by Herman Melville

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Chapter Twenty-eight



THERE was no instance in which the social and kindly dispositionsof the Typees were more forcibly evinced than in the manner theconducted their great fishing parties. Four times during my stayin the valley the young men assembled near the full of the moon,and went together on these excursions. As they were generallyabsent about forty-eight hours, I was led to believe that theywent out towards the open sea, some distance from the bay. ThePolynesians seldom use a hook and line, almost always employinglarge well-made nets, most ingeniously fabricated from thetwisted fibres of a certain bark. I examined several of themwhich had been spread to dry upon the beach at Nukuheva. Theyresemble very much our own seines, and I should think they werenearly as durable.

All the South Sea Islanders are passionately fond of fish; butnone of them can be more so than the inhabitants of Typee. Icould not comprehend, therefore, why they so seldom sought it intheir waters, for it was only at stated times that the fishingparties were formed, and these occasions were always lookedforward to with no small degree of interest.

During their absence the whole population of the place were in aferment, and nothing was talked of but 'pehee, pehee' (fish,fish). Towards the time when they were expected to return thevocal telegraph was put into operation--the inhabitants, who werescattered throughout the length of the valley, leaped upon rocksand into trees, shouting with delight at the thoughts of theanticipated treat. As soon as the approach of the party wasannounced, there was a general rush of the men towards the beach;some of them remaining, however, about the Ti in order to getmatters in readiness for the reception of the fish, which werebrought to the Taboo Groves in immense packages of leaves, eachone of them being suspended from a pole carried on the shouldersof two men.

I was present at the Ti on one of these occasions, and the sightwas most interesting. After all the packages had arrived, theywere laid in a row under the verandah of the building and opened.

The fish were all quite small, generally about the size of aherring, and of every variety. About one-eighth of the wholebeing reserved for the use of the Ti itself, the remainder wasdivided into numerous smaller packages, which were immediatelydispatched in every direction to the remotest parts of thevalley. Arrived at their destination, these were in turnportioned out, and equally distributed among the various housesof each particular district. The fish were under a strict Taboo,until the distribution was completed, which seemed to be effectedin the most impartial manner. By the operation of this systemevery man, woman, and child in the vale, were at one and the sametime partaking of this favourite article of food.

Once I remember the party arrived at midnight; but theunseasonableness of the tour did not repress the impatience ofthe islanders. The carriers dispatched from the Ti were to beseen hurrying in all directions through the deep groves; eachindividual preceded by a boy bearing a flaming torch of driedcocoanut boughs, which from time to time was replenished from thematerials scattered along the path. The wild glare of theseenormous flambeaux, lighting up with a startling brilliancy theinnermost recesses of the vale, and seen moving rapidly alongbeneath the canopy of leaves, the savage shout of the excitedmessengers sounding the news of their approach, which wasanswered on all sides, and the strange appearance of their nakedbodies, seen against the gloomy background, produced altogetheran effect upon my mind that I shall long remember.

It was on this same occasion that Kory-Kory awakened me at thedead hour of night, and in a sort of transport communicated theintelligence contained in the words 'pehee perni' (fish come). As I happened to have been in a remarkably sound and refreshingslumber, I could not imagine why the information had not beendeferred until morning, indeed, I felt very much inclined to flyinto a passion and box my valet's ears; but on second thoughts Igot quietly up, and on going outside the house was not a littleinterested by the moving illumination which I beheld.

When old Marheyo received his share of the spoils, immediatepreparations were made for a midnight banquet; calabashes ofpoee-poee were filled to the brim; green bread-fruit wereroasted; and a huge cake of 'amar' was cut up with a sliver ofbamboo and laid out on an immense banana-leaf.

At this supper we were lighted by several of the native tapers,held in the hands of young girls. These tapers are mostingeniously made. There is a nut abounding in the valley, calledby the Typees 'armor', closely resembling our commonhorse-chestnut. The shell is broken, and the contents extractedwhole. Any number of these are strung at pleasure upon the longelastic fibre that traverses the branches of the cocoanut tree. Some of these tapers are eight or ten feet in length; but beingperfectly flexible, one end is held in a coil, while the other islighted. The nut burns with a fitful bluish flame, and the oilthat it contains is exhausted in about ten minutes. As one burnsdown, the next becomes ignited, and the ashes of the former areknocked into a cocoanut shell kept for the purpose. Thisprimitive candle requires continual attention, and must beconstantly held in the hand. The person so employed marks thelapse of time by the number of nuts consumed, which is easilylearned by counting the bits of tappa distributed at regularintervals along the string.

I grieve to state so distressing a fact, but the inhabitants ofTypee were in the habit of devouring fish much in the same waythat a civilized being would eat a radish, and without any moreprevious preparation. They eat it raw; scales, bones, gills, andall the inside. The fish is held by the tail, and the head beingintroduced into the mouth, the animal disappears with a rapiditythat would at first nearly lead one to imagine it had beenlaunched bodily down the throat.

Raw fish! Shall I ever forget my sensations when I first saw myisland beauty devour one. Oh, heavens! Fayaway, how could youever have contracted so vile a habit? However, after the firstshock had subsided, the custom grew less odious in my eyes, and Isoon accustomed myself to the sight. Let no one imagine,however, that the lovely Fayaway was in the habit of swallowinggreat vulgar-looking fishes: oh, no; with her beautiful smallhand she would clasp a delicate, little, golden-hued love of afish and eat it as elegantly and as innocently as though it werea Naples biscuit. But alas! it was after all a raw fish; andall I can say is, that Fayaway ate it in a more ladylike mannerthan any other girl of the valley.

When at Rome do as the Romans do, I held to be so good a proverb,that being in Typee I made a point of doing as the Typees did. Thus I ate poee-poee as they did; I walked about in a garbstriking for its simplicity; and I reposed on a community ofcouches; besides doing many other things in conformity with theirpeculiar habits; but the farthest I ever went in the way ofconformity, was on several occasions to regale myself with rawfish. These being remarkably tender, and quite small, theundertaking was not so disagreeable in the main, and after a fewtrials I positively began to relish them; however, I subjectedthem to a slight operation with a knife previously to making myrepast.

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