by Herman Melville

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter Twenty



NOTHING can be more uniform and undiversified than the life ofthe Typees; one tranquil day of ease and happiness followsanother in quiet succession; and with these unsophisicatedsavages the history of a day is the history of a life. I will,therefore, as briefly as I can, describe one of our days in thevalley.

To begin with the morning. We were not very early risers--thesun would be shooting his golden spikes above the Happarmountain, ere I threw aside my tappa robe, and girding my longtunic about my waist, sallied out with Fayaway and Kory-Kory, andthe rest of the household, and bent my steps towards the stream. Here we found congregated all those who dwelt in our section ofthe valley; and here we bathed with them. The fresh morning airand the cool flowing waters put both soul and body in a glow, andafter a half-hour employed in this recreation, we sauntered backto the house--Tinor and Marheyo gathering dry sticks by the wayfor fire-wood; some of the young men laying the cocoanut treesunder contribution as they passed beneath them; while Kory-Koryplayed his outlandish pranks for my particular diversion, andFayaway and I, not arm in arm to be sure, but sometimes hand inhand, strolled along, with feelings of perfect charity for allthe world, and especial good-will towards each other.

Our morning meal was soon prepared. The islanders are somewhatabstemious at this repast; reserving the more powerful efforts oftheir appetite to a later period of the day. For my own part,with the assistance of my valet, who, as I have before stated,always officiated as spoon on these occasions, I ate sparinglyfrom one of Tinor's trenchers, of poee-poee; which was devotedexclusively for my own use, being mixed with the milky meat ofripe cocoanut. A section of a roasted bread-fruit, a small cakeof 'Amar', or a mess of 'Cokoo,' two or three bananas, or amammee-apple; an annuee, or some other agreeable and nutritiousfruit served from day to day to diversify the meal, which wasfinished by tossing off the liquid contents of a young cocoanutor two.

While partaking of this simple repast, the inmates of Marheyo'shouse, after the style of the ancient Romans, reclined insociable groups upon the divan of mats, and digestion waspromoted by cheerful conversation.

After the morning meal was concluded, pipes were lighted; andamong them my own especial pipe, a present from the noble Mehevi.

The islanders, who only smoke a whiff or two at a time, and atlong intervals, and who keep their pipes going from hand to handcontinually, regarded my systematic smoking of four or fivepipefuls of tobacco in succession, as something quite wonderful. When two or three pipes had circulated freely, the companygradually broke up. Marheyo went to the little hut he wasforever building. Tinor began to inspect her rolls of tappa, oremployed her busy fingers in plaiting grass-mats. The girlsanointed themselves with their fragrant oils, dressed their hair,or looked over their curious finery, and compared together theirivory trinkets, fashioned out of boar's tusks or whale's teeth. The young men and warriors produced their spears, paddles,canoe-gear, battle-clubs, and war-conchs, and occupied themselvesin carving, all sorts of figures upon them with pointed bits ofshell or flint, and adorning them, especially the war-conchs,with tassels of braided bark and tufts of human hair. Some,immediately after eating, threw themselves once more upon theinviting mats, and resumed the employment of the previous night,sleeping as soundly as if they had not closed their eyes for aweek. Others sallied out into the groves, for the purpose ofgathering fruit or fibres of bark and leaves; the last two beingin constant requisition, and applied to a hundred uses. A few,perhaps, among the girls, would slip into the woods afterflowers, or repair to the stream will; small calabashes andcocoanut shells, in order to polish them by friction with asmooth stone in the water. In truth these innocent people seemedto be at no loss for something to occupy their time; and it wouldbe no light task to enumerate all their employments, or ratherpleasures.

My own mornings I spent in a variety of ways. Sometimes Irambled about from house to house, sure of receiving a cordialwelcome wherever I went; or from grove to grove, and from oneshady place to another, in company with Kory-Kory and Fayaway,and a rabble rout of merry young idlers. Sometimes I was tooindolent for exercise, and accepting one of the many invitationsI was continually receiving, stretched myself out on the mats ofsome hospitable dwelling, and occupied myself pleasantly eitherin watching the proceedings of those around me or taking part inthem myself. Whenever I chose to do the latter, the delight ofthe islanders was boundless; and there was always a throng ofcompetitors for the honour of instructing me in any particularcraft. I soon became quite an accomplished hand at makingtappa--could braid a grass sling as well as the best of them--andonce, with my knife, carved the handle of a javelin soexquisitely, that I have no doubt, to this day, Karnoonoo, itsowner, preserves it as a surprising specimen of my skill. Asnoon approached, all those who had wandered forth from ourhabitation, began to return; and when midday was fairly comescarcely a sound was to be heard in the valley: a deep sleep fellupon all. The luxurious siesta was hardly ever omitted, exceptby old Marheyo, who was so eccentric a character, that he seemedto be governed by no fixed principles whatever; but acting justaccording to the humour of the moment, slept, eat, or tinkeredaway at his little hut, without regard to the proprieties of timeor place. Frequently he might have been seen taking a nap in thesun at noon-day, or a bath in the stream of mid-night. Once Ibeheld him perched eighty feet from the ground, in the tuft of acocoanut tree, smoking; and often I saw him standing up to thewaist in water, engaged in plucking out the stray hairs of hisbeard, using a piece of muscle-shell for tweezers.

The noon-tide slumber lasted generally an hour and a half: veryoften longer; and after the sleepers had arisen from their matsthey again had recourse to their pipes, and then madepreparations for the most important meal of the day.

I, however, like those gentlemen of leisure who breakfast at homeand dine at their club, almost invariably, during my intervals ofhealth, enjoyed the afternoon repast with the bachelor chiefs ofthe Ti, who were always rejoiced to see me, and lavishly spreadbefore me all the good things which their larder afforded. Mehevi generally introduced among other dainties a baked pig, anarticle which I have every reason to suppose was provided for mysole gratification.

The Ti was a right jovial place. It did my heart, as well as mybody, good to visit it. Secure from female intrusion, there wasno restraint upon the hilarity of the warriors, who, like thegentlemen of Europe after the cloth is drawn and the ladiesretire, freely indulged their mirth.

After spending a considerable portion of the afternoon at the Ti,I usually found myself, as the cool of the evening came on,either sailing on the little lake with Fayaway, or bathing in thewaters of the stream with a number of the savages, who, at thishour, always repaired thither. As the shadows of nightapproached Marheyo's household were once more assembled under hisroof: tapers were lit, long curious chants were raised,interminable stories were told (for which one present was littlethe wiser), and all sorts of social festivities served to whileaway the time.

The young girls very often danced by moonlight in front of theirdwellings. There are a great variety of these dances, in which,however, I never saw the men take part. They all consist ofactive, romping, mischievous evolutions, in which every limb isbrought into requisition. Indeed, the Marquesan girls dance allover, as it were; not only do their feet dance, but their arms,hands, fingers, ay, their very eyes, seem to dance in theirheads.

The damsels wear nothing but flowers and their compendious galatunics; and when they plume themselves for the dance, they looklike a band of olive-coloured Sylphides on the point of takingwing. In good sooth, they so sway their floating forms, archtheir necks, toss aloft their naked arms, and glide, and swim,and whirl, that it was almost too much for a quiet, sober-minded,modest young man like myself.

Unless some particular festivity was going forward, the inmatesof Marheyo's house retired to their mats rather early in theevening; but not for the night, since, after slumbering lightlyfor a while, they rose again, relit their tapers, partook of thethird and last meal of the day, at which poee-poee alone waseaten, and then, after inhaling a narcotic whiff from a pipe oftobacco, disposed themselves for the great business of night,sleep. With the Marquesans it might almost most be styled thegreat business of life, for they pass a large portion of theirtime in the arms of Somnus. The native strength of theirconstitution is no way shown more emphatically than in thequantity of sleep they can endure. To many of them, indeed, lifeis little else than an often interrupted and luxurious nap.

Return to the Typee Summary Return to the Herman Melville Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson