Page images



"busy trees" indeed, laden at once with bud and blossom, ripe and unripe fruit, and in many cases bearing several crops in a year. No wonder that these light-hearted people care so little to weary themselves with digging and delving, when the beautiful groves yield them fruit in abundance, and the mountains supply uncultivated crops of nourishing bananas and wild yams. For that matter, I suspect it is really quite as fatiguing to climb the steep mountains in search of wild vegetables as it would be to grow them in gardens— probably a good deal more so—for the beautiful mountain-plantain, which is the staple article of food, grows in all the most inaccessible valleys and clefts of the rock. As you look up the steep hillside, so richly clothed with vegetation, the most prominent forms are these large handsome leaves, with their huge cluster of fruit growing upright from the centre, but to reach them you may have to climb a couple of thousand feet—and such climbing 1 A man would need to be in very robust health who could face such a walk to fetch his family food. For my own part, I should prefer to sacrifice the romance, and plod steadily at my yamgarden.

These mountain-plantains are the only branch of the family which carry their fruit upright in that proud fashion; all other sorts hang drooping below the leaves, like gigantic bunches of yellow grapes; and the native legend tells how, long ago, all the banana tribe held their fruit upright, but that in an evil hour they quarrelled with the mountainplantain, and were defeated,—hence they have ever since hung their head in shame.

In heathen days the Samoans seem to have been greatly averse to unnecessary work, and even the art of making cloth of the paper-mulberry fibre was one which their indolence long prevented them from acquiring, though they greatly admired that which their Tahitian teachers made for them. Now, however, they appear fairly industrious, and the women particularly so—those of the highest rank priding themselves on being the most skilful weavers of fans, mats, and baskets, and in making the strongest fibre-cloth. The chief men also are willing to do their full share of whatever work is going on, whether house-building, fishing, working on the plantation, or preparing the oven and heating the stones to cook the family dinner.

Now all the chief men wear very handsome cloth, thicker and more glossy than that made in Fiji, though less artistic in design. Fifty years ago the regular dress of all the men was merely a girdle of leaves—a simple form of dress, but one which was never dispensed with, as in many of the Papuan group; indeed, one of the most humiliating pun

[blocks in formation]

ishments in heathen days was to compel a culprit to walk naked through the village, or so to sit for hours in some public place. To this da}7 a leafy girdle is considered essential as a bathing-dress— the long dracaena leaves being those most in favour. They are so arranged as to overlap one another like the folds of a kilt; and as they vary in colour, from brilHant gold to richest crimson or brightest green, the effect produced is as gay as any tartan. This is the favourite liku, or kilt, in Fiji even now.

But on great occasions in olden days, as at the present time, the chiefs, and their wives and daughters, wore very fine mats of the most delicate cream colour. They are made two or three yards square, and are as soft and flexible as cloth. The best are made from the leaves of the pandanus, scraped till there remains only a fibre thin as paper; but the bark of the dwarf hybiscus also yields an excellent fibre for weaving mats. Their manufacture is a high art. It is exclusively women's work, but is one in which few excel, and is very tedious; the labour of several months being expended on a mat which, when finished, may be worth about ten dollars.

The strong paper-like cloth commonly worn, is much less troublesome to manufacture. There are several plants from which a good cloth-making fibre is obtained. One of them is the magnificent giant arum, the leaves of which often measure from 5 to 6 feet in length, by 4 in width. Its root is large in proportion—truly a potato for a giant. How you would delight in the cosy brown cottages whose thatched roofs just peep out from among such leaves as these. You do realise that you are in the tropics when you see gigantic caladium or quaint papawas, splendid bananas with leaves 6 or 8 feet long, and tufts of tall maize or sugar-cane 15 to 20 feet high, growing luxuriantly at every cottage-door.

To-day we passed through several villages, and were everywhere greeted with the kindly salutation Ole Alofa (i.e., " Great Love "). We were invited to enter many houses; and though our scanty vocabularies did not suffice for much conversation, a mutual inspection was doubtless gratifying to both parties. The language of the Samoans is soft, and their voices musical. To express thanks, they say Faa-fetai. The familiar Vinaka! Vinaka! (i.e., "Well done!" in Fijian) is here rendered by Le-lei! Le-lei! Good-night, is To/ai.e., " May you sleep." The Samoan language is generally described as the Italian of the Pacific—it is so mellifluous. It is, however, a very difficult one for a foreigner to acquire thoroughly, as it has three distinct dialects —the language used in addressing a high chief, a middle-class gentleman, or a peasant, being altoCANNIBALISM NEVER PRACTISED. 109

gether different; and a further complication arises from the politeness which leads the highest chief to speak of anything referring to himself in the dialect which describes the lowest of the people. In Samoa, however, as in the other Polynesian group, one language is spoken on all the different isles, and there has at all times been free intercourse between them —a very different state of things from that which prevails in such groups as the New Hebrides, where each isle has a dialect—perhaps two or three—unknown to any of its neighbours, and where one tribe dares not set foot on the land of another.

Samoa has always been in many respects superior to most of her neighbours. Not only was she free from the reproach of cannibalism, but also, in great measure, from that of infanticide, which prevailed to so frightful an extent in neighbouring groups. Here children were never destroyed after their birth, though it is supposed that fully two-thirds of those born in old days, died from mismanagement in nursing. The sick were invariably treated with kindness, and old age lovingly tended. Such horrors as the burial of the living, as practised in Fiji in heathen times, were never dreamt of in Samoa.

In no land is old age more beautiful than here —partly because the tendency is to corpulence in place of leanness; and the eyes retain their clear, piercing brightness, and the countenance a kindly

« PreviousContinue »