« PreviousContinue »
was the same passionate ceremonial wailing for the dead, the same sort of religious service to appease the unquiet spirit, and prevent it from returning to earth to annoy the survivors. In place of burning paper effigies of horses, and houses, and other things likely to be useful in the spirit-world, the Tahitian priest placed about the corpse pieces of the stalk of the mountain-plantain, and told the dead that these were its parents, its wife, its children, and that with these it must be satisfied, and refrain from vexing the living. Here likewise, as in the Chinese cities of the dead, small low houses were built as temporary homes for the unburied corpses, which were laid on biers, and by day were drawn out into the sun; but by night the body lay horizontally, and was frequently turned, lest it should dry irregularly. When, notwithstanding all care, the poor body began to decay, then the skull was wrapped in cloth, and carried home to be preserved with the family gods, and duly worshipped. The bones were either buried or carried off to the mountains in the mysterious way I have already described. Although the Tahitian embalmers failed to preserve their dead for more than a year, the Samoans seem to have been more successful, though, apparently, only a limited number of the chiefs were thus honoured. Dr Turner, however, has seen bodies which had certainly been embalmed for upwards of thirty years, and were still in excellent preservation, when, on the death of the relations whose task it was to dress and tend the bodies, all were laid together beneath the sod. The office of embalmer was an exclusively feminine one, and the process observed in Samoa was exactly the same as that practised in Tahiti. The body was wrapped in native cloth, leaving the head, face, and hands exposed; these were occasionally anointed with scented oil and turmeric, to give a lifelike tinge to the complexion, and so were exhibited to all comers. I spoke of the wailing at funerals as ceremonial, because it was not only customary to weep frantically, rending the hair, tearing the garments, and uttering agonising cries, but it was also de rigueur to display sympathy by inflicting on one's self very serious wounds with instruments made for the purpose. Several rows of shark's teeth were fixed in small canes, and with these the mourners
SACRED TEMPLE TREES. 327
smote their breasts, their heads, even their faces. One of these useful implements formed part of a girl's bridal trousseau, that she might be ready to take her part in whatever scene of sorrow or of joy might present itself. For, strange to say, the same ceremonies were observed, though in a less excessive degree, to mark great happiness; and the safe return of a member of the family, or his escape from danger, was, and still is, marked by the shedding of what might be mistaken for bitter tears. Happily, however, the horrible custom of cutting and bruising one's own flesh is a thing of the past; and friends no longer express sympathy with the bereaved by giving them strips of tappa saturated in the blood thus voluntarily shed, to be preserved as precious memorials of affection | The one pleasant feature connected with the marais, as with so many forms of heathen worship, was the beautiful grove of old trees which surrounded them. Different tribes adopted special trees as clan badges, and planted these round their family shrines. Thus some were overshadowed by huge banyan-trees, others by the noble tamanu, or native mahogany; and others, again, were distinguished from afar by the gorgeous blossoms of the coral-tree," which dripped its blood-red petals on the altars below it. This beautiful tree is almost imperishable; but unluckily it shared in the fate of too many of those sacred temple trees, which were ruthlessly cut down by the early converts, in their iconoclastic zeal. Now the mournful casuarina (the noko-noko of Fiji), with its dark hair-like drooping needles, is almost the only distinctive foliage which marks the resting-place of the dead. We lingered at this weird and horribly suggestive spot till the evening, and as we rode back to Haapiti, the crags and pinnacles towered in purple majesty against a background of luminous gold, and one divided ray from the setting sun threaded the eye of the great rock-needle. Later, when the moon had risen, we went to the village to see the native minister, who is going to Papeete tomorrow, and has agreed to give me a passage in his boat. We are to start early, so I must now have a sleep. Besides, the mosquitoes 1 Erythrina corallodendrum.
are troublesome, and the only refuge from them is beneath my nets. So good-night.
LA MAIson Rouge, PAPEETs,
Once more I find myself “at home” beneath this hospitable roof. We started at daybreak and rowed leisurely along the lovely coast to Afareaitu (the place where I told you that Mr Ellis, the early missionary, established his first printing-press). At a short distance further we came to Nuupuru, where we landed to explore another great marae, likewise overgrown with casuarina and palmtrees. It stands on the coral-shore, which there, as in most parts of the isles, is shaded by dark trees with wide-spreading branches. Just behind this huge coral-altar, rises a gigantic rock-needle—a cyclopean natural monolith, such as might have accounted for the position of the altar, in lands where nature - worship prevailed, which, however, does not appear to have been the case in these isles.
Here we left the friendly shelter of the reef and passed into the outer ocean. Happily a fair breeze favoured us, and we entered Papeete harbour soon after noon. Great was the amazement of my native friends as they realised the huge proportions of H.M.S. Shah, probably the largest ship ever seen in these waters. I believe she weighs about 7000 tons. Certainly she makes all the other vessels in harbour look like pigmies. The little Daring is only 700 tons; Le Limier, 1000; and my trusty old ship Le Seignelay, 2000. The Shah carries nearly 700 men and 50 officers, so England is well represented, My boatman rowed right under her bows, the better to estimate her vast size.
On landing, I found that Mrs Brander and all the family had moved back to town on account of the arrival of so important a vessel, which, of course, involves much work for the house of Brander. I had just time to feed, change my dress, and accom. pany my hostess to the palace to “assist” at the king's state reception of Admiral De Horsey and his suite, which, of course, was as stiff as stiff could be. We had a pleasant evening, however, at the band. Lovely full moonlight.
CORDIALITY OF A SMALL SOCIETY. 329
THE REd House, Friday, 21st.
Papeete is surpassing itself in its graceful hospitalities. On Wednesday, M. D'Oncieue had a very large reception au Gouvernement, and the French admiral's band played “God save the Queen” as the British admiral entered. To you, doubtless, that conveys little, but to a stranger in a far land it means much. To me, who had not heard the grand old air since I left Australia, more than two years ago, it was most thrilling music, for you have no idea how patriotic we become when we reach the antipodes | The French and English bands played alternately the whole night, and as all the ships were (for once) well represented, and all the dancing world of Papeete present, in their happiest mood and prettiest toilets, it was a most successful ball, and well kept up. The lovely moonlight drew all the non-dancers to the gardens, much to the edification of the crowds assembled outside the railing. I found several pleasant acquaintances among the newcomers, and many more proved to be “friends' friends”—a title which in these far countries means more than you dwellers in over-crowded Britain can possibly be expected to understand, though you may perhaps realise the unwonted pleasure of meeting so many real English gentlemen. The evening was far too beautiful for carriages, so the revellers dispersed on foot, to walk home by bowery streets or peaceful shore. Yesterday Mrs Brander gave us a startling proof of her skill in organising, and of the resources at her command. At the governor's ball it suddenly occurred to her to invite all present to a great native feast on the following day, at her country home. At daybreak she started to commence preparations, on a scale which, in most hands, would have involved a week's hard labour. Messengers were despatched in every direction to collect fowls, turkeys, sucking-pigs, vegetables, fruit, &c., &c. A party was told off to build a green bower in which to spread the feast. Glass, crockery, silver, and wines had to be brought from the Red House and the store; for the ordinary service required for even so large a party as habitually assemble at Fautawa would not go far among such a multitude as were invited to this impromptu gathering.
Still the question was undecided how the guests were to amuse themselves, as feeding could not last all the evening. Happily Captain Bedford came ashore to see my portfolio, and I ventured to ask if the band might come to Fautawa—a favour which was cordially granted, and I was able to drive off to Fautawa as the bearer of this excellent news. In less than no time, the large drawing-room was cleared for dancing, the wide verandahs gaily decorated with Chinese lanterns, and an admirable ball-room was prepared. It was all like a transformation scene, and accomplished so quietly. It would not be so remarkable in a large European house, with a full complement of carefully drilled servants; but here there really are no servants, properly so called, only friendly “helps.” Certainly every one worked with a will on this occasion, and all was ready ere the arrival of the first carriage, full of middies. The carriages, like everything else, bore testimony to Mrs Brander's thoughtful and generous care. She provided conveyance for every one, from the English admiral and French governor down to the smallest middy. Of course her own stable could not supply the demand, so every available trap was hired, and plied to and fro over the three miles, till all the guests were duly assembled. You will allow that this was a truly Tahitian phase of hospitality. So also was the kind forethought which provided towels and a new pareo for every guest who cared to bathe in the lovely river— an invitation which few, if any, refused; so that a succession of joyous parties soon found their way to all the best pools, and therein revelled. By the time the stragglers reassembled, a multitude of gay wreaths had been prepared by the Tahitian maidens, and all the guests were duly crowned. Some of the English officers were slightly taken aback by this unwonted decoration, but all submitted meekly; and we then marched in procession to the house of feasting, which was erected on the softest green turf, not far from the brook. It was a long building, consisting of a slight framework of bamboos, just sufficiently strong to support a thatch