Page images
PDF
EPUB

FOTUNA CLOTH. 37

trive to live in peace, instead of finding in differing faith a new occasion for enmities, as has been the case even in Polynesian isles. But is it not grievous that, when at length "the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light," it should not shine upon them in one undivided ray t

The people .of this lonely isle are especially interesting, because they, and the inhabitants of Aniwa—a much smaller isle in the same region—are of a totally different race from those on the other isles composing the New Hebrides—the latter being Papuans, and these Malays, whose ancestors drifted all the way from Tonga in a canoe. Though their colour has darkened, they retain the dialect and the hair of their race.

Every one on board has treasures of some sort from Fotuna— especially very beautifully painted native cloth. I think some of the patterns are almost more artistic than those of the Fijians. Like theirs, these are principally geometrical; and in addition to the black and red dyes which are there used, the artists of Fotuna introduce a good deal of yellow. The printing is done in the same manner, the raised pattern being carefully designed with strips of cocoa-rib or bamboo on wooden blocks, on which the colour is stamped. It is the same principle as that of our printing-types, and was known in Polynesia long before the art of printing was invented in Europe.

The most remarkable productions of Fotuna and some of its neighbouring isles are gigantic cocoa-nuts, more than double the ordinary size. They are immensely prized as drinking-cups. Many are 18 inches in circumference after the husk has been removed. The largest grow on the isle of Niufau, which is described as being merely the rim of a great crater, from which smoke somotimes rises, and which is incrusted with sulphur. Apparently the warmth of the soil agrees with all vegetation; for the isle is exceedingly fertile, and the cocoa-nuts are the wonder and envy of all beholders.

I confess I should not care to live on one of these smouldering volcanoes. There are a good many such, scattered about the Pacific—and occasionally one subsides altogether. For instance, halfway between Tonga and New Zealand lies Sunday Isle. It is a volcanic rock-mass 1600 feet in height, and about four miles in diameter. It is exceedingly fertile, but steam rises from all the crevices of the rocks, and the people have only to scrape a hole in the ground, and therein place their food that it may be baked in nature's own oven. At one time there were a good many settlers in this warm corner, but in an evil day a Peruvian slave-ship touched here, and landed 200 poor creatures, captured in all parts of the Pacific. Typhoid fever had broken out among them; so they were thrown ashore to die, which they did, and most of the settlers shared their fate. The others left the island on the first opportunity, leaving only one white man with a Samoan wife and a dusky brood. These lived on in peace and plenty for about ten years, when suddenly the little fresh-water lake began to boil furiously, and from its midst a fountain of fire shot high in the air. Happily this mighty rocket served as a signal of distress, for a passing vessel descried the fiery column and came to investigate, greatly to the relief of the Crusoe family, who were taken on board, and for ever abandoned their home.

Evidently this isle must lie on the same volcanic chain as the White Sulphur Isle, which is a Bulphur volcano to the north of New Zealand, connected subterraneously with that great tract in the province of Auckland, where geysers, solfataras, and all manner of volcanic phenomena abound.1

All these are reproduced on a smaller scale on the island of Tanna in the New Hebrides, within 30 miles of Fotuna. It is a circular island, about 40 miles in diameter. Near the harbour rises a volcanic mountain about 500 feet in height, densely wooded to the very summit, though seamed with fissures from which rise clouds of steam and sulphureous vapours. The whole island is exceedingly fertile—cocoa-palms, bread-fruit trees, bananas, sugarcane, &c., grow luxuriantly, and the yams occasionally attain a weight of 50 lb.; one root being from 40 to 50 inches long—a very neat thing in potatoes. Yet the soil which produces this rank vegetation forms so thin a crust over the vast furnace below,

1 Vide 'At Home in Fiji' (C. F. Gordon Cumming), vol. ii.

VOLCANIC ISLE OF TANNA. 39

that in some places the penetrating heat is painful to the naked foot. Nevertheless, the people have no fear of accidents; on the contrary, wherever they find a group of hot springs they build their huts, and, like the New Zealanders, they love to lounge on the steaming grass or hot stones. In every village a circular space is set apart as the inarum, or place for holding council or feasting, and in these districts a warm spot is selected, where, after sundown, the men may combine the pleasures of a vapour-bath with the enjoyment of their bowl of kava, while discussing the affairs of the tribe

The springs are in great favour as baths. They are of all temperatures—from the tepid water in which the natives play luxuriously for hours, to the boiling springs in which they place their food and leave it to cook itself. Some of these natural boilers lie so close to the shore, that the fishers who haunt the reefs, armed with long four-pronged spears, have only to throw their prize into the rock-caldron the moment they have secured it. No fear of tainted fish for them! Nor need they search far for drinking water. Probably the nearest spring is quite cold and excellent. Some of the springs are highly medicated, and many resort to the healing waters, some of which are especially efficacious for the cure of ulcerous sores.

Beyond the strangely fertile crust, covering the region of horror, lies an unveiled tract of cinders and black volcanic ash, forming a wide barren valley from which rises the principal cone. This valley is intersected by a multitude of fissures from which issue scalding sulphureous fumes. Here and there beds of the purest sulphur have been deposited, and trading vessels occasionally carry hence a cargo of this pale primrose-coloured mineral, to be turned to good domestic uses. Pools of boiling mud alternate with springs of cold water clear as crystal; and in fissures lying but a few feet apart the same strange diversity exists. One sends forth a blast of scalding steam, while in the next a dripping spring yields its slow but continuous supply of ice-cold water, falling drop by drop.

The cone, which is called Asoor by the Tannese, is about 300 feet in height. It is a gradual ascent, but fatiguing, owing to the accumulation of fine black ash or sand, in which the foot sinks at every step. Masses of scoria and vitreous lava, or obsidian, have been thrown up by the volcano, and lie scattered on every side.

On reaching the summit, you find yourself on the brink of a crater half a mile in diameter, within which he five secondary craters. These act as so many chimneys for the great furnace, which roars and bellows below, and which day and night, with deafening roar, unweariedly throws up its fiery blast at intervals of live, seven, or ten minutes, according as its action is more or less vehement. Some travellers have visited it repeatedly at intervals of several years, and their accounts of the intervals of eruption never vary beyond this slight difference. Huge masses of black rock or liquid fire are tossed in the air, to a height of 200 or 300 feet, often falling back within the crater, or else hurled to the valley below. Clouds of white steam mingle with denser clouds of the finest dark-grey dust, which is carried by the wind to all parts of the island, coating every green leaf with a powder like fine steel-filings, which fills the eyes and nostrils of all breathing creatures in a most unpleasant manner. When rain falls, it absorbs this dust, and becomes literally a mud-shower.

From the position of the inner craters, it is obvious that even the most foolhardy scientific traveller could hardly venture to approach them to peer into the mysterious workings of that mighty caldron. Yet a native legend records, that in one of the fierce battles between the tribes of Tanna, one party was gradually driven backward, till they retreated to the summit of the cone, and even there they still fought on, contesting foot by foot of the sandy ridges of the inner crater, where a mxdtitude of these savage warriors perished, having fought to the death, unheeding the wrath of the fire-gods.

But of the isles visited by the Seignelay, before I had the privilege of joining the party, there is none which I regret so much as Easter Island, or, as the inhabitants call it, Rapa Nui, where they touched on the way from Valparaiso, from which it is distant about 2500 miles, without any intermediate isle. I think it must be the loneliest spot in the Pacific, as there are apparently only two GIGANTIC STATUES. 41

little isles anywhere within a radius of 1000 miles. It is a volcanic island, about 11 miles long by 4 wide. It is covered with extinct craters, in some of which are deep pools of water. The highest point is about 1000 feet above the sea-level. The hills are covered with hybiscus and other scrub. It is inhabited by a race of very fair natives, like the Tahitians, and very elaborately tattooed.

But the isle owes its interest to its mysterious relics of a forgotten race, who have utterly and completely died out, even from legendary lore; while their handiwork abides, written on the rocks, which are so covered with carving as to resemble the studio of some giant sculptor. Colossal stone images lie half buried beneath the creeping grass and encroaching scrub. At intervals all round the coast there are cyclopean platforms, from 200 to 300 feet in length, and about 30 feet high, all built of hawn stones 5 or 6 feet long, and accurately fitted, without cement. And above '.hese, on the Headlands, are artificially levelled platforms, paved with square blocks of black lava. On all these, stone pedestals remain, whereon were placed the great images, which, by some powerful force, have mostly been thrown to the ground and broken.

The average height of the figures is about 18 feet; some of those lying prostrate are 27 feet long, and measure 8 feet across the breast. You can infer the size of some of the upright ones from the fact that, so near noon as 2 P.m., they cast sufficient shadow to cover a party of thirty persons. Some have been found which measure 37 feet. They are all hewn of a close-grained grey lava, which is only found at Otouli, a crater on the east side of the island. On a platform near this quarry several gigantic images stand in perfect preservation. One of these measures 20 feet from the shoulder to the crown of the head.

They represent an unknown type. Very square face—short, thin upper lip, giving a somewhat scornful expression—broad nose and ears, with pendent lobes. All the faces look upward. The eyes are deeply sunken, and are supposed to have originally had eyeballs of obsidian.

« PreviousContinue »