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where, borrowing courage from Toetoe’s presence and good example (she being, as a matter of course, a perfect swimmer), I venture on a dash through the breaking waves to the pleasant calm water beyond; where, however, our peaceful enjoyment is considerably marred by the dread of sharks, which here venture close to the shore. We have made various expeditions, walking and driving, to picturesque points on land and shore; and a day at the lighthouse enabled me to complete my previous sketch of Orofena, the highest mountain of Tahiti. Now we are just starting to drive back along the coast to Papeete—a lovely route, by which, as you may remember, I last travelled by torchlight, on our return from the grand circuit of the isle.
PAPEETE, February 19th.
We have for some time been anxiously watching for the return of the Maramma, Mrs Brander's fine large ship, which is bringing cattle from the Sandwich Isles, and which will, I hope, take me there on her next trip, supposing no mischance has befallen her. But she is now considerably overdue, and fears are expressed that she may have disobeyed orders, and gone to the dangerous coast of Kauai, thence to fetch cattle. Or she may have encountered the hurricane.
A vessel has just come into port from Honolulu, bringing cattle. She has been nineteen days on the voyage, and reports that the Maramma is following.
In the evening the lovely moonlight tempted us to visit our old haunts, the place where the admiral's band used to play every evening, but where, under the new régime, the hideous upa-upa is now nightly danced for the edification of the admiring crowd. There was the usual large picturesque assemblage, but their gaiety was of a more demonstrative type than heretofore. In short, the admiral's excellent restrictions, which were to inaugurate quite a new era in Tahiti, have already melted “like snowdrift in thaw’’ before the cheerful presence of the new ruler; who, on the very night of M. D'Oncieue's departure, summoned many damsels (friends of former days, and noted dancers of the obnoxious native wriggle) to Government House, where they were hospitably entertained. Of course news of this complete subversion of six months' compulsory reformation quickly spread to the remotest districts, and from all parts of the island all the dancers flocked to Papeete, where they now assemble every evening before Government House, and the crowd thus attracted is of a sort such as ladies would not care to mix in for long. To-night there was some rather pretty singing, but not to be compared with the true himènes — and from the laughter of the crowd it might be inferred that the words would not bear translation.
The Ségond has returned from the Paumotus with a lamentable tale of disaster. We are all, however, much relieved at hearing that our friend Mr Macgee is safe; though he had a most narrow escape on the awful night of the hurricane, when he happened to be on the isle of Kaukura, which seems to have been the centre of the cyclone, and consequently suffered most. He had passed this island a few days previously in the Marion, but the sea had been too heavy to allow of so large a vessel venturing to approach. Business compelling him to return, he did so in the May, a smaller craft. Both vessels belong to Mrs Brander, and are named after her daughters.
Like the generality of the Paumotus, Kaukura consists of a circular group of low flat islets, either detached or connected by a reef, thus forming an atoll enclosing a calm sea-lagoon; the whole being protected from the outer ocean by an encircling reef. An existence more calm and peaceful than that of the dwellers in these coral-girt isles can
PROTECTION OF NUT-CROP. 295
scarcely be conceived; and a storm such as that which has devastated the group, is of such rare occurrence as to be little dreaded in the chances of daily life. Eighty years are said to have elapsed since the last hurricane occurred in these latitudes. Considering that many of these islets are not three feet above the water-level,-that ten feet is considered high ground, and fifteen is about the maximum elevation,-you can understand how appalling is the danger caused by any eccentricity of tide. As cocoa-nuts are the chief produce of the group, and indeed the sole property of many families, it is customary to protect the interests of each member of the community from all danger of poaching on the part of his neighbour, by laying a taboo on the whole crop until a given day. I suppose I need scarcely tell you what is meant by this ceremony, which, under slightly varied names (tabu in New Zealand, tambu in Fiji, tapu in Samoa, and kapu in Hawaii), is common throughout the Pacific, and implies that something has been reserved or rendered sacred by order of the chief. In olden days the multitudinous forms of taboo were to all these islanders a heavy burden, weighing grievously upon them in every phase of life; and the infringement of the most arbitrary rule thus imposed was generally punished by death. Even now a formally declared taboo carries such weight, and appeals so forcibly to the superstitions of the people, that it is almost invariably respected. Thus in the matter of the cocoa-nut crop not a nut from the reserved plantations can be touched, till, on the removal of the prohibition, all the proprietors and their families, together with all interested in the purchase of the nuts, or in securing payment of debts previously contracted, assemble at the Rahui, as it is called, and there build for themselves frail booths of palm-leaves—a sorry shelter at the best. In such a leaf-village, on one of the detached islets, all the inhabitants of Kaukura had assembled, together with a number of traders from other places, in all numbering nearly 200 persons, when they were overtaken by the awful hurricane of the 6th February. For some hours previously the greatest anxiety had prevailed. A strong easterly breeze had for three consecutive days lashed the waters of the lagoon into fury, then gradually veered round to the west with ever increasing force. The outer ocean, now rising in tumultuous waves, swept in from the westward; and, sweeping right over the barrier-reef with a roar like thunder, broke on the shore with a force unequalled in the memory of any islander now living. Thus the usually calm lagoon within the coral ring, and the annular lagoon on its outer edge, were alike lashed to tempestuous billows,