, cotton, and all the rich herbage which flourishes beneath the dense foliage of bread-fruit and bananas. Embowered in this green paradise are homes built of the yellow bamboo, whose feathery foliage waves so gracefully in every direction. The houses