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life! I vote that, instead of my having to do so, you should come out here and learn what true enjoyment means.
But, alas! my days in Moorea are for the present drawing to a dose, for on our return this evening I found kind letters from Mrs Brander and from the governor, M D'Oncieue, telling me of the arrival of H.M.S. Shah, and requesting that, as a good British subject, I would hasten back to share in the festivities to be held in her honour.
A morning of peaceful delight on the silent shore, and a long afternoon stroll by myself, to drink in deep draughts of never-tobe-forgotten enjoyment, of one of the loveliest spots in all this fair creation. We had planned various pleasant expeditions for this week, but it seems best to defer them; so I am to leave my baggage here to take its chance of following me, and I am to ride to the other side of the island, whence it is probable that a boat may go across to Papeete within a day or two.
Haanti, Isle Moorea, Monday Night.
Bidding a provisional farewell to my charming hostess and my little guides, I started in the fresh early morning, accompanied by M. Brun. The whole ride was exquisite, though in places the beautiful forest has suffered from ruthless carelessness, and many splendid old iron-wood trees stand scathed and half-burnt by accidental fires. On our arrival here, the big man of the village welcomed us to his house, and gave us breakfast.
You may remember that it was at this place that Mrs Brander, in her character of high-chiefess of the isle, gave such a picturesque welcome to the young king and queen. To-day the district was in its normal condition of quiet—no crowds, no himknes, no feasting, save and except the fatted fowl which perished on our arrival. Only the natural beauty remained, unchanged and unsurpassable. I cannot believe that even the Marquesas can be more beautiful, nor yet the nearer isle of Bora-Bora, of which the Tahitians speak as of a marvel of loveliness, with its towering rock-pinnacles and lofty crags, so veiled with trailing vines as to resemble green waterfalls.
After breakfast we got a canoe and rowed back for a considerable distance along the shore to a fine old marae—an immense platform of huge blocks of hewn coral, on a pyramidal base, which in olden days was a heathen altar, and also a tomb. Close by it are two smaller marais and a large sacrificial stone, enclosed by a wall of small coral-blocks. The whole place is overgrown by grand old iron-wood trees (casuarina). After we had left it, we were told of a stone image, four or five feet high, which has somehow escaped the general destruction of its fellows; and I was very sorry to have missed seeing so interesting a survivor of a past so recent and yet so thoroughly extinguished.
This is the only marae I have seen, the majority having been destroyed, together with the temples and the altars, when the people, in the zeal of first love, endeavoured to sweep away every trace of the old idolatry.
Mr Ellis has recorded that one huge marae having been destroyed, the natives used the stones composing it to build an immense platform, on which was spread a great feast for all the children of the school (both boys and girls, in number about 240) and their parents. The point of interest lay in the fact that in heathen times it would have been death for a girl or a woman to set foot in the marae, or to taste the food which was there offered. Indeed all the better sorts of food, such as pig and fowl, were reserved exclusively for the men and the gods; and the fire with which men's food was cooked was also sacred; no woman dared to use it—her simpler fare must be cooked apart, and eaten in a separate hut. So a united festival, such as that held on the ruins of the marae, was in every sense a Christian love-feast, and strangely in contrast with the hideous scenes previously enacted on the spot, when the coral-walls were dyed with the blood of human victims offered to the cruel war-gods, and where, in every crevice of the noble old trees, were seen bleaching human bones, skeletons hanging from the boughs, and beneath them, ghastly heaps of skulls, generally those of warriors slain in battle.
These horribly unfragrant marais were also considered as family mausoleums, where the dried bones of great men might safely be deposited. Nevertheless, even the sanctity of the temple did not always protect the dead from ruthless spoliation; and in times of war the victors not only carried off the idols of the vanquished, but also the bones of their relations, to be converted into chisels or fish-hooks, which was considered the lowest depth of degradation.
To avoid this danger, the dead were laid in small houses apart, and carefully watched, till the flesh fell from their bones, when these were collected by a trusty hand, and carried to some safe hiding-place in the mountains. In the case of any person of great note, this custom is still observed, as I learnt on visiting the little sea-side chapel where old Queen Pomare was buried shortly before my arrival; and I was told her bones had been secretly removed, only three or four of her nearest kindred being aware of their present hiding-place.
In olden days, however, a simple process of embalming was practised, by means of which the wealthier families could preserve their dead for about a year, not longer. The brain and intestines having been removed, they were replaced by cloth saturated with aromatic oils, which were also daily rubbed all over the corpse. Every day it was placed in a sitting posture in the sun, that it might gradually become dried up; and an altar was erected before it, on which were daily offered fresh flowers, and fruit, and other food. With this the relations or priests touched the lips of the dead several times a-day, for, like the Chinese, they averred that the departed spirit came to feast on the spiritual essencei of the gross meats.
Indeed the whole ceremony savours of Chinese custom. There
i The gods also were supposed to feed on the essence of the food offered to them. Every evening the priest in the principal temple of Mangaia cooked an ovenful of taro for their use, and threw one root at a time into the scrub, dedicating each to one of the gods. When the thirteen principal deities had thus been recognised the priest threw one more, as an offering to all the lesser gods, of whose names and attributes he was ignorant. This ceremony exactly answers to one which I have seen practised at the Buddhist monasteries in China, where, ere the monks taste their own food, a small portion is set aside on a pillar, as an offering to any saintly or divine beings whom they have neglected in their temple-worship.