« PreviousContinue »
across to beautiful Moorea, there to repeat the pleasures of the last fortnight on a smaller scale. And very soon after our return thence, Mrs Brander intends to despatch one of her large vessels to Honolulu to fetch cattle, and I purpose taking passage by her, hoping that I shall thus have time to see something of the Sandwich Isles, and there find letters from you, with such definite plans as shall guide me whether to meet you in Australia or New Zealand about Christmas. You will scarcely venture to keep the children in Fiji any later in the hot season.—With all loving greetings, yours ever, C. F. G. C.
THE ROYAL PROGRESS ROUND TAHITI—LIFE DAY BY DAY—HIMENES—A BEAUTIFUL SHORE—MANUFACTURE OF ARROWROOT FLOWERS—A DESERTED COTTON PLANTATION—TAHITIAN DANCING—THE AUEOIS—VANILLA PLANTATIONS—FORT OF TARAVAO.
Paea, Tah1ti, Monday, Oct. 15, 1877.
Dearest Nell,—We have had a long and most interesting day, and I am pretty well tired out. Still I must begin a journal letter to-night, as we start again at daybreak, and I am sure you will wish for a detailed account of our trip.
This morning at 8 A.m. we started on the grand tour de Vile. All the luggage of the party had been sent on ahead in heavy fourgons, as had also the band of the Magicienne, consisting of twenty sailors, in a couple of char a bancs. Tahitian outriders, carrying the flag of the district, preceded Ariiaue, now King Pomare V., who led our procession, in a high dog-cart, accompanied by his brother Tamatoa, and his little nephew Hinoi, son of the late Prince Joinville. Then followed Admiral Serre, M. Hardouin, the AD.C, and myself, in a comfortable open carriage, and capital horses. Queen Marau came next, with her lovely little sister Manihinihi, and Moe's child, Terii-Mae-Vaetua, who is next in the succession. Sundry and divers vehicles followed, containing
about twenty French officers, Mr Barff as interpreter, and Joseph Miller.
The weather was perfect—not too hot; a brisk trade-wind brought the sea roaring and tumbling in heavy breakers on the coral-reef, about a mile from the shore, where our road skirted the calm lagoon, so blue and peaceful and still . We drove through districts which seemed like one vast orchard of mango, bread-fruit, banana, foes, large orange-trees, lemons, guavas, citrons, papawas, vanilla, coffee, sugar-cane, maize, and cocoa-palm,—together forming a succession of the very richest foliage it is possible to conceive. Sometimes we amused ourselves by counting such few trees as are not fruit-bearing. Here and there the broad grass roads are edged with avenues of tall plantains,—very handsome in a dead calm, but too delicate to endure the rough wooing of these riotous tradewinds, which tear the huge leaves to ribbons, so that the avenues are apt to have a disjasket look.
Even the commonest crops are attractive,—the Indian corn and the sugar, each growing to a height of eight or ten feet, with long leaves like gigantic grass, and pendent tassels of delicate pink silk.
We halted at various points, where deputations had assembled to welcome the king, and about eleven o'clock reached Punavia,— a lovely spot on the sea-shore, at the mouth of a beautiful valley, above which towers Le Diademe (that same crown-shaped mountain which I told you is so grand as seen from Fautawa valley).
Of course I had not failed to bring my large sketching-blocks; and, thanks to the kindness of Mr Green, I had been able to replace my mildewed paper by a store of French paper, sold by the Government offices at Papeete as unfit for use; but to me, after long experience of Fijian mildew,, it proved an unspeakable prize. M. Fayzeau, himself a graceful artist, helped me quickly to select the very best spot for a sketch,—from near a ruined French fort on the shore. Two small forts further up the valley recalled the days when Tahiti made her brave but unavailing struggle for independence.
Ere long we were summoned to breakfast,—a native feast in a native house, which was decorated in most original style, with large patchwork quilts. These are the joy and pride of the Tahitian women, and so artistic in design as to be really ornamental.
To speak correctly, I should call this repast a faamuraa—i.e., a feeding: our fish should have been wrapped in plantain-leaves, and broiled on the embers; the pigs baked on hot stones in earth ovens, where the peeled bread-fruit and bunches of faes, or mountain-plantain, should likewise have been cooked; and the only salt provided should have been a little sea-water in a cocoa-nut shell . But Tahiti has gone ahead so fast, that I cannot answer for how things are done nowadays. I know that, instead of vegetable plates—i.e., layers of large round hybiscus-leaves—we ate off foreign plates, with knives and forks of best electro-plate, and drank our red wine from clearest crystal glasses, and snowy napkins were not forgotten.
There was a considerable consumption of raw fish, which is considered a very great delicacy, and one for which many foreigners acquire a strong liking. There is no accounting for tastes. King Ariiaue, who takes great care of me at meals, has been trying to teach me this enjoyment, and on my objecting, declares it is mere prejudice, as of course I eat oysters raw—we might almost say alive. To this I can answer nothing, well remembering the savage delight with which we have often knocked our own oysters off rocks and branches, and swallowed them on the instant! But then they are so small, and some of these fish are very large. Perhaps one's instinctive objection is to their size. Those most in favour are of a most exquisite green colour.
During breakfast, and afterwards, the glee-singers of the district sang himknes, which are the national music—most strange and beautiful part-songs. Afterwards dancing was suggested; but only a few men volunteered to show us the Upa-upa—ie., the old national dance—which is merely an exceedingly ungraceful wriggle, involving violent exertion, till every muscle quivers, and the dancer retires panting, and in a condition of vulgar heat. It is the identical dance which we saw at the Arab wedding at Port Said, and in various other countries—always an unpleasant exhibition. Happily the band struck up some gay air, which delighted the people; A TAHITIAN DINNER.
and it continued to play till four o'clock, when our procession again formed, and another lovely drive along the shore brought us to Paea.
This is a charmingly situated hamlet of clean, comfortable houses, only divided from the white coral-sand by a belt of green turf and fine old iron-wood trees. Here our night quarters were assigned to us; and certainly we are in clover. I am now sitting in " my own room "—one of four good bed-rooms, opening off a large centre room,—all fresh and clean, and gay with bright quilts and snowy linen. The king and queen, and all the officers, and the band, have their quarters in different houses.
But the pride of the district is its very large house for public entertainment,—a long building, rounded at both ends like the Tongan houses, with heavy thatch, and very light bamboo sides, quite transparent. Here dinner was laid, in European style, for 300 guests,—an upper table at one end, where the chiefs of the district entertained the royal party. Other tables were ranged down each side of the building,—each family in the neighbourhood undertaking to provide for one, and there assemble their own friends. The whole great building is beautifully decorated in Tahitian style, with palm-leaves and tree-ferns, and festoons of deep fringe, made of hybiscus fibre, all dyed either yellow or white: there must be miles of this fringe on that house. Yellow is happily admitted in Court mourning; so the majority of the people have either a yellow neck-tie, or some yellow flowers in their hats — a symptom of mitigated affliction, to express the pleasure that now mingles in their grief for the good queen.
"Le Roi est mort,—Vive le Roi!"
But everywhere we find all the people clothed in long black robes, with black hats and cropped hair, instead of the customary bright colours, long glossy tresses, and gay wreaths. Here, even the district flag-staff is adorned with a deep fringe of black fibre.
We went to dinner in most orthodox fashion, the admiral conducting Marau, and Ariiaue taking me. The feast was warranted to be entirely a Vindigene,—all native dishes; but its great charm consisted in the table decorations, which were most ingenious and effective. Apparently each table had a series of white marble centre-vases, which, on close inspection, proved to be graduated lumps of the thick fleshy banana-stalk. In these were arranged all manner of artificial flowers, made of coloured leaves, or of the glossy white arrowroot fibre, or bamboo fibre, which are used in making wreaths and hats; and from some there floated a silvery plume of the lightest silky film, like fairy ribbons. This is the snowy reva-reva, extracted from the interior of young cocoa-palm leaves—a difficult operation, requiring the neatest hand and long practice. As yet, I cannot produce more than a few inches unbroken. The worker keeps a split stick, stuck in the ground beside her, and into its cleft fastens one end of each ribbon as she peels it, otherwise the faintest breath of air would blow it away. It is the loveliest gossamer you can imagine.
At the end of the feast Tamatoa gave the example of adorning his own hat and those of his neighbours with these lovely plumes, and all the pretty arrowroot and bamboo flowers. Then we adjourned to the grassy shore, and watched the clear full moon rise from the calm sea, while the glee-singers sang their soft beautiful choruses. A few men and one or two women began the same hideous dance with which they had favoured the company in the forenoon, but they met with small encouragement, and the singers carried the day—or rather the night.
I wish it were possible for me to describe Tahitian himhies so as to give you the faintest shadow of an idea of their fascination. But the thing is utterly impossible. Nothing you have ever heard in any other country bears the slightest resemblance to these wild exquisite glees, faultless in time and harmony, though apparently each singer introduces any variations that occur to him or her.
The musicians sit on the grass—or the mats, as the case may be, —in two divisions, arranged in rows so as to form two squares. A space is left between these where the " conductor," should there chance to be one, walks up and down, directing the choruses. But very often there is no leader, and apparently all sing according to their own sweet will . One voice commences: it may be an old native tune, with genuine native words (the meaning of which we