Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][graphic]

ADVANCE OF CIVILISATION. 169

Then we drove through a most beautiful wide avenue of darkgreen trees, something like the Caroba, or locust-trees of Malta, completely overshadowing the broad green drive. And now we were facing the mountains in the centre of the isle, and looked up the lovely valley of Fautawa, at the head of which towers a magnificent hill, so symmetrically indented as to resemble a gigantic crown. Hence its common name, Le Diadème, though to the natives it is still Maiauo. Returning towards Papeete, we met many carriages and equestrians; for here there is no lack of either. Most of the gentlemen were making their way to a river, which is a favourite bathingplace; and I need not tell you that a river-bath is one of the chief delights of a day in the tropics. Mrs Brander had invited us all to dine at The Red House, which is her town home—a large three-storeyed red-brick house. There, amongst other friends, we met a very delightful old lady, Mrs Simpson—a true “mother in Israel.” Widow of one of the early missionaries, she shared in all his labours, and in the joy of beholding the dawn of Christianity, when its first rays dispelled the dark night of heathenism. Many a wondrous change have those clear observant eyes witnessed in her half-century of working life in these fair isles, and many a tale of thrilling interest has she to tell of scenes enacted within her own recollection. Of course, with the advance of civilisation, many of the picturesque elements of earlier days have passed away. The natives no longer assemble on shore to practise their writing lessons on the smooth sea-beach; neither do they carry sand into the schools, that, by spreading it on a closely-woven mat or rude table, it may serve as a simple slate on which to work out the puzzles of arithmetic. The advanced scholars no longer seek for smooth stones on the mountains, to be polished with sea-sand till fine writing can be traced on them with the spines of the echini. Nor are the large leaves of the plantain used as letter-paper on which to send messages, written with a blunt stick, which bruised the delicate leaf without cutting it, and so produced a tracing of brown writing on a glossy green surface. These letters were rolled up like a sheet of parchment and tied with a strip of bark. A plantain-leaf being about fifteen inches wide, and perhaps six feet in length, would allow of a very long message being written on one scroll, and answered very well, provided the letter had not far to travel; but of course the leaf would shrivel and split within a few days. Now letters are written on common note-paper, and bear the postage-stamps of the French Republic. No longer are children summoned to school, and congregations to worship, by the king's messenger, lightly draped, but gaily wreathed, passing swiftly round the village, blowing loud blasts on his great trumpet-shell, and pausing at intervals to invite the presence of the people. Now his place is filled by the very commonplace bell of civilised life. In the matter of dress, too, though we may be thankful that Prince Alfred's strong commendation of the graceful sacque has caused it to triumph over all varieties of changeful and unbecoming fashion, which for a while found favour here, and which ere now have covered these comely heads with English bonnets and close-fitting white caps ()—the artistic eye would certainly prefer the dress of olden days: that of the women consisting of soft drapery of beautiful cream-coloured native cloth, wound round the body, passed under one arm and knotted on the other shoulder, revealing the shapely neck and arm, while gay garlands wreathed their hair; and for ear-rings, some wore a fragrant blossom passed through one ear, and, in the other, two or three large pearls fastened together with finely braided human hair. The men, so many of whom have now adopted coat and trousers, then wore either a very finely plaited, fringed mat, or a pareo—i.e., kilt of native cloth, made either from the bark of the paper-mulberry or that of the bread-fruit, or else from the filaments of the banyan-tree. Of these the former was the whitest, and preferred for women; the latter was very thin and brown. The cloth made from the bark of the bread-fruit was very strong, and was dyed according to taste—either of a rich chocolate, a brilliant yellow, or red. The two last were the favourite colours, and were obtained from the sap and berries of different trees. Sometimes the cloth

WULGARISING CHANGES. 171

was reversible—being black on one side and red on the other, and varnished with vegetable gum to enrich the colour. Some wore this handsome material as a cloak-falling from the shoulders in flowing drapery, very becoming to a stately chief. Others wore it as a tiputa or tippet, which resembled the poncho of South America—being simply a long piece of cloth, with a hole cut in the centre, through which to pass the head, the garment falling over the back and chest and reaching to the knees. Sometimes this tiputa was beautifully ornamented; and often it was made of curiously knotted fibre—generally that of the hybiscus, from which fine fishing-nets were also made. Those who could afford such luxury wore head-dresses made of the long tail-feathers of the graceful tropic bird; and the poorest wore gay flowers. But these were discarded in favour of regular English hats, and the scarlet feathers were used as trimming for shabby black coats. Proud was the man who became possessed of a pair of trousers, to be displayed alternately on legs or arms In short, the spirit of innovation was attended with the usual hideous incongruities. Instead of the big European boats of the present day, with nothing distinctive except the form of their quaint triangular sail, there were formerly fleets of canoes of every size up to 100 feet in length, with grotesque carving on the raised stern and prow, and flags and streamers of native cloth. They carried large sails of yellow matting, made from the long leaves of the screw-pine," which was much lighter than the canvas of civilisation, but also much less durable. Here again the picturesque element has suffered. In those days there were war canoes and chiefs' canoes, single canoes, and double canoes—like Siamese twins; and in every fleet there was always a sacred canoe, that the presence of the tribal god might not be lacking, The gods of Tahiti seem to have been simple enough : some were in the form of a large bird, others were merely a hollow cylinder ornamented with bright feathers. The blue shark was deified, and had temples erected in his honour, and a special priesthood; he was chiefly worshipped by fishermen, though few whose

1 Pandanus.

« PreviousContinue »