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These horrid creatures are highly phosphorescent, and leave a trail of light as they move at night. If crushed, they emit a glow of light, and hence were in olden days reverenced as an incarnation of divinity; and Veri, the centipede-god, was worshipped at Mangai, in the Hervey Isles, where a huge banyan-tree overshadowed his marae, among the grey rocks, and where to this day some say that gigantic centipedes keep guard over the hidden treasures of the tribe of Teipe, formerly their devout worshippers.
Speaking of phosphorescent things, did I ever tell you about the curious luminous fungi which are found in the mountains of Fiji? They gleam with a pale weird blue light, and the natives occasionally play tricks at the expense of their superstitious neighbours, suggestive of the turnip-ghosts of our own foolish young days.
Another new experience of this afternoon has been tasting the far-famed orange-rum, which is supposed to have such a deteriorating effect on those addicted to it. It is weak, insipid stuff, like mawkish vinegar. I should be very sorry to drink a wine-glassful of it, but I should think a bucketful would scarcely have any effect on the head, however seriously it might disturb other organs. I am certain it is weaker than the cider of which English haymakers drink twenty large mugs in a day with impunity.
But I am told that long before the introduction of oranges, and the consequent invention of orange-rum, the Tahitians had been taught by the Hawaiians how to distil an intoxicating spirit from the root of the ti shrub,1 which is highly saccharine, and is generally baked, and made into puddings.
They invented a still of the rudest construction. For the boiler they hollowed a lump of rock, and this they covered with an unwieldy wooden cover, the rude stump of a tree, into which was inserted a long bamboo, which rested in a trough of cold water, and conveyed the distilled spirit into a gourd. This ponderous boiler was set on two layers of stones, leaving a space for a fire, and was then filled with the baked ti root, which had been soaked till fermentation had commenced. Then ensued wild orgies, when all the people of the district gave themselves up to unbridled licen
1 Dracaena terminalis.
tiousness; and having drunk till they were mad, generally ended by quarrelling, so that it was not an uncommon thing to find the remains of one of these rude stills overturned and scattered on the ground, and around them the corpses of those who had ended their drunken bout by a free fight, in which clubs and stone axes had proved efficient weapons.
The practice of this very unpleasant vice spread rapidly .to other isles, and was one of the serious hindrances met with by the early missionaries. Thus, when Raiatea had for some time been looked upon as a model island, it only needed the arrival of a trading ship, and of a cask of spirits, to produce an outbreak on the part of King Tamatoa (not the present man), which was instantly followed by the mass of the people, who in their reawakened craving for spirits prepared about twenty stills, all of which were in full operation, when Mr Williams, returning after a short absence, found the island which he had left so orderly and flourishing, all given up to mad drunkenness.
Having had their bout, the people were naturally rather ashamed of themselves, remembering how nobly their grand old chief, the original Tamatoa, Queen Pomare's grandfather, had kept his vow of temperance during the fifteen years he lived after becoming a Christian. Previous to that time he too had been a heavy drinker, and being a man of gigantic strength, and six feet eleven inches in height, he was not pleasant company when drunk. So it was a happy hour in which he vowed never again to touch any intoxicating liquor, and became the most constant attendant at school and chapel.
When his favourite daughter Maikara, the governess of Huahine, heard of this outbreak in Raiatea, she went over, with some of her trusted officers, to help the orderly remnant in the isle to carry out the laws for the destruction of all stills; and though in some districts they met with considerable opposition, they effected their purpose thoroughly. Not long afterwards a temperance society was formed, which seems to have worked satisfactorily on the whole, though of course individuals sometimes succumb to the temptations so cruelly offered by foreign ships.
Evidently drunkenness is no longer admired as a kingly attribute, for the Eaiateans banished the present Tamatoa, who was formerly their king, because of his disagreeable habit of taking pot-shots at his subjects when he was very far gone. I am happy to say ho does not now indulge in this obnoxious practice, which would be particularly dangerous to us, as he lives in the next house, and frequently entertains us with wild rollicking songs, which, however, are not nearly so hateful as his habit of beating a large drum for several hours at a time! an entertainment which must be particularly trying to his sweet gentle wife, the charming Mob", concerning whom even the Frenchmen always speak with unbounded respect, and whose faithful love to her jovial but very trying spouse has continued unshaken, notwithstanding all the homage of one sort or another with which she has been loaded, including that of the author of 'South Sea Bubbles.'
Just now every one is anxious about her, for she is daily expecting a small addition to her family, and is exceedingly ill with influenza—a very violent form of which has recently broken out, severely affecting lungs and throat . It is a real epidemic. A number of people have died from it, and such a multitude are suffering, that the town seems morne and sad. Even the band is deserted and the church is empty. Tamatoa himself, and the queen's two sisters, Titaua Brander and Moetia Attwater, are among the sufferers. Mrs Miller and her grown-up sons, Mme. Fayzeau and her children, and all Mrs Green's children, are really very ill—high fever accompanied by utter prostration of strength being among the symptoms.
It is a most extraordinary fact that on every one of the Polynesian groups the natives declare that influenza was never known till white men came; and now it is one of the regular scourges of the Pacific, returning almost every year in a greater or less degree, but occasionally proving very severe and fatal, especially to old folk. It is generally preceded by westerly or southerly winds, and passes off as the steady trade-winds set in bringing fine settled weather. It first appeared in Samoa in 1830, just when the first missionaries Williams and Barff touched the group, and was of course attributed
to their machinations. In the New Hebrides, where it proved a very serious scourge, it led to the murder of many teachers, who (as I think I have already told you) were considered to be the disease-makers.
Among those now suffering from it, is dear old Mrs Simpson, the "mother of missions" in these parts, of whose " pure Biblical English" Lord Pembroke spoke so admiringly. She is now on a visit to Mrs Brander, to whom she has been like a second mother. There I have frequently met her, and we have become great friends. She is planning that I am to visit her daughter, Mme. Valles, who is married to a retired French officer, and has a plantation on Moorea. I hope to see it in the course of a few days.
Wednesday, SUt Oct.
Alas! the influenza has done its work quickly. Only yesterday morning I was breakfasting with Mrs Brander on my return from a lovely early ride with Narii, up the Fautawa valley; Mrs Simpson was unable to appear, and afterwards a messenger came to tell Mr Green that she was very ill. In the night I was wakened by. a man with a lantern standing at my open window; he brought tidings of her death.
It is a most trying moment, for this real sorrow occurs just when all those who were most devoted to the clever, good, and loving old lady, are compelled from their position to take a leading part in the festivities for the royal reception in Moorea. Mrs Brander, as chiefess of the isle, has to make every sort of festal preparation— and now, in addition to these, she has to make all arrangements for the funeral of her loved old friend, whose body will be carried to Moorea to-morrow on board the Seignelay. It will be a terrible shock for poor Mme. Valles, who to-day is preparing for all the gay doings of to-morrow, little dreaming that besides all the expected friends, whose visit would have been such a delight, one will return silent—never more to leave the isle where her lips first taught the words of life to many. . . .
We start for Moorea to-morrow morning.
THE ROYAL PROGRESS ROUND MOOREA THE SEIGNELAY STARTS
FOR THE MARQUESAS AND PAUMOTUS INDECISION.
Chez Rev. James Green, Papeete,
Dearest Nell,—All tho others have gone off to the Tahitian church. As I find, from long experience, that attending service in an unknown tongue tends to produce habits of the strictest inattention, I thought I might as well stay at home and have a talk with you. We returned from Moorea yesterday, and I am still very tired. This expedition has been very fatiguing, and somewhat bewildering, from the manner in which everything was hurried; there was really no time to enjoy anything; it was all a rush to get over the ground.
For some reason unknown, the admiral determined to accomplish the grand round in two days, which did not allow of a halt at half the districts. This was the more tantalising as the island is indescribably lovely, and I longed to linger at every point. The day of our start was equally hurried, and the people had received such very short notice, that they were quite unprepared for the royal visit, and somewhat disconcerted in consequence. And then tho combination of mourning with ceremonial rejoicing was a very distressing element.
On Thursday morning one of the Seignelay boats came here to take me on board at 7 A.m., and soon afterwards the king and queen arrived, escorted by the admiral and many officers of La Magicienne. Mrs Brander and all her family party soon followed. But our wonted gaiety was altogether lacking, for there was a solemn presence in our midst, and we all knew that beneath the Union-jack, which was spread as a pall, lay the coffin containing the remains of one very dear to many in these isles. Her husband was buried on Moorea, near the spot where his daughter now lives; and now the two faithful workers have been laid side by side in this far country