by Herman Melville

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Chapter Seventeen



DAY after day wore on, and still there was no perceptible changein the conduct of the islanders towards me. Gradually I lost allknowledge of the regular recurrence of the days of the week, andsunk insensibly into that kind of apathy which ensues after someviolent outburst of despair. My limb suddenly healed, theswelling went down, the pain subsided, and I had every reason tosuppose I should soon completely recover from the affliction thathad so long tormented me.

As soon as I was enabled to ramble about the valley in companywith the natives, troops of whom followed me whenever I salliedout of the house, I began to experience an elasticity of mindwhich placed me beyond the reach of those dismal forebodings towhich I had so lately been a prey. Received wherever I went withthe most deferential kindness; regaled perpetually with the mostdelightful fruits; ministered to by dark-eyed nymphs, andenjoying besides all the services of the devoted Kory-Kory, Ithought that, for a sojourn among cannibals, no man could havewell made a more agreeable one.

To be sure there were limits set to my wanderings. Toward thesea my progress was barred by an express prohibition of thesavages; and after having made two or three ineffectual attemptsto reach it, as much to gratify my curiousity as anything else, Igave up the idea. It was in vain to think of reaching it bystealth, since the natives escorted me in numbers wherever Iwent, and not for one single moment that I can recall to mind wasI ever permitted to be alone.

The green and precipitous elevations that stood ranged around thehead of the vale where Marheyo's habitation was situatedeffectually precluded all hope of escape in that quarter, even ifI could have stolen away from the thousand eyes of the savages.

But these reflections now seldom obtruded upon me; I gave myselfup to the passing hour, and if ever disagreeable thoughts arosein my mind, I drove them away. When I looked around the verdantrecess in which I was buried, and gazed up to the summits of thelofty eminence that hemmed me in, I was well disposed to thinkthat I was in the 'Happy Valley', and that beyond those heightsthere was naught but a world of care and anxiety. As I extendedmy wanderings in the valley and grew more familiar with thehabits of its inmates, I was fain to confess that, despite thedisadvantages of his condition, the Polynesian savage, surroundedby all the luxurious provisions of nature, enjoyed an infinitelyhappier, though certainly a less intellectual existence than theself-complacent European.

The naked wretch who shivers beneath the bleak skies, and starvesamong the inhospitable wilds of Tierra-del-Fuego, might indeed bemade happier by civilization, for it would alleviate his physicalwants. But the voluptuous Indian, with every desire supplied,whom Providence has bountifully provided with all the sources ofpure and natural enjoyment, and from whom are removed so many ofthe ills and pains of life--what has he to desire at the hands ofCivilization? She may 'cultivate his mind--may elevate histhoughts,'--these I believe are the established phrases--but willhe be the happier? Let the once smiling and populous Hawiianislands, with their now diseased, starving, and dying natives,answer the question. The missionaries may seek to disguise thematter as they will, but the facts are incontrovertible; and thedevoutest Christian who visits that group with an unbiased mind,must go away mournfully asking--'Are these, alas! the fruits oftwenty-five years of enlightening?'

In a primitive state of society, the enjoyments of life, thoughfew and simple, are spread over a great extent, and areunalloyed; but Civilization, for every advantage she imparts,holds a hundred evils in reserve;--the heart-burnings, thejealousies, the social rivalries, the family dissentions, and thethousand self-inflicted discomforts of refined life, which makeup in units the swelling aggregate of human misery, are unknownamong these unsophisticated people.

But it will be urged that these shocking unprincipled wretchesare cannibals. Very true; and a rather bad trait in theircharacter it must be allowed. But they are such only when theyseek to gratify the passion of revenge upon their enemies; and Iask whether the mere eating of human flesh so very far exceeds inbarbarity that custom which only a few years since was practisedin enlightened England:--a convicted traitor, perhaps a man foundguilty of honesty, patriotism, and suchlike heinous crimes, hadhis head lopped off with a huge axe, his bowels dragged cut andthrown into a fire; while his body, carved into four quarters,was with his head exposed upon pikes, and permitted to rot andfester among the public haunts of men!

The fiend-like skill we display in the invention of all manner ofdeath-dealing engines, the vindictiveness with which we carry onour wars, and the misery and desolation that follow in theirtrain, are enough of themselves to distinguish the whitecivilized man as the most ferocious animal on the face of theearth.

His remorseless cruelty is seen in many of the institutions ofour own favoured land. There is one in particular lately adoptedin one of the States of the Union, which purports to have beendictated by the most merciful considerations. To destroy ourmalefactors piece-meal, drying up in their veins, drop by drop,the blood we are too chicken-hearted to shed by a single blowwhich would at once put a period to their sufferings, is deemedto be infinitely preferable to the old-fashioned punishment ofgibbeting--much less annoying to the victim, and more inaccordance with the refined spirit of the age; and yet how feebleis all language to describe the horrors we inflict upon thesewretches, whom we mason up in the cells of our prisons, andcondemn to perpetual solitude in the very heart of ourpopulation.

But it is needless to multiply the examples of civilizedbarbarity; they far exceed in the amount of misery they cause thecrimes which we regard with such abhorrence in our lessenlightened fellow-creatures.

The term 'Savage' is, I conceive, often misapplied, and indeed,when I consider the vices, cruelties, and enormities of everykind that spring up in the tainted atmosphere of a feverishcivilization, I am inclined to think that so far as the relativewickedness of the parties is concerned, four or five MarquesanIslanders sent to the United States as Missionaries might bequite as useful as an equal number of Americans despatched to theIslands in a similar capacity.

I once heard it given as an instance of the frightful depravityof a certain tribe in the Pacific that they had no word in theirlanguage to express the idea of virtue. The assertion wasunfounded; but were it otherwise, it might be met by stating thattheir language is almost entirely destitute of terms to expressthe delightful ideas conveyed by our endless catalogue ofcivilized crimes.

In the altered frame of mind to which I have referred, everyobject that presented itself to my notice in the valley struck mein a new light, and the opportunities I now enjoyed of observingthe manners of its inmates, tended to strengthen my favourableimpressions. One peculiarity that fixed my admiration was theperpetual hilarity reigning through the whole extent of the vale.

There seemed to be no cares, griefs, troubles, or vexations, inall Typee. The hours tripped along as gaily as the laughingcouples down a country dance.

There were none of those thousand sources of irritation that theingenuity of civilized man has created to mar his own felicity. There were no foreclosures of mortgages, no protested notes, nobills payable, no debts of honour in Typee; no unreasonabletailors and shoemakers perversely bent on being paid; no duns ofany description and battery attorneys, to foment discord, backingtheir clients up to a quarrel, and then knocking their headstogether; no poor relations, everlastingly occupying the sparebed-chamber, and diminishing the elbow room at the family table;no destitute widows with their children starving on the coldcharities of the world; no beggars; no debtors' prisons; no proudand hard-hearted nabobs in Typee; or to sum up all in oneword--no Money! 'That root of all evil' was not to be found inthe valley.

In this secluded abode of happiness there were no cross oldwomen, no cruel step-dames, no withered spinsters, no lovesickmaidens, no sour old bachelors, no inattentive husbands, nomelancholy young men, no blubbering youngsters, and no squallingbrats. All was mirth, fun and high good humour. Blue devils,hypochondria, and doleful dumps, went and hid themselves amongthe nooks and crannies of the rocks.

Here you would see a parcel of children frolicking together thelive-long day, and no quarrelling, no contention, among them. The same number in our own land could not have played togetherfor the space of an hour without biting or scratching oneanother. There you might have seen a throng of young females,not filled with envyings of each other's charms, nor displayingthe ridiculous affectations of gentility, nor yet moving inwhalebone corsets, like so many automatons, but free,inartificially happy, and unconstrained.

There were some spots in that sunny vale where they wouldfrequently resort to decorate themselves with garlands offlowers. To have seen them reclining beneath the shadows of oneof the beautiful groves; the ground about them strewn withfreshly gathered buds and blossoms, employed in weaving chapletsand necklaces, one would have thought that all the train of Florahad gathered together to keep a festival in honour of theirmistress.

With the young men there seemed almost always some matter ofdiversion or business on hand that afforded a constant variety ofenjoyment. But whether fishing, or carving canoes, or polishingtheir ornaments, never was there exhibited the least sign ofstrife or contention among them. As for the warriors, theymaintained a tranquil dignity of demeanour, journeyingoccasionally from house to house, where they were always sure tobe received with the attention bestowed upon distinguishedguests. The old men, of whom there were many in the vale, seldomstirred from their mats, where they would recline for hours andhours, smoking and talking to one another with all the garrulityof age.

But the continual happiness, which so far as I was able to judgeappeared to prevail in the valley, sprang principally from thatall-pervading sensation which Rousseau has told us be at one timeexperienced, the mere buoyant sense of a healthful physicalexistence. And indeed in this particular the Typees had amplereason to felicitate themselves, for sickness was almost unknown.

During the whole period of my stay I saw but one invalid amongthem; and on their smooth skins you observed no blemish or markof disease.

The general repose, however, upon which I have just beendescanting, was broken in upon about this time by an event whichproved that the islanders were not entirely exempt from thoseoccurrences which disturb the quiet of more civilizedcommunities.

Having now been a considerable time in the valley, I began tofeel surprised that the violent hostility subsisting between itsinhabitants, and those of the adjoining bay of Happar, shouldnever have manifested itself in any warlike encounter. Althoughthe valiant Typees would often by gesticulations declare theirundying hatred against their enemies, and the disgust they feltat their cannibal propensities; although they dilated upon themanifold injuries they had received at their hands, yet with aforbearance truly commendable, they appeared to sit down undertheir grievances, and to refrain from making any reprisals. TheHappars, entrenched behind their mountains, and never evenshowing themselves on their summits, did not appear to me tofurnish adequate cause for that excess of animosity evincedtowards them by the heroic tenants of our vale, and I wasinclined to believe that the deeds of blood attributed to themhad been greatly exaggerated.

On the other hand, as the clamours of war had not up to thisperiod disturbed the serenity of the tribe, I began to distrustthe truth of those reports which ascribed so fierce andbelligerent a character to the Typee nation. Surely, thought I,all these terrible stories I have heard about the inveteracy withwhich they carried on the feud, their deadly intensity, of hatredand the diabolical malice with which they glutted their revengeupon the inanimate forms of the slain, are nothing more thanfables, and I must confess that I experienced something like asense of regret at having my hideous anticipations thusdisappointed. I felt in some sort like a 'prentice boy who,going to the play in the expectation of being delighted with acut-and-thrust tragedy, is almost moved to tears ofdisappointment at the exhibition of a genteel comedy.

I could not avoid thinking that I had fallen in with a greatlytraduced people, and I moralized not a little upon thedisadvantage of having a bad name, which in this instance hadgiven a tribe of savages, who were as pacific as so manylambkins, the reputation of a confederacy of giant-killers.

But subsequent events proved that I had been a little toopremature in coming to this conclusion. One, day about noon,happening to be at the Ti, I had lain down on the mats withseveral of the chiefs, and had gradually sunk into a mostluxurious siesta, when I was awakened by a tremendous outcry, andstarting up beheld the natives seizing their spears and hurryingout, while the most puissant of the chiefs, grasping the sixmuskets which were ranged against the bamboos, followed after,and soon disappeared in the groves. These movements wereaccompanied by wild shouts, in which 'Happar, Happar,' greatlypredominated. The islanders were now seen running past the Ti,and striking across the valley to the Happar side. Presently Iheard the sharp report of a musket from the adjoining hills, andthen a burst of voices in the same direction. At this the womenwho had congregated in the groves, set up the most violentclamours, as they invariably do here as elsewhere on everyoccasion of excitement and alarm, with a view of tranquillizingtheir own minds and disturbing other people. On this particularoccasion they made such an outrageous noise, and continued itwith such perseverance, that for awhile, had entire volleys ofmusketry been fired off in the neighbouring mountains, I shouldnot have been able to have heard them.

When this female commotion had a little subsided I listenedeagerly for further information. At last bang went another shot,and then a second volley of yells from the hills. Again all wasquiet, and continued so for such a length of time that I began tothink the contending armies had agreed upon a suspension ofhostilities; when pop went a third gun, followed as before with ayell. After this, for nearly two hours nothing occurred worthyof comment, save some straggling shouts from the hillside,sounding like the halloos of a parcel of truant boys who had lostthemselves in the woods.

During this interval I had remained standing on the piazza of the'Ti,' which directly fronted the Happar mountain, and with no onenear me but Kory-Kory and the old superannuated savages I havedescribed. These latter never stirred from their mats, andseemed altogether unconscious that anything unusual was going on.

As for Kory-Kory, he appeared to think that we were in the midstof great events, and sought most zealously to impress me with adue sense of their importance. Every sound that reached usconveyed some momentous item of intelligence to him. At suchtimes, as if he were gifted with second sight, he would gothrough a variety of pantomimic illustrations, showing me theprecise manner in which the redoubtable Typees were at that verymoment chastising the insolence of the enemy. 'Mehevi hannapippee nuee Happar,' he exclaimed every five minutes, giving meto understand that under that distinguished captain the warriorsof his nation were performing prodigies of valour.

Having heard only four reports from the muskets, I was led tobelieve that they were worked by the islanders in the same manneras the Sultan Solyman's ponderous artillery at the siege ofByzantium, one of them taking an hour or two to load and train. At last, no sound whatever proceeding from the mountains, Iconcluded that the contest had been determined one way or theother. Such appeared, indeed, to be the case, for in a littlewhile a courier arrived at the 'Ti', almost breathless with hisexertions, and communicated the news of a great victory havingbeen achieved by his countrymen: 'Happar poo arva!--Happar pooarva!' (the cowards had fled). Kory-Kory was in ecstasies, andcommenced a vehement harangue, which, so far as I understood it,implied that the result exactly agreed with his expectations, andwhich, moreover, was intended to convince me that it would be aperfectly useless undertaking, even for an army of fire-eaters,to offer battle to the irresistible heroes of our valley. In allthis I of course acquiesced, and looked forward with no littleinterest to the return of the conquerors, whose victory I fearedmight not have been purchased without cost to themselves.

But here I was again mistaken; for Mehevi, in conducting hiswarlike operations, rather inclined to the Fabian than to theBonapartean tactics, husbanding his resources and exposing histroops to no unnecessary hazards. The total loss of the victorsin this obstinately contested affair was, in killed, wounded, andmissing--one forefinger and part of a thumb-nail (which the lateproprietor brought along with him in his hand), a severelycontused arm, and a considerable effusion of blood flowing fromthe thigh of a chief, who had received an ugly thrust from aHappar spear. What the enemy had suffered I could not discover,but I presume they had succeeded in taking off with them thebodies of their slain.

Such was the issue of the battle, as far as its results cameunder my observation: and as it appeared to be considered anevent of prodigious importance, I reasonably concluded that thewars of the natives were marked by no very sanguinary traits. Iafterwards learned how the skirmish had originated. A number ofthe Happars had been discovered prowling for no good purpose onthe Typee side of the mountain; the alarm sounded, and theinvaders, after a protracted resistance, had been chased over thefrontier. But why had not the intrepid Mehevi carried the warinto Happar? Why had he not made a descent into the hostilevale, and brought away some trophy of his victory--some materialsfor the cannibal entertainment which I had heard usuallyterminated every engagement? After all, I was much inclined tobelieve that these shocking festivals must occur very rarelyamong the islanders, if, indeed, they ever take place.

For two or three days the late event was the theme of generalcomment; after which the excitement gradually wore away, and thevalley resumed its accustomed tranquility.

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