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sAMOAN DANCEs. 61
These were exceedingly ungraceful, and half their point seemed to consist in making hideous grimaces and contortions, and in reduccing wearing apparel to a minimum, consisting chiefly of green leaves. I think that on the slightest encouragement they would have dispensed with any. Each figure was more ungainly than its predecessor, and seemed likely to be prolonged indefinitely; so, as it struck me that the entertainment would scarcely meet with the approbation of the good Fathers, should it occur to them for any reason to come over, I suggested that the children should give us a parting song, whereupon they sang “Malbrooke ’’ and “Bon Soir” very prettily, though I daresay the French words they repeated did not convey much more to their minds than do the Latin prayers.
Then the party dispersed, and now the school-girls are all safely stowed away beneath their close tappa mosquito-curtains, like a regiment under tents, and I am in possession of the inner reeded rooln. It is a great boon to have such a haven of refuge from the multitude of gazing brown eyes.
By the shouts from the rara I know that the council has broken up, and the real Samoan dance has now begun; but from the specimen given to me by the ladies, I think it is just as well that I came away.—Now, good-night.
A SHORE WITHOUT A REEF—SAMOAN PLANTS-HOUSES-ANIMALS-LAYING FOUNDATION-STONE OF A CHURCH2—SCHOOL FESTIVAL-THE NAVIGATOk’s islES.
LEoNE, Isle TUrvilA, - Sept. 21, 1877. At early dawn my pretty half-caste damsel took me to bathe in the river, but the shore was muddy and not very attractive. We returned in time for service in the little church, which is about to be replaced by a much larger building, the foundations of which are already raised, and the great event of this afternoon has been laying its first stone. Immediately after breakfast at the Fathers' house, I started with M. Pinart and M. de Kerraoul for a long, most lovely walk along the coast, by a path winding among dark rocks and rich ferns, with great trees overhanging the sea, which breaks in real surf below them, washing their roots, which seem alive with myriads of crabs of all sizes, which also wander at large among the branches, like so many birds. Many of the lower boughs are actually fringed with shells and sea-weed, while the growth of parasitic ferns on the upper branches is wonderful to behold. The muddy shore of the river seemed literally moving, from the multitude of burrowing crabs, with one large pink claw; and every now and again a great land-crab would peer at us from some fruit-laden branch, with its curious eyes projecting on movable stalks, which turn about at will. This is the first place in the Pacific where I have seen grand green waves break on the shore. Throughout the Fijian isles they spend their force on the barrier-reef, and only the gentlest ripple washes the coral sand. The rainfall here is greatly in excess of that in Fiji, consequently vegetation is richer, and the intensity of green more remarkable. So far as I can judge, the general foliage here is identical with that of the most fertile of “our * isles. The cocoa-nuts are much larger. I am afraid to confess how hateful to me is the very thought of returning to long weary winters in Britain, with six dreary months of leafless undress. Do you realise that in all these isles there are only two or three deciduous trees, and that the majority put forth their wealth of young leaves almost faster than the old drop off? They are “busy trees” indeed, laden at once with bud and blossom, ripe and unripe fruit, and in many cases bearing several crops in a year. No wonder that these light-hearted people care so little to weary themselves with digging and delving, when the beautiful groves yield them fruit in abundance, and the mountains supply
MOUNTAIN BANANAS. 63
uncultivated crops of nourishing bananas and wild yams. For that matter, I suspect it is really quite as fatiguing to climb the steep mountains in search of wild vegetables as it would be to grow them in gardens—probably a good deal more so—for the beautiful mountain-plantain, which is the staple article of food, grows in all the most inaccessible valleys and clefts of the rock. As you look up the steep hill-side, so richly clothed with vegetation, the most prominent forms are these large handsome leaves, with their huge cluster of fruit growing upright from the centre, but to reach them you may have to climb a couple of thousand feet—and such climbing . A man would need to be in very robust health who could face such a walk to fetch his family food. For my own part, I should prefer to sacrifice the romance, and plod steadily at my yam-garden. These mountain-plantains are the only branch of the family which carry their fruit upright in that proud fashion; all other sorts hang drooping below the leaves, like gigantic bunches of yellow grapes; and the native legend tells how, long ago, all the banana tribe held their fruit upright, but that in an evil hour they quarrelled with the mountain-plantain, and were defeated,—hence they have ever since hung their head in shame. In heathen days the Samoans seem to have been greatly averse to unnecessary work, and even the art of making cloth of the paper-mulberry fibre was one which their indolence long prevented them from acquiring, though they greatly admired that which their Tahitian teachers made for them. Now, however, they appear fairly industrious, and the women particularly so—those of the highest rank priding themselves on being the most skilful weavers of fans, mats, and baskets, and in making the strongest fibre-cloth, The chief men also are willing to do their full share of whatever work is going on, whether house-building, fishing, working on the plantation, or preparing the oven and heating the stones to cook the family dinner. Now all the chief men wear very handsome cloth, thicker and more glossy than that made in Fiji, though less artistic in design. Fifty years ago the regular dress of all the men was merely a girdle
of leaves—a simple form of dress, but one which was never dis-
THE ITALIAN OF THE PACIFIC, 65
vocabularies did not suffice for much conversation, a mutual inspection was doubtless gratifying to both parties. The language of the Samoans is soft, and their voices musical. To express thanks, they say Faa-fetai. The familiar Vinaka / Vinaka / (i.e., “Well done!” in Fijian) is here rendered by Le-lei / Le-lei / Good-night, is Tofa–i.e., “May you sleep.” The Samoan language is generally described as the Italian of the Pacific—it is so mellifluous. It is, however, a very difficult one for a foreigner to acquire thoroughly, as it has three distinct dialects—the language used in addressing a high chief, a middle-class gentleman, or a peasant, being altogether different; and a further complication arises from the politeness which leads the highest chief to speak of anything referring to himself in the dialect which describes the lowest of the people. In Samoa, however, as in the other Polynesian group, one language is spoken on all the different isles, and there has at all times been free intercourse between them —a very different state of things from that which prevails in such groups as the New Hebrides, where each isle has a dialect—perhaps two or three—unknown to any of its neighbours, and where one tribe dares not set foot on the land of another.
Samoa has always been in many respects superior to most of her neighbours. Not only was she free from the reproach of cannibalism, but also, in great measure, from that of infanticide, which prevailed to so frightful an extent in neighbouring groups. Here children were never destroyed after their birth, though it is supposed that fully two-thirds of those born in old days, died from mismanagement in nursing. The sick were invariably treated with kindness, and old age lovingly tended. Such horrors as the burial of the living, as practised in Fiji in heathen times, were never dreamt of in Samoa.
In no land is old age more beautiful than here—partly because the tendency is to corpulence in place of leanness; and the eyes retain their clear, piercing brightness, and the countenance a kindly expression, which tells of the powerful good sense for which many of these people have been so remarkable. Certainly they are a handsome and attractive race.