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A NATIVE FEAST. 331
of plaited cocoa-palm leaves; while for pillars, strong young bananas were transplanted bodily, their broad cool leaves making a lovely canopy of freshest green. The golden leaves of the dracaena were strung together to form deep fringes and festoons along the rafters; while a still deeper fringe, carefully prepared from the fibre of hybiscus bark, and dyed pale yellow, was festooned all round the whole building. There must have been many hundred yards of this. Just think of the labour of preparing it ! That, of course, had been done at leisure. In lieu of a table-cloth, fresh green banana-leaves were spread upon the grass down the centre of the building, and on these were laid all manner of good things, in dishes made of plaited leaves. Dainty little sucking-pigs, turkeys, and various preparations of chicken, were, as usual, the foundation of the feast. These had been brought in hot haste from Mrs Brander's farm; while fish and all manner of crustacea seemed to have arrived by magic from the depths of the sea, the mountain streams, the mangrove-shore, and the coral-reef-each had sent its contribution. The delicious white wurrali, and their red relations, the cray-fish and lobsters, were there—shrimps and prawns, living and cooked, to suit all tastes. Raw fish and cooked fish, each with appropriate sauce; shell-fish of various sorts, including the delicate little oysters from the isthmus. Fruits of all sorts, mangoes and melons, strawberries, oranges, and bananas; yams, taro, and kumala—i.e., sweet potatoes —and sundry other vegetables. The obnoxious national drink of the South Seas, made from the chewed root of kava, alias yangoma, seems to have quite disappeared in Tahiti, and sweet young cocoa-nuts supplied the only native drink; but these were supplemented by many a brimming bumper of the best foreign wines, and champagne flowed like water. Thanks to the graceful unaffected courtesy with which Narii and Ariipaea Salmon, and several of the ladies of the family, themselves waited on all their guests, all went off admirably; every one was well cared for, and mirth and laughter reigned on all sides. Some of the naval guests, however, were not so well accustomed, as are all the rest of us, to sitting curled up on the fine mats, which were spread for the guests all round the leafy table; and so obviously uncomfortable were some of the senior officers, that the kindhearted ladies took pity on their foreign friends, and brought piles of cushions and pillows, to raise them; but as they could not raise the tables also, I fear that some of the gentlemen must have voted dining & l'indigène rather a serious effort. I should have mentioned that in “setting the table,” a pile of large bread-fruit leaves are laid before each person to act as plates, and to be changed as often as may be desired. Also, in lieu of tumblers, wine-glasses, and cruet-stands, each guest is provided with a half cocoa-nut shell, full of drinking water, and one of milk, a third with chopped cocoa-nut, and a fourth with salt water. The two latter are mixed together to make a sauce in which to dip the good things that are coming. This done, the fourth shell is filled with fresh water to act as a finger-glass. Half a bread-fruit, nicely cooked, is laid beside each place in lieu of bread. I fear, if I must confess the truth, that certain dainties in the way of creams and jellies, and tipsy-cakes, such as were not common in Tahiti in the days of Captain Cook, did find their way to our leafy bower, and were by no means despised. Afterwards the band took up a good position outside the house, and a right merry dance ensued. As the gentlemen considerably outnumbered the ladies, great satisfaction was expressed when two very lady-like white girls suddenly arrived, robed in loose white sacques, and of course crowned with flowers. These turned out to be two of the middies, who kept up their part admirably throughout the evening. The Shah musters a first-rate theatrical corps, and they say they would gladly act for the amusement of their Tahitian friends, but unfortunately their stay is too short to admit of any such ploy. We are all going to lunch on board to-day.
Friday Evening. We have had a very pleasant afternoon on the great ship. Soon
after twelve we joined the royal party, for whom the admiral's barge was waiting, the blue-jackets receiving the king with up
lifted oars. (I believe “tossed” is the correct expression.) He was treated throughout with full royal honours—twenty-one guns on arrival and departure, yards manned, marines and crew on parade, and all the officers in the agonies of full uniform, with which, however, they soon contrived to dispense. I think that as soon as Captain Bedford had got over his surprise at being asked by the queen where she might smoke, he realised that gold lace was superfluous ! Tahitian ladies can never be happy for long without their cigarettes, and the queen has recently received a present of an enormous supply, which are fast disappearing in faint films of smoke Our first introduction was to a large, very tame, black bear, which the sailors captured as a baby on Vancouver's Isle, and which now plays with them like a very gentle big dog. It is a much nicer beast than the Russian bears brought by the Limier. We were formally conducted all over the huge ship, and duly wondered at the length of the lower deck, with the row of great guns on either side; in short, we felt exceedingly proud of our British representative, and the French officers and their Peruvian friends kindly abstained from invidious comments on the recent “Huascar ” affair, which had been freely discussed here before the arrival of the giant Shah. Now all allusion to that pugnacious little vessel was studiously avoided, and everything connected with the big ship called forth a chorus of undivided admiration. King Ariiaue was requested to touch an electric battery, and quick as lightning a whole broadside went off. In like manner Queen Marau fired a torpedo, which threw up the water in a gigantic fountain. We went through the ward-room, the large airy gun-room, and the officers’ daintily fitted-up cabins, exquisite in their neatness. The admiral has a most charming bedroom, drawing-room, and dining-room. In the latter we sat down to luncheon, about twenty-four persons, including the commanders of the other vessels. When we returned on deck we found it transformed into a brilliant ball-room, all draped with flags, and full of people from Papeete. As we looked down from the upper decks and bridge, a prettier scene could not be imagined. The dancing folk did dance to their hearts' content; and those who, like myself, hold the Eastern creed, that all such hard work should be done by proxy, held possession of the higher levels, and sometimes varied the picture by turning to the beautiful panorama on every side of the harbour. To rest the band, there were two interludes, when the sailors danced hornpipes, and sang capital songs with choruses, which some of us enjoyed so much that we would fain have prolonged the concert. Unfortunately the king was tired of the proceedings, and wanted to hurry through the dances for which the queen had already engaged herself; so the singing was soon stopped, and the ball resumed till the sun had almost set behind Moorea, bathing its mountains in dreamy gold. A few minutes later the island stood out in clear-cut lilac, floating between a sea and sky of pale daffodil. Then we all returned ashore, and in the evening went to hear some himènes, specially got up for the edification of the strangers, who, however, by some unlucky misunder. standing, failed to appear. But as compared with those I had previously heard, these were very poor himènes, and I was almost glad that they were not taken as samples of what those charming glees can be. To-morrow morning the little Daring sails for Honolulu and the great Shah for Valparaiso. Every one regrets so speedy a departure, but the admiral says he dares not risk remaining with 700 Englishmen in this port, over Christmas Day, as it would be impossible to keep the men on board, with the tempting shore so close, and that if they once landed, some would inevitably get drunk, and have a row with the French authorities. Our good consul is evidently much relieved by this wise, though unpopular decision. It certainly is grievous that the jolly tars, of whom Britain is so justly proud, contrive to do such scant credit to their nation or themselves when they land in any foreign port. Here, for instance, day after day, among the crowds who land on the shore just under my verandah, I never hear a voice which seems to be raised in
CHRISTMAS IN TAHITI. 335
are equally pleasant when a party of British sailors go past ! Then the echoes that linger on the ear are sanguinary and repulsive; a painful contrast to the musical speech of the natives. The Shah is fortunate in possessing, in the Rev. Reed, a chaplain who is exceedingly popular with all on board, and who takes an immense interest in all that concerns his flock. Besides the regular band, he has trained one specially to accompany sacred music; and the church choir is said to be excellent. It would have been really pleasant to have heard our own Church service on Christmas Day. By some fatality I have not had that privilege since leaving England; last Christmas Day having been spent in the hateful work of transhipping on our way from Fiji to New Zealand; and the previous one was spent in the mountains of great Fiji. It has been the same as regards Easter. We had to sail from Marseilles on Easter morning 1875. Easter of 1876 was spent in a little Fijian village in the isle of Koro, and Easter 1877 among the geysers of northern New Zealand. Where they may next find me, who can tell ? I must close my letter that it may be sent on board the Daring at daybreak. The pretty Tahitian girls are working all to-night to finish arrowroot or bamboo fibre hats as parting gifts to the friends whom they will probably never meet again. “Telle est la vie!” —Good-night. You R LOVING SistER.
FAUTAwa, Tahiti, Christmas Day. A glad Christmas to you all, dear people ! Would that some good fairy could lend me a wishing-cap, that I might look in by turns on each home gathering in the various corners of England and Scotland. These marked anniversaries are always trying days,