Page images
PDF
EPUB

TAHITIAN HIMENES. 187

had better not inquire), or it may be a Scriptural story versified, and sung to an air originally imported from Europe, but so completely Tahitianised that no mortal could recognise it, which is all in its favour; for the wild melodies of this isle are beyond measure fascinating.

After one clause of solo, other voices strike in—here, there, everywhere—in harmonious chorus. It seems as if one section devoted themselves to pouring forth a rippling torrent of Ra, ra, ra-ra-ra ! while others burst into a flood of La, la, la-la-la | Some confine their care to sound a deep booming bass in a long-continued drone, somewhat suggestive (to my appreciative Highland ear) of our own bagpipes. Here and there high falsetto notes strike in, varied from verse to verse, and then the choruses of La and Ra come bubbling in liquid melody; while the voices of the principal singers now join in unison, now diverge as widely as it is possible for them to do, but all combine to produce the quaintest, most melodious, rippling glee that ever was heard. Some himènes have an accompaniment of measured hand-clapping, by hundreds of those present. It is curious in its way, chiefly as a triumph of perfect time, but I do not think it attractive. The clear mellifluous voices need no addition; and as they ring out suddenly and joyously, in the cool evening, I can imagine no sound more inspiriting.

To-night our party received a pleasant addition, the queen's two sisters, Moetia and Prie, having driven over from Papeete, on their way to join their mother, Mrs Salmon, who, as high chiefess of the next district, is to receive her daughter to-morrow morning.

All the time I have been writing to you, there have been occasional bursts of himène singing, and of the far less musical accompaniment of the Upa-upa, but now quiet reigns, so I may as well sleep while I can, Good-night.

MATAIEA, PAPEoor IR1, Tuesday, 16th. This morning we were all astir at 5 A.M., and had early coffee on

the cool verandah. All the luggage was started by 6 o'clock, and then I had a quiet hour's sketching from beneath one of the great iron-wood trees (casuarina). At 7 o'clock our procession started ; every one cheery and good-tempered; on every side hearty greetings—“Yarra na / Yarra na / " and sounds of careless laughter, and merry voices. There is certainly a great charm in this pretty liquid language, and in the gentle affectionate manner of the people, who seem to be overflowing with genial kindliness. As usual, our path lay through such bowers of endlessly varied foliage as to form one continuous panorama of delight. No painter's brush could produce such infinite shades of green as are here multiplied,—from the delicate tender hues of the silky young banana-leaves, ranging through every description of dark-green and bright-green, blue-green and sunlit yellow, till the eye is fain to rest on the sombre hair-like foliage of the iron-wood trees, which grow on the very brink of the sea, their long tresses literally drooping to the water. We passed through plantations of coffee, not close-clipped as in Ceylon, but growing tall and rank, and overshadowed by cocoapalms, yet loaded with bright scarlet berries. The coffee shrubs are here made to do double duty, and serve as props for the vanilla, which is trained to creep all over them, its fragrant pods intermingling with the coffee cherries. The broad road of soft green turf next led us through groves of luxuriant bread-fruit trees with large pale-green fruit, dark mangotrees and orange-trees alike laden with their half-ripe crop, and here and there we passed a fragrant rose-apple tree, the fruit of which tastes exactly like the scent of roses. But of all heavenly perfumes, commend me to the blossom of the Tahitian chestnut, a noble forest-tree, with rich dark foliage, standing out in strong relief from the cool grey-greens of the hybiscus, with the lemoncoloured blossoms, which clothes the base of the mountains. Beyond that belt of cool shadow the great green hills tower in strange fantastic form, seamed by deep valleys, down which pour crystal streams, so numerous that the sparkling air seems to re-echo the musical voice of many waters. Every weird fantastic rockpinnacle is draped by clinging vines, infinite in their variety, and all alike lovely; and the clear sunlight playing on the golden green

ENCHANTING SCENERY. 189

of the mountain-summits, tells that even there, the same wealth of all things beautiful abounds.

This was the panorama that rose on our left hand as we drove along the shore. On our right, like a silver shield, lay the calm glittering lagoon, reflecting, as in a mirror, the grand masses of white cloud, and bounded by the long line of breakers, flashing as they dashed on the barrier-reef. Beyond these lay outspread the vast Pacific, its deep purple flecked with white crests, telling how briskly the trade-winds blew outside, And far on the horizon, the rugged peaks of Moorea rose, clear and beautiful, robed in ethereal lilac, Far above our heads the light fronds of the cocoapalm interlaced, forming a fairy canopy, through which we looked up to the clearest blue heaven. I think it must be a cold unthankful heart that could so look up, without some echo of the Benedicite—

“O ye mountains and hills, O ye seas and floods, 0 all ye green things upon the earth, Bless ye the Lord ' praise Him and magnify Him for ever.”

Two hours' drive brought us to Papara, where a very grand reception awaited the young king and queen. Mrs Salmon, the queen's mother, had assembled all her vassals in most imposing array; and a double row of himène singers lined the road, singing choruses of congratulation, taken up alternately on the right hand and on the left. The effect was very pretty. Many relations of the family had also assembled to greet their royal kinsfolk.

Very quaint handsome tiputas were presented to the king and the admiral. These are ceremonial garments, reaching from the neck to the knee, made from the fibre of bread-fruit bark, and covered with flowers and twists of the glossy arrowroot fibre, each stitched on separately. To the queen, the admiral, and myself, were presented most lovely crowns of the same silvery arrowroot; while for the gentlemen were provided garlands and necklaces of fragrant white or yellow blossoms, and charming hats of white bamboo fibre, manufactured by the ladies and their attendants.

I may as well tell you how the lovely arrowroot fibre is obtained. It is the inner coating of the flower-stalk, which is a hollow stem like that of hemlock, and grows to a height of about four feet. These stalks are soaked in running water till the green outer skin begins to decay. Then the stalk is laid on a flat wooden board, and a woman slits it open from end to end with a sharp shell, with which she then proceeds to scrape off every particle of green, and there remains a lovely ribbon, like very glossy white satin, ribbed longitudinally: with a sharp thorn she divides this into very narrow strips. And this is the material most in use in the art-world of Tahiti, being woven by deft fingers into all manner of pretty ornaments for hair, dress, and fans. Bamboo is prepared in much the same manner, but is a harsher material to work, and much less ornamental. The house at Papara, and the large breakfast-room, were most tastefully decorated with great tree-ferns and bright yellow bananaleaves, plaited to form a sort of fringe. Wild melodious himènes were sung all the time of the feast, and afterwards the band played operatic airs till 3 o'clock, when we once more started on our journey. In this district much cultivation has impaired the beauty of wild nature. Large tracts of land have been laid out for scientific planting of cotton and coffee; and after all, the fields have been abandoned, the crops left to run wild, and are now rank straggling bushes struggling for life with the overmastering vines. In itself the cotton is a pretty shrub, its yellow blossom with claret-coloured heart closely resembling the lemon-coloured hybiscus, while its bursting pods offer their soft white fluff to all comers. But a softer, silkier cotton for stuffing pillows, is that obtained from the tall cotton-tree, with the scarlet blossom and long green pod. We halted at the melancholy deserted plantation of Atiamano, which in very recent years was the home of the manager for the Tahiti Cotton and Coffee Plantation Company—a reckless speculator with the capital intrusted to him. Never was there a truer illustration of the proverb concerning cutting broad thongs from other men's leather. Mr William Stewart, an ex-cavalry officer, arrived in Tahiti

THE STORY OF A FAILURE. 191

about the year 1860, and obtained the sanction of the French governor for the purchase of a very large property, to which he gave the name of Terre Eugénie, and at once commenced every species of improvement. First-class roads, high cultivation, hotels which never paid, because of the princely hospitality freely offered to all comers in his own splendid country-house;—these, with his genial friendliness and good fellowship, naturally made him the most popular man in Tahiti, and one whose praises have been sung by all travellers. To work the estates he imported about 1000 Chinamen, and 300 “foreign labour” from the Central Pacific and the Hervey Isles; and to those he is said to have been a kind master, caring for them in sickness as in health, by the provision of good hospitals. Of course there were not lacking enemies who grudged Mr Stewart his apparent success, and many were the virulent attacks made upon him by other settlers in the group. Specimens of very inferior cotton were circulated in Europe, purporting to be samples of the finest growth of Atiamano; and sensational paragraphs appeared in various American papers, describing the infamous cruel. ties of which he and his overseers were declared guilty towards their wretched labourers. So damaging were these attacks, that Mr Stewart demanded a public inquiry, which was granted by the French Governor, when all these accusations were proved to be iniquitous libels. The little army of 1300 workmen were found to be unusually healthy and happy; and the only serious complaint made to the commissioners was by the Chinamen, who considered it most unfair of Mr Stewart to object to their committing suicide by hanging, as the easiest way of paying their gambling debts This cloud of aspersions having been effectually disproved, everything looked fair on the surface till, in an evil day, the shareholders began to take alarm. No title-deeds were forthcoming. All capital had evaporated utterly, and in 1874 the luckless manager died miserably, and the great bubble burst. Now the whole place is falling to ruin, and a more miserable sight I have rarely seem. A certain mumber of the Chinamen still remain–

« PreviousContinue »