by Herman Melville

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Chapter Four



OUR ship had not been many days in the harbour of Nukuheva beforeI came to the determination of leaving her. That my reasons forresolving to take this step were numerous and weighty, may beinferred from the fact that I chose rather to risk my fortunesamong the savages of the island than to endure another voyage onboard the Dolly. To use the concise, pointblank phrase of thesailors. I had made up my mind to 'run away'. Now as a meaningis generally attached to these two words no way flattering to theindividual to whom they are applied, it behoves me, for the sakeof my own character, to offer some explanation of my conduct.

When I entered on board the Dolly, I signed as a matter of coursethe ship's articles, thereby voluntarily engaging and legallybinding myself to serve in a certain capacity for the period ofthe voyage; and, special considerations apart, I was of coursebound to fulfill the agreement. But in all contracts, if oneparty fail to perform his share of the compact, is not the othervirtually absolved from his liability? Who is there who will notanswer in the affirmative?

Having settled the principle, then, let me apply it to theparticular case in question. In numberless instances had notonly the implied but the specified conditions of the articlesbeen violated on the part of the ship in which I served. Theusage on board of her was tyrannical; the sick had been inhumanlyneglected; the provisions had been doled out in scanty allowance;and her cruises were unreasonably protracted. The captain wasthe author of the abuses; it was in vain to think that he wouldeither remedy them, or alter his conduct, which was arbitrary andviolent in the extreme. His prompt reply to all complaints andremonstrances was--the butt-end of a handspike, so convincinglyadministered as effectually to silence the aggrieved party.

To whom could we apply for redress? We had left both law andequity on the other side of the Cape; and unfortunately, with avery few exceptions, our crew was composed of a parcel ofdastardly and meanspirited wretches, divided among themselves,and only united in enduring without resistance the unmitigatedtyranny of the captain. It would have been mere madness for anytwo or three of the number, unassisted by the rest, to attemptmaking a stand against his ill usage. They would only havecalled down upon themselves the particular vengeance of this'Lord of the Plank', and subjected their shipmates to additionalhardships.

But, after all, these things could have been endured awhile, hadwe entertained the hope of being speedily delivered from them bythe due completion of the term of our servitude. But what adismal prospect awaited us in this quarter! The longevity ofCape Horn whaling voyages is proverbial, frequently extendingover a period of four or five years.

Some long-haired, bare-necked youths, who, forced by the unitedinfluences of Captain Marryatt and hard times, embark atNantucket for a pleasure excursion to the Pacific, and whoseanxious mothers provide them, with bottled milk for the occasion,oftentimes return very respectable middle-aged gentlemen.

The very preparations made for one of these expeditions areenough to frighten one. As the vessel carries out no cargo, herhold is filled with provisions for her own consumption. Theowners, who officiate as caterers for the voyage, supply thelarder with an abundance of dainties. Delicate morsels of beefand pork, cut on scientific principles from every part of theanimal, and of all conceivable shapes and sizes, are carefullypacked in salt, and stored away in barrels; affording anever-ending variety in their different degrees of toughness, andin the peculiarities of their saline properties. Choice oldwater too, decanted into stout six-barrel-casks, and two pints ofwhich is allowed every day to each soul on board; together withample store of sea-bread, previously reduced to a state ofpetrifaction, with a view to preserve it either from decay orconsumption in the ordinary mode, are likewise provided for thenourishment and gastronomic enjoyment of the crew.

But not to speak of the quality of these articles of sailors'fare, the abundance in which they are put onboard a whalingvessel is almost incredible. Oftentimes, when we had occasion tobreak out in the hold, and I beheld the successive tiers of casksand barrels, whose contents were all destined to be consumed indue course by the ship's company, my heart has sunk within me.

Although, as a general case, a ship unlucky in falling in withwhales continues to cruise after them until she has barelysufficient provisions remaining to take her home, turning roundthen quietly and making the best of her way to her friends, yetthere are instances when even this natural obstacle to thefurther prosecution of the voyage is overcome by headstrongcaptains, who, bartering the fruits of their hard-earned toilsfor a new supply of provisions in some of the ports of Chili orPeru, begin the voyage afresh with unabated zeal andperseverance. It is in vain that the owners write urgent lettersto him to sail for home, and for their sake to bring back theship, since it appears he can put nothing in her. Not he. Hehas registered a vow: he will fill his vessel with good spermoil, or failing to do so, never again strike Yankee soundings.

I heard of one whaler, which after many years' absence was givenup for lost. The last that had been heard of her was a shadowyreport of her having touched at some of those unstable islands inthe far Pacific, whose eccentric wanderings are carefully notedin each new edition of the South-Sea charts. After a longinterval, however, 'The Perseverance'--for that was her name--wasspoken somewhere in the vicinity of the ends of the earth,cruising along as leisurely as ever, her sails all bepatched andbe quilted with rope-yarns, her spars fished with old pipestaves, and her rigging knotted and spliced in every possibledirection. Her crew was composed of some twenty venerableGreenwich-pensioner-looking old salts, who just managed to hobbleabout deck. The ends of all the running ropes, with theexception of the signal halyards and poop-down-haul, were rovethrough snatch-blocks,and led to the capstan or windlass, so thatnot a yard was braced or a sad set without the assistance ofmachinery.

Her hull was encrusted with barnacles, which completely encasedher. Three pet sharks followed in her wake, and every day camealongside to regale themselves from the contents of the cook'sbucket, which were pitched over to them. A vast shoal of bonetasand albicores always kept her company.

Such was the account I heard of this vessel and the remembranceof it always haunted me; what eventually became of her I neverlearned; at any rate: he never reached home, and I suppose she isstill regularly tacking twice in the twenty-four hours somewhereoff Desolate Island, or the Devil's-Tail Peak.

Having said thus much touching the usual length of these voyages,when I inform the reader that ours had as it were just commenced,we being only fifteen months out, and even at that time hailed asa late arrival and boarded for news, he will readily perceivethat there was little to encourage one in looking forward to thefuture, especially as I had always had a presentiment that weshould make an unfortunate voyage, and our experience so far hadjustified the expectation.

I may here state, and on my faith as an honest man, that thoughmore than three years have elapsed since I left this sameidentical vessel, she still continues; in the Pacific, and but afew days since I saw her reported in the papers as having touchedat the Sandwich Islands previous to going on the coast of Japan.

But to return to my narrative. Placed in these circumstancesthen, with no prospect of matters mending if I remained aboardthe Dolly, I at once made up my mind to leave her: to be sure itwas rather an inglorious thing to steal away privily from thoseat whose hands I had received wrongs and outrages that I couldnot resent; but how was such a course to be avoided when it wasthe only alternative left me? Having made up my mind, Iproceeded to acquire all the information I could obtain relatingto the island and its inhabitants, with a view of shaping myplans of escape accordingly. The result of these inquiries Iwill now state, in order that the ensuing narrative may be thebetter understood.

The bay of Nukuheva in which we were then lying is an expanse ofwater not unlike in figure the space included within the limitsof a horse-shoe. It is, perhaps, nine miles in circumference. You approach it from the sea by a narrow entrance, flanked oneach side by two small twin islets which soar conically to theheight of some five hundred feet. From these the shore recedeson both hands, and describes a deep semicircle.

From the verge of the water the land rises uniformly on allsides, with green and sloping acclivities, until from gentlyrolling hill-sides and moderate elevations it insensibly swellsinto lofty and majestic heights, whose blue outlines, ranged allaround, close in the view. The beautiful aspect of the shore isheightened by deep and romantic glens, which come down to it atalmost equal distances, all apparently radiating from a commoncentre, and the upper extremities of which are lost to the eyebeneath the shadow of the mountains. Down each of these littlevalleys flows a clear stream, here and there assuming the form ofa slender cascade, then stealing invisibly along until it burstsupon the sight again in larger and more noisy waterfalls, and atlast demurely wanders along to the sea.

The houses of the natives, constructed of the yellow bamboo,tastefully twisted together in a kind of wicker-work, andthatched with the long tapering leaves of the palmetto, arescattered irregularly along these valleys beneath the shadybranches of the cocoanut trees.

Nothing can exceed the imposing scenery of this bay. Viewed fromour ship as she lay at anchor in the middle of the harbour, itpresented the appearance of a vast natural amphitheatre in decay,and overgrown with vines, the deep glens that furrowed it's sidesappearing like enormous fissures caused by the ravages of time. Very often when lost in admiration at its beauty, I haveexperienced a pang of regret that a scene so enchanting should behidden from the world in these remote seas, and seldom meet theeyes of devoted lovers of nature.

Besides this bay the shores of the island are indented by severalother extensive inlets, into which descend broad and verdantvalleys. These are inhabited by as many distinct tribes ofsavages, who, although speaking kindred dialects of a commonlanguage, and having the same religion and laws, have from timeimmemorial waged hereditary warfare against each other. Theintervening mountains generally two or three thousand feet abovethe level of the sea geographically define the territories ofeach of these hostile tribes, who never cross them, save on someexpedition of war or plunder. Immediately adjacent to Nukuheva,and only separated from it by the mountains seen from theharbour, lies the lovely valley of Happar, whose inmates cherishthe most friendly relations with the inhabitants of Nukuheva. Onthe other side of Happar, and closely adjoining it, is themagnificent valley of the dreaded Typees, the unappeasableenemies of both these tribes.

These celebrated warriors appear to inspire the other islanderswith unspeakable terrors. Their very name is a frightful one;for the word 'Typee' in the Marquesan dialect signifies a loverof human flesh. It is rather singular that the title should havebeen bestowed upon them exclusively, inasmuch as the natives ofall this group are irreclaimable cannibals. The name may,perhaps, have been given to denote the peculiar ferocity of thisclan, and to convey a special stigma along with it.

These same Typees enjoy a prodigious notoriety all over theislands. The natives of Nukuheva would frequently recount inpantomime to our ship's company their terrible feats, and wouldshow the marks of wounds they had received in desperateencounters with them. When ashore they would try to frighten usby pointing, to one of their own number, and calling him a Typee,manifesting no little surprise that we did not take to our heelsat so terrible an announcement. It was quite amusing, too, tosee with what earnestness they disclaimed all cannibalpropensities on their own part, while they denounced theirenemies--the Typees--as inveterate gourmandizers of human flesh;but this is a peculiarity to which I shall hereafter haveoccasion to allude.

Although I was convinced that the inhabitants of our bay were asarrant cannibals as any of the other tribes on the island, stillI could not but feel a particular and most unqualified repugnanceto the aforesaid Typees. Even before visiting the Marquesas, Ihad heard from men who had touched at the group on former voyagessome revolting stories in connection with these savages; andfresh in my remembrance was the adventure of the master of theKatherine, who only a few months previous, imprudently venturinginto this bay in an armed boat for the purpose of barter, wasseized by the natives, carried back a little distance into theirvalley, and was only saved from a cruel death by the interventionof a young girl, who facilitated his escape by night along thebeach to Nukuheva.

I had heard too of an English vessel that many years ago, after aweary cruise, sought to enter the bay of Nukuheva, and arrivingwithin two or three miles of the land, was met by a large canoefilled with natives, who offered to lead the way to the place oftheir destination. The captain, unacquainted with the localitiesof the island, joyfully acceded to the proposition--the canoepaddled on, the ship followed. She was soon conducted to abeautiful inlet, and dropped her anchor in its waters beneath theshadows of the lofty shore. That same night the perfidiousTypees, who had thus inveigled her into their fatal bay, flockedaboard the doomed vessel by hundreds, and at a given signalmurdered every soul on board.

I shall never forget the observation of one of our crew as wewere passing slowly by the entrance of the bay in our way toNukuheva. As we stood gazing over the side at the verdantheadlands, Ned, pointing with his hand in the direction of thetreacherous valley, exclaimed, 'There--there's Typee. Oh, thebloody cannibals, what a meal they'd make of us if we were totake it into our heads to land! but they say they don't likesailor's flesh, it's too salt. I say, maty, how should you liketo be shoved ashore there, eh?' I little thought, as I shudderedat the question, that in the space of a few weeks I shouldactually be a captive in that self-same valley.

The French, although they had gone through the ceremony ofhoisting their colours for a few hours at all the principalplaces of the group, had not as yet visited the bay of Typee,anticipating a fierce resistance on the part of the savagesthere, which for the present at least they wished to avoid. Perhaps they were not a little influenced in the adoption of thisunusual policy from a recollection of the warlike reception givenby the Typees to the forces of Captain Porter, about the year1814, when that brave and accomplished officer endeavoured tosubjugate the clan merely to gratify the mortal hatred of hisallies the Nukuhevas and Happars.

On that occasion I have been told that a considerable detachmentof sailors and marines from the frigate Essex, accompanied by atleast two thousand warriors of Happar and Nukuheva, landed inboats and canoes at the head of the bay, and after penetrating alittle distance into the valley, met with the stoutest resistancefrom its inmates. Valiantly, although with much loss, the Typeesdisputed every inch of ground, and after some hard fightingobliged their assailants to retreat and abandon their design ofconquest.

The invaders, on their march back to the sea, consoled themselvesfor their repulse by setting fire to every house and temple intheir route; and a long line of smoking ruins defaced theonce-smiling bosom of the valley, and proclaimed to its paganinhabitants the spirit that reigned in the breasts of Christiansoldiers. Who can wonder at the deadly hatred of the Typees toall foreigners after such unprovoked atrocities?

Thus it is that they whom we denominate 'savages' are made todeserve the title. When the inhabitants of some sequesteredisland first descry the 'big canoe' of the European rollingthrough the blue waters towards their shores, they rush down tothe beach in crowds, and with open arms stand ready to embracethe strangers. Fatal embrace! They fold to their bosom thevipers whose sting is destined to poison all their joys; and theinstinctive feeling of love within their breast is soon convertedinto the bitterest hate.

The enormities perpetrated in the South Seas upon some of theinoffensive islanders will nigh pass belief. These things areseldom proclaimed at home; they happen at the very ends of theearth; they are done in a corner, and there are none to revealthem. But there is, nevertheless, many a petty trader that hasnavigated the Pacific whose course from island to island might betraced by a series of cold-blooded robberies, kidnappings, andmurders, the iniquity of which might be considered almostsufficient to sink her guilty timbers to the bottom of the sea.

Sometimes vague accounts of such thing's reach our firesides, andwe coolly censure them as wrong, impolitic, needlessly severe,and dangerous to the crews of other vessels. How different isour tone when we read the highly-wrought description of themassacre of the crew of the Hobomak by the Feejees; how wesympathize for the unhappy victims, and with what horror do weregard the diabolical heathens, who, after all, have but avengedthe unprovoked injuries which they have received. We breathenothing but vengeance, and equip armed vessels to traversethousands of miles of ocean in order to execute summarypunishment upon the offenders. On arriving at their destination,they burn, slaughter, and destroy, according to the tenor ofwritten instructions, and sailing away from the scene ofdevastation, call upon all Christendom to applaud their courageand their justice.

How often is the term 'savages' incorrectly applied! None reallydeserving of it were ever yet discovered by voyagers or bytravellers. They have discovered heathens and barbarians whom byhorrible cruelties they have exasperated into savages. It may beasserted without fear of contradictions that in all the cases ofoutrages committed by Polynesians, Europeans have at some time orother been the aggressors, and that the cruel and bloodthirstydisposition of some of the islanders is mainly to be ascribed tothe influence of such examples.

But to return. Owing to the mutual hostilities of the differenttribes I have mentioned, the mountainous tracts which separatetheir respective territories remain altogether uninhabited; thenatives invariably dwelling in the depths of the valleys, with aview of securing themselves from the predatory incursions oftheir enemies, who often lurk along their borders, ready to cutoff any imprudent straggler, or make a descent upon the inmatesof some sequestered habitation. I several times met with veryaged men, who from this cause had never passed the confines oftheir native vale, some of them having never even ascended midwayup the mountains in the whole course of their lives, and who,accordingly had little idea of the appearance of any other partof the island, the whole of which is not perhaps more than sixtymiles in circuit. The little space in which some of these clanspass away their days would seem almost incredible.

The glen of the Tior will furnish a curious illustration of this.

The inhabited part is not more than four miles in length, andvaries in breadth from half a mile to less than a quarter. Therocky vine-clad cliffs on one side tower almost perpendicularlyfrom their base to the height of at least fifteen hundred feet;while across the vale--in striking contrast to the sceneryopposite--grass-grown elevations rise one above another inblooming terraces. Hemmed in by these stupendous barriers, thevalley would be altogether shut out from the rest of the world,were it not that it is accessible from the sea at one end, and bya narrow defile at the other.

The impression produced upon the mind, when I first visited thisbeautiful glen, will never be obliterated.

I had come from Nukuheva by water in the ship's boat, and when weentered the bay of Tior it was high noon. The heat had beenintense, as we had been floating upon the long smooth swell ofthe ocean, for there was but little wind. The sun's rays hadexpended all their fury upon us; and to add to our discomfort, wehad omitted to supply ourselves with water previous to starting. What with heat and thirst together, I became so impatient to getashore, that when at last we glided towards it, I stood up in thebow of the boat ready for a spring. As she shot two-thirds ofher length high upon the beach, propelled by three or four strongstrokes of the oars, I leaped among a parcel of juvenile savages,who stood prepared to give us a kind reception; and with them atmy heels, yelling like so many imps, I rushed forward across theopen ground in the vicinity of the sea, and plunged, diverfashion, into the recesses of the first grove that offered.

What a delightful sensation did I experience! I felt as iffloating in some new element, while all sort of gurgling,trickling, liquid sounds fell upon my ear. People may say whatthey will about the refreshing influences of a coldwater bath,but commend me when in a perspiration to the shade baths of Tior,beneath the cocoanut trees, and amidst the cool delightfulatmosphere which surrounds them.

How shall I describe the scenery that met my eye, as I looked outfrom this verdant recess! The narrow valley, with its steep andclose adjoining sides draperied with vines, and arched overheadwith a fret-work of interlacing boughs, nearly hidden from viewby masses of leafy verdure, seemed from where I stood like animmense arbour disclosing its vista to the eye, whilst as Iadvanced it insensibly widened into the loveliest vale eye everbeheld.

It so happened that the very day I was in Tior the Frenchadmiral, attended by all the boats of his squadron, came down instate from Nukuheva to take formal possession of the place. Heremained in the valley about two hours, during which time he hada ceremonious interview with the king. The patriarch-sovereignof Tior was a man very far advanced in years; but though age hadbowed his form and rendered him almost decrepid, his giganticframe retained its original magnitude and grandeur of appearance.

He advanced slowly and with evident pain, assisting his totteringsteps with the heavy warspear he held in his hand, and attendedby a group of grey-bearded chiefs, on one of whom he occasionallyleaned for support. The admiral came forward with head uncoveredand extended hand, while the old king saluted him by a statelyflourish of his weapon. The next moment they stood side by side,these two extremes of the social scale,--the polished, splendidFrenchman, and the poor tattooed savage. They were both tall andnoble-looking men; but in other respects how strikinglycontrasted! Du Petit Thouars exhibited upon his person all theparaphernalia of his naval rank. He wore a richly decoratedadmiral's frock-coat, a laced chapeau bras, and upon his breastwere a variety of ribbons and orders; while the simple islander,with the exception of a slight cincture about his loins, appearedin all the nakedness of nature.

At what an immeasurable distance, thought I, are these two beingsremoved from each other. In the one is shown the result of longcenturies of progressive Civilization and refinement, which havegradually converted the mere creature into the semblance of allthat is elevated and grand; while the other, after the lapse ofthe same period, has not advanced one step in the career ofimprovement, 'Yet, after all,' quoth I to myself, 'insensible ashe is to a thousand wants, and removed from harassing cares, maynot the savage be the happier man of the two?' Such were thethoughts that arose in my mind as I gazed upon the novelspectacle before me. In truth it was an impressive one, andlittle likely to be effaced. I can recall even now with vividdistinctiness every feature of the scene. The umbrageous shadeswhere the interview took place--the glorious tropical vegetationaround--the picturesque grouping of the mingled throng ofsoldiery and natives--and even the golden-hued bunch of bananasthat I held in my hand at the time, and of which I occasionallypartook while making the aforesaid philosophical reflections.

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