by Herman Melville

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Chapter Thirty-two



FROM the time of my casual encounter with Karky the artist, mylife was one of absolute wretchedness. Not a day passed but Iwas persecuted by the solicitations of some of the natives tosubject myself to the odious operation of tattooing. Theirimportunities drove me half wild, for I felt how easily theymight work their will upon me regarding this or anything elsewhich they took into their heads. Still, however, the behaviourof the islanders towards me was as kind as ever. Fayaway wasquite as engaging; Kory-Kory as devoted; and Mehevi the king justas gracious and condescending as before. But I had now beenthree months in their valley, as nearly as I could estimate; Ihad grown familiar with the narrow limits to which my wanderinghad been confined; and I began bitterly to feel the state ofcaptivity in which I was held. There was no one with whom Icould freely converse; no one to whom I could communicate mythoughts; no one who could sympathize with my sufferings. Athousand times I thought how much more endurable would have beenmy lot had Toby still been with me. But I was left alone, andthe thought was terrible to me. Still, despite my griefs, I didall in my power to appear composed and cheerful, well knowingthat by manifesting any uneasiness, or any desire to escape, Ishould only frustrate my object.

It was during the period I was in this unhappy frame of mind thatthe painful malady under which I had been labouring--after havingalmost completely subsided--began again to show itself, and withsymptoms as violent as ever. This added calamity nearly unmannedme; the recurrence of the complaint proved that without powerfulremedial applications all hope of cure was futile; and when Ireflected that just beyond the elevations, which bound me in, wasthe medical relief I needed, and that although so near, it wasimpossible for me to avail myself of it, the thought was misery.

In this wretched situation, every circumstance which evinced thesavage nature of the beings at whose mercy I was, augmented thefearful apprehensions that consumed me. An occurrence whichhappened about this time affected me most powerfully.

I have already mentioned that from the ridge-pole of Marheyo'shouse were suspended a number of packages enveloped in tappa. Many of these I had often seen in the hands of the natives, andtheir contents had been examined in my presence. But there werethree packages hanging very nearly over the place where I lay,which from their remarkable appearance had often excited mycuriousity. Several times I had asked Kory-Kory to show me theircontents, but my servitor, who, in almost every other particularhad acceded to my wishes, refused to gratify me in this.

One day, returning unexpectedly from the 'Ti', my arrival seemedto throw the inmates of the house into the greatest confusion. They were seated together on the mats, and by the lines whichextended from the roof to the floor I immediately perceived thatthe mysterious packages were for some purpose or another underinspection. The evident alarm the savages betrayed filled mewith forebodings of evil, and with an uncontrollable desire topenetrate the secret so jealously guarded Despite the efforts ofMarheyo and Kory-Kory to restrain me, I forced my way into themidst of the circle, and just caught a glimpse of three humanheads, which others of the party were hurriedly enveloping in thecoverings from which they had been taken.

One of the three I distinctly saw. It was in a state of perfectpreservation, and from the slight glimpse I had of it, seemed tohave been subjected to some smoking operation which had reducedit to the dry, hard, and mummy-like appearance it presented. Thetwo long scalp locks were twisted up into balls upon the crown ofthe head in the same way that the individual had worn them duringfife. The sunken cheeks were rendered yet more ghastly by therows of glistening teeth which protruded from between the lips,while the sockets of the eyes--filled with oval bits ofmother-of-pearl shell, with a black spot in thecentre--heightened the hideousness of its aspect.

Two of the three were heads of the islanders; but the third, tomy horror, was that of a white man. Although it had been quicklyremoved from my sight, still the glimpse I had of it was enoughto convince me that I could not be mistaken.

Gracious God! what dreadful thoughts entered my head; in solvingthis mystery perhaps I had solved another, and the fate of mylost companion might be revealed in the shocking spectacle I hadjust witnessed. I longed to have torn off the folds of cloth andsatisfied the awful doubts under which I laboured. But before Ihad recovered from the consternation into which I had beenthrown, the fatal packages were hoisted aloft, and once moreswung over my head. The natives now gathered round metumultuously, and laboured to convince me that what I had justseen were the heads of three Happar warriors, who had been slainin battle. This glaring falsehood added to my alarm, and it wasnot until I reflected that I had observed the packages swingingfrom their elevation before Toby's disappearance, that I could atall recover my composure.

But although this horrible apprehension had been dispelled, I haddiscovered enough to fill me, in my present state of mind, withthe most bitter reflections. It was plain that I had seen thelast relic of some unfortunate wretch, who must have beenmassacred on the beach by the savages, in one of those periloustrading adventures which I have before described.

It was not, however, alone the murder of the stranger thatovercame me with gloom. I shuddered at the idea of thesubsequent fate his inanimate body might have met with Was thesame doom reserved for me? Was I destined to perish like him-like him perhaps, to be devoured and my head to be preserved as afearful memento of the events? My imagination ran riot in thesehorrid speculations, and I felt certain that the worst possibleevils would befall me. But whatever were my misgivings, Istudiously concealed them from the islanders, as well as the fullextent of the discovery I had made.

Although the assurances which the Typees had often given me, thatthey never eat human flesh, had not convinced me that such wasthe case, yet, having been so long a time in the valley withoutwitnessing anything which indicated the existence of thepractice, I began to hope that it was an event of very rareoccurrence, and that I should be spared the horror of witnessingit during my stay among them: but, alas, these hopes were soondestroyed.

It is a singular fact, that in all our accounts of cannibaltribes we have seldom received the testimony of an eye-witnessaccount to this revolting practice. The horrible conclusion hasalmost always been derived from the second-hand evidence ofEuropeans, or else from the admissions of the savages themselves,after they have in some degree become civilized. The Polynesiansare aware of the detestation in which Europeans hold this custom,and therefore invariably deny its existence, and with the craftpeculiar to savages, endeavour to conceal every trace of it.

The excessive unwillingness betrayed by the Sandwich Islanders,even at the present day, to allude to the unhappy fate of Cook,has often been remarked. And so well have they succeeded incovering the event with mystery, that to this very hour, despiteall that has been said and written on the subject, it stillremains doubtful whether they wreaked upon his murdered body thevengance they sometimes inflicted upon their enemies.

At Kealakekau, the scene of that tragedy, a strip of ship'scopper nailed against an upright post in the ground used toinform the traveller that beneath reposed the 'remains' of thegreat circumnavigator. But I am strongly inclined to believe notonly the corpse was refused Christian burial, but that the heartwhich was brought to Vancouver some time after the event, andwhich the Hawiians stoutly maintained was that of Captain Cook,was no such thing; and that the whole affair was a piece ofimposture which was sought to be palmed off upon the credulousEnglishman.

A few years since there was living on the island of Maui (one ofthe Sandwich group) an old chief, who, actuated by a morbiddesire for notoriety, gave himself out among the foreignresidents of the place as the living tomb of Captain Cook's bigtoe!--affirming that at the cannibal entertainment which ensuedafter the lamented Briton's death, that particular portion of hisbody had fallen to his share. His indignant countrymen actuallycaused him to be prosecuted in the native courts, on a chargenearly equivalent to what we term defamation of character; butthe old fellow persisting in his assertion, and no invalidatingproof being adduced, the plaintiffs were cast in the suit, andthe cannibal reputation of the defendant firmly established. This result was the making of his fortune; ever afterwards he wasin the habit of giving very profitable audiences to all curioustravellers who were desirous of beholding the man who had eatenthe great navigator's great toe.

About a week after my discovery of the contents of the mysteriouspackages, I happened to be at the Ti, when another war-alarm wassounded, and the natives rushing to their arms, sallied out toresist a second incursion of the Happar invaders. The same scenewas again repeated, only that on this occasion I heard at leastfifteen reports of muskets from the mountains during the timethat the skirmish lasted. An hour or two after its termination,loud paeans chanted through the valley announced the approach ofthe victors. I stood with Kory-Kory leaning against the railingof the pi-pi awaiting their advance, when a tumultuous crowd ofislanders emerged with wild clamours from the neighbouringgroves. In the midst of them marched four men, one preceding theother at regular intervals of eight or ten feet, with poles of acorresponding length, extending from shoulder to shoulder, towhich were lashed with thongs of bark three long narrow bundles,carefully wrapped in ample coverings of freshly pluckedpalm-leaves, tacked together with slivers of bamboo. Here andthere upon these green winding-sheets might be seen the stains ofblood, while the warriors who carried the frightful burdensdisplayed upon their naked limbs similar sanguinary marks. Theshaven head of the foremost had a deep gash upon it, and theclotted gore which had flowed from the wound remained in drypatches around it. The savage seemed to be sinking under theweight he bore. The bright tattooing upon his body was coveredwith blood and dust; his inflamed eyes rolled in their sockets,and his whole appearance denoted extraordinary suffering andexertion; yet sustained by some powerful impulse, he continued toadvance, while the throng around him with wild cheers sought toencourage him. The other three men were marked about the armsand breasts with several slight wounds, which they somewhatostentatiously displayed.

These four individuals, having been the most active in the lateencounter, claimed the honour of bearing the bodies of theirslain enemies to the Ti. Such was the conclusion I drew from myown observations, and, as far as I could understand, from theexplanation which Kory-Kory gave me.

The royal Mehevi walked by the side of these heroes. He carriedin one hand a musket, from the barrel of which was suspended asmall canvas pouch of powder, and in the other he grasped a shortjavelin, which he held before him and regarded with fierceexultation. This javelin he had wrested from a celebratedchampion of the Happars, who had ignominiously fled, and waspursued by his foes beyond the summit of the mountain.

When within a short distance of the Ti, the warrior with thewounded head, who proved to be Narmonee, tottered forward two orthree steps, and fell helplessly to the ground; but not beforeanother had caught the end of the pole from his shoulder, andplaced it upon his own.

The excited throng of islanders, who surrounded the person of theking and the dead bodies of the enemy, approached the spot whereI stood, brandishing their rude implements of warfare, many ofwhich were bruised and broken, and uttering continual shouts oftriumph. When the crowd drew up opposite the Ti, I set myself towatch their proceedings most attentively; but scarcely had theyhalted when my servitor, who had left my side for an instant,touched my arm and proposed our returning to Marheyo's house. Tothis I objected; but, to my surprise, Kory-Kory reiterated hisrequest, and with an unusual vehemence of manner. Still,however, I refused to comply, and was retreating before him, asin his importunity he pressed upon me, when I felt a heavy handlaid upon my shoulder, and turning round, encountered the bulkyform of Mow-Mow, a one-eyed chief, who had just detached himselffrom the crowd below, and had mounted the rear of the pi-pi uponwhich we stood. His cheek had been pierced by the point of aspear, and the wound imparted a still more frightful expressionto his hideously tattooed face, already deformed by the loss ofan eye. The warrior, without uttering a syllable, pointedfiercely in the direction of Marheyo's house, while Kory-Kory, atthe same time presenting his back, desired me to mount.

I declined this offer, but intimated my willingness to withdraw,and moved slowly along the piazza, wondering what could be thecause of this unusual treatment. A few minutes' considerationconvinced me that the savages were about to celebrate somehideous rite in connection with their peculiar customs, and atwhich they were determined I should not be present. I descendedfrom the pi-pi, and attended by Kory-Kory, who on this occasiondid not show his usual commiseration for my lameness, but seemedonly anxious to hurry me on, walked away from the place. As Ipassed through the noisy throng, which by this time completelyenvironed the Ti, I looked with fearful curiosity at the threepackages, which now were deposited upon the ground; but althoughI had no doubt as to their contents, still their thick coveringsprevented my actually detecting the form of a human body.

The next morning, shortly after sunrise, the same thunderingsounds which had awakened me from sleep on the second day of theFeast of Calabashes, assured me that the savages were on the eveof celebrating another, and, as I fully believed, a horriblesolemnity.

All the inmates of the house, with the exception of Marheyo, hisson, and Tinor, after assuming their gala dresses, departed inthe direction of the Taboo Groves.

Although I did not anticipate a compliance with my request,still, with a view of testing the truth of my suspicions, Iproposed to Kory-Kory that, according to our usual custom in themorning, we should take a stroll to the Ti: he positivelyrefused; and when I renewed the request, he evinced hisdetermination to prevent my going there; and, to divert my mindfrom the subject, he offered to accompany me to the stream. Weaccordingly went, and bathed. On our coming back to the house, Iwas surprised to find that all its inmates had returned, and werelounging upon the mats as usual, although the drums still soundedfrom the groves.

The rest of the day I spent with Kory-Kory and Fayaway, wanderingabout a part of the valley situated in an opposite direction fromthe Ti, and whenever I so much as looked towards that building,although it was hidden from view by intervening trees, and at thedistance of more than a mile, my attendant would exclaim, 'Taboo,taboo!'

At the various houses where we stopped, I found many of theinhabitants reclining at their ease, or pursuing some lightoccupation, as if nothing unusual were going forward; but amongstthem all I did not perceive a single chief or warrior. When Iasked several of the people why they were not at the 'HoolahHoolah' (the feast), their uniformly answered the question in amanner which implied that it was not intended for them, but forMehevi, Narmonee, Mow-Mow, Kolor, Womonoo, Kalow, running over,in their desire to make me comprehend their meaning, the names ofall the principal chiefs.

Everything, in short, strengthened my suspicions with regard tothe nature of the festival they were now celebrating; and whichamounted almost to a certainty. While in Nukuheva I hadfrequently been informed that the whole tribe were never presentat these cannibal banquets, but the chiefs and priests only; andeverything I now observed agreed with the account.

The sound of the drums continued without intermission the wholeday, and falling continually upon my ear, caused me a sensationof horror which I am unable to describe. On the following day,hearing none of those noisy indications of revelry, I concludedthat the inhuman feast was terminated; and feeling a kind ofmorbid curiosity to discover whether the Ti might furnish anyevidence of what had taken place there, I proposed to Kory-Koryto walk there. To this proposition he replied by pointing withhis finger to the newly risen sun, and then up to the zenith,intimating that our visit must be deferred until noon. Shortlyafter that hour we accordingly proceeded to the Taboo Groves, andas soon as we entered their precincts, I looked fearfully roundin, quest of some memorial of the scene which had so lately beenacted there; but everything appeared as usual. On reaching theTi, we found Mehevi and a few chiefs reclining on the mats, whogave me as friendly a reception as ever. No allusions of anykind were made by them to the recent events; and I refrained, forobvious reasons, from referring to them myself.

After staying a short time I took my leave. In passing along thepiazza, previously to descending from the pi-pi, I observed acuriously carved vessel of wood, of considerable size, with acover placed over it, of the same material, and which resembledin shape a small canoe. It was surrounded by a low railing ofbamboos, the top of which was scarcely a foot from the ground. As the vessel had been placed in its present position since mylast visit, I at once concluded that it must have some connectionwith the recent festival, and, prompted by a curiosity I couldnot repress, in passing it I raised one end of the cover; at thesame moment the chiefs, perceiving my design, loudly ejaculated,'Taboo! taboo!'

But the slight glimpse sufficed; my eyes fell upon the disorderedmembers of a human skeleton, the bones still fresh with moisture,and with particles of flesh clinging to them here and there!

Kory-Kory, who had been a little in advance of me, attracted bythe exclamations of the chiefs, turned round in time to witnessthe expression of horror on my countenance. He now hurriedtowards me, pointing at the same time to the canoe, andexclaiming rapidly, 'Puarkee! puarkee!' (Pig, pig). I pretendedto yield to the deception, and repeated the words after himseveral times, as though acquiescing in what he said. The othersavages, either deceived by my conduct or unwilling to manifesttheir displeasure at what could not now be remedied, took nofurther notice of the occurrence, and I immediately left the Ti.

All that night I lay awake, revolving in my mind the fearfulsituation in which I was placed. The last horrid revelation hadnow been made, and the full sense of my condition rushed upon mymind with a force I had never before experienced.

Where, thought I, desponding, is there the slightest prospect ofescape? The only person who seemed to possess the ability toassist me was the stranger Marnoo; but would he ever return tothe valley? and if he did, should I be permitted to hold anycommunication with him? It seemed as if I were cut off fromevery source of hope, and that nothing remained but passively toawait whatever fate was in store for me. A thousand times Iendeavoured to account for the mysterious conduct of the natives.

For what conceivable purpose did they thus retain me a captive? What could be their object in treating me with such apparentkindness, and did it not cover some treacherous scheme? Or, ifthey had no other design than to hold me a prisoner, how should Ibe able to pass away my days in this narrow valley, deprived ofall intercourse with civilized beings, and for ever separatedfrom friends and home?

One only hope remained to me. The French could not long defer avisit to the bay, and if they should permanently locate any oftheir troops in the valley, the savages could not for any lengthof time conceal my existence from them. But what reason had I tosuppose that I should be spared until such an event occurred, anevent which might be postponed by a hundred differentcontingencies?

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