by Herman Melville

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Chapter Ten



HOW to obtain the fruit which we felt convinced must grow near athand was our first thought.

Typee or Happar? A frightful death at the hands of the fiercestof cannibals, or a kindly reception from a gentler race ofsavages? Which? But it was too late now to discuss a questionwhich would so soon be answered.

The part of the valley in which we found ourselves appeared to bealtogether uninhabited. An almost impenetrable thicket extendedfrom side to side, without presenting a single plant affordingthe nourishment we had confidently calculated upon; and with thisobject, we followed the course of the stream, casting quickglances as we proceeded into the thick jungles on each hand. Mycompanion--to whose solicitations I had yielded in descendinginto the valley--now that the step was taken, began to manifest adegree of caution I had little expected from him. He proposedthat in the event of our finding an adequate supply of fruit, weshould remain in this unfrequented portion of the country--wherewe should run little chance of being surprised by its occupants,whoever they might be--until sufficiently recruited to resume ourjourney; when laying a store of food equal to our wants, we mighteasily regain the bay of Nukuheva, after the lapse of asufficient interval to ensure the departure of our vessel.

I objected strongly to this proposition, plausible as it was, asthe difficulties of the route would be almost insurmountable,unacquainted as we were with the general bearings of the country,and I reminded my companion of the hardships which we had alreadyencountered in our uncertain wanderings; in a word, I said thatsince we had deemed it advisable to enter the valley, we oughtmanfully to face the consequences, whatever they might be; themore especially as I was convinced there was no alternative leftus but to fall in with the natives at once, and boldly risk thereception they might give us; and that as to myself, I felt thenecessity of rest and shelter, and that until I had obtainedthem, I should be wholly unable to encounter such sufferings aswe had lately passed through. To the justice of theseobservations Toby somewhat reluctantly assented.

We were surprised that, after moving as far as we had along thevalley, we should still meet with the same impervious thickets;and thinking, that although the borders of the stream might belined for some distance with them, yet beyond there might be moreopen ground, I requested Toby to keep a bright look-out upon oneside, while I did the same on the other, in order to discoversome opening in the bushes, and especially to watch for theslightest appearance of a path or anything else that mightindicate the vicinity of the islanders.

What furtive and anxious glances we cast into those dim-lookingshadows! With what apprehensions we proceeded, ignorant at whatmoment we might be greeted by the javelin of some ambushedsavage. At last my companion paused, and directed my attentionto a narrow opening in the foliage. We struck into it, and itsoon brought us by an indistinctly traced path to a comparativelyclear space, at the further end of which we descried a number ofthe trees, the native name of which is 'annuee', and which bear amost delicious fruit. W hat a race! I hobbling over the groundlike some decrepid wretch, and Toby leaping forward like agreyhound. He quickly cleared one of the trees on which therewere two or three of the fruit, but to our chagrin they proved tobe much decayed; the rinds partly opened by the birds, and theirhearts half devoured. However, we quickly despatched them, andno ambrosia could have been more delicious.

We looked about us uncertain whither to direct our steps, sincethe path we had so far followed appeared to be lost in the openspace around us. At last we resolved to enter a grove near athand, and had advanced a few rods, when, just upon its skirts, Ipicked up a slender bread-fruit shoot perfectly green, and withthe tender. bark freshly stripped from it. It was stillslippery with moisture, and appeared as if it had been but thatmoment thrown aside. I said nothing, but merely held it up toToby, who started at this undeniable evidence of the vicinity ofthe savages.

The plot was now thickening.--A short distance further lay alittle faggot of the same shoots bound together with a strip ofbark. Could it have been thrown down by some solitary native,who, alarmed at seeing us, had hurried forward to carry thetidings of our approach to his countrymen?--Typee or Happar?--Butit was too late to recede, so we moved on slowly, my companion inadvance casting eager glances under the trees on each side, untilall at once I saw him recoil as if stung by an adder. Sinking onhis knee, he waved me off with one hand, while with the other heheld aside some intervening leaves, and gazed intently at someobject.

Disregarding his injunction, I quickly approached him and caughta glimpse of two figures partly hidden by the dense foliage; theywere standing close together, and were perfectly motionless. They must have previously perceived us, and withdrawn into thedepths of the wood to elude our observation.

My mind was at once made up. Dropping my staff, and tearing openthe package of things we had brought from the ship, I unrolledthe cotton cloth, and holding it in one hand picked with theother a twig from the bushes beside me, and telling Toby tofollow my example, I broke through the covert and advanced,waving the branch in token of peace towards the shrinking formsbefore me. They were a boy and a girl, slender and graceful, andcompletely naked, with the exception of a slight girdle of bark,from which depended at opposite points two of the russet leavesof the bread-fruit tree. An arm of the boy, half screened fromsight by her wild tresses, was thrown about the neck of the girl,while with the other he held one of her hands in his; and thusthey stood together, their heads inclined forward, catching thefaint noise we made in our progress, and with one foot inadvance, as if half inclined to fly from our presence.

As we drew near, their alarm evidently increased. Apprehensivethat they might fly from us altogether, I stopped short andmotioned them to advance and receive the gift I extended towardsthem, but they would not; I then uttered a few words of theirlanguage with which I was acquainted, scarcely expected that theywould understand me, but to show that we had not dropped from theclouds upon them. This appeared to give them a littleconfidence, so I approached nearer, presenting the cloth with onehand, and holding the bough with the other, while they slowlyretreated. At last they suffered us to approach so near to themthat we were enabled to throw the cotton cloth across theirshoulders, giving them to understand that it was theirs, and by avariety of gestures endeavouring to make them understand that weentertained the highest possible regard for them.

The frightened pair now stood still, whilst we endeavoured tomake them comprehend the nature of our wants. In doing this Tobywent through with a complete series of pantomimicillustrations--opening his mouth from ear to ear, and thrustinghis fingers down his throat, gnashing his teeth and rolling hiseyes about, till I verily believe the poor creatures took us fora couple of white cannibals who were about to make a meal ofthem. When, however, they understood us, they showed noinclination to relieve our wants. At this juncture it began torain violently, and we motioned them to lead us to some place ofshelter. With this request they appeared willing to comply, butnothing could evince more strongly the apprehension with whichthey regarded us, than the way in which, whilst walking beforeus, they kept their eyes constantly turned back to watch everymovement we made, and even our very looks.

'Typee or Happar, Toby?' asked I as we walked after them.

'Of course Happar,' he replied, with a show of confidence whichwas intended to disguise his doubts.

'We shall soon know,' I exclaimed; and at the same moment Istepped forward towards our guides, and pronouncing the two namesinterrogatively and pointing to the lowest part of the valley,endeavoured to come to the point at once. They repeated thewords after me again and again, but without giving any peculiaremphasis to either, so that I was completely at a loss tounderstand them; for a couple of wilier young things than weafterwards found them to have been on this particular occasionnever probably fell in any traveller's way.

More and more curious to ascertain our fate, I now threw togetherin the form of a question the words 'Happar' and 'Motarkee', thelatter being equivalent to the word 'good'. The two nativesinterchanged glances of peculiar meaning with one another atthis, and manifested no little surprise; but on the repetition ofthe question after some consultation together, to the great joyof Toby, they answered in the affirmative. Toby was now inecstasies, especially as the young savages continued to reiteratetheir answer with great energy, as though desirous of impressingus with the idea that being among the Happars, we ought toconsider ourselves perfectly secure.

Although I had some lingering doubts, I feigned great delightwith Toby at this announcement, while my companion broke out intoa pantomimic abhorrence of Typee, and immeasurable love for theparticular valley in which we were; our guides all the whilegazing uneasily at one another as if at a loss to account for ourconduct.

They hurried on, and we followed them; until suddenly they set upa strange halloo, which was answered from beyond the grovethrough which we were passing, and the next moment we enteredupon some open ground, at the extremity of which we descried along, low hut, and in front of it were several young girls. Assoon as they perceived us they fled with wild screams into theadjoining thickets, like so many startled fawns. A few momentsafter the whole valley resounded with savage outcries, and thenatives came running towards us from every direction.

Had an army of invaders made an irruption into their territorythey could not have evinced greater excitement. We were sooncompletely encircled by a dense throng, and in their eager desireto behold us they almost arrested our progress; an equal numbersurrounded our youthful guides, who with amazing volubilityappeared to be detailing the circumstances which had attendedtheir meeting with us. Every item of intelligence appeared toredouble the astonishment of the islanders, and they gazed at uswith inquiring looks.

At last we reached a large and handsome building of bamboos, andwere by signs told to enter it, the natives opening a lane for usthrough which to pass; on entering without ceremony, we threw ourexhausted frames upon the mats that covered the floor. In amoment the slight tenement was completely full of people, whilstthose who were unable to obtain admittance gazed at us throughits open cane-work.

It was now evening, and by the dim light we could just discernthe savage countenances around us, gleaming with wild curiosityand wonder; the naked forms and tattooed limbs of brawnywarriors, with here and there the slighter figures of younggirls, all engaged in a perfect storm of conversation, of whichwe were of course the one only theme, whilst our recent guideswere fully occupied in answering the innumerable questions whichevery one put to them. Nothing can exceed the fiercegesticulation of these people when animated in conversation, andon this occasion they gave loose to all their natural vivacity,shouting and dancing about in a manner that well nigh intimidatedus.

Close to where we lay, squatting upon their haunches, were someeight or ten noble-looking chiefs--for such they subsequentlyproved to be--who, more reserved than the rest, regarded us witha fixed and stern attention, which not a little discomposed ourequanimity. One of them in particular, who appeared to be thehighest in rank, placed himself directly facing me, looking at mewith a rigidity of aspect under which I absolutely quailed. Henever once opened his lips, but maintained his severe expressionof countenance, without turning his face aside for a singlemoment. Never before had I been subjected to so strange andsteady a glance; it revealed nothing of the mind of the savage,but it appeared to be reading my own.

After undergoing this scrutiny till I grew absolutely nervous,with a view of diverting it if possible, and conciliating thegood opinion of the warrior, I took some tobacco from the bosomof my frock and offered it to him. He quietly rejected theproffered gift, and, without speaking, motioned me to return itto its place.

In my previous intercourse with the natives of Nukuheva and Tior,I had found that the present of a small piece of tobacco wouldhave rendered any of them devoted to my service. Was this act ofthe chief a token of his enmity? Typee or Happar? I askedwithin myself. I started, for at the same moment this identicalquestion was asked by the strange being before me. I turned toToby, the flickering light of a native taper showed me hiscountenance pale with trepidation at this fatal question. Ipaused for a second, and I know not by what impulse it was that Ianswered 'Typee'. The piece of dusky statuary nodded inapproval, and then murmured 'Motarkee!' 'Motarkee,' said I,without further hesitation 'Typee motarkee.'

What a transition! The dark figures around us leaped to theirfeet, clapped their hands in transport, and shouted again andagain the talismanic syllables, the utterance of which appearedto have settled everything.

When this commotion had a little subsided, the principal chiefsquatted once more before me, and throwing himself into a suddenrage, poured forth a string of philippics, which I was at no lossto understand, from the frequent recurrence of the word Happar,as being directed against the natives of the adjoining valley. In all these denunciations my companion and I acquiesced, whilewe extolled the character of the warlike Typees. To be sure ourpanegyrics were somewhat laconic, consisting in the repetition ofthat name, united with the potent adjective 'motarkee'. But thiswas sufficient, and served to conciliate the good will of thenatives, with whom our congeniality of sentiment on this pointdid more towards inspiring a friendly feeling than anything elsethat could have happened.

At last the wrath of the chief evaporated, and in a few momentshe was as placid as ever. Laying his hand upon his breast, hegave me to understand that his name was 'Mehevi', and that, inreturn, he wished me to communicate my appellation. I hesitatedfor an instant, thinking that it might be difficult for him topronounce my real name, and then with the most praiseworthyintentions intimated that I was known as 'Tom'. But I could nothave made a worse selection; the chief could not master it. 'Tommo,' 'Tomma', 'Tommee', everything but plain 'Tom'. As hepersisted in garnishing the, word with an additional syllable, Icompromised the matter with him at the word 'Tommo'; and by thatname I went during the entire period of my stay in the valley. The same proceeding was gone through with Toby, whose mellifluousappellation was more easily caught.

An exchange of names is equivalent to a ratification of good willand amity among these simple people; and as we were aware of thisfact, we were delighted that it had taken place on the presentoccasion.

Reclining upon our mats, we now held a kind of levee, givingaudience to successive troops of the natives, who introducedthemselves to us by pronouncing their respective names, andretired in high good humour on receiving ours in return. Duringthis ceremony the greatest merriment prevailed nearly everyannouncement on the part of the islanders being followed by afresh sally of gaiety, which induced me to believe that some ofthem at least were innocently diverting the company at ourexpense, by bestowing upon themselves a string of absurd titles,of the humour of which we were of course entirely ignorant.

All this occupied about an hour, when the throng having a littlediminished, I turned to Mehevi and gave him to understand that wewere in need of food and sleep. Immediately the attentive chiefaddressed a few words to one of the crowd, who disappeared, andreturned in a few moments with a calabash of 'poee-poee', and twoor three young cocoanuts stripped of their husks, and with theirshells partly broken. We both of us forthwith placed one ofthese natural goblets to our lips, and drained it in a moment ofthe refreshing draught it contained. The poee-poee was thenplaced before us, and even famished as I was, I paused toconsider in what manner to convey it to my mouth.

This staple article of food among the Marquese islanders ismanufactured from the produce of the bread-fruit tree. Itsomewhat resembles in its plastic nature our bookbinders' paste,is of a yellow colour, and somewhat tart to the taste.

Such was the dish, the merits of which I was now eager todiscuss. I eyed it wistfully for a moment, and then, unable anylonger to stand on ceremony, plunged my hand into the yieldingmass, and to the boisterous mirth of the natives drew it forthladen with the poee-poee, which adhered in lengthy strings toevery finger. So stubborn was its consistency, that in conveyingmy heavily-weighted hand to my mouth, the connecting links almostraised the calabash from the mats on which it had been placed. This display of awkwardness--in which, by-the-bye, Toby kept mecompany--convulsed the bystanders with uncontrollable laughter.

As soon as their merriment had somewhat subsided, Mehevi,motioning us to be attentive, dipped the forefinger of his righthand in the dish, and giving it a rapid and scientific twirl,drew it out coated smoothly with the preparation. With a secondpeculiar flourish he prevented the poee-poee from dropping to theground as he raised it to his mouth, into which the finger wasinserted and drawn forth perfectly free from any adhesive matter.

This performance was evidently intended for our instruction; so Iagain essayed the feat on the principles inculcated, but withvery ill success.

A starving man, however, little heeds conventional proprieties,especially on a South-Sea Island, and accordingly Toby and Ipartook of the dish after our own clumsy fashion, beplasteringour faces all over with the glutinous compound, and daubing ourhands nearly to the wrist. This kind of food is by no meansdisagreeable to the palate of a European, though at first themode of eating it may be. For my own part, after the lapse of afew days I became accustomed to its singular flavour, and grewremarkably fond of it.

So much for the first course; several other dishes followed it,some of which were positively delicious. We concluded ourbanquet by tossing off the contents of two more young cocoanuts,after which we regaled ourselves with the soothing fumes oftobacco, inhaled from a quaintly carved pipe which passed roundthe circle.

During the repast, the natives eyed us with intense curiosity,observing our minutest motions, and appearing to discoverabundant matter for comment in the most trifling occurrence. Their surprise mounted the highest, when we began to remove ouruncomfortable garments, which were saturated with rain. Theyscanned the whiteness of our limbs, and seemed utterly unable toaccount for the contrast they presented to the swarthy hue of ourfaces embrowned from a six months' exposure to the scorching sunof the Line. They felt our skin, much in the same way that asilk mercer would handle a remarkably fine piece of satin; andsome of them went so far in their investigation as to apply theolfactory organ.

Their singular behaviour almost led me to imagine that they neverbefore had beheld a white man; but a few moments' reflectionconvinced me that this could not have been the case; and a moresatisfactory reason for their conduct has since suggested itselfto my mind.

Deterred by the frightful stories related of its inhabitants,ships never enter this bay, while their hostile relations withthe tribes in the adjoining valleys prevent the Typees fromvisiting that section of the island where vessels occasionallylie. At long intervals, however, some intrepid captain willtouch on the skirts of the bay, with two or three armed boats'crews and accompanied by interpreters. The natives who live nearthe sea descry the strangers long before they reach their waters,and aware of the purpose for which they come, proclaim loudly thenews of their approach. By a species of vocal telegraph theintelligence reaches the inmost recesses of the vale in aninconceivably short space of time, drawing nearly its wholepopulation down to the beach laden with every variety of fruit. The interpreter, who is invariably a 'tabooed Kanaka'*, leapsashore with the goods intended for barter, while the boats, withtheir oars sloped, and every man on his thwart, lie just outsidethe surf, heading off the shore, in readiness at the firstuntoward event to escape to the open sea. As soon as the trafficis concluded, one of the boats pulls in under cover of themuskets of the others, the fruit is quickly thrown into her, andthe transient visitors precipitately retire from what they justlyconsider so dangerous a vicinity.

* The word 'Kanaka' is at the present day universally used in theSouth Seas by Europeans to designate the Islanders. In thevarious dialects of the principal groups it is simply a sexualdesignation applied to the males; but it is now used by thenatives in their intercourse with foreigners in the same sense inwhich the latter employ it.

A 'Tabooed Kanaka' is an islander whose person has been made to acertain extent sacred by the operation of a singular customhereafter to be explained.

The intercourse occurring with Europeans being so restricted, nowonder that the inhabitants of the valley manifested so muchcuriosity with regard to us, appearing as we did among them undersuch singular circumstances. I have no doubt that we were thefirst white men who ever penetrated thus far back into theirterritories, or at least the first who had ever descended fromthe head of the vale. What had brought us thither must haveappeared a complete mystery to them, and from our ignorance ofthe language it was impossible for us to enlighten them. Inanswer to inquiries which the eloquence of their gestures enabledus to comprehend, all that we could reply was, that we had comefrom Nukuheva, a place, be it remembered, with which they were atopen war. This intelligence appeared to affect them with themost lively emotions. 'Nukuheva motarkee?' they asked. Ofcourse we replied most energetically in the negative.

Then they plied us with a thousand questions, of which we couldunderstand nothing more than that they had reference to therecent movements of the French, against whom they seemed tocherish the most fierce hatred. So eager were they to obtaininformation on this point, that they still continued to propoundtheir queries long after we had shown that we were utterly unableto answer them. Occasionally we caught some indistinct idea oftheir meaning, when we would endeavour by every method in ourpower to communicate the desired intelligence. At such timestheir gratification was boundless, and they would redouble theirefforts to make us comprehend them more perfectly. But all invain; and in the end they looked at us despairingly, as if wewere the receptacles of invaluable information; but how to comeat it they knew not.

After a while the group around us gradually dispersed, and wewere left about midnight (as we conjectured) with those whoappeared to be permanent residents of the house. Theseindividuals now provided us with fresh mats to lie upon, coveredus with several folds of tappa, and then extinguishing the tapersthat had been burning, threw themselves down beside us, and aftera little desultory conversation were soon sound asleep.

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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.