by Herman Melville

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Chapter Fifteen



ALL the inhabitants of the valley treated me with great kindness;but as to the household of Marheyo, with whom I was nowpermanently domiciled, nothing could surpass their efforts tominister to my comfort. To the gratification of my palate theypaid the most unwearied attention. They continually invited meto partake of food, and when after eating heartily I declined theviands they continued to offer me, they seemed to think that myappetite stood in need of some piquant stimulant to excite itsactivity.

In pursuance of this idea, old Marheyo himself would hie him awayto the sea-shore by the break of day, for the purpose ofcollecting various species of rare sea-weed; some of which amongthese people are considered a great luxury. After a whole dayspent in this employment, he would return about nightfall withseveral cocoanut shells filled with different descriptions ofkelp. In preparing these for use he manifested all theostentation of a professed cook, although the chief mystery ofthe affair appeared to consist in pouring water in judiciousquantities upon the slimy contents of his cocoanut shells.

The first time he submitted one of these saline salads to mycritical attention I naturally thought that anything collected atsuch pains must possess peculiar merits; but one mouthful was acomplete dose; and great was the consternation of the old warriorat the rapidity with which I ejected his Epicurean treat.

How true it is, that the rarity of any particular articleenhances its value amazingly. In some part of the valley--I knownot where, but probably in the neighbourhood of the sea--thegirls were sometimes in the habit of procuring small quantitiesof salt, a thimble-full or so being the result of the unitedlabours of a party of five or six employed for the greater partof the day. This precious commodity they brought to the house,enveloped in multitudinous folds of leaves; and as a special markof the esteem in which they held me, would spread an immense leafon the ground, and dropping one by one a few minute particles ofthe salt upon it, invite me to taste them.

From the extravagant value placed upon the article, I verilybelieve, that with a bushel of common Liverpool salt all the realestate in Typee might have been purchased. With a small pinch ofit in one hand, and a quarter section of a bread-fruit in theother, the greatest chief in the valley would have laughed at allluxuries of a Parisian table.

The celebrity of the bread-fruit tree, and the conspicuous placeit occupies in a Typee bill of fare, induces me to give at somelength a general description of the tree, and the various modesin which the fruit is prepared.

The bread-fruit tree, in its glorious prime, is a grand andtowering object, forming the same feature in a Marquesanlandscape that the patriarchal elm does in New England scenery. The latter tree it not a little resembles in height, in the widespread of its stalwart branches, and in its venerable andimposing aspect.

The leaves of the bread-fruit are of great size, and their edgesare cut and scolloped as fantastically as those of a lady's lacecollar. As they annually tend towards decay, they almost rivalin brilliant variety of their gradually changing hues thefleeting shades of the expiring dolphin. The autumnal tints ofour American forests, glorious as they are, sink into nothing incomparison with this tree.

The leaf, in one particular stage, when nearly all the prismaticcolours are blended on its surface, is often converted by thenatives into a superb and striking bead-dress. The principalfibre traversing its length being split open a convenientdistance, and the elastic sides of the aperture pressed apart,the head is inserted between them, the leaf drooping on one side,with its forward half turned jauntily up on the brows, and theremaining part spreading laterally behind the ears.

The fruit somewhat resembles in magnitude and general appearanceone of our citron melons of ordinary size; but, unlike thecitron, it has no sectional lines drawn along the outside. Itssurface is dotted all over with little conical prominences,looking not unlike the knobs, on an antiquated church door. Therind is perhaps an eighth of an inch in thickness; and denuded ofthis at the time when it is in the greatest perfection, the fruitpresents a beautiful globe of white pulp, the whole of which maybe eaten, with the exception of a slender core, which is easilyremoved.

The bread-fruit, however, is never used, and is indeed altogetherunfit to be eaten, until submitted in one form or other to theaction of fire.

The most simple manner in which this operation is performed, andI think, the best, consists in placing any number of the freshlyplucked fruit, when in a particular state of greenness, among theembers of a fire, in the same way that you would roast a potato. After the lapse of ten or fifteen minutes, the green rindembrowns and. cracks, showing through the fissures in its sidesthe milk-white interior. As soon as it cools the rind drops off,and you then have the soft round pulp in its purest and mostdelicious state. Thus eaten, it has a mild and pleasing flavour.

Sometimes after having been roasted in the fire, the nativessnatch it briskly from the embers, and permitting it to slip outof the yielding rind into a vessel of cold water, stir up themixture, which they call 'bo-a-sho'. I never could endure thiscompound, and indeed the preparation is not greatly in vogueamong the more polite Typees.

There is one form, however, in which the fruit is occasionallyserved, that renders it a dish fit for a king. As soon as it istaken from the fire the exterior is removed, the core extracted,and the remaining part is placed in a sort of shallow stonemortar, and briskly worked with a pestle of the same substance. While one person is performing this operation, another takes aripe cocoanut, and breaking it in halves, which they also do verycleverly, proceeds to grate the juicy meat into fine particles. This is done by means of a piece of mother-of-pearl shell, lashedfirmly to the extreme end of a heavy stick, with its straightside accurately notched like a saw. The stick is sometimes agrotesquely-formed limb of a tree, with three or four branchestwisting from its body like so many shapeless legs, andsustaining it two or three feet from the ground.

The native, first placing a calabash beneath the nose, as itwere, of his curious-looking log-steed, for the purpose ofreceiving the grated fragments as they fall, mounts astride of itas if it were a hobby-horse, and twirling the inside of hishemispheres of cocoanut around the sharp teeth of themother-of-pearl shell, the pure white meat falls in snowy showersinto the receptacle provided. Having obtained a quantity for hispurpose, he places it in a bag made of the net-like fibroussubstance attached to all cocoanut trees, and compressing it overthe bread-fruit, which being now sufficiently pounded, is putinto a wooden bowl--extracts a thick creamy milk. The deliciousliquid soon bubbles round the fruit, and leaves it at last justpeeping above its surface.

This preparation is called 'kokoo', and a most lusciouspreparation it is. The hobby-horse and the pestle and mortarwere in great requisition during the time I remained in the houseof Marheyo, and Kory-Kory had frequent occasion to show his skillin their use.

But the great staple articles of food into which the bread-fruitis converted by these natives are known respectively by the namesof Amar and Poee-Poee.

At a certain season of the year, when the fruit of the hundredgroves of the valley has reached its maturity, and hangs ingolden spheres from every branch, the islanders assemble inharvest groups, and garner in the abundance which surrounds them.

The trees are stripped of their nodding burdens, which, easilyfreed from the rind and core, are gathered together in capaciouswooden vessels, where the pulpy fruit is soon worked by a stonepestle, vigorously applied, into a blended mass of a doughyconsistency, called by the natives 'Tutao'. This is then dividedinto separate parcels, which, after being made up into stoutpackages, enveloped in successive folds of leaves, and boundround with thongs of bark, are stored away in large receptacleshollowed in the earth, from whence they are drawn as occasion mayrequire. In this condition the Tutao sometimes remains foryears, and even is thought to improve by age. Before it is fitto be eaten, however, it has to undergo an additional process. Aprimitive oven is scooped in the ground, and its bottom beingloosely covered with stones, a large fire is kindled within it. As soon as the requisite degree of heat is attained, the embersare removed, and the surface of the stones being covered withthick layers of leaves, one of the large packages of Tutao isdeposited upon them and overspread with another layer of leaves. The whole is then quickly heaped up with earth, and forms asloping mound.

The Tutao thus baked is called 'Amar'; the action of the ovenhaving converted it into an amber-coloured caky substance, alittle tart, but not at all disagreeable to the taste.

By another and final process the 'Amar' is changed into'Poee-Poee'. This transition is rapidly effected. The Amar isplaced in a vessel, and mixed with water until it gains a properpudding-like consistency, when, without further preparation, t isin readiness for use. This is the form in which the 'Tutao' isgenerally consumed. The singular mode of eating it I havealready described.

Were it not that the bread-fruit is thus capable of beingpreserved for a length of time, the natives might be reduced to astate of starvation; for owing to some unknown cause the treessometimes fail to bear fruit; and on such occasions the islanderschiefly depend upon the supplies they have been enabled to storeaway.

This stately tree, which is rarely met with upon the SandwichIslands, and then only of a very inferior quality, and at Tahitidoes not abound to a degree that renders its fruit the principalarticle of food, attains its greatest excellence in the genialclimate of the Marquesan group, where it grows to an enormousmagnitude, and flourishes in the utmost abundance.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.