by Herman Melville

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Chapter Nineteen



THE knowledge I had now obtained as to the intention of thesavages deeply affected me.

Marnoo, I perceived, was a man who, by reason of his superioracquirements, and the knowledge he possessed of the events whichwere taking place in the different bays of the island, was heldin no little estimation by the inhabitants of the valley. He hadbeen received with the most cordial welcome and respect. Thenatives had hung upon the accents of his voice, and, hadmanifested the highest gratification at being individuallynoticed by him. And yet despite all this, a few words urged inmy behalf, with the intent of obtaining my release fromcaptivity, had sufficed not only to banish all harmony andgood-will; but, if I could believe what he told me, had gone onto endanger his own personal safety.

How strongly rooted, then, must be the determination of theTypees with regard to me, and how suddenly could they display thestrangest passions! The mere suggestion of my departure hadestranged from me, for the time at least, Mehevi, who was themost influential of all the chiefs, and who had previouslyexhibited so many instances of his; friendly sentiments. Therest of the natives had likewise evinced their strong repugnanceto my wishes, and even Kory-Kory himself seemed to share in thegeneral disapprobation bestowed upon me.

In vain I racked my invention to find out some motive for them,but I could discover none.

But however this might be, the scene which had just occurredadmonished me of the danger of trifling with the wayward andpassionate spirits against whom it was vain to struggle, andmight even be fatal to do go. My only hope was to induce thenatives to believe that I was reconciled to my detention in thevalley, and by assuming a tranquil and cheerful demeanour, toallay the suspicions which I had so unfortunately aroused. Theirconfidence revived, they might in a short time remit in somedegree their watchfulness over my movements, and I should then bethe better enabled to avail myself of any opportunity whichpresented itself for escape. I determined, therefore, to makethe best of a bad bargain, and to bear up manfully againstwhatever might betide. In this endeavour, I succeeded beyond myown expectations. At the period of Marnoo's visit, I had been inthe valley, as nearly as I could conjecture, some two months.Although not completely recovered from my strange illness, whichstill lingered about me, I was free from pain and able to takeexercise. In short, I had every reason to anticipate a perfectrecovery. Freed from apprehension on this point, and resolved toregard the future without flinching, I flung myself anew into allthe social pleasures of the valley, and sought to bury allregrets, and all remembrances of my previous existence in thewild enjoyments it afforded.

In my various wanderings through the vale, and as I became betteracquainted with the character of its inhabitants, I was more andmore struck with the light-hearted joyousness that everywhereprevailed. The minds of these simple savages, unoccupied bymatters of graver moment, were capable of deriving the utmostdelight from circumstances which would have passed unnoticed inmore intelligent communities. All their enjoyment, indeed,seemed to be made up of the little trifling incidents of thepassing hour; but these diminutive items swelled altogether to anamount of happiness seldom experienced by more enlightenedindividuals, whose pleasures are drawn from more elevated butrarer sources.

What community, for instance, of refined and intellectual mortalswould derive the least satisfaction from shooting pop-guns? Themere supposition of such a thing being possible would excitetheir indignation, and yet the whole population of Typee didlittle else for ten days but occupy themselves with that childishamusement, fairly screaming, too, with the delight it affordedthem.

One day I was frolicking with a little spirited urchin, some sixyears old, who chased me with a piece of bamboo about three feetlong, with which he occasionally belaboured me. Seizing thestick from him, the idea happened to suggest itself, that I mightmake for the youngster, out of the slender tube, one of thosenursery muskets with which I had sometimes seen children playing.

Accordingly, with my knife I made two parallel slits in the caneseveral inches in length, and cutting loose at one end theelastic strip between them, bent it back and slipped the pointinto a little notch made for the purse. Any small substanceplaced against this would be projected with considerable forcethrough the tube, by merely springing the bent strip out of thenotch.

Had I possessed the remotest idea of the sensation this piece ofordnance was destined to produce, I should certainly have takenout a patent for the invention. The boy scampered away with it,half delirious with ecstasy, and in twenty minutes afterwards Imight have been seen surrounded by a noisy crowd--venerable oldgraybeards--responsible fathers of families--valiantwarriors--matrons--young men--girls and children, all holding intheir hands bits of bamboo, and each clamouring to be servedfirst.

For three or four hours I was engaged in manufacturing pop-guns,but at last made over my good-will and interest in the concern toa lad of remarkably quick parts, whom I soon initiated into theart and mystery.

Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop, now resounded all over the valley. Duels,skirmishes, pitched battles, and general engagements were to beseen on every side. Here, as you walked along a path which ledthrough a thicket, you fell into a cunningly laid ambush, andbecame a target for a body of musketeers whose tattooed limbs youcould just see peeping into view through the foliage. There youwere assailed by the intrepid garrison of a house, who levelledtheir bamboo rifles at you from between the upright canes whichcomposed its sides. Farther on you were fired upon by adetachment of sharpshooters, mounted upon the top of a pi-pi.

Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop! green guavas, seeds, and berries were flyingabout in every direction, and during this dangerous state ofaffairs I was half afraid that, like the man and his brazen bull,I should fall a victim to my own ingenuity. Like everythingelse, however, the excitement gradually wore away, though everafter occasionally pop-guns might be heard at all hours of theday.

It was towards the close of the pop-gun war, that I wasinfinitely diverted with a strange freak of Marheyo's.

I had worn, when I quitted the ship, a pair of thick pumps,which, from the rough usage they had received in scalingprecipices and sliding down gorges, were so dilapidated as to bealtogether unfit for use--so, at least, would have thought thegenerality of people, and so they most certainly were, whenconsidered in the light of shoes. But things unservicable in oneway, may with advantage be applied in another, that is, if onehave genius enough for the purpose. This genius Marheyopossessed in a superlative degree, as he abundantly evinced bythe use to which he put those sorely bruised and battered oldshoes.

Every article, however trivial, which belonged to me, the nativesappeared to regard as sacred; and I observed that for severaldays after becoming an inmate of the house, my pumps weresuffered to remain, untouched, where I had first happened tothrow them. I remembered, however, that after awhile I hadmissed them from their accustomed place; but the matter gave meno concern, supposing that Tinor--like any other tidy housewife,having come across them in some of her domestic occupations--hadpitched the useless things out of the house. But I was soonundeceived.

One day I observed old Marheyo bustling about me with unusualactivity, and to such a degree as almost to supersede Kory-Koryin the functions of his office. One moment he volunteered totrot off with me on his back to the stream; and when I refused,noways daunted by the repulse, he continued to frisk about melike a superannuated house-dog. I could not for the life of meconjecture what possessed the old gentleman, until all at once,availing himself of the temporary absence of the household, hewent through a variety of of uncouth gestures, pointing eagerlydown to my feet, then up to a little bundle, which swung from theridge pole overhead. At last I caught a faint idea of hismeaning, and motioned him to lower the package. He executed theorder in the twinkling of an eye, and unrolling a piece of tappa,displayed to my astonished gaze the identical pumps which Ithought had been destroyed long before.

I immediately comprehended his desire, and very generously gavehim the shoes, which had become quite mouldy, wondering for whatearthly purpose he could want them. The same afternoon Idescried the venerable warrior approaching the house, with aslow, stately gait, ear-rings in ears, and spear in hand, withthis highly ornamental pair of shoes suspended from his neck by astrip of bark, and swinging backwards and forwards on hiscapacious chest. In the gala costume of the tasteful Marheyo,these calf-skin pendants ever after formed the most strikingfeature.

But to turn to something a little more important. Although thewhole existence of the inhabitants of the valley seemed to passaway exempt from toil, yet there were some light employmentswhich, although amusing rather than laborious as occupations,contributed to their comfort and luxury. Among these the mostimportant was the manufacture of the native cloth,--'tappa',--sowell known, under various modifications, throughout the wholePolynesian Archipelago. As is generally understood, this usefuland sometimes elegant article is fabricated from the bark ofdifferent trees. But, as I believe that no description of itsmanufacture has ever been given, I shall state what I knowregarding it.

In the manufacture of the beautiful white tappa generally worn onthe Marquesan Islands, the preliminary operation consists ingathering a certain quantity of the young branches of thecloth-tree. The exterior green bark being pulled off asworthless, there remains a slender fibrous substance, which iscarefully stripped from the stick, to which it closely adheres. When a sufficient quantity of it has been collected, the variousstrips are enveloped in a covering of large leaves, which thenatives use precisely as we do wrapping-paper, and which aresecured by a few turns of a line passed round them. The packageis then laid in the bed of some running stream, with a heavystone placed over it, to prevent its being swept away. After ithas remained for two or three days in this state, it is drawnout, and exposed, for a short time, to the action of the air,every distinct piece being attentively inspected, with a view ofascertaining whether it has yet been sufficiently affected by theoperation. This is repeated again and again, until the desiredresult is obtained.

When the substance is in a proper state for the next process, itbetrays evidences of incipient decomposition; the fibres arerelaxed and softened, and rendered perfectly malleable. Thedifferent strips are now extended, one by one, in successivelayers, upon some smooth surface--generally the prostrate trunkof a cocoanut tree--and the heap thus formed is subjected, atevery new increase, to a moderate beating, with a sort of woodenmallet, leisurely applied. The mallet is made of a hard heavywood resembling ebony, is about twelve inches in length, andperhaps two in breadth, with a rounded handle at one end, and inshape is the exact counterpart of one of our four-sidedrazor-strops. The flat surfaces of the implement are marked withshallow parallel indentations, varying in depth on the differentsides, so as to be adapted to the several stages of theoperation. These marks produce the corduroy sort of stripesdiscernible in the tappa in its finished state. After beingbeaten in the manner I have described, the material soon becomesblended in one mass, which, moistened occasionally with water, isat intervals hammered out, by a kind of gold-beating process, toany degree of thinness required. In this way the cloth is easilymade to vary in strength and thickness, so as to suit thenumerous purposes to which it is applied.

When the operation last described has been concluded, thenew-made tappa is spread out on the grass to bleach and dry, andsoon becomes of a dazzling whiteness. Sometimes, in the firststages of the manufacture, the substance is impregnated with avegetable juice, which gives it a permanent colour. A rich brownand a bright yellow are occasionally seen, but the simple tasteof the Typee people inclines them to prefer the natural tint.

The notable wife of Kamehameha, the renowned conqueror and kingof the Sandwich Islands, used to pride herself in the skill shedisplayed in dyeing her tappa with contrasting colours disposedin regular figures; and, in the midst of the innovations of thetimes, was regarded, towards the decline of her life, as a ladyof the old school, clinging as she did to the national cloth, inpreference to the frippery of the European calicoes. But the artof printing the tappa is unknown upon the Marquesan Islands. Inpassing along the valley, I was often attracted by the noise ofthe mallet, which, when employed in the manufacture of the clothproduces at every stroke of its hard, heavy wood, a clear,ringing, and musical sound, capable of being heard at a greatdistance. When several of these implements happen to be inoperation at the same time, near one another, the effect upon theear of a person, at a little distance, is really charming.

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